How to Choose the Right CPU Cooler

Cpu Cooler Featured Image

The CPU is the brain of your computer. While the component is built to withstand high temperatures, running it constantly on high temperatures isn’t ideal. Not only you’ll shorten the lifespan of your processor, you’ll also get less processing power because of thermal throttling.

One of the easiest ways to tackle heating issues is getting a good CPU cooler. This post looks at the different types of coolers out there and helps you select the right one for your CPU.

Types of CPU Coolers

There are a few types of CPU coolers out there. You can find models ranging from the stock Intel and AMD coolers to the extreme cooling systems inside fish tanks with components swimming in mineral oil.

The type of cooler you choose for your system will depend on your components, what you intend to use your PC for, your budget, and the amount of work you’re willing to put in when it comes to maintaining your PC, aside from the occasional component upgrades.

1. Air Coolers

Air coolers, also known as stock coolers, are the most common type of CPU cooler you’ll encounter. These cooling devices usually come with the hardware directly from the manufacturer.

Stock air coolers will do the bare minimum to keep your CPU cool. It works fine if you are using your PC for normal non-resource intensive stuff. If however you are always running resource intensive apps that keep your CPU constantly hot, you might want to invest in an aftermarket air cooler to ensure that your CPU’s operating temperature is kept low.

Air coolers employ heatsinks and fans to keep your CPU cool. Heatsinks absorb the produced heat, while fans blow the heat away from the cooler and eventually from the PC. How the heat gets out of the case is assisted by your case fans, and the best one are those that can promote good airflow for efficient air cooler use.

Cpu Cooler Twin Tower
Image source: Pixabay

Aftermarket air coolers often have bigger heatsinks to better absorb the heat from your processor and larger and more powerful fans to dissipate the heat.

Types of Air Coolers

Air coolers also come in different versions:

  • Twin tower – these are air coolers with one or two fans and are tall and bulky. Twin tower coolers require a lot of case space for proper installation, so it’s highly recommended that you check the dimensions of both your case and the twin tower cooler you’re going to install.
  • C-type – air coolers with a single fan taking the bulk of cooling your CPU down. The advantage c-types have over twin towers is the less amount of case space required, but you risk getting less CPU cooling power. C-type fans have the fans mounted horizontally on top of the heatsink, but are slightly taller than low-profile coolers.
  • Low-profile – coolers with a single fan mounted horizontally. This type of mount is ideal for computers with smaller cases and larger motherboards. It requires the least space vertically, but you need to mind the space it’ll take on your motherboard.

Pros of Air Coolers

Cpu Cooler Twin Tower Fuma 2
Image source: Scythe

They’re more affordable compared to other types of coolers and installation isn’t complicated. If you installed your CPU’s stock cooler on your own, installing an aftermarket air cooler shouldn’t be an issue. The cooling improvement depends on the air cooler you’ve chosen, but you should notice the cooling boost after proper installation.

Cons of Air Coolers

Size is a big con when it comes to air coolers. If you’ve opted for a twin tower or c-type air cooler, you’ll need to take into consideration the space it’ll take inside your case and motherboard. Since these coolers have up to 140mm fans and big heatsinks, make sure your case can accommodate them without being an obstruction to any of your other PC components.

What to Look For in Air Coolers

First, pick an air cooler that fits your CPU’s socket. For example, if you have a socket AM4 processor, you should only get an air cooler for that socket and it’ll work on any AM4 socket CPU. Keep in mind that the socket is a specification that isn’t negotiable when picking an air cooler.

Secondly, consider cooler height and width. If you have an ATX build, most aftermarket air coolers will fit into your ATX case and motherboard. Mini, micro ATX and ITX builds need you to be more specific with cooler height and width. Look at your case and motherboard’s product page and see the max cooler dimensions to ensure you pick a cooler that’ll fit inside your build.

What to Avoid in Air Coolers

You should avoid air coolers that have subpar cooling abilities. You can check reviews of specific air coolers online, or read through forums for first-hand accounts of specific air coolers. Some air coolers have a reputation for being too loud. For instance, given that some aftermarket CPU coolers have two fans, they can run louder. The noise case is worse for air coolers with low-quality fans.

Who Should Use Air Coolers?

Air coolers are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to CPU cooling. They can be great for casual users who run light- to medium-intensity tasks on their computers. If you’re a heavy user but want to stick with air coolers, look for high-quality ones, which usually come with big fans, heatsinks, but also price tags.

2. Liquid Coolers

Liquid coolers use water rather than air as their cooling medium. Since water conducts heat faster than air, water or liquid coolers provide better cooling to CPUs, whether idle or under load. They also don’t emit as much noise as air coolers do, because they don’t rely on spinning fans to cool down processors.

Liquid-cooled systems work through pipes and radiators. The liquid takes the heat from the CPU, and the heated liquid dissipates into a radiator.

