Best CPU coolers in 2021

The best CPU cooler is the chip chiller that will do the job you ask of it, with the minimum of fuss. And by fuss we generally mean noise and/or the throttling of your high-end PC components because the cooler is not quite up to the job. That doesn’t automatically mean an all-in-one (AIO) liquid CPU cooler is your only option; there are some fantastic air coolers that are just as capable and as quiet.

There’s plenty of space for both in the market, and we’re listing plenty of each when it comes to the top CPU coolers for your gaming rig. We’ve tested every one of the coolers on this page ourselves, cribbing the top picks from our best AIO cooler for CPUs and best CPU air cooler guides.

Air coolers are still just about the most common of the two chilling methods. A metal heat sink pulls heat away from the CPU then blows it away with a fan. But you absolutely need to consider your CPU socket type, RAM, case dimensions, and the current airflow inside your machine with air coolers. 

The other, more luxurious option is a liquid cooler, usually of 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.  

Water cooling

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EK-AIO Basic 240 liquid AIO CPU cooler

(Image credit: EKWB)
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EK-AIO Basic 240 liquid AIO CPU cooler exploded diagram of pump

(Image credit: EKWB)

1. EK-AIO Basic 240

A step up from even the best air coolers

Specifications

Socket support: Intel LGA: 1150, 1151, 1155, 1156, 1200, 2011, 2011-3, 2066, AMD AM4 compatible

Scale: 240mm

Full radiator dimensions: 275mm x 120mm x 27mm

Fan speeds: 550-2200 RPM

Noise level: Up to 33.5 dB(A)

Reasons to buy

+Cooling performance nips at the heels of 360mm coolers+Good value for money+No RGB

Reasons to avoid

If cooler aesthetics bother you at all, it is rather plain-looking

In the world of liquid cooling, EK is a name that needs little introduction. The EK Basic series focuses on value for money and performance. Plus, it doesn’t feature any RGB at all. If this appeals to you then the EK AIO Basic 240 is well worth a look. Its absence sure helps to keep the pricing down too.

The EK Basic 240 really stands out thanks to its build quality. It just feels hefty and well built. The included EK- Vardar fans are very good and have a wide operating speed range. It’s good to have some high-speed headroom on tap if you need it. Most of the time it stays essentially silent.

What really impresses us is the cooling performance on offer. We find it goes very close to 360mm levels of cooling capability, It does get noisy if you try to push an overclocked Rocket Lake CPU, but then pretty much every other cooler does too.

The EK-AIO basic 240 is perfect for builds with a stealthy focus or closed case builds where lighting doesn’t matter. With its build quality and high performance, it’s a cooler that you can surely set and forget, out of sight, out of mind and out of earshot.

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Deepcool Gammax L240 AIO CPU cooler

(Image credit: Deepcool)
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Deepcool Gammax L240 AIO CPU cooler

(Image credit: Deepcool)

2. Deepcool Gammaxx L240 V2

Awesome bang for buck 240mm liquid cooling

Specifications

Socket support: Intel LGA20XX, LGA1366, LGA1200, 115X, AMD AM4, AM3, AM2, FM2, FM1

Scale: 240mm

Full radiator dimensions: 280mm x 120mm x 27mm

Fan speeds: 500-1800 RPM

Noise level: Up to 30dB(A)

Reasons to buy

+Terrific value+Good cooling ability+Effectively silent at idle

Reasons to avoid

Can get loud under significant CPU load

Deepcool is well known for its capable AIOs at affordable prices, and the Gammaxx L240 V2 is one of the cheaper 240mm coolers on the market. That makes it a great option for users looking to step up from air cooling into the world of AIO cooling.

The Gammaxx 240mm features basic RGB lighting on the pump head and fans. There’s a more expensive ARGB version should you really want it. Deepcool likes to talk about its ‘Anti leak technology’ which seeks to maintain an optimal pressure balance inside the loop. Which certainly can’t hurt.

The Gammaxx 240 is capable of cooling most processors, too, though like many of the chip chillers on this list it draws the line at AMD’s Threadripper beasts. But it keeps the rest running with remarkably low noise levels, which is one of the main reasons we recommend it. 

