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Best CPU coolers in 2021

The best CPU coolers do just that, keep your CPU cool. Whether you have an Intel or AMD chip at the heart of your gaming rig, getting a handle on your PC's thermals will save you a headache down the road. If you want the most of your CPU, ditch the stock cooler and invest in one of these third-party chip chillers we tested this year.

There are two types of CPU coolers out there. Air coolers and liquid coolers. Air coolers are the most common. A metal heat sink pulls heat away from the CPU then blows it away with a fan. You need to consider your CPU socket type, RAM, case dimensions, and the current airflow inside your machine with air coolers. 

The other, more luxurious options are liquid coolers, usually in 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 exceptionally courageous, you could also create a complete custom water cooling loop, which can include GPU as well as CPU cooling. Still, that way lies tube-bending and a whole lot of installation effort—not recommended for first-time PC builders. 

Each of the coolers below was put through rigorous testing on our PC Gamer test rigs so we can tell you which ones offer the most optimum CPU cooling for your dollars under different workloads. 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.  

Best CPU coolers

1. Corsair H115i RGB Platinum

The best liquid CPU cooler


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.    

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2. Noctua NH-D15

The best air cooler in 2021


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 

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 percent, 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.

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3. EVGA CLC 240

Liquid cooling at an affordable price


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 favorite 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 compromises.

Best mid-tower case | Best RAM for gaming | Best SSD for gaming  
Best gaming monitor| Best CPU for gaming | Best gaming headset

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4. Noctua NH-P1

The best passive CPU cooler


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 chonky chip chiller.

And yes, it is big. The RAM clearance is fine, as Noctua has engineered it to sweep away from dual-channel DIMM slots, but it's still going to take up a whole lot of space in your chassis. If you want to get the most out of it, you're also going to need some decent airflow in your case, too. Unless you're going for a completely fanless vibe, that is.

The Noctua NH-P1 is well-designed, impressively powerful passive cooler that could well keep your gaming PC quiet. Though it's not going to do anything for that noisy graphics card, I'm afraid.

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5. Corsair H60

All-in-one liquid cooling for the price of air


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 $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, 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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6. Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO

Longtime king of budget air cooling


Type: Fan and heatsink

Compatibility: Intel LGA 775 – 2066; AMD AM2 – AM3+, FM1 – FM3+, AM4

Fan speed: 600-2000 RPM

Noise volume: 9-36 dBA

Dimensions: 120 x 79.7 x 158.5 mm

Weight: 1.3 lbs (590 g)

Reasons to buy

+ Very affordable + Added AM4 compatibility 

Reasons to avoid

-Not as sleek as some

Cooler Master's budget-friendly Hyper 212 CPU cooler has been around for well over ten years now. With experience like that, it comes as no surprise that the newer Hyper 212 Evo has become a renowned pick for affordable performance. Priced around $30, the latest update to the Hyper 212 Evo features four direct contact heat pipes, an improved aluminum heatsink, and a 120mm high airflow fan.

From our testing, we found that the Hyper 212 Evo reduced CPU temperatures by up to 20 degrees celsius when compared to stock cooling. Another added benefit is that the cooler itself isn't a lot larger than a stock one, meaning it tends to stay out of the way of larger RAM modules. With such a low price point, we can't find any reason why we'd stick to a stock cooler over this. 

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7. Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML360R

A giant radiator for extra-quiet cooling


Type: Liquid cooling

Compatibility: Intel LGA2066, LGA2011 v3, LGA2011, LGA1151, LGA1150, LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA1366, AMD AM4, AM3+, AM3, AM2+, AM2, FM2+, FM2, FM1

Fan speed: 650-2000 RPM

Noise volume: 6-30 dBA

Dimensions: 394 x 119 x 27 mm

Weight: 5.6 lbs (2.56 kg)

Reasons to buy

+Stealthy CPU block logo+Affordable 360mm all-in-one solution

Reasons to avoid

-Not to everyone's taste

When you’re looking for the best liquid cooling options available, efficiency and effectiveness for heat dissipation are of utmost importance. The best way to approach this is to use a radiator with the largest surface area possible. For most modern mid-sized cases and full towers, this means a 360mm radiator. Equipped with three 120mm fans, these coolers take up quite a bit of space and can be relatively costly compared to a single 120mm liquid cooler.

