5 Best CPU Coolers in 2021 for Gaming & Overclocking: Air & Liquid Cooling Systems

We take a look at the best fan and AIO CPU coolers on the market for a range of different budgets and needs

best CPU cooler

Having the best CPU cooler isn’t always a crucial part of a gaming PC. You can always get by on the stock cooler that comes with your CPU but in any case, cooling this component is vital to its longevity and performance.

Whether you just want to push your gaming rig further and gain a performance boost or do serious overclocking, you are going to need a CPU cooler that suits your needs and meets those demands.

Our Top Picks

Editor's Pick
The Best CPU Cooler
Liquid Pick
Best Liquid CPU Cooler
Silent Pick
Best Silent CPU Cooler

Best CPU Cooler: First Look

Editor's Pick
The Best CPU Cooler
  • Thermal Performance 4.6
  • Acoustic Performance 4.7
  • Aesthetics 4.4
  • 0 /5
    Editor's Rating

    The Noctua D15 is the people champion. Its performance is so outstanding it can compete with several liquid CPU coolers.

    The Noctua NH-D15 is heavily based on the NH-D14 cooler. The cooler features two 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.

    Liquid Pick
    Best Liquid CPU Cooler
  • Thermal Performance 4.8
  • Acoustic Performance 4.4
  • Aesthetics 4.8
  • 0 /5
    Editor's Rating

    This is a monster of a CPU cooler when it comes to keeping high TDP 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, 2 x 140mm fans that do an incredible job of heat dissipation. This AIO also features an LCD panel, which is purely an aesthetic touch but a fine one at that.

    Silent Pick
    Best Silent CPU Cooler
  • Thermal Performance 4.5
  • Acoustic Performance 4.8
  • Aesthetics 4.4
  • 0 /5
    Editor's Rating

    If you’re after a quieter system and don’t want to compromise on low temperatures, then nothing beats the Scythe Ninja 5 CPU cooler. One of the best coolers available and at an affordable price!

    This is what you’ll want to get if you’re all about keeping things silent. It has a large heatsink accompanied by two 120mm fans, which impressively keeps noise levels down to a maximum of around 14.5 dBa. Pair this with a quiet PC case for the ultimate silent setup.

    RGB Pick
    Best RGB CPU Cooler
  • Thermal Performance 4.9
  • Acoustic Performance 4.3
  • Aesthetics 4.8
  • 0 /5
    Editor's Rating

    An alternative AIO liquid CPU cooler that doesn’t just cool your system but illuminates it too is the 360mm Floe from Thermaltake. It does a fine job of cooling whilst also adding some serious style points.

    Equipped with 3x 120mm RGB PWM based fans and an RGB pump, this cooler from Thermaltake will transform your build. While keeping that CPU nice and cold, the RGB that can be configured via Thermaltake’s software, giving you some impressive visuals. This AIO is a brilliant RGB liquid cooling alternative and can handle high TDP.

    Budget Pick
    Best Budget CPU Cooler
  • Thermal Performance 4.3
  • Acoustic Performance 4.7
  • Aesthetics 4.3
  • 0 /5
    Editor's Rating

    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 gets the nod as our top budget selection.

    If your budget is tight, you can’t go wrong with the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Black Edition. The performance of this cooler speaks volumes and when you factor in its subtle design and affordability, you start to see why it’s so highly regarded.

    How We Choose

    All of the CPU coolers on this list are here for a reason – we didn’t just pick them out of thin air. First and foremost, we conducted a search to discover which CPU coolers gamers are into while trying to balance those with the highest reviews against those with the lowest price tags.

    Reviews from various manufacturers were taken into account, as well as reviews from others in the PC gaming industry.

    Next, we get our hands on as many of our recommendations as possible so we can see the build quality up close, test how easy they perform, and see how they effectively cool the CPU.

    How We Test

    From PC cases to CPU Coolers, we like to get hands-on with all the hardware we recommend. Testing the products is a huge part of our overall selection process and it is a way we can be sure that a specific option is the best for the job.

    CPU Coolers must meet our expectations which largely comes from a lot of acoustic and thermal performance tests, with some other boring stuff but most if not every recommendation will have gone through a strict testing process.

