5 Best CPU Coolers 2019 – Air and Liquid Cooling Systems

best cpu cooler for gaming

Whether it's an air or liquid cooler it doesn't matter, they are a vital part of the setup and with the best CPU's becoming more powerful we are requiring reliable cooling solutions sometimes even before overclocking.

After dedicating many hours researching and testing, we have concluded that the Noctua NH-D15 is the best CPU air cooler currently available. This may just be an air cooler but its performance is regarded for being able to compete with liquid coolers.

If air cooling isn't your desired solution then don't worry we have you covered with some excellent liquid cooling options too!

Also, don’t get intimidated if you’re not familiar with some of the terms because we’ll also cover these later, but first let's take a quick look at each of our CPU cooler picks.

Our Air Pick
Noctua NH-D15

Noctua NH-D15

Best CPU Air Cooler

This is everyone’s best air cooler. Its performance is so outstanding that it can compete and even top liquid CPU coolers.

The Noctua NH-D15 is heavily based on the NH-D14 cooler. The cooler features 2 large aluminum heatsinks, a fresh design, a smooth copper base plate, 6 copper heat pipes, and 2 140mm fans to deliver outstanding air cooling performance.

Our Liquid Pick
Corsair Hydro Series H150i Pro RGB

Corsair Hydro Series H150i Pro RGB

Best Liquid CPU Cooler

This is a monster of a CPU cooler when it comes to keeping overclocked CPUs icy cool. This is perfect for high-end builds with powerful processing power and a must have for those that can fit it into their case and budget.

A high-quality closed-loop liquid cooler. This AIO (all in one) features RGB, 3 x 120mm fans that levitate and all while staying relatively quiet and cool. Great pick!

The Silent Pick
Be Quiet! Dark Rock 4 Air Cooler

Be Quiet! Dark Rock 4 Air Cooler

Quietest CPU Cooler

If you’re after a quieter system and don't want to compromise on low temperatures, then nothing beats this Dark Rock air cooler from Be Quiet. One of the best coolers available and at good value too! 

This is what you’ll want to get if you’re all about keeping things silent. It has a large heatsink accompanied by a 135mm fan which impressively keeps noise levels down to a maximum of around 21dB. Pair this with a silent case for the ultimate silent setup.

The RGB pick
Corsair H100i RGB Platinum SE

Corsair H100i RGB Platinum SE

Best RGB Cooler

An alternative AIO that doesn't just cool your system but lights it up too is the H100i Platinum SE from Corsair. It does a fine job of cooling whilst also adding some serious style points.

Equipped with 2 RGB PWM based fans and an RGB pump this cooler from Corsair will light up your build while keeping that CPU nice and cold! The RGB that can be configured via Corsair’s iCUE software with some great customisation. This Corsair AIO is a brilliant RGB liquid cooling alternative!

The Budget Pick
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO

Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO

Best Budget CPU Cooler

This is a quality CPU cooler for those on a budget, that many PC builders swear by. Even before value comes into it this is a strong cooling solution but with its fantastically low price, it's our best budget cooler pick.

If your budget is tight, you can't go wrong the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO. The performance of this cooler speaks volumes and it is one of the best in this price category for 2019.

How We Choose

Every component in a PC is important, remember the cooler will ultimately protect your investment in a good CPU and you should make sure to pick the best solution for your needs. When it came to making these recommendations we specifically opted for coolers that excel not only in their specific category but according to the following criteria as well:

Reliability

It's important to go with manufacturers that produce high-quality products and this is especially true when it comes to liquid cooling solutions.

There have been cases where the closed-loop 'liquid' coolers have leaked so we have tried to ensure quality suggestions!

Performance

All the CPU coolers on our list are proven to perform well in relation to their cost. A coolers only job is to keep temperatures low and give you, the consumer, more bang for your buck from your CPU.

So having a solid performing cooler can help you squeeze extra power from your CPU if you go down the overclocking route and it's best to have it as cool as you possibly can.

Noise

CPU coolers are expected to be loud when running at max which is often the case if in a game for example. Air coolers generally produce more sound than liquid coolers but not always. Cooler manufacturers test the max noise levels so we can see what noise impact certain coolers will have on our system. 

