How to pick the perfect CPU Cooler

CPUs, also known as processors, consume a lot of energy and without a cooler will overheat and shut down or could even be damaged. Although many Intel and AMD processors do ship with a cooler included in the box, they only do an average job, and can be pretty noisy. It’s therefore a good idea to consider buying a third-party CPU cooler as it should provide better cooling and be quieter. There are two options - air coolers and hydrocoolers - to choose from.

CPU Coolers

The best CPU coolers for your gaming PC

Air Coolers

Air coolers are the traditional and lowest cost way of keeping a CPU cool. While you’ll find air coolers in all sorts of shapes and sizes, they all comprise two main elements, a large metal heatsink that conducts heat up and away from the CPU and one or more fans that blow air across the heatsink, transferring the heat into the air inside the case.

Hydrocoolers

A hydrocooler comprises several elements: a waterblock with an integrated pump which conducts heat away from the CPU into a fluid which passes through a tube into a radiator, which is in turn cooled by one or more fans. Finally the cooled water passes pack through another tube back to the waterblock to start the process again.

Once you’ve chosen air or hydro, then you need to ensure your case has enough space for it. The vast majority of air coolers will fit in most ATX cases. However, it’s still a good idea to check the height of the cooler versus the width of your case, particularly if you’re building a small form factor Micro-ATX or Mini-ITX PC. When it comes to hydrocoolers, they come in three main size groups, 120/140mm hydrocoolers with a single fan, 240/280mm hydrocoolers with two fans and 360/420mm hydrocoolers with three fans. You should check which of these your case will support.

Not sure what to buy?

Read our buyers guides for additional help.

Cooling

Need help? Read our Air Cooling Buying Guide

240mm to 280mm Dual Fan AIO Hydro Coolers

These hydro-coolers allow anyone to water-cool their processor. They combine the pump, tubing, radiator and fans into a single, sealed unit that's simple to install and doesn't require maintenance or filling, and they're compatible with most Intel and AMD processors. Hydro-coolers provide superior cooling to a budget air-cooler, helping you reduce unwanted system noise and potentially enabling you to overclock the processor for added performance.

These large hydro-coolers require attachment to a pair of free 120 or 140mm fan mounts side by side in your case, and also require sufficient space to install the radiator.

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360mm to 420mm Triple Fan AIO Hydro Coolers

These hydro-coolers allow anyone to water-cool their processor. They combine the pump, tubing, radiator and fans into a single, sealed unit that's simple to install and doesn't require maintenance or filling, and they're compatible with most Intel and AMD processors. Hydro-coolers provide superior cooling to a budget air-cooler, helping you reduce unwanted system noise and potentially enabling you to overclock the processor for added performance.

These extra-large hydro-coolers attach to three free 120 or 140mm fan mounts side by side in your case, and also require sufficient space to install the radiator.

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Intel CPU Air Coolers

From compact units that fit in the tightest confines to larger towers that offer better CPU temperatures and reduced noise there is a broad range of air coolers to choose from. Given the diversity, the air coolers here have at least one thing in common - they are all compatible with Intel CPUs.

As always, check that your chosen cooler is compatible with your specific CPUs socket, that it won't interfere with other components on your motherboard like RAM or heatsinks and that it will fit inside your case.

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Low Profile CPU Air Coolers

These air coolers are the most compact around, and are ideal for systems where space is at a premium, such as with mini-ITX builds or Home-Theatre PCs (HTPCs). Given that these coolers prioritise small size over performance, most are not suitable for high-end, overclocked CPUs.

Ensure you check that your selected cooler offers the cooling performance necessary to cool your processor, and whilst most provide multi-socket support, as always, check that your motherboard socket is supported.

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120mm System & Case Fans

Ideal for today's high-end cases, these fans rotate at a slower speed than standard fans but due to the increased surface area this ensures a larger volume of air is passed which in turn means a cooler quieter PC system.

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Tekspek An in-depth guide into tech: Chassis Airflow Watercooling System Noise Reduction

140mm System & Case Fans

Ideal for today's high-end cases, these fans rotate at a slower speed than standard fans but due to the increased surface area this ensures a larger volume of air is passed which in turn means a cooler quieter PC system.

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