Finding a good and reliable CPU cooler doesn’t have to be stressful. Many people building or upgrading a gaming PC get ask me how to decide what CPU cooler is best for their needs, usually it’s an easy answer in terms of Air or Liquid (AIO – All In One). Deciding the exact make and model though is usually a little more in depth and is personal choice. Some of you will be looking for just the best CPU cooler to get the lowest temperature while overclocking whereas others will be looking for something that keeps temps down and looks awesome. Then you have the RGB crowd, nothing better than a bit of RGB – amiright?!
Air or Liquid CPU Cooler
Like I mentioned earlier, this is a very popular question with a very easy answer. Generally speaking liquid coolers are the better option overall, but not because they reduce temperatures more – actually in some cases they are close to some of the best air coolers. The main selling points for liquid cooling are down to the noise reduction, look and feel of the coolers and if you really wanted to push an overclock then you’d be wise to go for an AIO liquid cooler. I think we can all agree that it is better having a discrete and almost silent liquid cooler than having a massive heatsink and fans that are as noise as a jet engine (for some models anyway).
Liquid coolers are common place in custom built gaming PCs as well as most off the shelf pre-built gaming pc these days. They are easier to install and work around than air coolers. Bulky air coolers are often a nightmare to install and in many cases they will cover ports on the motherboard and even the first RAM DIMMs. Oh, and not forgetting you will need a case wide enough to fit a bulky air cooler. Granted, you do get smaller ones but then you really won’t be getting anywhere close to the same cooling for your money.
Best Liquid CPU Coolers
Below I have a list of what I consider the best options for your money. I have listed them in order of overall value for money with considerations to cooling potential, noise, cost and warranty. I have also commented on some subjective aesthetics for some models.
NZXT Kraken X62
- Top pick if you want RGB
- 140mm Fans
- 38 dB-A
- Controllable RGB
- Controllable Pump & Fans
The Kraken X62 doesn’t just look cool, it act’s it too! Sorry, cheesy I know. That being said it is true, the NZXT Kraken x62 is one of the best CPU liquid coolers on the market right now.
Steve over at GamersNexus has tested all of the best liquid coolers and his data shows that the Kraken x62 is the 3rd best for temperatures during both idle and load. The difference between the top 3 is only 1C for idle and 1.8C on load – in other words there really is no difference to be concerned about for most gamers, workstations and general computer users. Something to keep in mind is the included software does have mixed opinions and that’s being polite. Many owners are reporting that the CAM software will simply forget previous settings meaning any custom fan settings you have saved are lost. This does seem to be a minority of owners but if it were to happen to you then you will have a real problem on your hands!
Generally speaking the the Kraken x62 is a little more expensive than it’s closest rivals Corsair H115i and EVGA CLC 280, which are the two models that provide the slightly better temps. Again, they don’t provide enough of a difference to make it the sole reason to choose Corsair or EVGA over the NZXT Kraken. What might make the difference is the price as the Kraken is more expensive when comparing RRP.
Is the Kraken worth the extra money? There are two reasons you might want to choose the Kraken. The main reason is temperature to noise comparison, the Kraken is a fair bit quieter than any other cooler we have tested or heard about (puny). The other reason would be the RGB and look of the Kraken x62.
If I am being completely honest I would suggest the Corsair H115i and EVGA CLC 280 over the NZXT Kraken x62 based on the price difference and the CAM software problems. If you can find the Kraken x62 on a deal or for say $20 cheaper then maybe you can give it a think (If you’re in the UK though then you might find that prices are closer). The same advice goes for the Kraken x52 and x42 models as they are both slightly more expensive than the competing sizes.
EVGA CLC 280
- Our Top Pick
- 2x 140mm Fans
- Controllable Fans and Pump
The EVGA Closed Loop Cooler 280mm is the companies first entrant into the liquid cooler market place when it was announced and released in 2017. This model is a direct competitor of the NZXT Kraken X62 and the Corsair H115i. The EVGA puts price and performance to the forefront with it’s competitive pricing, excellent temperatures and stripped back LED lighting.