Tips on How To Choose the Best CPU Cooler

Before we get stuck in, here are some basic terms to familiarise yourself with if you aren't currently aware. 

AIO (All-In-One)

This is in reference to a liquid cooler or a closed-loop cooler. This means the pump, pipes, liquid, and reservoir all come together as one single unit. All you have to do is install it and you’re good to go. It's known as an 'All-In-One' as you can get fully customised liquid cooling which requires a lot more know-how and skill to install

TDP (Thermal Design Power)

Also called Thermal Design Point. This is a specification measured in watts. It tells us the maximum amount of heat that component will produce which in this case is a CPU.

RPM (Revolutions Per Minute)

Revolutions per minute or RPM is the number of revolutions a CPU fan makes in a minute. More RPMs means more airflow, but this can raise noise levels.

PWM (Pulse-Width Modulation)

Pulse-width modulation is a modulation process or technique that performs a predefined action based on either temperature (of the CPU) or system commands.

It simply means a PWM fan lets you control the rotational speed or RPM and lighting (if it’s RGB) wirelessly or via a 3rd party software.

dbA (A-weighted decibels)

This directly expresses the relative loudness of sounds in the air as it is perceived by the human ear. A-weighted system decibels means sounds at low frequencies are reduced compared with the unweighted decibels.

Here’s a table showing comparative examples of noise levels:

Noise levels
ExampledbA
Breathing/pin drop10
Rustling leaves20
Whisper30
Babbling brook40
Light traffic50
Conversational speech60

Things to Consider Before Buying a CPU Cooler

When buying a CPU cooler there is more to consider than just 'will if it'. Below are a few other things to consider:

Your Budget

Often any aftermarket cooling solution is better than the stock fan that comes with certain CPU's. If you’re unsure how powerful your fan should be after reading everything here, then it’s best to go overboard as its safer than not cooling your CPU enough.

If you buy an extra powerful CPU cooler, then you might not need to upgrade it when you upgrade your CPU next. If money is tight then save your cash and go for a solid air cooling solution.

Consider the Amount of Heat Your Computer Generates

Before you can determine what size cooler you need(and how much money you should budget) you first need to know how much heat your CPU generates.

Thankfully this is a lot easier than you’d think since you really just need to know the TDP.

This information is normally on the CPU box and should tell you everything you need to know.

If you don’t have the CPU box anymore, simply go online and type in the model number of your CPU and head straight to the specifications tab and look for the TDP.

If you don’t know the model number of your CPU, there is a 3rd party software you can use like CPU-Z (which we highly recommend, too). Once installed, open the CPU-Z software and the CPU tab should tell you everything you need, which we conveniently highlighted as seen on the image below.

CPU Z highlight

The Family, Model, and Stepping values will help you identify which processor you have which can be especially helpful if the processor has more than one version.

What size cooler should you pick?

Now that you know your CPU model, it’s time to determine the what sized cooler will best suit your needs.

If you have a low TDP CPU (around 40W to 70W), then a large cooler will not be necessary. You can go for a cheaper, small-to-medium sized cooler and still keep those temps down. Anything over 75W will benefit from a larger CPU cooler as the large heatsinks help keep those temps even lower and they sometimes come with extra fans for improved airflow.

Mind the CPU Socket

Whether you use an air or liquid cooling solution, it must fit with the CPU socket.

Even though most coolers are produced to fit most CPU sockets by offering various brackets, some coolers still only work with specific sockets.

To determine the type of CPU socket that fits your CPU cooler, check your CPU or your motherboard specifications.

Should You Use Air or Liquid?

Technically for out of the box processing power, the choice is down to preference as they will all provide adequate cooling. Often air coolers are cheaper but may not offer the same performance for cooling an overclocked CPU.

Regardless of what you pick both cooling types share some pros and cons. As a rule of thumb, low profile air fans can often be really quiet and can fit in smaller builds.

Clearance: Make Sure All Your Components Fit

One of the most common problems people face when buying a mid-to-high-end air cooler is the clearance(room once cooler is installed).