    With a CPU cooler, we need to assess build quality, thermal performance, acoustic performance, and finally, value.

    This process enables us to provide you with an accurate take on how well a cooler performs and, ultimately, if it’s worth your hard-earned cash.

    Things To Consider

    When buying a CPU cooler there is more to consider than just ‘will it fit’. Below are a few key factors that you should go over and understand before making that final purchase.

    Performance

    All the CPU coolers on our list are proven to perform well in relation to their cost. A cooler’s 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.

    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!

    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.

    What Size Cooler Should You Pick?

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

    deepcool fan cooler

    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?

    best cpu cooler

    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).
    Sometimes 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 flip side, 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 four different locations for liquid coolers to be mounted. Depending on the case, you can normally install a 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. In extreme cases, where space is tight, a smaller liquid cooler can replace the exhaust fan at the back of the PC.

    fan cooler

    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.

    DSC09555

    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.

    Key Terms To Understand

    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 customized 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

    Related Cooling Pages

    If you enjoyed this guide, why not check out some of our similar guides that may help you with your purchasing decision.

    The 5 Best CPU Coolers In 2020 & 2021

    Editor's Pick
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    Liquid Pick
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    Silent Pick
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    Scythe Ninja 5 CPU Cooler

    Type

    Air

    Max RPM

    800

    Max Noise

    14.5 dBa

    Dimensions

    (H)135 x (W)155 x (D)180 mm

    RGB Pick
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    Thermaltake Floe

    Type

    Liquid

    Max RPM

    1400 RPM

    Max Noise

    24.7 dB

    Dimensions

    H(394) x W(120) x D(52) mm

    Budget Pick
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    Cooler Master Hyper 212 Black Edition

    Type

    Air

    Max RPM

    2,000 RPM

    Max Noise

    26 dBa

    Dimensions

    (H)120 x (W)77 x (D)158.5 mm

    In-depth Review

    1.
    Editor's Pick
    The Best CPU Cooler
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    Pros

    Solid thermal performance

    Excellent acoustic performance

    User-friendly mounting system

    Outstanding build quality

    Comes with (2) 140mm fans

    Cons

    Relatively expensive

    Hefty size

    Noctua is a very popular brand in this industry thanks to its proficiency in cooling products, 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 not just for gaming but in general too.

    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. While the performance isn’t massively different to the D14, this does seem to perform better acoustically.

    A negative for some is going to be the excessive size, the heatsinks are rather large, meaning your RAM might not fit depending on your setup and there could be clearance issues in certain cases. While it’s true that you can move the front fan up to give more RAM clearance and the positives of its size definitely outway the negatives as long as it fits into your setup.

    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.

    Some regard the color as hit and miss but it’s hardly noticeable once in your system and I personally quite liked the aesthetics. Despite what you make of the design this CPU is a serious bit of kit and one of the few air coolers that can keep a modern overclocked CPU cool.

    2.
    Liquid Pick
    Best Liquid CPU Cooler
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    Pros

    Excellent high TDP thermal performance

    Incredible aesthetics

    LCD screen

    Cons

    Expensive

    NZXT’s Kraken line has been growing in popularity in recent years and it isn’t just down to their high-end build quality and dazzling design. The NZXT Kraken Z63 is the latest iteration to the already impressive X63, only this features an LCD panel on the pump. While the panel offers nothing more than an aesthetic touch, it’s unique and a step forward for those who want more than just raw performance.

    Now, there are 360mm options out there that are better suited to higher TDP overclocks but we feel the Z63 offers the perfect balance of aesthetics, cooling performance, acoustic performance, and compatibility, with this likely to fit in a wider range of PC cases.

    The two 140mm fans really do a great job of dissipating that heat and the included CAM software is one of the better ones out there, with impressive customization and intuitive controls.

    If the extra cost for the LCD panel is too much, we understand and the X63 performs just as well but for supreme aesthetics and cooling performance, the Kraken Z63 is easily one of the best AIO coolers out there at the moment.

