To help us provide you with free impartial advice, we may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site. Learn more

Best CPU cooler 2018: Keep your PC cool and quiet without breaking the bank

Picking the right cooler ensures your system works reliably and quietly – and it can improve performance too

Most CPUs ship with a cooler that’ll keep them running, but if you want to maximise your performance or make your system as quiet as possible, a third-party cooler is the way to go.

Here’s our pick of the best CPU coolers on the market, ranging from simple air coolers up to advanced liquid cooling solutions. So whether you just want some peace and quiet or are looking to invest in maximum cooling power, you’ll find something to suit.

How to choose the right CPU cooler

The CPU cooler may not seem like a core part of your PC, but it does a vital job. If your processor gets too hot, that can shorten its life or lead to crashes; keeping it cool ensures it will remain stable. And while cooling is of particular interest to overclockers, it can improve performance even if you’re running with default settings, since keeping temperatures down ensures that CPUs equipped with Turbo Boost technology can hit their highest speeds.

Should I choose an air cooler or a liquid cooler?

There are two main types of cooler to choose from. The cheaper and more common type is the standard air cooler, which uses a combination of metal conduction and heatpipes to transfer heat from the base of the cooler to a large metal radiator, which is cooled by a high-speed fan.

Air coolers have their drawbacks, though. The full bulk of the radiator sits right on top of the CPU, blocking access to the motherboard and making for an ugly system – and the effectiveness of the cooler is limited by the physical size of the radiator and fans that will fit in that space.

The alternative is an all-in-one liquid cooler, which pumps liquid (generally deionised water) across a small heatsink attached directly to the top of the CPU, then away through pipes to a large radiator and fan assembly located elsewhere in the case.

This arrangement allows much easier access to the motherboard, and a more attractive build. High-end liquid coolers can also dissipate heat more effectively than the best air cooler. They tend to be more expensive, though, and the fan and pump together can often make more noise than a simple fan.

What other features should I look for?

Regardless of which type of cooler you’re interested in, be sure to check that it will fit onto your CPU socket, and that it’s rated to handle the heat output of your particular processor model – commonly known as its “thermal design power”, or TDP.

All the coolers we recommend below were tested on a system fitted with an Intel Core i5-6600K processor. Our temperature and volume measurements (from a distance of 10cm) were made with the chip both sitting idle and taxed to 100% load.

READ NEXT: Our step-by-step guide to building your own PC

The best CPU coolers to buy in 2018

1. Arctic Freezer 7 Pro: Best budget air cooler

Price when reviewed: £18 | Buy now from Overclockers

This small, low-cost cooler packs a surprisingly powerful cooling punch. Its single 92mm fan and trio of heatpipes do a fine job of wicking away heat, keeping our CPU ticking along nicely at 72°C under load and 27°C when idle. Even better, when the processor isn’t under full load the fan is all but silent. At 100% load it’s a little louder than some, at 36.5dB, but still hardly obtrusive.

This cooler is also particularly convenient for Intel system owners, as it uses Intel’s standard cooling mount, which clips onto the motherboard from above; it’s not as strong as more expensive coolers, but it means you don’t have the hassle of fitting a backplate. For mid-range CPUs, it’s a big upgrade over the stock cooler and a bona fide bargain at just £17.

2. Raijintek Themis: Best-value air cooler

Price when reviewed: £25 | Buy now from Overclockers

With its 120mm fan and finned radiator, the Raijintek Themis looks a lot like the popular CoolerMaster Hyper 212. It’s a few pounds cheaper, though, and although it uses three heatpipes instead of four, we found it actually outperformed the Hyper 212 when it came to cooling power. The only trade-off is that it’s slightly louder: we measured 34.6dB from 10cm away with the CPU under 100% load, which the CoolerMaster undercut by 0.5dB.

What we really like is Raijintek’s simple mounting system, which makes this cooler much easier to install than the CoolerMaster’s fiddly assembly. So while the Hyper 212 may be one of the most popular coolers on the planet, it’s this rival that we recommend.

Buy now from Overclockers

3. CoolerMaster MasterLiquid Lite 120: Best budget liquid cooler

Price when reviewed: £37 | Buy now from Amazon

The MasterLiquid Lite 120 is very much a no-frills liquid cooler. There’s little in the way of fancy styling – though you do get a backlit CoolerMaster logo on the pump – and the main water hoses are made of thin corrugated plastic rather than the thick rubber and fabric of more expensive options. There’s no clever software control either: the pump runs at a set pace and the fan is controlled by your motherboard’s fan header.

Yet the MasterLiquid Lite 120 delivers where it counts. It’s easy to install, and in our tests it kept the processor temperature down to just 57°C at full load – while producing just 38dB of noise. Perfect for anyone seeking to squeeze top performance out of a small build.

4. Corsair Hydro H60 (2018): Best 120mm all-in-one liquid cooler

Price when reviewed: £70 | Buy now from Overclockers

If you’re looking to keep the inside of your computer case as tidy as possible, this 120mm all-in-one liquid cooler is a great option. Built-in lighting adds an element of pizzazz – though note that it’s not RGB – while fan speed is controlled automatically via your motherboard. Although you don’t get the advanced software controls of more expensive cooling systems, it kept our test CPU both cool and quiet, with a peak temperature of 57°C and just 35.3dB of noise.

5. Noctua NH-D15: Best high-end air cooler

Price when reviewed: £85 | Buy now from Overclockers

The Noctua NH-D15 is a monster of a cooler. With two 150mm fans, two massive radiator stacks and six heatpipes, it outperforms even many liquid coolers – and remains whisper-quiet while doing so. In our tests it produced just 34.1dB of noise, while keeping our CPU temperature at a cool 54°C.

It’s built to a high standard too. The mounting system is excellent, and the whole thing is coated in a chrome finish – no plain old copper heatpipes here. The base meanwhile is polished to a high shine for better contact with your CPU. It’s just a shame about the brown and beige fans…

6. Corsair Hydro H100i V2: Best 240mm all-in-one liquid cooler

Price when reviewed: £105 | Buy now from Scan

The Corsair H100i costs a bit more than CoolerMaster’s Lite series of liquid coolers, but it’s a clear step up in quality. You get more hefty tubing, a smarter-looking pump with an illuminated logo and the ability to control the pump and fan speeds using Corsair’s iCUE software.
Cooling performance is excellent too, with our test CPU never topping 52°C even under 100% load. The only catch is that when the CPU is idle, the whole thing is slightly on the loud side, hitting 36dB while most rivals hovered around 33dB. You can tweak the settings in software to reduce the noise levels, but even then it’s not the quietest around.

7. NZXT Kraken X52: Best high-end all-in-one liquid cooler

Price when reviewed: £130 | Buy now from Overclockers

Aimed at true enthusiasts, every aspect of this cooler is built to the highest standard: you get high-quality fans, thick tubing, a tasteful and solid housing for the heatsink and pump and a gorgeous ring light that seems to extend into the depths of the cooler.

With its twin 120mm fans and large radiator, it’s also a very effective cooler. Admittedly, in our tests it performed only similarly to cheaper coolers, keeping our processor ticking over at 57°C while producing no more than 38dB of noise. With its larger radiator and twin fans, though, you can be confident that this one has greater headroom to keep more powerful chips cool, even at aggressively overclocked speeds. A great high-performance cooler for those willing to pay for build quality and style.

Read more

Best Buys