Cpu Cooler Aio
Image source: Pixabay

The most common way to access liquid cooling without custom water cooling loops is through an All-in-One (AIO) liquid cooler. AIOs have the basic components of liquid cooling, such as radiator, pump, tubing, and block. The pump is attached directly to your CPU and pumps liquid into the tubes. The block prevents liquid from spilling into your case. The tubes take the liquid for dissipation, and the radiator dissipates the liquid.

Pros of Liquid Coolers

Cpu Liquid Coolers Rog Strix
Image source: ASUS

Liquid coolers have superior cooling compared to air coolers. They also look better and more minimalist. You don’t need to take height and width into consideration because the pump is the only thing that’ll be attached and close to your CPU and other components surrounding it.

The tubes are also flexible, so you can twist and turn it to the best position that’ll fit your case. As for the radiator, which is the largest part of an AIO cooler, they usually come with single or dual 140mm fans that assist in heat dissipation. They’ll fit right into ATX, Mini ATX, micro ATX, and ITX builds.

Cons of Liquid Coolers

One disadvantage of AIO coolers is the possibility of liquid leaking outside the pump or tubes. However, this is quite unlikely if you’re using a decent quality AIO cooler. Two other cons are price and installation. They’re more expensive than aftermarket air coolers and are more difficult to install, though the price and time you’ll take to install an AIO cooler should pay off because of its far superior cooling power compared to air coolers.

What to Look for in Liquid Coolers

Liquid coolers are known to be more expensive than air coolers, but that doesn’t mean all AIOs are expensive. There are lesser-known brands manufacturing affordable AIOs, but they’re risky, especially if not many people have reviews to support their quality. When looking for an AIO cooler, you should be mindful of its brand. Since you’re working with liquid, it’s extremely risky to have a low-quality AIO that might leak any time and damage your PC components.

Additionally, you should also look for an AIO cooler that will fit your case without obstructing components. Make it a point to thoroughly check the allowed CPU cooler dimensions of your case and motherboard to ensure a good fit.

What to Avoid in Liquid Coolers

Since AIO coolers also use fans, noise is still a factor. When looking for an AIO for your system, watch and read reviews of coolers to check if certain brands and models have noise issues.

Who Should Use a Liquid Cooler?

If you’re looking for better, quiet cooling and aesthetics, an AIO liquid is a great pick for your system. It’s also ideal for mid- to high-end systems, whose temperatures can go higher than lower-end systems. If you’re one to use your PC for demanding tasks like AAA gaming, editing, rendering, etc., liquid cooling will help you counter thermal throttling effects and overheating.

3. Custom Water Cooling Loops

The higher-end of CPU cooling is custom water cooling loops. They’re characterized by many tubes that go around a big and usually customized case with colored liquid flowing through the tubes.

Cpu Cooler Water Cooling Loop
Image source: Wikimedia

What you don’t see are the other parts that make custom water cooling loops better than air and AIO coolers. These include:

  • The Waterblock – It’s the part that’s attached directly to your processor. It takes all the heat from your component and transforms it into liquid.
  • The Pump – The pump pushes liquid out of the waterblock and into the tubing and helps the liquid circulate until it reaches the radiator.
  • The Tubing – The “loop” the liquid travels through to get to the radiator and reservoir.
  • The Fittings – Connects and supports the loop.
  • Radiator – It cools down the liquid from the tubing with the help of fans. The radiator fins made of copper absorbing the heat and the fans help in heat dissipation.
  • Reservoir – This stores liquid coolants, which allows faster and better CPU cooling. This is the selling point that makes custom water cooling loops better than AIO coolers, since a reservoir allows more liquid to be stored and cooled by the radiator.

Pros of Custom Water Cooling Loops

Cpu Cooler Custom Water Cooling Aorus
Image source: Aorus

Aside from custom water cooling loops improving your system’s aesthetics, they also provide superior cooling. With a reservoir that speeds up cooling, you can get away with an overclocked CPU minus the throttling and overheating issues.

Cons of Custom Water Cooling Loops

Since there’s liquid involved, custom water cooling loops are also at risk of leaking liquid into your system. Water getting into your components can cause a lot of problems, but having a custom water cooling loop done by a professional should avoid this issue. You should also consider that the tubings and reservoir are usually made of acrylic, which can shatter if you’re not careful around your system.

Custom water cooling loops are also complicated to install on your own. However, there are services you can avail to get your own custom water cooling system. Lastly, water-cooled systems come with a hefty price tag, and they are not recommended for lower-end systems. You should spend the money on upgrading your components rather than paying for a custom water cooling loop that your system won’t even need.

What to Look for in Custom Water Cooling Loops

A custom water cooling loop should have a decent coolant mix. The most common ones are ethylene glycol and water and propylene glycol and water solutions. If you’re making your own water cooling system, there are more factors to consider. But if you’re having a professional do it for you, discuss the specifics with them because you also need to change your liquid coolant and do other maintenance tasks on your own at some point.