    3.
    Silent Pick
    Best Silent CPU Cooler
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    Scythe Ninja 5 CPU Cooler

    Type

    Air

    Max RPM

    800

    Max Noise

    14.5 dBa

    Dimensions

    (H)135 x (W)155 x (D)180 mm

    Pros

    Excellent thermal performance for the price

    Extremely quiet

    Stylish design

    Cons

    Large size could raise compatibility issues

    The Scythe Ninja 5 CPU cooler is one that many consider rivaling the impressive Noctua D15 when you factor in the price. This is nearly half the price of the Noctua and offers similar levels of thermal performance and solid acoustic performance too.

    This is one of the quietest fan coolers on the market and is by no means little, as we see a large heat sink and two 120mm fans. the heatsink is fed by six heat pipes, distributing the heat across the large heatsink. The fans may not be as effective as Noctua’s but these do a great job of circulating cool air through the fins and produce top-notch results.

    The cooler features 2 x PWM fans with fluid dynamic bearings and they only go up to 800RPM so noise is always kept below a maximum of 14.5 dBa. As you would expect from a cooler marketed as quiet it features rubber corners to limit noise from vibrations which is a nice touch.

    This cooler supports a wide range of sockets from both Intel and AMD and will keep a top of the line CPU at a reasonable temperature. Installation is actually relatively straight forward it is just the sheer mass of this cooler that makes it a bit trickier than a normal-sized one. This is being recommended as it is truly one of the quietest coolers on the market and the fact it comes in at a budget price is superb.

    4.
    RGB Pick
    Best RGB CPU Cooler
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    Thermaltake Floe

    Type

    Liquid

    Max RPM

    1400 RPM

    Max Noise

    24.7 dB

    Dimensions

    H(394) x W(120) x D(52) mm

    Pros

    Lighting is compatible with most motherboard headers

    Quiet operation

    Unrivaled RGB lighting

    Cons

    Pump is quite noisy

    Very expensive

    Our top RGB CPU cooler comes in the form of the massive Thermaltake Floe Triple Riing RGB 360 TT. This cooler features some of the best RGB lighting you can find on this list and comes with Thermaltake’s “Riing” fans as standard, which have three lighting loops.

    This cooler is a 360mm rad size; so you will need a case big enough for that, but it’s worth noting that the extra cables for the lighting add clutter.

    The CPU blocks lighting can sync up with your trio of fans, giving you quite an impressive display. The product comes with Thermaltake’s fan controller, allowing you to add extra Thermaltake Riing fans to your case.

    The cooling performance may not be as good as some of the coolers on this list, but with the quality aesthetics, we can allow for a few degrees here or there. This AIO is surprisingly quiet though with the fans max RPM only going to 1400.

    While this may not be ideal for a powerful overclocked CPU, it still offers good enough thermal performance to make it into this list!

    5.
    Budget Pick
    Best Budget CPU Cooler
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    Cooler Master Hyper 212 Black Edition

    Type

    Air

    Max RPM

    2,000 RPM

    Max Noise

    26 dBa

    Dimensions

    (H)120 x (W)77 x (D)158.5 mm

    Pros

    Cooling performance is outstanding

    Relatively quiet

    Great value

    Cons

    Limited for higher TDP CPU overclocking

    For those looking to cool their CPU on a budget, the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Black Edition is one of the best budget PCU coolers on the market. This model is a successor to the incredibly popular EVO and does so with impressive performance considering its price.

    This “no-thrills” cooler utilizes four heat pipes and aluminum fins in an effective way and only produces a max fan noise level of 26 dBa, which is actually relatively quiet but largely depends on the RPM you set this to. Other features include precise airflow with a CFM of 42, a smart fan sensor to stop any cable snagging, and a wide array of CPU socket support.

    The performance is technically the worst in the roundup but that is only if you have this going head to head with some of the best coolers in the game. The fact remains, not everyone needs huge heatsinks or liquid cooling and a steady performer like this can be a perfect fit for many.

    Final Word

    That concludes the best CPU coolers currently on the market. We have included several air and liquid options, with coolers to suit various budgets and needs.

    Hopefully, this article will assist 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 or head over to the WePC Community and we will get back to you!