Best CPU cooler in 2021 – our picks of the top air and liquid coolers

Keeping your CPU temperatures low is essential for good gaming performance from your PC, whether that’s because you’re planning to overclock, or to prevent performance throttling and ensure reliability. That’s why we’ve assembled this guide to buying the best CPU cooler for your system. With the odd exception, the stock CPU cooler that comes with your AMD / Intel processor probably isn’t going to cut it, and in any case it’s always worth looking to upgrade if your system is struggling to stay cool when put to the test.

Water cooling solutions reign supreme when it comes to overclocking because liquid needs much more energy added to it than air to increase its temperature. Still, you can get some pretty respectable speeds with the best air coolers and you won’t have to worry about any potential water leaks or the higher cost of an AIO cooling system.

If you want to learn more about the best AIO coolers, then head over to our dedicated guide as it can do wonders if you’re pondering how to overclock your CPU. Otherwise, stick around to find out the best CPU coolers you can buy, whether you’re being mindful of your budget, form factor, or style.

Here are the best CPU coolers for every application:

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noctua nh-d15

The best air cooler is the Noctua NH-D15.

This Noctua CPU cooler is a hefty thing, consisting of two 140mm fans and two heatsinks with compatibility for both AMD and Intel sockets. Despite its drab brown and beige colour scheme, it’s the best air cooler in the business, with temperatures almost identical to some water cooling solutions under full loads – it’s still pretty quiet under all situations. It’s a genuinely top match CPU cooler at a reasonable price, and if you’ve got one of the best gaming CPUs then its high TDP (thermal design power) rating means it’ll be more than capable of the job.

The pre-applied and highly praised Noctua NT-H1 thermal paste has a life of five years. In smaller PC chassis, you might have space issues due to the size so double-check the dimensions before you buy.

What we like…

Rivals water cooling


Two 140mm fans

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Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO

The best budget CPU cooler is the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo.

The Hyper 212 has been around for years but is still the top choice when it comes to a solid, budget CPU cooler which is still miles ahead of any stock equivalent, perfect for your cheap gaming PC build. There’s one 120mm PWM-controlled fan on the heatsink with four heat pipes. And, you have the ability to add your own 120mm fan to the other side to create a push/pull airflow setup to further improve temperatures.

What we like…

Tick Great performance for the price

Tick Stays relatively quiet

Tick Big improvement over stock coolers

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be quiet! Dark rock 4

The best quiet CPU cooler is the Be quiet! Dark Rock 4.

Want a virtually silent air cooler? The Dark Rock 4 from be quiet! – there’s a hint in the name – fits the bill perfectly with a sound level of just 21.4dB under full load, the equivalent of a whisper. Despite this it still gives pretty respectable temperatures compared to its stock counterparts. With its stealthy black design, this cooler can neither be seen nor heard.

What we like…

One of the quietest coolers you can get

Sleek black design

Ability to add second fan

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Cooler Master Hyper 212 RGB Black Edition

The best RGB CPU cooler is the Cooler Master Hyper 212 RGB Black Edition.

You’ve likely already got RGB on your best gaming mouse, so why not go all out and put it on your CPU cooler too? This is based on the same cooler we picked as our top budget option, but as the name suggests, the fan has been swapped out for an addressable RGB fan and black aluminium cover for extra pizazz, with a small price increase for the privilege.

What we like…

Tick RGB lighting

Tick Low price tag

Tick Subtle design

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Noctua NH-L9i / Noctua NH-L9a

The best low profile CPU cooler is the Noctua NH-L9 series.

Breaking down the confusing model names first, the NH-L9i will fit Intel sockets and the NH-L9a will fit AMD sockets, but both are the same heatsink and fan design. We believe this to be the best low profile CPU cooler you can purchase.

You won’t have to worry about any size issues, with Noctua claiming 100% compatibility with all RAM sticks and the best graphics cards on Mini-ITX boards, and a total height of just 37mm. The built-in 92mm PWM-controlled Noctua fan stays nice and quiet, too.

