How to Pick a CPU Cooler? An Ideal Guide

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Poor thermal performance can cause thermal throttling, which ultimately leads to performance which isn’t ideal.

That is why choosing the best CPU cooler is extremely important.

Although, it is vital to find a CPU cooler that’s best tailored to your needs, there are a lot of factors in play here.

How to pick a CPU cooler?

It’s hard to give a solid recommendation or an objective answer, as one person might prefer one option, the other might be after something else.

But that won’t be a cause of worry, as we’re here to help.

This guide should help you to figure out what you need, and hopefully, you can find the right CPU cooler.

Chapter 1
CPU Cooler Compatibility

CPU cooler compatibility is the most important factor to consider before you can make your decision.

There are a few things here to keep in mind, such as:

  • The socket for your processor.
  • Decent height clearance for air coolers.
  • Radiator sizes for a closed-loop liquid cooler.

Let’s run through all of these quickly.

CPU Cooler Compatibility

The CPU Socket Compatibility

The CPU socket is what houses the CPU.

CPU Socket
CPU Socket

Your CPU cooler will align with this socket, instead of the actual motherboard.

Sockets tend to change after a generation or two.

For example, Intel’s Skylake (and onwards) processors use the LGA 1151 socket and AMD’s Ryzen lineup uses the AM4 socket.

This isn’t as big of an issue as it used to be.

As manufacturers include different brackets for different sockets, so you can use them on either platform.

However, it is worth checking if you have an older processor.

CPU Cooler Clearance

Once you’ve found a cooler that supports your processor, the next thing to consider is clearance.

Some air coolers can get pretty massive, especially those with two fans or more.

It’s important to check if the cooler can actually fit inside the case, and you can install your CPU cooler easily.

Noctua NH-D14 “A Massive CPU Cooler”

Your air cooler shouldn’t be touching against the inside of the front panel, so height should be taken into consideration.

It’s also important that you make sure your heatsink doesn’t get in the way of the RAM slots.

As for liquid coolers, it’s important that the radiator has enough room to breath, and can fit in properly.

Chapter 2
Types Of CPU Coolers

PC Coolers come in all shapes and sizes, so it can be a bit daunting to figure out which one you need.

To keep things simple, we can categorize coolers into two main categories:

  • Air Coolers
  • AIO (All-In-One) Coolers
Types of CPU Cooler

Air Coolers

Most aftermarket air coolers will look quite similar to the stock cooler you get in the box with your processor.

Hyper 212 Air Cooler (An Example)
Hyper 212 Air Cooler (An Example)

They utilize a copper base plate and a metal heatsink (usually copper) along with a high-performance fan.

Some of the more premium air coolers even include more than one fan for optimal performance.

There are a few advantages to air coolers:

  • Over the years, higher-end options have gotten much better, and they can rival most AIOs out there.
  • They are also relatively more affordable and easier to install.
  • A lot of these higher-end options can be quite large, so it’s important to have enough space for them in your case.

Apart from that, some air coolers can be noticeably noisier compared to closed-loop or AIO coolers.

Thankfully, if you spend a bit more money you can easily find a quiet air cooler these days.

AIO or Closed Loop Coolers

Liquid cooling is arguably the best way to efficiently cool the processor.

This is mainly because water transfers heat much better than air.

AIOs usually have the same copper base plate, but that’s where the similarities end.

AIO CPU Cooler
AIO CPU Cooler

They have a pump right on top of the base, to conduct the flow of water through two tubes.

The tubes then go into the radiator which cools the water, and that goes back to the processor.

The radiator also includes two or more fans.

As you can imagine, it’s a quieter and efficient process compared to air cooling.

However, even liquid cooling has its drawbacks:

  • There is the obvious danger of a possible leak, although most AIOs won’t worry you too much so the chances are low.
  • They also require room for a radiator, so you’ll be very limited if you have a smaller case.
  • Last but not least, they tend to be a bit pricier compared to the air cooling rivals.

There is also the option of putting together a custom water loop yourself.

That means you’ll need to put together the pump, radiator, and even a reservoir all by yourself.

However, that option is for the enthusiast builders out there.

Chapter 3
Which Cooler is Right for You?

Hopefully, by now, you are aware of CPU cooler compatibility, and you’re familiar with the different options out there.

But let’s get down to business and find the right CPU cooler for you.

Which Cooler is Right for You?

The first thing to figure out is how much money you can spend.

Air coolers usually start from anywhere around $20 to over $100. Even the most expensive air coolers can be cheaper compared to the AIO alternatives.

AIOs start around $60, and some of them can go even beyond the $200 mark. So you’ll get more price-to-performance with an air cooler.

Then there’s the case of performance. A lot of higher-end air coolers are perfectly capable of keeping the processor within a safe temperature, even with overclocking.

However, if you want a quieter PC and even lower temperatures, AIOs are the way to go.

Finally, there is the matter of aesthetics.

All of this comes down to personal preference. Some might prefer the look of an air cooler with a larger fan, while others will like the look of the tubes and the radiator in the case. We also can’t factor out RGB lighting, which isn’t going anywhere soon.

If you want to match the theme of your build, aesthetics are important to consider.

A few quick Recommendations

Before you click off, here are a few great recommendations for both air coolers and AIOs.

On the air cooler side of things, we have the CoolerMaster Hyper 212 Evo.

Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo
Hyper 212 Evo, the Best Budget Pick

It’s arguably the best value you can find in an air cooler, for a very competitive price at that. 

The Noctua NH-D15 is another popular option.

Noctua is known for making the best cooling fans out there, so this air cooler is another solid choice.

It has a black version, as well as the iconic beige and brown color options, though, some people aren’t fans (no pun intended) of the beige and brown look.

The NZXT Kraken X62 is an extremely popular AIO which you might have seen in many builds online. It has a 240mm radiator, so it can fit in most mid-tower cases.

nzxt kraken x62

It also has a recognizable design with customizable RGB. It’s also one of the most efficient cooling solutions out there.

If you want to go all out, the Corsair H150i Pro is an excellent choice as well.

It is impressively quiet, the performance is hard to beat, and the design here is quite eye-catching.

Final Thoughts

Whether you happen to be an enthusiast overclocker who wants the most performance or someone who doesn’t want their processor cooked, a good CPU cooler is important for anyone.

Although the stock coolers are fine (the Ryzen stock coolers quite decent), they can be a bit limiting.

Hopefully, this guide helped you out in finding the CPU cooler for your needs.

How to pick a CPU Cooler? Conclusion
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Luqman Khan

Luqman is the founder of and an obsessed gamer! Overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He is also the founder of a Computer Gaming Lounge. He has been into gaming and PC Building since 2009. He is also obsessed with DOTA 2 and Rainbow Six Siege.