You can pick the EVGA CLC up in 3 sizes, 280mm, 240mm and 120mm. For this review we will be concentration on the 280mm mostly and will mention the 240mm where applicable. For the latest gaming CPUs I don’t usually suggest single fan AIOs so I won’t be making any comments on the 120mm on this page. If enough of you want a 120mm review then at a later date I can do a dedicated post and maybe even update this list if applicable.
EVGA have a reputation for producing well built, sturdy and reliable hardware. It is the main reason that power users prefer EVGA over some other brands, there looked at fondly by many gaming PC builders. With that in mind EVGA’s first series of liquid coolers has done what many expected, they have entered into the top 3 liquid coolers, if not being the best. The Kraken X62, Corsair H115i and the EVGA CLC 280 all provide similar performance and noise levels but they come with vastly different RGB and pricing.
If you’re looking for a cooler that will provide the best performance regardless of noise and RGB then the EVGA is your bet. If your looking for RGB then maybe Kraken is your bet and if you sit inbetween then Corsair H115i is likely your best option.
With all of that in mind I would recommend the EVGA CLC and Corsair H115i over the Kraken x62 simply based on price more than anything. In my opinion if you don’t care for the look of the Kraken then you should be deciding between EVGA and Corsair.
- Top Pick
- 2x 140mm Fans
- Controllable Fans and Pump
- RGB (RGB Pro Edition)
- Tool-free mounting bracket
Corsair are arguably one of the most popular gaming hardware and peripheral company and that statement also goes for their AIO liquid coolers. The top Corsair AIO is the H115i which is positioned to provide performance, style and RGB with an affordable price. Although not the cheapest model it provides great value for money when you take into consideration the performance, noise and level of configuration. You also have the option for buying the H115i RGB Pro which all things considered is literally just more RGB, for a little more money.
If you’re looking for the lowest temps while gaming then your options should be between this and the EVGA CLC. If I were buying with an eye on temps for trying to get the best overclocking headroom then I’d be looking to buy which ever was the cheapest between the EVGA CLC and Corsair H115i. The reason is they provide almost identical performance with minimal differences for the noise of the fans (which you can of course change easily). The only comparable difference in my opinion is RGB and general aesthetics of each cooler.
Like other options this comes with software to control fan curves for full control over the speed and noise from fans as well as the RGB. The out of the box settings in general are great but some will want to tinker with the fan curve to ensure they get the absolute best performance with the least amount of noise. Especially if you plan on using the out of the box fans as they are a little loud.
Why would you choose the Corsair H115i?
Let’s be honest you came here looking for a definitive answer on what liquid cooler is best for your needs. So, what makes this any better? For us the build quality and warranty alone bring Corsair out in front. Corsair warranty will cover your cooler and your full system if there was a leak which wrecked your other hardware. There are examples of people on forums and Reddit who have gone through this process and successfully had their systems replaced. To me this just shows they have trust in the product which gives me the faith to add it to my expensive gaming computer.
Thermaltake Water 3.0 Riing RGB
- Triple Fan & 360mm Option
- Fantastic RGB
- 26.4 dB-A
- AM4 ready
Thermaltake is an AIO supplier which a reputation built on quality products and high end performing liquid coolers. The Thermaltake WATER 3.0 Dual Riing RGB and all of its variants are arguably one of the most popular options on the market. Thermaltake have recently stated that the WATER 3.0 Riing RGB variants have been designed to meet the demands of enthusiasts – I assume this means anyone that wants a great looking gaming PC, an overclock and low temps.
“Designed to meet the demands of enthusiasts, Thermaltake releases the latest Water 3.0 Riing RGB Series, a RGB 256 colors all-in-one liquid cooler with dual 120mm powerful high static pressure fans and a smart fan controller. Choose from: 240mm and 360mm highly-efficient radiators to control any escalating CPU temperatures. The new All-In-One LCS Water 3.0 Riing RGB is designed to exceed user expectations.”