Cooler Master’s 360mm MasterLiquid ML360R is our favorite choice. It features a beautiful CPU block design with a muted centerpiece logo, making for a spotless lighting setup. Combined with three addressable RGB fans, the ML360R cools well and runs quietly while providing some sexy lighting for your whole build.

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8. GamerStorm Deep Cool Assassin III

Best Budget big air cooler


Type: Fan and Heatsink

Compatibility: AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, AM4, FM1, FM2, FM2+, LGA 2011, LGA 1150, LGA 1151, LGA 1155, LGA 1366, LGA 2011-v3, LGA 2066

Fan speed: 400-1400 RPM

Noise volume: 34.2 dBA

Dimensions: 165mm x 138mm x 25 mm

Weight: 3.2 lbs (1.45 kg)

Reasons to buy

+Thermal performance +Quiet+Price

Reasons to avoid

-Wide design

The GamerStorm Deepcool Assassin III may sound like someone’s terrible username, but it’s an impressively big air cooler. This wide boy houses twin cooling towers, seven heat pipes, and a pair of quiet 140mm fans. And with such large fans and plenty of cooling surfaces, this is an impressively performant air cooler too.

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For way less than $100, you can get yourself a quiet CPU cooler with exceptional thermal performance. Surprisingly, there’s no RGB lighting, making the Deepcool Assassin III a rather tame looking piece of hardware despite the flashy name. Though if you're chasing the more restrained aesthetic for your gaming machine, this quiet, stealthy chip chiller could be the dark horse of all our picks for best CPU cooler.

Best CPU cooler FAQ

How do you test CPU coolers?

Like most components, choosing the right CPU cooler depends on several variables, including performance requirements, case compatibility, budget restrictions, and aesthetics. To find the best CPU coolers, we test performance using Prime95 and a mixture of modern PC games for extensive stress testing. Our top selections were made based on thermal performance, noise, value, and overall feature sets.

How do I choose the CPU cooler that's right for me?

If you aren't sure whether you need an air cooler or a liquid cooler, it comes down to budget and compatibility. Until AMD released its Wraith coolers (and then took them away again), we'd never recommend a stock cooler to any PC gamer. Still, those on tight budgets now don't necessarily need to consider an aftermarket air cooler. If you have a little more spending room, liquid coolers can offer a whole lot more—from advanced RGB lighting to intelligent software control.

Some of you may be wary about putting liquid near your expensive components, but rest assured all of the coolers recommended in this guide are backed with excellent warranties that will cover you in the event of a manufacturer failure—a colossal leakage is an infrequent occurrence, anyways.

Is liquid cooling quieter than air cooling?

In general, an all-in-one liquid CPU cooler will be quieter than an air cooler mounted directly on top of the processor itself. That's because the fans attached to the cooling radiator are generally larger and can therefore spin slower than an air cooler. The water pump is often well insulated, so there isn't much noise from them either.

But there are large air coolers with big heatsinks and large fans that can compete well with the noise generation of an AIO liquid cooler. The quietest of all would be an entirely passive cooler, one with no moving parts whatsoever. However, those can't always cope with the most hot and heavy CPUs.

Do I need liquid cooling if I don't overclock my CPU?

Liquid cooling can undoubtedly give your processor the thermal headroom it needs to run comfortably overclocked, but there are other reasons you might want to have an AIO in your system. The vainest is the aesthetic—not having a huge hulking heatsink clogging up your chassis when there's a Perspex peephole to show off your components is often desirable.

That can also play into having a smaller chassis entirely. Liquid coolers can often give you the thermal performance to run a high-spec CPU in a small chassis where you'd only otherwise be able to fit a weaker, small form factor air cooler.

How does liquid cooling work anyway?

The coolant passes through a closed-loop via a plate that's attached to your CPU, and in combination with the attached radiator and fan, it cools the CPU. It's simple and a hundred times easier to install than an entire water-cooling loop.