At idle the L240 is effectively silent. As you’d expect, you will start to see an increase in temperatures and noise levels with high TDP processors, especially when overclocking. Our 5800X CPU with PBO enabled is about the maximum we’d consider appropriate for a 240mm cooler. Under load, the fans can and do ramp up quite a bit.

If you’re after a 240mm AIO that’s inexpensive and quiet under less demanding loads, then the Deepcool Gammaxx L240 is a great choice. Sure, it’s noise levels can get high if you push it hard, but at this price it comes highly recommended.

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Corsair H60 AIO CPU cooler on a blank background

(Image credit: Corsair)
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Corsair H60 AIO CPU cooler on a blank background

(Image credit: Corsair)

3. Corsair Hydro Series H60 V2

Liquid cooling at air cooling prices

Specifications

Socket support: Intel LGA 1200, 1150, 1151, 1155, 1156, 1366, 2011, 2066, AMD AM4, AM3 & AM2

Scale: 120mm

Full radiator dimensions: 157mm x 120mm x 27mm

Fan speeds: Up to 1700 RPM

Noise level: Up to 28.3 dB(A)

Reasons to buy

+Good performance for its small radiator size+Generally quiet operation+Very affordable

Reasons to avoid

Would struggle with super high-end CPUs

The Corsair H60 has been around for some time. Over the years it’s seen its tubing, fan, pump and mounting upgraded. The 120mm AIO form factor won’t suit everyone, but those who require a compact cooler to suit something like a small volume ITX build will find it can perform as well as a decent mid-range air cooler. Notably, it lacks RGB, though there is some white lighting around the head.

The H60 V2 is well suited to processors under about the 95w level. Sure, it will be beaten out by a decent tower cooler or AIO with a larger radiator, but their dimensions often rule them out of SFF builds. Heat is the enemy of an SFF system, so the H60’s ability to eject hot air outside the case will benefit the whole system. Corsair includes its SP PWM fan, which operates at speeds of between 600 RPM (at which level it really is silent) up to 1700 RPM. It becomes clearly audible at that point.

The Corsair H60 V2 is perfect for a compact system. It’s affordable and should outperform most low-profile air coolers and doing so without having to resort to unreasonable noise levels. It won’t suit a high core count or overclocked processor, but then you shouldn’t expect it to. With the right partnering components, it’s an easy recommendation.

Air cooling

Deepcool AS500 Plus CPU air cooler on a blank background

(Image credit: Deepcool)

1. Deepcool AS500 Plus

A fantastic all round cooler that won’t empty your wallet

Specifications

Socket support: Intel 1200, 1150, 1151, 1155, 2011, 2066, AMD AM4, AM3, AM2, FM2 & FM1 compatible

Fans: 2x 140 mm PWM

Fan speeds: 500-1200 RPM

Dimensions (L x W x H): 140 mm x 102 mm x 164 mm

Noise level: Max 31.5 dB(A)

Reasons to buy

+Great value+Low noise levels+Efficient cooling+Build Quality

Reasons to avoid

Not built for high-end overclocked CPUs

The Deepcool AS500 received worthy attention when it was released, but the AS500 Plus with its additional fan elevates it to the point where it can compete with any single tower cooler on the market. At the same time, it undercuts competitors in price. There aren’t many dual fan ARGB supporting coolers at this price. Even if you spent double the money on a premium single tower cooler, your cooling performance won’t be a lot better.

Its cooling ability belies its compact dimensions. Only more expensive dual tower coolers beat it, and even then, not by a whole lot. Its dual fan design no doubt helps. It’s also surprisingly quiet. Even when pushed hard the cooler doesn’t get excessively loud. Cooling and low noise levels are welcome, then add to that great build quality and subtle ARGB good looks and there’s nothing to complain about. It even comes with its own ARGB controller, and there’s a white version too if you like.

The Deepcool AS500 Plus punches above its weight (and price). It cools very well, it stays quiet, it’s got great build quality, a subtle ARGB splash with its own controller and on top of all that. And, finally, it is great value relative to many dual fan single tower coolers. Short of stressing it with a heavily overclocked high-end processor, the AS500 Plus ticks all the boxes. Highly recommended. 

