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The 10 Best Air and Liquid CPU Coolers

Whether you’re upgrading your PC or building a new rig, you need a way to keep things cool. Any component—be it a graphics card, motherboard, or processor—can overheat and throttle performance. Even if you don’t indulge in high-CPU tasks like online gaming or overclocking, you need to be wary of overheating, lest you shorten the lifespan of your PC.

CPU coolers work by absorbing and funneling heat away from the processor. The type and quality of the cooler can have a major effect on hardware temperature, performance, and even noise. To run at peak performance without shortening the lifespan of your desktop, you really need to get yourself a decent cooler. Here, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best CPU coolers.

What to Consider

There are two primary types of CPU coolers: air and liquid. Both work by channeling heat from the processor through a series of heat spreaders, thermal pastes, conductive baseplates, and heat pipes, eventually reaching a fan that disperses the heat.

For a cheap, replaceable cooler, your best bet is an air cooler. Air coolers come in a variety of different sizes, with varying speeds and noise levels—all of which may or may not suit the particulars of your rig—but they’re a solid, general-purpose solution for most custom PCs and desktops.

For a next-level solution, consider a liquid or AIO (“all in one”) cooler. Water- or liquid-based CPU coolers include a waterblock filled with liquid coolant, which absorbs heat as it passes through.

Liquid coolers are more expensive but often more effective—ideal for PC superusers with heat control issues. They are also generally quieter than air coolers. The idea of liquid around hot electrical components may raise some red flags, but a properly sealed liquid cooler is truly the most effective way to control CPU temperatures.

How We Selected

What works for one PC may be insufficient for some and overkill for others. However, when it comes to cooling your processor, you’re better off overestimating your needs than underestimating them. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you still have overheating problems because you bought the cheapest CPU cooler you could find.

That doesn’t mean you should gun for a liquid cooler—nor does it mean that there aren’t great, affordable CPU coolers out there. It just means you should take time to learn the common specifications: Size, processor compatibility, airflow/fan speed (RPMs), and noise volume are probably the most important.

With all that in mind, we combed through mountains of user reviews and product specs to identify 10 of the best CPU coolers that, we think, reflect the full range of needs and extra features.

1

Best CPU air cooler

Noctua NH-D15

Size: 5.91 x 6.34 x 6.5 inches
Cooling Method: Fan
Noise Volume: 24.6 dB
Airflow/Fan Speed: 1500 RPM

For an air cooler the Noctua NH-D15 isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s one of the most high-performing and reliable ones you’re likely to find. User reviews praise its quiet operation, adding that the performance is better than many similarly priced liquid coolers. It’s a bit large for some PC builds, which could pose a problem for taller RAM modules, but if you can fit it, the NH-D15 should supply plenty of cooling power for most processors.

The NH-D15 includes a dual tower heatsink with two 140mm fans, and is compatible with most Intel and AMD processors.

  • Very quiet
  • Performs as well as many AIO coolers

2

Best CPU liquid cooler

Corsair H115i RGB Platinum

Corsair
amazon.com

$169.99

Size: 12.6 x 5.51 x 1.18 inches
Cooling Method: Water
Noise Volume: 37 dB
Airflow/Fan Speed: 97 CFM

Corsair is one of the most popular and reliable brands in the liquid/AIO cooler space, and the H115i marks the pinnacle of stylish CPU cooler tech. With two 140mm RGB magnetic levitation fans, the H115i delivers rapid cooling power with 16 individually controlled LEDs. From professional to user reviews, it’s one of the most popular liquid CPU coolers currently available. 

Some user reviews complain about the noisy operation and difficult installation. Those may be annoying hurdles for some users, especially those with high-CPU builds, but for most others it won’t be a problem.

  • Solid performance
  • Adjustable fan speeds
  • Stylish RGB LEDs
  • May be difficult to install
  • Noisy

3

Best budget CPU air cooler

Cooler Master Hyper 212 RGB Black Edition

Cooler Master
amazon.com

$44.99

Size: 4.72 x 3.11 x 6.22 inches
Cooling Method: Air
Noise Volume: 8 to 30 dB
Airflow/Fan Speed: 650 to 2000 RPM

The Cooler Master Hyper 212 is not only cheap but time-tested, having been around for almost a decade now. This compact cooler includes four direct contact heat pipes, a 120mm RGB fan, and a brushed aluminum finish. You can also tweak the cooling performance and noise level with a broad range of fan speeds.

Users praise its reliable operation over many years of operation. And, if you’re tight on space, rest assured knowing the heatsink is easy to install and roughly the size of a stock unit. Despite a modest, somewhat boring design, the Hyper 212 is a great budget option for casual PC builds—or really any desktop upgrade.

  • Compact and affordable
  • Solid customization options
  • Reliable long-term use

4

Best budget CPU liquid cooler

ARCTIC Liquid Freezer II 240

ARCTIC
amazon.com

$107.17

Size: 11.81 x 7.09 x 5.91 inches
Cooling Method: Water
Noise Volume: 0.3 sones
Airflow/Fan Speed: 200 to 1800 RPM

Liquid or AIO coolers generally aren’t cheap, but the Arctic Liquid Freezer II 240 is about as cheap as they come without compromising on quality. As an AIO cooler, the Liquid Freezer II 240 includes a cool plate, radiator, fan, and pump in one package. This results in less power consumption, efficient cooling, and less noise. It’s also easy to install, and—did we mention cheap?