Sours: https://www.pcgamer.com/best-cpu-coolers/

Best CPU Coolers 2021: AIO and Air Coolers

Best Closed-Loop Liquid CPU Coolers You Can Buy Today

1. CoolerMaster MasterLiquid ML360R RGB

Best 360mm Closed-Loop Liquid Cooler


Thickness: 1.1” (2.3" w/fans)

Width: 4.8" (120.7mm)

Depth: 15.5" (393.7mm)

Fans: (3) 120 x 25mm

Socket Support: Intel 2066, 2011x, 1366, 115x, 775, AMD AM2(+), AM3(+) AM4, FM1, FM2(+)

Warranty: 2 years

Reasons to buy

+Excellent cooling ability+Sleek design and aesthetics+Lower price than other 360 AIOs

Reasons to avoid

-Cable / controller management could be better

When it comes to keeping overclocked CPU load temperatures in check, Cooler Master’s MasterLiquid ML360R RGB is the new chilling champ. As the 360 variant of our previously reviewed MasterLiquid ML240R RGB, the newly available MasterLiquid ML360R adds 33 percent more radiator surface area for even more cooling prowess. The result? It cools even better than the mighty NZXT Kraken X72.

Power users, gamers, system builders and overclockers in the market for a new large CPU cooler should take note. The Cooler Master ML360R RGB is our current 360 AIO thermal performance leader. And while $160 isn’t exactly cheap, there are plenty of competing products that cost more while delivering less-impressive performance.

Read: CoolerMaster MasterLiquid ML360R RGB review

2. Alphacool Eisbaer Pro Aurora 360

Best 360mm Closed-Loop Liquid Cooler Alternative


Dimensions: 400 x 124 x 30/2mm

Pump Height: 2.25 inches / 57.2mm

Weight: 69.6 oz / 19748g

Fans: (3) 120 x 25mm

Socket Support: Intel 2066, 2011x, 3647, AMD AM4,TR4, sTRX4, sWRX8

Warranty: 2 years

Reasons to buy

+Threadripper cooling performance+G1/4 watercooling direct compatible+Dripless disconnects for simple expansion using Alphacool components

Reasons to avoid

-Could be quieter-Lacks software controls

The Alphacool Eisbaer Pro Aurora 360 features a full-cover CPU block sizable enough to fully cover Threadripper’s ample surface area, although it supports mainstream sockets like AM4 as well. There’s also a powerful, fast-flowing pump with built-in reservoir and an all-copper radiator, allowing the Eisbaer Pro Aurora 360 to morph into a custom cooling loop, one piece at a time.

Priced around $217, it's more costly than some other solutions, but does provide hands-down the absolute best cooling potential. And power users building high-end AMD Threadripper or Intel HEDT desktop workstation or gaming systems will have higher budgets, with a different focus than those looking for a more frugal desktop gaming or mainstream PC build.

Considering the cost associated with most of the CPUs and motherboards alone supported by the Eisbaer Pro Aurora, system builders in this realm of performance usually draw from a unique set of criteria, which a frequent aim for ‘the best at any price.' And that, quite simply, is what the Alphacool Eisbaer Pro Aurora 360 exemplifies. Whether you intend to run it as is, or expand into a custom cooling loop, you won't be let down by this versatile piece of cooling kit.

Read: Alphacool Eisbaer Pro Aurora 360 review 

3. Arctic Liquid Freezer II 280

Best 280mm Closed-Loop Liquid Cooler


Thickness: 1.5" (2.75" w/fans)

Width: 5.5" (139.7mm)

Depth: 12.5" (317.5mm)

Fans: (2) 140 x 25mm

Socket Support: Intel 2066, 2011x, 115x; AMD AM4

Warranty: 2 years

Reasons to buy

+Great cooling performance+Unique pump and auxiliary fan design+Low operational noise levels+Attractive price

Reasons to avoid

-Boxed unit ships with pump and fans managed by single PWM splitter-Lack of RGB lighting (for those looking for the option)

While our thermal measurements indicate that it's integrated voltage regulator fan is little more than a gimmick, great CPU temperatures at ultra-low noise levels prove the Liquid Freezer II 280 far-more-valuable than its far-costlier rivals.

