Best CPU cooler: 12 top coolers reviewed and rated

We review the best CPU coolers on the market

1. Antec Kuhler H2O 920

Price: £71
Active water cooler

Antec

When you first set eyes on the Antec Kuhler H20 920, you might think it's in the same category as Thermaltake's entry-level Water 2.0 Performance water cooler. After all, it's basically a 120mm effort with a radiator between two fans.

Look a little closer, however, and you'll notice that the Kuhler H20 920 sports a much thicker radiator. Just under 5cm thick, actually. It's also packed with a high density of cooling fins, so what we're looking at is an effort to squeeze big water-cooling performance into a more compact, practical package.

Read the full Antec Kuhler H2O 920 review

2. Corsair Hydro H100

Price: £82
Active water cooler

Hydro H100

With a full-length 240mm radiator and what appears to be a very similar spec to the Thermaltake Water 2.0 Extreme for two-thirds the cash, you might think it's easy pickings for the Corsair Hydro H100. In fact, the H100 goes one step further, with a digital fan control button on top of the cooling block that allows you to quickly jump between its Quiet, Performance and Balanced modes.

What's more, the H100 is fully compatible with Corsair Link Digital, which boils downs to a bunch of hardware and software components that give you control over a whole load of performance and cooling parameters.

Read the full Corsair Hydro H100 review

3. Deepcool Ice Matrix 400

Price: £30
Active air cooler

DeepCool

How much does fancy packaging matter? Ultimately, it can't be that critical, otherwise the Deepcool Ice Matrix 400 would have this thing completely wrapped up. Whether it's the neat little boxes or the lovely, dense white foam padding, there's evidence everywhere that somebody at Deepcool headquarters really cares.

Fortunately the attention to detail spills over into stuff that actually matters. Like the rubberised chassis for the 120mm fan, which is designed to keep vibrations, and therefore noise, to a minimum. It's an innovation that's worthy of a bona fide patent. How do you like them apples, other cooling companies?

Read the full Deepcool Ice Matrix 400 review

4. Gelid GX-7

Price: £36
Active air cooler

Gelid

When we're talking coolers with aluminium fin stacks and 120mm fans, standing out from the crowd isn't easy, but Gelid reckons its GX-7 can jump up and down and scream enough blue murder to get your attention. Or at least offer something a little different.

For starters, instead of laying out the heat pipes in a row across the cooling block, Gelid uses a partially stacked arrangement. The idea is to have as many pipes as possible running through the hottest part of the block.

Read the full Gelid GX7 review

5. Nofan CR-95C

Price: £70
Passive air cooler

Nofan CR 95C

There's a joker in every pack, and the mantle this month falls to the comically oversized Nofan CR-95C. But is it an ultimately doomed effort à la Heath Ledger, or does this passive cooler have the longevity to slip into the Jack Nicholson category and just keep on trucking?

Strained comic-book villain analogies aside, the Nofan is certainly a little bit special. First there are the gargantuan proportions. This CR-95C model isn't the biggest beast in the Nofan jungle, but at 180mm in diameter it's still an outrageous bit of kit.

Read the full Nofan CR-95C review

6. Scythe Mugen 3 Revision

Price: £43
Active air cooler

Scythe Mugen

Maintaining the low noise levels and temps, while upping the compatibility ante. That's the plan for the third version (revision B, don't you know) of Scythe's Mugen 120mm cooler. That means refined airflow and Scythe's Slipstream noise-optimised 120mm fan.

The result is a cooler with a rated noise that kicks off below 27.4dBA, even if the maximum noise breaches the 30dBA barrier. Other upsides include some of the nicest assembly instructions we've seen, with a proper annotated key to all the parts. Joy!

Read the full Scythe Mugen 3 review

7. Scythe Katana 4

Price: £27
Active air cooler

Scythe Katana 4

Fans 120mm and larger dominate the enthusiast and overclocking market. What hope, then, for the plucky little Scythe Katana 4 and its 92mm fan? Scythe is an experienced outfit and this is the fourth version of the compact Katana, so if it doesn't deliver, it's probably time for the towel-tossing to begin.

