How to Choose a CPU Cooler?

Buying a good CPU cooler is extremely important, especially if you plan to load your PC with heavy tasks that demand lots of power. For regular home use or office tasks beefy cooler is not necessary but for gaming or other heavy workloads, a good cooler is a must. If you buy too weak CPU cooler, you may end up thermal throttling your PC and getting a bad performance.

If you buy a brand-new processor, there’s a high chance that it will come with default cooler out of the box. These processors labeled “BOX” and usually more expensive than processors without coolers. If you see the label “Tray” or “OEM”, it means a processor comes without a cooling solution and you need to buy it separately. Buying OEM CPU is a nice way to save some money when shopping for a new CPU, especially if you already got a decent cooler in your current PC.

Should you buy a third-party cooler for a CPU? You should if you want to make your PC as silent as possible and lower the temperatures as much as possible. Also, a good CPU cooler is a must-have if you plan to overclock your CPU. Never try to overclock your CPU with a stock cooler. It is a very bad idea.

What you Need to Consider When Choosing a CPU Cooler?

CPU coolers have many different specs, so it is very important to know for sure that the cooler of your choice fits all your needs.

Socket. This is the first thing you need to check. Look at your motherboard specs and find out which socket it uses. For example, AM4, FM2, AM3, LGA 1151, TRX4, etc. If a cooler does not support your socket, you won’t be able to mount it properly and ensure a tight connection and proper heat dissipation.

how to choose a cpu cooler

Do note that most modern coolers are equipped with different mounting brackets. These adapters allow installing a cooler on many different motherboards. Just make sure your socket is amid the list of compatible motherboards.

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Form-factor. There are Low-profile coolers (also known as LP) and standard tower coolers. Low-profile coolers are good for small cases. Usually, they are mounted parallel to a processor thus take very little of vertical space. The obvious downside is that they are not capable of dissipating much heat from powerful CPUs like a standard tower due to smaller heatsinks. And yes, overclocking is not recommended when running LP cooler. be quiet! Shadow Rock LP (BK002) (there’s a model called Shadow Rock TF2 for with higher TDP) is a very good and affordable LP cooler. Also, you may consider something similar to Noctua NH-L9i or ARCTIC Freezer 11 LP.

Important: if you decide to buy a low-profile cooler, make sure it has enough clearance for a memory. Pay attention to the maximum memory stick height supported in the cooler specs.

Tower cooler is a default choice for a standard PC case with clearance up from 100 to 200 mm and higher. These are equipped with bigger heatsinks, more thermal pipes, and bigger fans. There are plenty of models to choose from for any budgets. From small and cheap coolers for the budget processor to heavy-duty monsters with extremely big and heavy heatsinks, two fans and other advanced features for powerful CPUs and overclocking.

Important: when shopping for a large tower cooler, always check whether it fits on your motherboard and does not conflict with VRM heatsink, GPU and IO shield. This is especially important with high-end motherboards with big power delivery heatsinks and fixed IO shields.

Long story short: go for LP cooler only if you want to build a compact system in a small case. In every other case, shop for a regular tower.

TDP. This parameter is the most important spec that directly affects how cool your CPU runs. The first thing to do is to check your CPUs nominal TDP. For example, Ryzen 5 3600 has 65 W TDP. This does not mean you need to buy 65 W TDP cooler. Always go for a cooler with higher TDP. Go for something that can dissipate at least double a CPUs TDP. That is because your CPU can boost itself and work on higher clocks which in turn increase TDP drastically. Also, overclocking can easily double or triple TDP so make sure you have enough headroom for pushing your CPU to the limit. In the case of Ryzen 5 3600, we need to shop for something capable of dissipating at least 120 W TDP. For example, solid budget options include DEEPCOOL GAMMAXX GT BK or are Quiet! BK008 Pure Rock Slim. Noctua NH-U12S is on a more expensive side but offers exceptional quality and ultra-quiet fans.

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Sure, there’s nothing wrong with buying a too-large cooler. For example, 240 W cooler for a 65 W CPU. If your budget allows, such a solution will make your PC run with very low fan speeds thus make it very quiet and cool.

Here are top picks from us for you to choose in different TDP ranges:

If your CPU consumes more than 280 W, probably it is better to consider water cooling.

Fan and radiator size. Now you need to check your case documentation and find out what is the maximum cooler height support. If your case supports coolers up to 140 mm, you won’t have any trouble installing a 120 mm fan. If a case has a maximum supported cooler height of 120 mm, there are high chances that a regular 120 mm cooler won’t fit. You need to consider the fact that heatsinks are usually taller than the fans themselves, so make sure you have a bit of headroom. Otherwise, you will have to run your PC with a side panel open. Not the best solution.

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Other Things to Consider

  • Pay attention to the number of radiator fins. The thinner they get, the better they dissipate the heat. Also, more fins mins better cooling.
  • Check the number of heat pipes. Just like with fins, more pipes mean faster heat dissipation and lower CPU temperature.
  • Look at the baseplate of cooler. For better performance, it should be extremely well-polished and smooth. The best coolers’ base is so polished that it almost looks like a mirror. Cheaper coolers have direct touch heat pipes with bigger gaps between base and CPU heat-spreader. This may decrease cooling performance to some extent.
  • Check RPMs and bearing quality. This spec determines how loud your cooler will be during the operation.

Hope this article will help you to get the best CPU cooler for your PC and run it as quiet and cool as possible.

Cyril Kardashevsky

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