Read: Arctic Liquid Freezer II 280 AIO review

4. Corsair H100i RGB PRO XT

Best 240mm Closed-Loop Liquid Cooler


Thickness: 1.0" (2.13" w/fans)

Width: 4.75" (120.7mm)

Depth: 10.9" (277mm)

Fans: (2) 120 x 25mm

Socket Support: Intel 2066, 2011x, 1366, 115x, AMD AM2(+), AM3(+) AM4, FM1, FM2(+), TR(X)4

Warranty: 5 years

Reasons to buy

+High-performing 240mm AIO cooling+iCUE software suite allows for customized cooler and lighting control+Priced well for premium performance

Reasons to avoid

-Noisy fans at 100% speed-Awkward, small screws used to secure fans to radiator-RGB lighting is pump-only

The Corsair H100i RGB PRO XT takes over where the H100i Pro left off by providing enthusiast levels of thermal load management from a 240mm AIO and making use of Corsair’s iCUE software suite for RGB lighting control, fan curve configuration and pump performance settings.  Paring the capability of the cooler with a set of user-friendly software tools provides a great deal of value for system builders of any technical proficiency, in real time. 

Read: Corsair H100i RGB Pro XT review

Best 240mm Closed-Loop Liquid Cooler Alternate: Deepcool Gamer Storm Captain 240 Pro

The Gamer Storm Captain 240 Pro makes up for in low noise what it lacks in cooling power compared to Corsair's H100i Pro, to the point that the Captain 240 Pro has a significantly better cooling-to-noise ratio.  We favor it for anyone who needs virtual silence at 50% fan speed, where most users in most environments won't hear it. Even those able to push a CPU hard enough to require 100% fan speed will find its hushed murmur less than half as noisy as the H100i Pro.

5. NZXT Kraken M22

Best 120mm Closed-Loop Liquid Cooler


Thickness: 1.1" (2.25" w/fans)

Width: 4.75" (120.7mm)

Depth: 6.15" (156.1mm)

Fans: (1) 120 x 25mm

Socket Support: Intel 2066, 2011x, 1366, 115x, AMD AM2(+), AM3(+) AM4, FM1, FM2(+)

Warranty: 6 years

Reasons to buy

+Great cooling for a compact AIO+Handsome, sleek design+CAM software is attractive &+intuitive

Reasons to avoid

-$99.99 price is higher than other 120mm AIO solutions-RGB controls only apply to CPU block face-CAM software sends data to NZXT cloud services

The NZXT Kraken M22 is an incredibly compact, high-performance liquid cooler that delivers sleek styling and vibrant RGB lighting options, while offering support for current AMD and Intel processor sockets. Specifically, if you're building a small home-theater PC or a compact gaming build, the Kraken M22 offers surprising cooling potential in a condensed cooling package.

Just don't try to strap one to your Threadripper system. The demanding thermals and massive surface of those high-end CPUs aren't supported by this cooler.

Read: NZXT Kraken M22 review

6. Enermax Liqtech 360 OC TR4

Best AMD Threadripper


Thickness: 1.125" (2.25" w/fans)

Width: 4.75" (120.65mm)

Depth: 15.50" (393.7mm)

Fans: (3) 120 x 25mm

Socket Support: AMD TR4, SP3

Warranty: 2 years

Reasons to buy

+Excellent cooling performance+Aggressive pricing+Easy installation+Full coverage of Threadripper CPUs

Reasons to avoid

-No software UI for real-time management-No RGB or LED lighting on fans (might be a plus, for some)

In the Liqtech 360 TR4 OC, Enermax has graced the Threadripper world with a cooler that covers these large enthusiast processors in full, providing performance similar to custom liquid cooling with the easy installation and moderate cost of an AIO cooler. Enermax also keeps costs down by avoiding RGB lighting and the relevant software integrations. The lack of lighting might turn away some buyers who prefer millions of colors and a software UI. However, Threadripper fans seeking excellent cooling performance, and who wish to set up some simple fan-cooling curves, will find just that in the Liqtech 360 TR4 OC.

