CPU Coolers – The 5 Best Working With 2021’s Trend

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CPU Coolers – With thermals so key to performance, the best CPU cooler is a vital component for your gaming PC. That’s true whether you’re sporting an AMD or Intel chip at the heart of your machine. And, while some processors do still come with stock CPU coolers, if you want to get the most out of your PC then a third-party chip chiller is an absolute must. CPU coolers generally come in two varieties. The first is an air cooler, which comes with a big metal heat sink that pulls heat away from the CPU, then blown away by a fan. Before you pick an air cooler, you need to consider your CPU socket type, RAM clearance, your PC’s case dimensions, and the airflow in your machine.

The other, more extravagant option is liquid cooling, with the most common being the AIO (all-in-one) variety. Liquid cooling is often a more efficient choice and can lead to some flashy-looking components with wild RGB lighting options and even OLED screens. If you’re feeling especially courageous, you could also create a full custom water cooling loop, which can include GPU as well as CPU cooling, but that way lies tube-bending and a whole lot of installation effort—though the result of all that work is pretty cool. We’ve tested each of the coolers below in our PCG test rigs, so we can tell you which can deliver the optimum CPU cooling for your money. And you don’t have to spend a fortune on a full water-cooling loop either, FYI. If you’re looking for other ways to help increase your system’s cooling performance, you can check out our guide to the best PC fans.  

1. Corsair H115i RGB Platinum

Type: Liquid cooling

Compatibility: Intel 1366, 115x, 2011, 2066;

AMD AM2, AM3, AM4, sTR4

Fan speed: 360-2,200 RPM

Noise volume: 28-50 dBA

Dimensions: 280 x 120 x 30 mm

Weight: 1.8 lbs (830 g)

REASONS TO BUY:

+RGB lighting on fans and CPU block

+Available in a stunning white variation

+Top notch cooling performance

REASONS TO AVOID

-RGB lighting isn’t for everyone

Corsair was one of the first hardware manufacturers to bring all-in-one liquid coolers to market. It only fits that its latest cooler has dethroned our previous king. The H115i has always been a strong contender for the throne of best liquid CPU cooler, only narrowly beaten by NZXT’s Kraken X62.

The updated H115i Platinum is a definite improvement, but NZXT’s infinity mirror CPU block design was and remained one of the most beautiful RGB implementations we’ve seen in any product. It wasn’t until seeing Corsair’s latest contender, the H115i Platinum, that we’ve been able to let the Kraken go.

For now, though, it’s all about the excellent Corsair AIO. The H115i Platinum is available in black or white with a set of addressable RGB LED fans and CPU block. It’s a real head-turner in any build and has excellent software and performance to back it up.    

2. Noctua NH-D15

CPU Coolers - The 5 Best working with 2021's trend

Type: Fan and heatsink

Compatibility: Intel LGA 1150 – 2066;

AMD AM2 – AM4, FM1 – FM2+

Fan speed: 300-1500 RPM

Noise volume: Up to 24.6 dBA

Dimensions: 165 x 150 x 161 mm

Weight: 2.91 lbs (1.32 kg)

REASONS TO BUY

+ Super-quiet performance+ Dual 140 mm fans included 

REASONS TO AVOID

-Huge

It may be one of the most expensive air coolers we’ve tested, but Noctua’s flagship NH-D15 is our top choice for high-end air coolers. Based on the company’s award-winning D14, the NH-D15 performs just as well as a handful of all-in-one liquid coolers and even beats a few of them both in performance and noise levels. The cooler features a dual tower heatsink and comes with two high airflow 140mm fans.

Even working at 100 per cent, the cooler ran quieter than just about all of its competitors. If you aren’t a fan of liquid cooling or don’t have the space to mount a radiator, the NH-D15 is about as good as it gets for air cooling. The only downside we could find is its bulkiness, which could cause problems with tall RAM module clearance.

3. EVGA CLC 240

CPU Coolers - The 5 Best working with 2021's trend
Noctua NH-P1

Type: Liquid cooling

Compatibility: Intel LGA2066/2011/2011-v3/1150/1151/1155/1156/1366

AMD AM2-AM4, FM1-FM2, TR4

Fan speed: 500-2400 RPM

Noise volume: 16-40 dBA

Dimensions: 276 x 122 x 53 mm

Weight: 1.8 lbs (820 g)

REASONS TO BUY

+ Very affordable + RGB pump head 

REASONS TO AVOID

-Bare bones

EVGA’s latest CLC liquid coolers are our favourite mid-range pick because of their excellent performance per dollar. Matching cooling of the latest chip-chillers from Corsair and NZXT, the 240mm CLC costs a fraction of the price while only sacrificing a few features. The included fans can get very loud at full speed, but we found the cooler to run well enough without ever reaching those levels.

While you won’t get the fancy addressable RGB lighting you’d find in NZXT, Thermaltake, or Cooler Master’s latest designs, the EVGA CLC does have the same sleeved tubing and a single RGB light on the pump head that can be controlled through the software. If you don’t care for all of the bells and whistles, EVGA’s CLC 240 offers exceptional performance with little compromise.

4. Noctua NH-P1

Type: Passive air cooling

Compatibility: Intel LGA 1200, 115x, 2011/2066; AMD AM2-AM4

Fan speed: NA

Noise volume: Silent

Dimensions: 158 x 154 x 152 mm

Weight: 1800 g

REASONS TO BUY

+Completely silent+Compatible with high-end CPUs+Plenty cool enough for gaming workloads

REASONS TO AVOID

-Large-Requires a case with good airflow

The Noctua NH-P1 is certainly a niche CPU cooler, but it’s also an exciting one in that it shakes up what a completely silent chip chiller is capable of. Previously, if you wanted a passive cooler you would either have to pair it with an underpowered processor, or you would have to seriously limit the clock speed of your chip.

The Noctua NH-P1, however, is capable of coping with relatively high-end CPUs, and running them at, or very close to, their standard performance. Essentially, this is a passive cooler that can actually keep a decent gaming processor powered up. We’ve tested the NH-P1 on our Core i7 10700K open test bench—which has no fans, and therefore completely unoptimised airflow—and while it may throttle on seriously CPU intensive benchmarks, it absolutely flew on our standard gaming tests.

That chip is slightly over Noctua’s own recommendations for the NH-P1, but you can check out its compatibility centre to see whether your CPU will be supported by this chunky chip chiller.

5. Corsair H60

CPU Coolers - The 5 Best working with 2021's trend

 

Type: Liquid cooling

Compatibility: Intel 115x, 2011/2066; AMD AM2-AM4

Fan speed: 600-1700 RPM

Noise volume: Up to 28.3 dBA

Dimensions: 157 x 120 x 52 mm

Weight: 1.32 lbs (600 g)

REASONS TO BUY

+ Excellent performance + Compatible with most cases 

REASONS TO AVOID

-Not as capable as double or triple radiators

Corsair was one of the first manufacturers to bring all-in-one liquid cooling to the masses. Nearly a decade after the company first launched its Hydro series, Corsair is once again leading the charge with the updated H60 as our top choice for liquid cooling on a budget.

Often priced at $20 cheaper than our best high-end air cooler, the 120mm H60 offers nearly identical thermal and noise performance at a fraction of the cost. The updated cooler features a white LED illuminated pump head, a 120mm radiator, and one of Corsair’s latest 120mm PWM fans. Our tests put the performance of the new H60 far ahead of its other 120mm competitors and even in line with a few 140mm and 240mm coolers.

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