Sonmetimes the heatsinks can be really big and leave little to no space for your RAM and other hardware and sometimes the case its self. So make sure you check the clearance, which should be clearly indicated on the spec sheet of the CPU cooler.

You should also check your motherboard’s layout to ensure parts won’t be bumping into one another.

If you have plenty of clearance, then you're good to go. On the flipside, if you don’t have enough clearance, you’ll need to go with a liquid cooler since they take up less space but ensure your case has adequate room to mount it.

Consider the Position of the Fan and the Direction of the Air

Typically, a case will have 4 different locations for liquid coolers to be mounted. Depending on the case you can normally install cooler on the top ( you will see vents and screw holes). Sometimes this can be mounted on the front if your front panel comes off your case. and in extreme cases where space is tight, a smaller liquid cooler can replace the exhaust fan at the back of the PC.

When positioning the fans on the air or liquid cooler make sure you know which way the air is going to blow. Some manufacturers have arrows etched onto the fans to show you the direction and you ideally want this air to be flowing out of the case so position accordingly.

How Much Do Aesthetics Matter?

It goes without saying that liquid coolers look nicer than most air coolers.

Despite liquid coolers looking 'cooler', it doesn’t mean that it is more effective. There are of course a handful of air coolers that cool better than liquid coolers so don't just go for the dearest.

Just keep in mind that liquid coolers are usually the go-to option when overclocking as they cool better than air at higher temperatures.

The 5 Best CPU Cooler

Product Details
#1Noctua NH-D15

Noctua NH-D15

  • air or liquid: Air
  • max rpm: 1500 RPM
  • max noise: 24.6 dB
  • dimensions: (H)165 x (W)150 x (D)150 mm
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#2Corsair Hydro Series H150i Pro RGB

Corsair Hydro Series H150i Pro RGB

  • air or liquid: Liquid
  • max rpm: 1600 RPM
  • max noise: 25 dB
  • dimensions: H(396) x W(120) x D(27) mm
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#3Be Quiet! Dark Rock 4 Air Cooler

Be Quiet! Dark Rock 4 Air Cooler

  • air or liquid: Air
  • max rpm: 1400 RPM
  • max noise: 21.4 dB
  • dimensions: H(159) x W(136) x D(96) mm
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#4Corsair H100i RGB Platinum SE

Corsair H100i RGB Platinum SE

  • air or liquid: Liquid
  • max rpm: 2200 RPM
  • max noise: 36 dB
  • dimensions: H(279) x W(121) x D(37) mm
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#5Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO

Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO

  • air or liquid: Air
  • max rpm: 2,000 RPM
  • max noise: 36 dB
  • dimensions: (H)120 x (W)77 x (D)158.5 mm
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#1

Noctua NH-D15

Noctua is a very popular brand in this industry, and the Noctua NH-D15 is a proven cooling master. It performs just as well as a handful of liquid CPU coolers in the mid-range category, which also makes it one of the best CPU coolers for gaming.

Noctua NH D15 unbox

Looking at what comes with the package, you have two 140mm fans. These fans were remarkably quiet even when running at max while playing games. With a 24.6 dbA sound level, it’s unlikely you’ll hear it running.

Sadly, these two fans are rather large, meaning your RAM might not fit depending on your setup. While it’s true that you can move the front fan up to give more RAM clearance, it still is not enough if you have a RAM with a bulky chassis.

Noctua has accounted for this with a second, smaller version: the NH-D15S. However, the performance was noticeably worse than this model meaning you could find a better solution outside of these two products.

Noctua NH D15 unbox 1

Some regard the colour as ugly but its hardly noticeable once in your system and i personally quite liked the colour. Despite what you make of the colour this CPU is a serious bit of kit and one of the few air coolers that can keep a modern overclocked CPU cool. Great pick!

 

#2

Corsair Hydro Series H150i Pro RGB

The Corsair H150i Pro is an exceptional cooling solution. Not only is it one of the quietest coolers I have ever used, but it achieves this while still delivering top-tier cooling performance. The stellar performance comes from a 360mm radiator which can have 3 x 120mm fans mounted pumping out that heat. Being an 'i' series it comes with Corsair link meaning you can monitor the cooler through the iCUE software and change those pretty RGB colours if you wish.