Read: Enermax Liqtech 360 OC TR4 review

7. Alphacool Eisbaer Aurora 240 CPU Digital RGB

Best Reconfigurable Closed-Loop Cooler


Thickness: 2.25” (57.2mm)

Width: 4.88” (124mm)

Depth: 10.75” (273mm)

Fans: (2) 120 x 25mm

Socket Support: Intel 2066, 2011x, 1366, 115x, AMD AM2(+), AM3(+) AM4, FM1, FM2(+), TR4, C32, G34

Warranty: 2 years

Reasons to buy

+Quick disconnects for no-spill expansion+Solid thermal performance+Built with DC-LT pump and copper radiator water cooling components

Reasons to avoid

-Tubing length could be longer to allow for more diverse installations-Pump has coolant top-up port, but coolant must be purchased separately

Alphacool's Eisbaer is a factory-filled hybrid design, featuring a closed-loop-style pump and CPU cold plate with open-loop style fittings that including an anti-leak, in-line quick connector. Alphacool offers wide range of factory-filled companion parts, from additional radiators to GPU blocks, to suite nearly any expansion need. It's perfect for buyers who lack the time to assemble, purge, and leak test their own scratch-built component systems, as well as those who have more cash than self-confidence.

Read:Alphacool Eisbaer Aurora 240 CPU Digital RGB review

8. Alphacool Eissturm Hurricane Copper 45

Best Custom Cooling Kit


Thickness: 1.8” (45mm)

Width: 5.75” (146mm)

Depth: 18.5” (470mm)

Fans: (3) 140 x 25mm

Socket Support: Intel 2066, 2011x, 1366, 115x, 775, AMD AM2(+), AM3(+) AM4, FM1, FM2(+), TR4

Warranty: 2 years

Reasons to buy

+Great cooling performance+Professional-grade components+Very good value for a full watercooling kit

Reasons to avoid

-Pricey compared to AIO alternatives

With an enormous 3x 140mm radiator, this kit allows for enough thermal expansion of the loop to include a graphics card waterblock (or even two), if desired. By using industry standard G1/4 threaded fittings for all components, the cooling loop almost begs you to add more components to the party. A radiator of this size and potential allows for this kind of load because of the quality design and engineering that went into building it. A pump of this pedigree pushes coolant like few others are capable. Quality-milled components and attention to detail are seen on each and every piece within the kit.

For anyone looking for a complete, high-quality watercooling kit in a single box, this Alphacool Eissturm Hurricane Copper 45 kit is an excellent choice for those with room in their chassis for the monstrous 3x 140mm radiator and large pump/reservoir combo.

Read: Alphacool Eissturm Hurricane Copper 45 Review

MORE: Best Air CPU Cooling

MORE: How To Choose A CPU Cooler

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Matt began piling up computer experience as a child with his Mattel Aquarius. He built his first PC in the late 1990s and ventured into mild PC modding in the early 2000s. He’s spent the last decade covering emerging technology for Smithsonian, Popular Science, and Consumer Reports, while testing components and PCs for Computer Shopper and Digital Trends. When not writing about tech, he’s often walking—through the streets of New York, over the sheep-dotted hills of Scotland, or just at his treadmill desk at home in front of the 50-inch 4K HDR TV that serves as his PC monitor.
Sours: https://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/best-cpu-coolers,4181-2.html
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Only choose liquid cooling if you have a case with limited airflow or if you plan on doing heavy overclocking.

For all other purposes, air cooling is more than sufficient. It is convenient and much cheaper to boot.

Overclocking has become quite mainstream today, even if it is more popular with GPUs rather than CPUs. Still, liquid CPU cooling has become widespread. At some point, you have probably wondered if you should give liquid cooling a try.

But what are the differences between air cooling and liquid cooling? How do they function? And most importantly, which one should you choose? A liquid or an air CPU cooler?

We will answer these questions and more in this guide.

How Do They Work?

Air Cooling

liquid cooling vs air cooling

The way and air cooler functions is quite simple. It relies on two key components:

  1. The fan
  2. The heatsink

The heatsink is made of highly thermo-conductive materials, most commonly aluminum or a combination of aluminum and copper. Its purpose is to draw heat away from the CPU. Yet, there is only so much heat that a heatsink can absorb before the heat needs to be dissipated.

This is where the fan comes into play: by continuously spinning, it keeps cool air running through the heatsink, preventing it from overheating.

Liquid Cooling

water cooling vs air cooling

Liquid cooling is a tad more complex, involving more parts compared to an air cooling system. These are:

  1. The pump
  2. The radiator
  3. The hoses
  4. The fan

Whereas air cooling relies on air circulating through a heatsink, liquid cooling adopts a similar approach but uses fluid instead of air.