With the Thermaltake Water 3.0 Riing RGB you have 120mm, 240mm and a massive 360mm as options. Ofcourse if you have a case big enough and enough of a budget then I would be pushing for the triple fan 360mm variant. The extra fans and larger radiator will give you a little bit more cooling – how much? Well, probably not as much as you would expect for the size increase and jump in price. The value for money option is the dual fan 240mm model which for most looking to overclock a gaming PC is exactly what is needed.
Note: Something to keep in mind is warranty. I have done a lot of research looking at the specific warranty details of all of these liquid coolers with my focus being on leaks that cause damage to otehr hardware i.e. CPU, Graphics cards etc. Something I have found which is a concern is this quote from a Thermaltake employee “Thermaltake offers a 3 year warranty on the product. We do not offer in our warranty, coolant damage or physical damage to other manufacture parts. We do cover our products which you will see is the same for everyone when it comes to this.”
In short this states they will cover you for any damage to the AOI but if the leak causes damage to to other hardware then you’re simply out of luck and need to deal with that yourself. Now, I have also looked into the other brands that I have written about and they either simple state they will look after there customers when one of AIO leak and causes damage elsewhere or there have been success stories that I have found on places like Reddit, YouTube and some support forums.
In my opinion I wouldn’t want to risk my own system with such a blunt statement from Thermaltake, or at the very least I would look to try and get the system insured elsewhere – if possible! That being said, I am going to reach out to all of these brands and try to get a definitive answer to the warranty question.
Corsair Hydro H60 (2018 Edition)
- Best Budget Liquid Cooler
- 2018 Refresh
- Competes with expensive air coolers
- LED Lights
- Quieter fan than before
Corsair have decided to more or less have a redo of the previous Corsair Hydro H60 which was released in 2018. The original which has been a round since 2011 is still available, although I would be hard pushed for a reason to suggest it over the newer version. Well, actually it is a little cheaper so if you are building a budget gaming PC and want to dabble with a cheap AIO then this is probably your best option.
The H60 2018 Edition, lets just call it the H60 from now on, boasts some great little improvements such a more up to date look and feel, LED lights and a much quieter fan than previous. Not forgetting AM4 support straight out of the box, making it Ryzen ready and the ultimate budget liquid cooler.
The Corsair Hydro H60 is one of the easier AIO I to install simply because of it’s size. It only has the one fan and a much smaller radiator than larger models mean it simply is easier to handle. There is a caveat to this though if your installing into a Ryzen PC. The cooler comes with mounting clips pre-installed for Intel but they are VERY difficult to remove. With all other models I have used previously they simply need a little pull, twist or push and they come off. These ones didn’t want to budge! This seems like it was a design choice to keep costs down instead of introducing an easier method. With that in mind most of you will only do this once and forget about it, but if you do plan on moving from Intel to Ryzen, or Ryzen to Intel then it is worth noting.
The main drawback of the Corsair Hydro H60 is the pump, in short it is controlled automatically by the on board chips and doesn’t allow for it to be configured with software. The reason this becomes a drawback is down to noise, the pump is loud. It seems like the pump is always running a little too fast even when the system is idle and temps are low. Ideally I would like to have seen software and link to control the pump at specific temps to limit noise but again, this is a budget liquid cooler and corners had to be cut somewhere.
In terms of temperatures the cooler sits around the same levels as a high end air cooler for around about the same price.
Best Air CPU Coolers
Similarly, I have listed the air coolers that I think you should be be considering. If I am honest, there aren’t many that I do suggest so I have tried to add one or two budget options in there simply to provide clarity on what $20 can get you.
be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 3
- Our Top Choice
- Dual SilentWings PWM fans
- Noise: Max. 30.6 dBA and Min. 18.7 dBA
- Ryzen & AM4 Compatible out of the box
- Looks great compared to others
Much like the Noctua NH-D15 the be quite! Dark Rock Pro 3 air cooler can provide top notch air cooling potential for even the most aggressive overclocks while also maintaining a more then acceptable level of noise. In actual fact the be quite! Dark Rock Pro 3 is the air cooler we use here in the office on all of the computers that we don’t have liquid cooling on.
