The Best CPU Coolers

There isn’t quite a one solution fits all product when it comes to CPU coolers. Folks with spacious full tower PCs won’t have an issue using a massive 160mm or taller tower style cooler such as the Noctua NH-D15 while those who don’t have that kind of cash might lean toward more affordable options such as the Cryorig H7.

Even if you have the space, some users prioritize operating volume over temperatures in which case the Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 3offers a fine balance. If you find any level of fan noise offensive, then a big passive cooler such as the Thermalright Le Grand Machowill be in order.

Those with a limited headroom will want to check out the ever growing range of compact CPU coolers, of which we believeThermalright’s AXP-200R is king.

If air cooling comes off as unadventurous, an all-in-one liquid cooler may be of interest. This category has a wide range of options now but we feel none are better than the Corsair Hydro Series H115i GTX (renamed H110i GTX). Read on for a full list of our top picks and why we chose them…

Two years ago we named the Noctua NH-U14S the best of the best in a 10-way CPU cooler roundup and the newer NH-D15 continues that legacy. The NH-D15 isn’t outrageously expensive at $90 and yet it seems to make no compromises. This is an air-cooler that is designed to deliver the best performance while generating as little noise as possible.

Despite the NH-D15’s massive size, compatibility generally isn’t an issue though you’ll want to make sure your case has at least 165mm of clearance for it. Conveniently, Noctua also proves an extensive motherboard compatibility list on their website covering several hundred models.

Out of the box the NH-D15 is a universal product supporting all current AMD and Intel platforms as well as older sockets such as AMD’s FM1 or Intel’s LGA1156.

We get that $90 is too rich for some builders to blow on a CPU cooler, in which case Deepcool’s Assassin II ($80) or Reeven’s Okeanos ($75) might be more suitable though if you want great results you’ll see the savings are not substantial.

For the longest time we have been recommending and using various Cooler Master 212 products for budget cooling. TheCM Hyper 212 Evo remains a favorite for overclocking on a budget simply because at $30 it delivers exceptional performance without sounding like a leaf blower.

However the Cryorig H7 has gained a lot of fanfare recently and for good reason. For an extra ~$5 it provides superior cooling performance and generates less noise than the CM 212. As the cherry on top, Cryorig’s H7 also has a better installation process and arguably even looks better with its hive-fin design.

Compatibility shouldn’t be an issue either as the Cryorig H7 measures just 145mm tall making it one of the smallest tower coolers on the market to support a 120mm fan. In other words, the H7 will fit in most mid-tower PC chassis.

The 98mm depth also means that there is no limitation on your memory modules height as the Cryorig H7 doesn’t cover the DIMM slots. Out of the box you will find support for mainstream Intel LGA1150, 1151, 1155 and 1156 platforms as well as all current AMD platforms.

Those who prioritize operating volume over performance will be more interested in the Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 3 than Noctua’s beastly NH-D15.

Like the NH-D15, the Dark Rock Pro 3 touts top-notch build quality and that’s to be expected considering it matches the Noctua in price at $90.

We bet the Dark Rock Pro 3 would perform similarly to the NH-D15 using the same fans at the same operating speed, truth be told. However, as a package the Dark Rock Pro 3 has more of a bias towards operating volume — no surprise coming from a company named Be Quiet!.

The Dark Rock Pro 3 comes with a 135mm fan sandwiched between the towers while a 120mm can be found on the front forcing air though the heatsink.

 If you find the whisper quiet operating volume of the Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 3 too much then perhaps a completely passive solution is for you. In our opinion there is no better passive heatsink than the massive Thermalright Le Grand Macho.

Despite its truly epic size the Le Grand Macho costs $70 and that is surprising for such a massive lump of neatly crafted metal. While it has a passive design, the Le Grand Macho is intended to be used with high-end desktop processors such as the Core i7-5960X as it can actively dissipate up to 300W. Boasting an enlarged copper base, the Le Grand Macho covers the entire surface area of large Haswell-E (2011-3) processors.

Measuring 140mm x 125mm and 159mm tall, the heatsink tips the scales at 900g without a fan thanks to 35 0.4mm aluminium fins spaced 3.1mm apart and six 6mm heatpipes.

The Le Grand Macho is to be offered in a silver finish with black-anodised lid, and will be supplied without fans but including mounting parts and a long-neck screwdriver for installation. Thermalright is also selling an optional 120mm or 140mm fan duct that allows users to better direct airflow from their case fans over the heatsink.

There’s a decent range of low-profile HTPC type coolers now thanks to the ever growing popularity of the Mini-ITX platform. Stand out low-profile coolers include theSilverstone NT06-Pro, Noctua NH-L12, Raijintek Pallas and our favorite the Thermalright AXP-200.

Our decision boiled down to a toss-up between the $80Thermalright AXP-200 and the considerably cheaper $40Raijintek Pallas. If you’re focused on value, it has to be said that the Pallas is probably the better deal as it’s essentially a clone of the AXP-200 — there must be some sort of copyright infringement going on here.

As with all clones, the quality of the Pallas isn’t as good as that of the more expensive AXP-200 and things such as the installation process aren’t as refined. Still, it’s hard to ignore that at just half the price it delivers a similar level of performance.

Something cool about the AXP-200 is that is now comes in a series of different colors. While we really like the quality and design of Thermalright products it has to be said the stock brown and camo green color fans look pretty average and don’t suit most builds, much like Noctua’s boring color scheme.

With the AXP-200, Thermalright has also introduced the AXP-200R and AXP-200 Muscle. The AXP-200R is designed to match Asus’ Republic Of Gamers (ROG) series and as you would expect, the fan is red and black. The AXP-200 Muscle is a black and white version that also looks nice.

All-in-one liquid coolers are extremely popular these days as they generally outperform air coolers and do so while generating less noise. With most units costing just a little more than a high-end air cooler such as the Noctua NH-D15, enthusiasts have one less reason not to go liquid.

Adding to the appeal of liquid cooling is the ease of installation of all-in-one kits as they come pre-assembled and ready to mount in your system. There are no hoses to connect, no reservoirs to fill and no leaks to check for. These units allow typical users to get in on the benefits of liquid cooling with almost none of the pitfalls of a traditional DIY setup.

With dozens of AIO liquid coolers to choose from, narrowing it down to a single one is no easy task and perhaps not even possible. To be named the best AIO liquid cooler on our list, we looked for a product that is priced competitively, performs well, installs easy and features an excellent build quality along with impeccable reliability.

That means straight away we disregarded products such as EK’s Predator series as they are hideously expensive and don’t manage to outperform the Corsair H115i. The Predator 240 is more flexible as additional gear can be added into the loop without any trouble, but at $250 it is hard to justify. Not just that, but so far reliability has proven to be a real issue for EK’s Predator range.

In the end we landed on the popular Corsair Hydro Series H115i. For $120 it provides the very best performance in its class and thus far has proven to be extremely reliable.