Water – or any other liquid coolant – is pumped through the hoses which connect to the component that needs cooling – in this case, the CPU. But merely recirculating it is not enough, and the liquid needs its heatsink.

That is precisely the role of the radiator in a liquid cooling setup. And to prevent it from overheating as well, we have a fan that keeps cool the air running over it.

Which One Should You Choose?

Let’s take a look at the essential factors that you need to consider before choosing between air and liquid cooling.

water cooling vs air

Cooling Efficiency

There is no doubt about it. Liquid cooling is far more efficient and powerful than air cooling, primarily because a much higher volume of liquid coolant can circulate more efficiently.

However, the more important thing to consider is whether you need that extra cooling power. For a CPU running at factory clock speeds, air cooling will be more than sufficient. Even if you plan on some light overclocking, liquid cooling is still unnecessary unless the CPU is pushed to the limit.


Whereas liquid cooling is undeniably more efficient, air cooling has the advantage of being far more affordable. This is mainly due to the lower manufacturing costs, and the price differences can be measured in hundreds of dollars.


Unless you have experience dealing with computer hardware, you will find installing and maintaining a liquid cooling setup nearly impossible.

On the other hand, an air cooler is easy and convenient – you put it in place, take it out once in a while to blow the dust out, and it is as good as new.


air cooling vs liquid cooling

There are two scenarios where we recommend using liquid cooling:

  1. Extreme overclocking
  2. Cramped computer cases

When pushing a high-end CPU to its limit, even the best air cooler will be overexerted. And when air is no longer physically capable of keeping a CPU cool, water is the way to go.

And even if you aren’t planning on pushing that limit, and you simply don’t like the noise of a fan constantly spinning, liquid cooling is a much quieter option.

Additionally, you might wish to fit a gaming configuration inside a Mini ITX or a Micro ATX case, which would not allow the ideal airflow. Liquid cooling would be a perfect match in this case, since it doesn’t need nearly as much air to keep the CPU temperature low.


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Samuel Stewart

Samuel is GamingScan's editor-in-chief. He describes himself as a dedicated gamer and programmer. He enjoys helping others discover the joys of gaming. Samuel closely follows the latest trends in the gaming industry in order to keep the visitors in the flow.

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Best Liquid CPU Coolers 2021: Silent and Reliable AIO Liquid Coolers

Keeping your processor properly cooled is critical for getting the most performance possible out of it. While there are many CPU coolers to get the job done, few are as exciting as liquid coolers. Fortunately, you don't actually have to be some plumbing professional to set up a liquid cooler these days thanks to the proliferation of all-in-one (AIO) liquid coolers.

The AIO liquid coolers you'll find can actually be incredibly simple. They come with a water pump pre-installed with hoses that connect to a radiator, which can vary in size from a simple square 120mm way up to 240mm and even 360mm. They're even pre-filled with fluids, so you don't have to fuss around with any of that. In some ways, they can be even simpler to set up than an air cooler, as you don't need to carefully mount a heavy heat sink onto your processor.

The benefits of liquid coolers go further than that. They can also do a great job keeping your CPU chilled (just make sure you get one that is designed to handle the heat output of your processor), and can often do it more quietly than an air cooler. Plus, they can work better in tight spaces, such as mini ITX cases, since they don't have the same size constraints as air coolers that have to stick straight up from the CPU socket. So, if you're ready to dabble in liquid cooling, these are the best AIO liquid coolers to check out.

TL;DR – These are the Best Liquid CPU Coolers:

1. Corsair iCUE H100i RGB Pro XT

Best Liquid CPU Cooler

Corsair iCUE H100i RGB Pro XT
Corsair iCUE H100i RGB Pro XT

Corsair knows how to keep your processor cool, and the Corsair iCUE H100i RGB Pro XT is the AIO liquid cooler to do it. This 240mm setup is ready to handle some serious heat, so it’s no surprise that it comes with socket support for the latest AMD and Intel processors, including AMD’s Threadripper processors.

