When building a new gaming PC or upgrading your existing one, there are many factors to consider when choosing a CPU cooler.
Gaming can cause CPUs to run at full load for long durations. Your CPU will throttle itself without adequate cooling, and your FPS will plummet. I'm guessing you don't want your game to get choppy right when the battle intensifies.
Will you be overclocking the CPU? That will increase the amount of heat generated.
Do you have any space constraints? You'll want to make sure your cooling solution will fit.
Do you want it to look incredible? That might cost a little more.
Let's dig into the most important factors to consider when choosing a CPU cooler.
Check out my Recommended CPU Coolers below.CORSAIR iCUE H150i ELITE LCD Liquid CPU Cooler Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link
An air cooler can be adequate for a gaming PC if you don't plan to overclock your CPU. However, not all CPU air coolers can dissipate the same amount of heat. Coolers should indicate their supported heat dissipation (TDP) in watts (e.g., 180 W).
Games and other CPU-intensive tasks can keep your CPU at the higher end of their TDP ranges, so you'll need at least a larger air-cooled heatsink with one to two fans to avoid CPU throttling.
Even if you aren't overclocking the CPU, you could opt for a liquid cooling solution if you want to keep noise levels to a minimum.
We've learned from our own experiences that if you plan to overclock your CPU, your success will depend on how effectively you can maintain adequate cooling. As we have learned, inadequate cooling can cause the CPU to throttle itself to a lower speed or even damage it. However, it can also result in system instability while gaming or working. System instability has led to frustrating instances where we've lost progress and encountered interruptions during gaming sessions.
You may achieve some level of overclocking with a good air cooler. However, if the cooler is struggling to keep the CPU cool enough, your fans will remain at their maximum speed, which could be a little noisy.
Liquid cooling can generally achieve better TDP levels compared to air cooling. Additionally, liquid cooling allows for a quieter system, depending on the radiator size, fan size, and the number of fans used.
A CPU cooler's TDP (Thermal Design Power) rating indicates how much heat it can dissipate in watts. If the cooler can't keep your CPU cool enough, your CPU may throttle (slow down), and your cooler will constantly run at full speed.
Intel CPU specifications indicate this power dissipation number as "Processor Base Power" and "Maximum Turbo Power."
For example, the Core i9-12900K has a TDP of 125–241 watts, depending on the workload.
A CPU cooler can still work with a lower TDP rating than the TDP of a CPU. However, the CPU will eventually throttle itself to a lower frequency to allow itself to cool.
The CPU may not achieve or maintain maximum turbo speeds without adequate cooling.
Types of Coolers
Air coolers use a combination of heatsinks and fans. They are the cheapest, but also the loudest.
A Closed-Loop Cooler (CLC), also called an All-in-One (AIO) cooler, is a type of liquid cooler. All-in-one liquid coolers provide a more straightforward setup in a single pre-built package.
Liquid cooling can provide even better TDP performance at lower noise levels but are more expensive and take up more room. The noise level and ability to cool your CPU will depend on the liquid cooling solution's radiator size and the number and size of the fans.
Find AIO Coolers on Amazon (affiliate link).
Open-Loop Coolers are also a type of liquid cooler, except you construct them yourself. They allow for more flexibility in building your perfect cooling solution but can also be more complicated to set up. Open-loop systems give you the flexibility to cool additional devices, such as your graphics card's GPU.
More fans typically mean better cooling. However, they also mean more noise.
Larger fans are typically quieter than smaller fans, as they can move the same amount of air at lower speeds.
If a cooler is struggling to cool a CPU, it will run at its maximum speed, which will be louder.
Fan noise levels are measured a dB. Lower dB values are quieter.
You can often configure your motherboard's BIOS to use specific fan speeds at particular temperatures. This configurable fan speed allows you to have a near-silent computer while your computer is idle.
CPU coolers can have various mounting brackets to work with different socket sizes. Make sure that your cooler comes with a compatible mounting bracket.
The easiest way to find a CPU cooler that will work for your computer is to search by socket type. For example, Intel's 12th generation Core i9 12900K uses an LGA 1700 socket, so you would search for an LGA 1700 CPU cooler. In some cases, such as when a new socket size is released, there may not be many compatible coolers. In these cases, you can often purchase a separate mounting/
Before buying the biggest cooler possible, ensure that your case and motherboard configuration have room.
Also, ensure that other components on your motherboard won't interfere due to size constraints. For example, do your memory modules (DIMMs) have tall heat spreaders?