#3

Be Quiet! Dark Rock 4 Air Cooler

The Dark Rock 4 CPU Cooler is a solid air cooling solution with a 135mm fan. The large radiator will help keep temperatures low and your system quiet, enabling more overclocking headroom and preventing your CPU from throttling at high loads. In addition to high-performance and optimized airflow, you also get the benefit of peace and quiet as the fans noise levels will only hit 21.4db! This CPU from Be Quiet will stand the test against some high heats but if you are overclocking the fastest CPU available then definitely consider a hydro cooling solution instead.

We love this cooler so much it features in our high-end $1500 and $2000 builds and it does a fine job against the 9th gen CPU's from Intel but if you are looking to overclock your CPU then consider a liquid cooling solution.

#4

Corsair H100i RGB Platinum SE

The Corsair H100i RGB Platinum SE  is a fairly priced RGB liquid cooler that is aesthetically one of the best. Like the Corsair H100, it also boasts exceptional cooling.

Through their iCUE software, you can easily achieve a wide range of RGB lighting setups across a spectrum of colors. Plus, it comes with a predefined configuration setting that lets you control the fan speeds from 100%, 50%, and even 0%.

This means you can leave the fans at 0% and have the pumps to do all the work as long as the temperature is cool enough. The pump is also remarkably small which makes it easier for you to install as you can get a better grip.

The pump also comes pre-applied with a thermal paste but you should scrape/ clean this off and apply fresh thermal paste to your CPU, never use too much!  Nonetheless, the thermals that come with it are fine.

Mounting the pump onto the motherboard can be tricky because the default bracket is compatible with Intel processors. There is an included bracket for AMD processors as well, but you have to swap them out.

Just twist the bracket counterclockwise, remove it, and then replace it with the AMD bracket by twisting it clockwise to lock it in place. This shouldn't be too difficult to manage and you should secure the radiator to your case before screwing on the pump.

#5

Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO

If you’re looking for the best budget cooler, then the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO is a seriously good option.

Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO unbox

The build is great for a cooler that costs so little. It comes with 4 heat pipes and a mounting solution that’s also very durable.

This does not have any RGB lights that you can play with(obviously), given that it’s very cheap. This performs silently without compromising any cooling performance and comes with a fan but also the option to add a secondary fan which would improve the airflow and lower temps further.

Is it really worth it? Well, the temperature difference will probably only be 1 to 2 degrees Celsius when you install a second fan so not really but it's still nice to get those extra degrees off. Overall, it’s a budget CPU cooling solution that you can rely on, just don’t buy this if you plan on overclocking your CPU.

Which is the Right CPU Cooler For You?

Now that we have everything covered, it’s time to decide which CPU cooler is perfect for your needs.

  1. Get the Noctua NH-D15 if you’re looking for the best air CPU cooler. It performs just as good and even better than a handful of mid-range liquid coolers for considerably less.
  2. For builders looking for a really good liquid cooler, the Corsair H150i can compete with the best and offers solid build quality.
  3. We highly recommend the Be Quiet! Dark Rock 4 if you’re after the quietest air CPU cooler. 
  4. If you want a smaller liquid cooling option with enhanced RGB, then the Corsair H100i Platinum SE is a very good aesthetic solution.
  5. For those looking for the best budget option we highly recommend the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO. This cooler will not let you down and it comes with a very low price tag!

Parting Words

Hopefully, this has been helpful to you in your quest for a new CPU cooling solution. Did you find this helpful? Do you have any personal recommendations to share? Comment down below and we will get back to you!

Sources

  1. Thomas Soderstrom, Face-Off: The Kraken X61, Reserator 3 Max Dual, And NH-D15, Tom’s Hardware, December 9, 2014
  2. Garrett Carver, CoolerMaster MasterLiquid ML360R RGB Review: The New Cooling Champ, Tom’s Hardware, August 27, 2019