As before, the latest Katana is smaller than your average high performance cooler in just about all directions, measuring nearly 100mm square and 143mm in height. The upshot of this is that you're unlikely to find a remotely mainstream ATX motherboard or case that won't jive with the Katana 4. It's not going to tussle for space with your RAM or argue with your graphics card.

Read the full Scythe Katana 4 review

8. ThermoLab Trinity

Price: £38
Active air cooler

Thermolab Trinity

The ThermoLab Trinity looks like a pretty conventional cooler at fi rst glance. A big fan, a large stack of aluminium cooling fins and some copper heat pipes. Same old.

But this is no knock-off job. Your suspicions should have been aroused by the odd 130mm spec of the cooling fan, where most of the competition goes with 120mm. That should allow the Trinity to either shift more air for a given noise level or shift just as much with a bit less rattle and hum.

It's also a little unusual in that the fan is an integrated part of the cooling stack. It's not a clip-on item. Both of these facts have advantages, but the downside is you can't just whack on another standard 120mm spinner if you fancy pepping up the cooling performance.

Read the full ThermoLab Trinity review

9. Tt Water 2.0 Performer

Price: £62
Active water cooler

Water 2 0 performer

The Thermaltake Water 2.0 Performer is half the size and half the price, but is it also half the man compared to its Water 2.0 Extreme sibling? In hardware terms, the most obvious loss of masculinity is the half-length radiator. That said, it's still sandwiched between a pair of 120mm fans, instead of having two across one side.

The rest of the cooling hardware, however, is a dead ringer. It's the same cooling block and water pump. In other words, you're not only getting quite a bit more than half the hardware for half the money, the result is also more compact and therefore easier to slip into a wider range of chassis. That, however, is not quite the whole story.

Read the full Thermaltake Water 2.0 Performer review

10. Zalman CNPS14X

Price: £60
Active air cooler

Zalman

This is a serious bit of kit. Let's start with some of the highlights. Six copper heat pipes draw thermals from a polished copper cooling block and feed to two massive aluminium fin stacks. Nestled in between is a 140mm fan that draws air through one stack of fins and squirts it out via the other.

As you'd expect from a big fan, the quoted noise specs are very impressive and top out at just 21dBA. Zalman's idea with the CNPS14X, then, is good thermals combined with excellent noise levels. If you want to tip the balance in the direction of thermals and performance, you have the option of strapping on one or two extra 140mm fans, giving mighty cooling potential,but our benchmarks show the CNPS14X with just the integrated 140mm blower.

Read the full Zalman CNPS14X review

11. Enermax ETS-T40

Price: £36
Active air cooler

Enermax

Here at PC Format, we want the lowest CPU temps available to humanity. We want them here, and we want them now. This is the short version of our CPU cooling manifesto. The slightly longer version, as it applies to air coolers, goes something like this…

Obviously an air cooler needs to do what it says on the tin, namely keep your CPU cool. That includes everything from thumb-twiddling idle mode at stock clocks to balls-out benchmarking with the clocks set to full reheat. And it's not just about achieving low temps in extremis. We want those temps fast.

In particular, we want to see load temperature drop like a stone the moment the CPU goes into idle mode. We also want all that without any fuss, so noise levels low enough that they're pretty much inaudible once installed in an enclosed PC case.

Read the full Enermax ETS-T40 review

12. Thermaltake Water 2.0 Extreme

Price: £126
Active water cooler

Water 2 0 extreme

Liquids and finely honed electronics. You'd be mental to mix 'em. Your correspondent recently proved this beyond all doubt by entirely submerging his iPhone in a puddle. But have no fear. The latest fully closed loop water coolers are kosher. There's none of the slightly scary shonkiness of yesteryear's home-build kits. And there's a lot less faff when it comes to initial setup too.

Less faff, that is, but not quite no faff. Thermaltake's Water 2.0 Extreme, for instance, is a bit of a chore when it comes to the sorting socket clamp and board bracket assemblies. But once you've nailed that job, it's plain sailing in terms of installation, and thereafter it's a doddle to whip the cooling block off and swap out the CPU or replace the whole shebang with another cooler, if need be.

Read the full Thermaltake Water 2.0 Extreme review