What to Avoid in Custom Water Cooling Loops

Don’t use materials that are prone to rust. Rust won’t only contaminate your coolant, but it’ll also cause fittings to make your loop unstable and cause leaks. Lastly, make sure clean water is used in the coolant solution.

Who Should Use Custom Water Cooling Loop?

Custom water cooling loops are not as common as air coolers and AIO coolers. This is because they’re expensive and enthusiast-level cooling. A custom water cooling loop isn’t essential even if you have the best hardware. There are always air and AIO coolers out there that can support even the best PC builds.

But if you really want the colorful loop, you can always get it. It’ll definitely help cool a powerful system down, but won’t make much of a difference when you’re running with lower-end components.

4. Submerged Cooling Systems

The most advanced type of CPU cooling is submerged cooling systems. They provide cooling to all parts of your system like the motherboard, GPU, and RAM. However, mechanical hard drives are excluded because they won’t function when submerged in liquid.

In submerged cooling systems, mineral oil is used because it doesn’t conduct electricity like water. The case used in mineral-oiled cooling systems are sealed except at the top, and components are assembled outside of the case and installed before pouring mineral oil inside the case. Mineral oil is an insulator to heat generated by your PC components. Heat is transferred into the mineral oil at a rate over 5 times better than air and pumped into a radiator outside of partially your sealed case, which dissipates the heat.

Cpu Cooler Submerged Cooling
Image source: Wikimedia

Because mineral oil cooling is considered an extreme cooling method, it’s only recommended for cooling exclusive PC builds. One thing to note, these types of systems does not provide more significant cooling than custom water cooling.

Pros of Submerged Cooling Systems

Cpu Cooler Liquid Cooler
Image source: Steoil

The major pros to having your components submerged in mineral oil is excellent cooling and how unique it is. There really isn’t much to their appeal, except for how different they look compared to other cooling methods.

Cons of Submerged Cooling Systems

The cons of submerged cooling systems include maintenance, price, and that won’t be easy to just take your components out and build them into a normal case and cool them with an air, AIO, or a custom water cooler system. Why not? Because your previously submerged components will be greasy and difficult to assemble.

So if you want to try using this cooling method, you shouldn’t use your daily driving PC. It’s a better idea to submerge components that you’re actually willing to keep submerged in oil.

Unlike air and liquid coolers, submerged cooling systems require a lot of work, maintenance, and space. Aside from the case, you need to put optical and mechanical drives in a separate space and route the cables accordingly to make everything work. In addition, all ports also have to be outside of the case, so cable management is going to take a lot of time and skill. This type of cooling system requires maintenance because you need to replace the oil taking the heat from your components.

What to Avoid in Submerged Cooling Systems

If you really want a submerged cooling system, avoid leaky tanks, oils other than mineral oil meant for cooling electronics, and submerging mechanical and optical components and ports along with your CPU, GPU, RAM, and motherboard.

What to Look for in Submerged Cooling Systems

In a cooling system as complicated as this one, you’d want something that won’t end up in a waste of components and cooling system materials. This shouldn’t be a concern if you’re getting a submerged cooling system done by a professional, but if you’re planning to DIY, there are tons of factors to keep in mind.

You need to find a leakproof container, a special mineral oil that is proven to be non-conductive, a pump system that’ll circulate oil, and an external radiator that’s always turned on and placed outside the leakproof container that’ll act as your case.

Should You Use a Submerged Cooling System?

Aside from PC components being submerged in mineral oil and lighting up to work, there really aren’t many reasons to splurge on a submerged cooling system. A custom water cooling loop does the job, or if you want something more simple, go for a good aftermarket cooler or an AIO cooler. Less work and price to pay, and you still get the cooling you need without the maintenance work.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Will I damage my CPU if I don’t upgrade from a stock cooler?

If you’re not overclocking and don’t plan to run it daily while overclocked, the stock cooler will work fine to cool your CPU. However, you need to make sure your PC is stored in a cool place, that you keep your CPU fan dust-free, and your case has good airflow.

2. Will any air or AIO cooler work on any CPU?

Each CPU has a specific socket. This means there are specific coolers built and being sold according to sockets. But with the current air and AIO coolers in the market, the boxes come with separate parts you can add or remove to allow a single cooler to fit into both Intel and AMD sockets.

3. How can I monitor my CPU temperature?

The way to check your CPU temperature on Windows is by pulling up Task Manager and going to the “Performance” tab. Alternatively, you can install MSI Afterburner or HWMonitor to keep tabs on your CPU and other components’ temperature and other metrics.

Image credit: Pixabay

Natalie dela Vega
Natalie dela Vega

Natalie is a writer specializing in tech how-tos and gaming. When she's not writing, she plays PC games and travels. Here at MakeTechEasier, you will see her write about guides, tips, and solutions for Windows and iOS.

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