In actual fact the difference between the NH-D15 and the Dark Rock Pro 3 for Max fan speed temps is only 1 degrees, that is margin of error stuff right there. The dark Rock Pro 3 also beats the NH-D15 for noise at full speed, low speed and average usage. Those two points are exactly why we use them here.
There is one pretty big issue with the Dark Rock Pro 3, well actually it’s only an issue if you’re going to be changing RAM sticks a lot. For 99% of you this isn’t even a concern. As the Dark Rock Pro 3 is built to produce massive amounts of cooling the radiator is pretty big, actually it is massive! Overall it does look nice and fits in well with a black or grey motherboard. The radiator though hangs over some of the RAM DIMMs on most motherboards. If you’re building a system with an eye on not upgrading the RAM anytime soon then you’re fine.
If you have looked at the Noctua NH-D15 and don’t like how it looks or even want something a little quieter then the Dark Rock Pro 3 is the best air cooler you can buy. I didn’t put this at the top of my recommendations for no reason, I truly think this is by far the best on offer.
Note for Ryzen and AM4 sockets: We have first hand knowledge and experience of the Dark Rock Pro 3 coming with AM4 brackets, so your safe on that side.
- Recommended Air Cooler
- Dual NF-A15 PWM 140mm Fans
- Noise: Max. 33.6 dBA and Min. 25.7 dBA
- Good for Overclocking
- Ryzen & AM4 Compatible (Read Note!)
The Noctua NH-D15 may look a bit on the ugly side but it’s an air cooler that wasn’t made for looks, it was made to provide great temperatures even when used with overclocked CPUs at load. Most of the “big” air coolers can get close to the liquid coolers in terms of temperatures but the Noctua NH-D15 is one of the top dogs. For an conventional CPU cooler the Noctua NH-D15 is expensive coming in at at more than the budget Liquid cooler from Corsair, H60. It is also not too much cheaper than the best liquid cooler either, although for the money it does provide the best cooling you can achieve with just air.
Noctua NH-D15 is large, actually when most new gaming PC builders first buy it they are a little shocked at the size. It is considerably larger than stock AMD and Intel air coolers. You can look at this size as a pro and con. The pro would be that the sheer size of the radiator and fans will provide more cooling potential, which is the case based on all the tests that have been run. The con though is the Noctua NH-D15 is ugly as it is, so building a gaming PC with this air cooler will never win any “best looking” contests. You could upgrade towards the Noctua Chromax fans but they still don’t look great – in my opinion at least.
If you’re looking for the best CPU air cooler for keeping temperatures in check and you couldn’t care less about the looks then this is by far the best option. On the other hand for a similar price you can get the be quite! Dark Rock Pro 3 which will produce almost identical cooling but looks a lot better and makes a lot less noise.
Note: Although you can use this with Ryzen on AM4 sockets the cooler doesn’t ship with the correct brackets. You can contact Noctua for AM4 brackets but it will add time to your build so may not be the ideal situation. There is a special AM4 variant available on Amazon but it will ONLY ship with AM4 brackets.
By now you have likely decided which type of cooler you want and possibly even decided on the model, in that case awesome! If you are still looking for something and can’t decide then here are the two that I suggest of each type…
For liquid I would EVGA CLC 280 over the other options simply because it does provide the best thermal cooling over the other units. For Air cooling, well I have already mentioned it but I wouldn’t buy anything other than the be quite! Dark Rock Pro 3 – I actually own of these on a i7 7700K build which is overclocked and it does perfectly.
If you would like to see any other coolers reviewed then leave a comment below.