The Corsair iCUE H100i RGB Pro XT pulls heat away from your processor with a copper cold plate and pumps that into a 240mm radiator fitted with two Corsair ML Series 120mm fans. When temps are low, the fans can sit idle for silent operation, but when things heat up, they can kick into gear to push air through at up to 75CFM each while sticking to just 37dBA. The pump also can lend some style to your setup with 16 RGB LEDs on the pump head, and you can address each individually. Managing the AIO cooler is also simple. You can control fan and pump speeds from within Corsair’s iCUE software right on your PC, and monitor CPU temperature to make sure your settings are giving you optimal performance.

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2. Lian Li Galahad

Best Budget Liquid CPU Cooler

Lian Li Galahad

Lian Li isn't just making some of the best PC cases, and the Lian Li Galahad is a strong case for where else it can excel. This AIO cooler comes in at an affordable price while offering a sizable 240mm radiator and dual 120mm fans. Those fans feature stylish aRGB lighting that will let you customize the look of your PC, and the water pump housing also gets in on the light show.

The Lian Li Galahad fans can generate 2.79mmH2O of air pressure and 72CFM of airflow, sending plenty of air past the radiator to keep your CPU cool. The fans are rated to run for 40,000 hours and the pump is rated for 70,000 hours, ensuring you get every bit of value possible out of this cooler. Heck, Lian Li even includes thermal compound for the application so you don't need to spend extra picking that up.

3. Deepcool Captain 240 Pro V2

Best Ultra Cheap Liquid CPU Cooler

Deepcool Captain 240 Pro V2
Deepcool Captain 240 Pro V2

Looking for an all-in-one liquid cooler with a 240mm radiator? Want it to have RGB-lit fans? Want the pump to have RGB lighting as well? And you want it all for a low price? Lucky for you, you actually can get all that with the Deepcool Captain 240 Pro V2.

This AIO liquid cooler brings a bunch of the most exciting features at a low price point of just $100. You'll get your big radiator, and it'll include two fans with addressable RGB lighting. The water pump also has a light bar around the sides and an array of lighting on the top. All of that lighting can connect right to your motherboard for direct control and syncing with the rest of the system, or you can just use the included controls built into the cabling. The Deepcool Captain 240 Pro V2 is the complete package, and you can set it up with a wide variety of builds thanks to extensive socket compatibility, including AMD's AM4 and TR4 sockets and Intel's LGA20XX and LGA1200 sockets.

4. NZXT Kraken X53

Best 240mm Liquid CPU Cooler

NZXT Kraken X53

The NZXT Kraken X53 is the successor to our longtime favorite NZXT Kraken X52 that features some major improvements to look better and cool more efficiently. It comes fitted with Asetek's latest 7th generation, so you're getting the best flow and longest reliability compared to other cooler equipped with older water pumps. In our personal experience, we've seen this cooler have no problem keeping an Intel Core i7-9700K running well under 50-degrees celsius.

On top of all the cooling performance you get out of the NZXT Kraken X53, it still features the most unique looking infinity mirror lighting setup. Thanks to some optical trickery, this cooler can create seemingly unlimited rings of RGB lighting that go on forever. We've featured the 240mm X53 here, but the Kraken series is also available in all sorts of sizes from 120mm to 360mm.

5. EVGA CLC 280mm

Best 280mm Liquid CPU Cooler

EVGA CLC 280mm

Evga has recently been breaking into all kinds of new hardware territory and is a newcomer to the closed-loop cooling market. Still, the company knows how to craft some sweet hardware, and its new 280 CLC is one of the best bang for the buck models available. It utilizes a 280mm radiator with twin whisper-quiet fans, and also has beautifully designed LED integration on the water block.

Topping it all off is its killer software dubbed EVGA Flow Control, which allows you to control the fans, RGB lighting on the block, and the pump RPM as well. The pump is built with Asetek’s Gen5 pump technology, which is known for its reliability and efficiency. At around $115, the performance, noise, and quality are well worth it, and it is one of the best values in the market right now.

6. Corsair iCUE H150i Elite Capellix

Best 360mm Liquid CPU Cooler

Corsair iCUE H150i Elite Capellix
Corsair iCUE H150i Elite Capellix

If you want the most cooling potential, then you'll want a lot of fluid to sink your heat into. With a 360mm liquid cooler, you'll get just that. The Corsair iCUE H150i Elite Capellix can provide you with that cooling capacity and adds in a ton of style to top it off.