Most user reviews praise the Liquid Freezer’s performance and efficiency, but warn users to double-check its motherboard compatibility. Officially, it’s compatible with most Intel sockets, but users may have trouble with some AMD processors.

  • Very affordable
  • Efficient and effective cooling
  • Some compatibility issues

5

Mesmerizing liquid cooler

Cooler Master MasterLiquid

Cooler Master
amazon.com

$109.99

Size: 6.2 x 4.7 x 1.1 inches
Cooling Method: Water
Noise Volume: 30 dB
Airflow/Fan Speed: 66.7 CFM

CPU coolers are, first and foremost, tools for controlling the heat produced by your PC components. But some PC builders favor their flashy aesthetics, and the Cooler Master MasterLiquid is definitely one of the more flashy options out there.

With addressable RGB fans (120, 240, or 360mm) and a suite of add-on options, the MasterLiquid series offers a wealth of stunning visual cooling components for any PC build. It’s sleek, quiet, and very cool, though for some of the more high-end options the MasterLiquid series is a bit pricey. You can also expect the coolers to consume a bit of space, so proceed with caution.

  • Flashy RGB options
  • Highly customizable

6

Best customizable liquid CPU cooler

NZXT Kraken Z-3

Size:  18.8 x 7.1 x 5.8 inches
Cooling Method: Fan
Noise Volume: 21 to 38 dB
Airflow/Fan Speed: 500 to 1800 RPM

Unique in the realm of PC hardware, the NZXT Kraken Z-3 includes a bright, 2.36-inch LCD screen. This 24-bit display can be completely customized to match the aesthetic of your PC, and can even display images and animated gifs. 

With a chamfered intake, fluid dynamic bearings, and a huge range of sizes (240 to 360mm), the Kraken delivers solid performance and a surprisingly straightforward install. It’s a pricey beast—perhaps even overkill for most users—but for custom PC enthusiasts, it may just be the icing on the cake.

  • Lots of customization options
  • Unique LCD display

7

A diesel air cooler

Deepcool Assassin III

DEEP COOL
amazon.com

$99.99

Size: 6.34 x 5.51 x 6.5 inches
Cooling Method: Air
Noise Volume: 34.2 dB
Airflow/Fan Speed: 400 to 1400 RPM

Large and in charge, the Deepcool Assassin III is a beast of an air cooler, boasting impressive performance reviews, quiet operation, top-of-the-line specs, and a modest price tag to boot. It includes seven heatpipes, dual 140mm high airflow fans, and 280W TDP.

There’s no addressable RGB components, making for a rather dull design, and we noticed a few complaints about its size and compatibility with certain brackets. However, if you’re after the right blend of price and performance, perhaps only our top pick, the Noctua NH-D15, can compete.

  • Great cooling performance
  • Affordable

8

Customizable RGB Air Cooler

Cooler Master MasterAir MA410M

Cooler Master
amazon.com

$64.99

Size: 6.5 x 9.1 x 6.1 inches
Cooling Method: Fan
Noise Volume: 31 dB
Airflow/Fan Speed: 53.38 CFM

The Cooler Master MasterAir may be priced as a middle-of-the-road air cooler, but it certainly doesn’t look like it—nor does it operate that way. This snazzy little dual 120mm cooler includes addressable RGB lighting in both the fans and the cooling tower. Specifically, it features a hexagon hologram aluminum fin, and 28 addressable RGB LEDs that can sync with your motherboard via software.

The RGB lighting can also be controlled to display the thermal load. It’s a mid-sized cooler, fit for most custom PCs, and it’s on the cheaper end. Some user reviews complain about the noise, but it’s one of the most versatile mid-tier air coolers you’re likely to come across.

  • Lots of RGB customization
  • Solid cooling performance

9

A slim, modest liquid cooler

Corsair Hydro Series H60

Corsair
amazon.com

$82.63

Size: 14.17 x 6.29 x 4.72 inches
Cooling Method: Water
Noise Volume: 28.3 dB
Airflow/Fan Speed: 600 to 1700 RPM

Not everyone requires synced RGB displays for a custom PC build. Some people just want straightforward performance. The Corsair Hydro Series H60 is a modest, low-cost liquid/AIO cooler for those people. With two 120mm PWM fans, the H60 can compete with many larger, more expensive units. Fans of this series also praise the quiet operation, and the LED ring on the pump head adds an elegant, minimalist touch for open cases.

With such impressive performance in a slim package, the Corsair H60 offers a complete solution for PC upgrades and modest buildouts.

  • Impressive performance
  • Minimal noise
  • Modest design
  • Not suited for advanced PC builds

10

A slim, modest air cooler

Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO

Size: 3.1 x 6.3 x 4.7 inches
Cooling Method: Fan
Noise Volume: 36 dB
Airflow/Fan Speed: 82.9 CFM

If you’re looking for a straightforward air cooling solution without all the bells and whistles, the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO is both modest in design and low on price. Pretty much identical to the Hyper 212 RGB Black Edition (our budget air cooler pick), the 212 EVO skips the RGB lighting to provide a simple and highly effective fan cooler. 

The Hyper 212 has been around in some form or another for years, and remains one of the most affordable coolers you can get. With dual 120mm fans, four CDC (Continuous Direct Contact) heat pipes, and AM4 compatibility, the Hyper 212 EVO is an all-around classic, updated for modern processors.

  • Classic design
  • Top-notch performance

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