Be Quiet Pure Rock 2 CPU air cooler on a blank background

(Image credit: Be Quiet)

2. Be Quiet! Pure Rock 2

An affordable and effective cooler that really can be quiet

Specifications

Socket support: Intel LGA 1150, 1151, 1155, 1200, 2011, 2011-3, 2066, AMD AM3 & AM4 compatible

Fans: 1x Pure Wings 2 120mm

Fan speeds: Up to 1500 RPM

Dimensions (L x W x H): 87 mm x 121 mm x 155 mm

Noise level: Max 26.8 dB(A)

Reasons to buy

+Very quiet operation+Great price+Good build quality

Reasons to avoid

Super basic looks150W TDP is a touch optimistic

If the brand name didn’t already give it away, the Be Quiet Pure Rock 2 really is quiet! It’s a single tower cooler equipped with the company’s highly regarded Pure Wings 2 PWM fan which carries a low 26.8 dB(A) noise rating. That means it’s very quiet indeed. It feels really solid too, an indicator of good build quality and it comes in at a low price.

We wouldn’t describe the Pure Rock 2 as the most beautiful cooler on the market. But if you do have a windowed case, you could consider the black version which is certainly more attractive than the plain aluminium finish of the base version. The Pure Rock 2 is primarily designed to cool – unseen and unheard. It’s rated to cool CPUs with a 150W TDP. 

Though perhaps this is a touch optimistic, but that’s down to the CPU manufacturers and their ‘real’ TDPs. An Intel Core i5 11600K or AMD Ryzen 7 5800X won’t present a problem for the Pure Rock 2.

For anything other than high-end CPUs, the Pure Rock 2 will keep your chip cool and quiet. If you’re not interested in bling and want something that’s a step up from bundled coolers, the Pure Rock 2 is a fantastic choice. It will cool out of sight, mind, and earshot.

Noctua NH-D15 Chromax Black CPU air cooler on a blank background

(Image credit: Noctua)

3. Noctua NH-D15 Chromax Black

You’ll be hard pressed to find a better performing air cooler than the Noctua NH-D15 Chromax Black

Specifications

Socket support: Intel LGA 1150, 1151, 1155, 1156, 1200, 2011, 2011-3, 2066, AMD AM4, AM3, AM2, FM2 & FM1 compatible

Fans: 2x NF-A15 HS-PWM

Fan speeds: 300-1500 RPM

Dimensions (L x W x H): 161 mm x 150 mm x 165 mm

Noise level: Max 24.6 dB(A)

Reasons to buy

+Awesome cooling performance+Quiet under typical loads+Solid build quality+All black good looks

Reasons to avoid

BIGLouder than you might expect under load

The Noctua NH-D15 Chromax Black is considered by many to be the best air cooler on the market. We love it too, and it’s an easy inclusion on our list of recommended coolers. It performs brilliantly, it’s got excellent fans that are a welcome black colour instead of that rather unsightly beige and maroon (sorry, Jacob), its build quality is fantastic and Noctua’s packaging, accessories and documentation are second to none. 

Really, only 360mm AIO coolers outperform it. If you want an air cooler that can handle any consumer CPU on the market, you might find one to match the Noctua flagship, but you won’t find anything that truly beats it.

Under normal operation the NH-D15 can be considered truly silent. When pushed hard it becomes louder than you might expect, such as you might get when hammering out an AVX load, but we don’t mind having some optional cooling headroom when you need it. Even a 5GHz+ Core i9 11900K will result in quiet running while gaming. 

So why isn’t it number one on our list? Its expense, and the perhaps sheer size, are the only things that count against it. Notably, Noctua has a long tradition of adding support for new sockets. An investment in a NH-D15 Chromax Black means you’ll have a top shelf cooler that will last you for many years.

Passive cooling

The best passive CPU cooler

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Noctua NH-P1 passive CPU cooler on a blank background

(Image credit: Noctua)
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Noctua NH-P1 passive CPU cooler shot from the side on a blank background

(Image credit: Noctua)
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Noctua NH-P1 passive CPU cooler shown in a PC case highlighting the RAM clearance of the heatsink

(Image credit: Noctua)
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Noctua NH-P1 passive CPU cooler on a blank background

(Image credit: Noctua)

Shiny, powerful, and silent

Specifications

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

LargeRequires a case with good airflow

Silicon dreams

(Image credit: Future)

These are the current best CPUs for gaming to build your rig around.

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.

Read our full Noctua NH-P1 review.

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.

PCGamer.com

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