This 360mm offers impressive value given how large it is while still costing under $200. It's all the more impressive that Corsair throws in not one but four splashes of RGB lighting at this price. The water pump features a copper cold plate on the bottom for performance and 33 Capellix RGB lights on the top for fashion. The kit includes three 120mm Corsair ML RGB fans with eight RGB LEDs each. With that much light going on, you'll get tons of customization options for the style of your PC. The PWM fans allow for precisely controlled cooling with adjustable speeds from 400 to 2,400RPM as well as a Zero RPM mode for silent operation while the system is cool.

7. Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML240 Illusion

Best RGB Liquid CPU Cooler

Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML240 Illusion
Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML240 Illusion

RGB lights are fun on their own, but they get an extra special boost when paired with translucent material. That material basically turns into a glow stick when lit up, and then the RGB lights still get to cast their glow around the rest of your rig. So, when it comes to liquid CPU coolers, there’s a good reason the Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML240 Illusion stands out.

This cooler uses a translucent dome to house the dual-chamber water pump, letting the very heart of your motherboard shine brilliantly. Cooler Master also pairs the radiator with a duo of MasterFan MF120 Halo fans, which each feature a total of 24 ARGB LEDs to let you really customize the look. Naturally the fans also use translucent materials to push the light show to greater heights. Cooler Master even makes it easy to control the light show with an included ARGB controller so you won’t have to rely on your motherboard’s RGB hardware and software. You won’t miss out on strong cooling either, as the radiator has wide water channels to increase surface area and thereby the cooling potential, and the fans offer up 47.2 CFM of airflow and 1.6mmH2O of static pressure.

8. Alphacool Eisbaer Aurora

Best Refillable Liquid CPU Cooler

Alphacool Eisbaer Aurora

The Alphacool Eisbaer Aurora offers just about everything you could want in an AIO water cooler. It features a 240mm radiator to provide plenty of cooling performance, and the radiator is paired with two 120mm Aurora Lux Pro fans capable of 2.0 mmH2O of status pressure and 61.5 CFM of airflow. There's a healthy dose of RGB lighting on display here as well. Both fans offer rings of RGB lighting while the pump includes a transparent window with RGB lighting inside. And, of course, this cooler sets itself apart because you can refill the fluid inside to extend its useful lifespan. If you're interested in this one, you might have to wait a bit though, as stock has been scarce recently.

9. NZXT Kraken Z63

Best Liquid CPU Cooler with a Display

NZXT Kraken Z63

In the last couple of years, multiple manufacturers have tried to popularize liquid CPU coolers with screens embedded in them to varying success. But leave it to NZXT to perfect the idea with the gorgeous Kraken Z63.

Rather than just showing off rainbow circles in an infinite mirror, this flagship NZXT features an LCD screen you can use to show important information like your CPU and GPU temperatures. Alternatively, this little screen is also great for displaying completely unimportant things like animated GIFs. Aesthetics aside, this cooler comes equipped with a pair of strong 140mm fans and Asetek's latest water pump.

10. ekwb EK-AIO 240 D-RGB

Best High-Performance Liquid Cooler

ekwb EK-AIO 240 D-RGB

EKWaterBlocks has your high-performance gaming rig covered with its capable EK-AIO 240 D-RGB cooler. It's ready to use right out of the box on Intel and AMD systems, and it's compatible with the RGB control of many motherboards. Both of the included fans and the water block offer RGB lighting, so your rig won't just stay cool but will also look cool. The included Vardar S 120mm fans can produce 2.89 mmH2O of static pressure and 66 CFM airflow to ensure the 240mm radiator can consistently releases heat from your system. The hoses on this kit are especially flexible, letting you bend and fit them into even cramped cases while the nylon sleeve around each hose keeps it safe from damage.

Kevin Lee is IGN's Hardware and Roundups Editor. Follow him on Twitter @baggingspam

Sours: https://www.ign.com/articles/the-best-closed-loop-liquid-coolers-for-your-gaming-pc

Cooler liquid cpu

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Technical Deep-Dive: Closed-Loop Liquid Cooling

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