Dual-fan coolers often take up quite a bit of room. Liquid cooling solutions typically position fans at the top or bottom of the case.
Some CPU cooler fans come with LED lighting. Similarly, liquid cooling pump heads can also come with LEDs or even LCDs!
If you want to turn off the lights when they get annoying, make sure your CPU cooler has that option.
In general, air-based coolers will be lower cost than liquid cooling systems.
CPU coolers that support a higher TDP are also typically correlated with a higher price.
The more advanced lighting features tend to also come at an extra cost. You can decide between a practical, low-cost solution and a dazzling light show.
Best All-in-One Liquid Coolers
CORSAIR iCUE H150i ELITE
Check the latest price of the CORSAIR iCUE H150i ELITE LCD on Amazon (affiliate link).
This cooler is designed to fit Intel and AMD sockets, including the following models: Intel LGA 1700, 1200, 1150, 1151, 1155, 1156, 1366, 2011, 2066 and AMD AM5, AM4, sTRX4, sTR4 (Intel LGA 1700 is supported with CW-8960091 or CW-8960093 kits).
350-watt TDP (Thermal Design Power).
It provides powerful low-noise cooling and RGB lighting with a customizable LCD display that can display your CPU temperature or other graphics. As I explored the world of LED displays on CPU coolers, I discovered their captivating appeal. These displays have transformed my systems' visual aesthetics.
It has 120mm CORSAIR ML RGB ELITE magnetic levitation fans for great CPU cooling performance.
Make sure your computer case dimensions support this, as it will take up a decent amount of space! CORSAIR iCUE H150i ELITE LCD Liquid CPU Cooler Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link
Thermaltake TOUGHLIQUID 360
Check the latest price of the Thermaltake TOUGHLIQUID 360 ARGB Sync on Amazon (affiliate link).
TOUGHLIQUID Series is designed to fit Intel and AMD sockets, including the following models: Intel LGA 1700, 1200, 1150, 1151, 1155, 1156, 1366, 2011, 2011-v3, 2066 and AMD AM5, AM4, AM3+, AM3, AM2+, AM2, FM2, FM1.
We estimate that this supports roughly a 250-watt TDP (Thermal Design Power).
This Liquid cooler supports 5V RGB compatible motherboards.
Equipped with a TOUGHFAN 12 2000-RPM fan and supports ARGB lighting on the waterblock. Even without a full LED display, ARGB lighting creates a mesmerizing visual spectacle when I use it in my builds.
Make sure your computer case dimensions support this, as it will take up a decent amount of space. There is a smaller version available, if needed. Thermaltake TOUGHLIQUID Liquid CPU Cooler Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link
Best Dual-Fan Air CPU Coolers
Dual 140 mm fans provide 220-watt TDP (183 NSPR) of cooling capability.
Supports a variety of CPU sockets, including Intel LGA 1700, 1200, 1150, 1151, 1155, 1156, 2011, 2066 and AMD AM5, AM4, AM3, AM3+, AM2, AM2+, FM2, FM2+.
Quiet operation at 24.6 dBA. Noctua NH-D15, Premium CPU Cooler Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link
Thermaltake TOUGHAIR 510
- The TOUGHAIR Series is compatible with a wide range of CPU sockets, including Intel LGA 1700, 1200, 1156, 1155, 1151, 1150, and AMD AM4, AM3+, AM3, AM2+, AM2, FM2, FM1.
- I found that the dual 120 mm fans on the TOUGHAIR 510 did an excellent job of keeping CPUs cool, even under heavy workloads.
- If you're worried about the TOUGHAIR 510 taking up too much space in your system, Thermaltake offers a few single-fan variants that use different orientations, so you can choose the one that works best for your setup.
- With a max speed of 2000 RPM, the TOUGHAIR 510 provides optimal cooling performance when you need it most.
- With a 180-watt TDP (Thermal Design Power), the TOUGHAIR 510 offers solid cooling performance and is a great choice for anyone looking for a reliable and efficient cooling solution for their CPU. Thermaltake TOUGHAIR 510 Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link
Want to brush up on other new technologies to consider when building a computer? Check out these articles:
- The Best CPUs for Gaming
- Which Intel and AMD CPUs Support PCIe 5.0?
- Which Intel and AMD CPUs Support PCIe 4.0?
- LGA 1700 CPU List
- LGA 1200 CPU List
- Look up an Intel or AMD CPU on TechReviewer for related recommendations:
- CPU Coolers:
- Graphics Cards:
- Power Supplies:
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