What we like…

Tick Perfect for the best mini gaming PC

Tick Quiet operation

Tick An improvement over stock coolers

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nzxt kraken x63

The best AIO cooler is the NZXT Kraken X63.

If you’re taking a serious look at overclocking your CPU then an AIO water cooler is the one of the best options. This 280mm liquid cooler from NZXT is our pick. The virtually silent fans on the radiator have fluid-dynamic bearings, giving them a longer lifespan and quieter operation than any other fan technology. Naturally, there’s RGB lighting on the pump cover so people know you’re not running any old stock solution.

With the X63 you’ll see idle and load temps in another league to air coolers. If you are overclocking, make sure you’re picking up one of the best gaming motherboards to match, and make sure you pick up the best PC case that has space for that 280mm radiator.

What we like…

Tick Great thermal performance

Tick Affordable

Tick Near silent fans

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Cooler Master MasterLiquid ARGB

The best RGB AIO cooler is the Cooler Master MasterLiquid ARGB.

There’s no reason you can’t be serious about your cooling and want to add a splash of colour to your gaming PC in the process – after all, the best gaming keyboards and best gaming headsets all have RGB nowadays, so why shouldn’t your CPU cooler match?

Cooler Master’s MasterLiquid series does this beautifully with its bright CPU block, and it comes in a handful of different sizes to make your next CPU upgrade a bit easier. The MasterLiquid ML360R has plenty of sufrace area and three 120mm fans to dissipate heat across its large radiator, but if you don’t have space for that in your case, then the MasterLiquid ML240R with dual 120mm fans might be more your pace.

What we like…

Tick Colourful RGB

Tick Choice of size

Tick Affordable

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NZXT Kraken M22

The best 120mm AIO cooler is the NZXT Kraken M22.

It’s true that the bigger the radiator, the better the job an AIO cooler can do, but sometimes you just don’t have the space for one. This doesn’t mean you should sacrifice the chilling effects a liquid cooler offers, however, as there are smaller options to choose from that might be easier to shimmy into your case.

The NZXT Kraken M22 is the little brother to our favourite AIO cooler and comes with many of the same perks. It keeps things quiet, goes easy on your wallet, and keeps your CPU at the right temperature for gaming, but best of all, it could be considered the most compatible AIO cooler you’ll find with its small form factor and support for all modern Intel and AMD CPUs.

What we like…

Tick Compact

Tick Wide range of compatibility

Tick Quiet fans

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best gaming Cooler deals

If you can’t wait for the onslaught of Black Friday deals on their way, don’t fret, as the EVGA CLC 120mm AIO cooler is 43% cheaper than usual. We know what you’re thinking: EVGA is better known for power supplies and graphics cards, but don’t worry, it also makes a mean CPU cooler.

If that’s too small, there’s also a 280mm version that’s reduced by 36% at the time of writing. Here, you’ll be able to attach two 140mm fans to the radiator, but make sure they’re high speed to get the right pressure.

CPU Cooler Buying Guide

As always with gaming hardware, there isn’t necessarily a clear winner given that there are different strokes for different folks, but the coolers we’ve chosen here are all tested to ensure they stand out in their own category, whether that’s outstanding thermals, quiet operation, affordability, RGB lighting, or a a healthy mixture of these features.

should i get a liquid cpu cooler?

AIO coolers, on the other hand, do wonders for those that plan to overclock their chip. Even if you don’t want to tinker with your gaming PC but can afford the price hike, they offer much more headroom, chipping degrees from your peak temperatures.

The main question on everyone’s mind is whether it’s worth the risk of putting liquid in the innards of your system, but leaks the size of which could damage your components are much rarer than you’d think. Besides, you’ll always be backed with great aftercare and warranties if you encounter any hiccups along the way.

are stock cpu coolers good enough?

Long gone are the days of the included coolers sounding like a jet taking off once you boot up a game. The latest stock coolers from Intel and AMD are more than adequate if you’re not looking to overclock, or you’re trying to build the best cheap gaming PC.

CPU Cooler Price List

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