The Best CPU Coolers For Your Money: Summer 2011

| July 18, 2011 | (15)

The Scythe Big Shuriken, one of the recommended low-profile CPU Coolers.

Three class of CPU Coolers:

In “The Best CPU Coolers For Your Money” article, we recommend to to you three class of CPU Coolers:

  1. The most effective CPU Coolers for your money
  2. The best low-profile CPU Coolers
  3. The best silent (passive) CPU Cooler

The Best CPU Coolers for your money?

By that, I mean the coolers that offer the either the best performance and/or the least noise in their price range. Why would you want that, you ask?

Because you want the best bang for the buck, because you want the best CPU Coolers for your needs, at the best possible price.

If you have the time… but who does in this crazy world?
If you have the time, reading detailed CPU Coolers reviews and specs are a lot of fun. However, most of us don’t have the time to do the research and just want the answers. In other words, what you want to know is what is the CPU Coolers for your needs, within your budget.

So if you don’t have the time to do the research, or just don’t care to do it, don’t worry. We’ll come to your help with this guide of the best CPU Coolers for your money.

Keep in mind:

I’ll use this opportunity to remind you that this article is only a guideline for the prices we’ve seen on July 18th 2011. You’re letting yourself down if you’re not looking for deals when you decide to purchase.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you read this list:

  • This list is based on the best U.S. prices from Newegg and/or Amazon. Prices and availability change everyday. I can’t keep up with accurate pricing everyday, but I can suggest to you great CPU Coolers that you won’t regret buying at the price ranges that I list.
  • All prices are based on new CPU Coolers prices, no used or open box are listed; they might be a good deal, but they come with trade offs, such as limited return policy, limited warranty, etc.
  • Each CPU Cooler will perform more or less well depending on your personal PC factors, such as the airflow in your case and your components.
  • Remember: How you apply the thermal paste can make or break the performance of your CPU Cooler. If your CPU temperatures seem abnormally high considering your CPU Cooler, consider re-seating your CPU Cooler. The best thermal paste is a properly applied one.

The Best CPU Coolers, performance wise:

In order of price and performance:

Corsair A50$25- Corsair A50

  • Compatible with Socket: AMD AM2/AM2+/AM3/AM3+, Intel LGA775/1155/1156/1366
  • Recommended for: 95W or lower TDP CPUs. Inexpensive replacement for stock cooler that offer better cooling performance and is more silent. Good for low or moderate overclock.
  • Dimensions: 159.5mm x 124.6mm x 81.2mm (L x W x H)
  • Details: 3x8mm “direct contact” copper heatpipes, 1x120mm fan.

The Corsair A50 is the new budget king. It seems as if this cooler performs as well as, if not better than, the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus while being more silent. The Hyper 212 has also seemed to have steadily climbed in price, which no longer makes it economical.

This is a solid step up from the (often very poor) stock cooler. You’re not going to get great temperatures, but it’s a significant improvement over the stock cooler.

Unless you are doing very intense overclocking or overclocking a 100W+ CPU, this should be fine.

This cooler uses “direct contact” heatpipes, which means there’s going to be extra gaps in the base. Just use a bit more thermal paste.

$46: Corsair A70

  • Compatible with Socket: AMD AM2/AM2+/AM3/AM3+, Intel LGA775/1155/1156/1366
  • Recommended for: 140W or lower TDP CPUs. Nice step-up from the Corsair A50 that offer even better cooling performance. Good for all but the most extreme overclock.
  • Dimensions: 159.5 x 124.6 x 129mm (L x W x H)
  • Details: 4x8mm “direct contact” copper heatpipes, 2x120mm fans.

Overtaking my previous recommendation, the Zalman CNPS10X Performa, is the Corsair A70.

Not only is it cooler than the Zalman, but it’s also about the same price, making it a better value.

For the price, it offers great cooling, nearly as good as the best. Unless you want complete silence or very extreme overclocking, this cooler should hold very well, as going beyond this point results in diminishing returns in terms of CPU temperatures.

I highly recommend this for anyone who wants great performance but doesn’t want to go all-out on a cooler.

This cooler uses “direct contact” heatpipes, which means there’s going to be extra gaps in the base. Just use a bit more thermal paste.

Thermalright Venomous-X RT$75 – Thermalright Venomous-X RT

$67 – Thermalright Venomous X (no fans)

  • Compatible with Socket: AM2/AM2+/AM3/AM3+/LGA 775/LGA 1156/LGA 1366
  • Recommended for: 140W or lower TDP CPUs. For those of you looking for a good cooler, that’s relatively affordable and isn’t noisy. Good for all but the most extreme overclock.
  • Dimensions: 127 x 63 x 160 mm (L x W x H)
  • Details: 6x6mm nickel-plated copper heatpipes, 1x120mm fan (Venemous X – RT)

Overtaking my previous recommendation, the Noctua NH-U12P SE2, is the Thermalright Venemous X.

I really couldn’t justify the price of the U12P since the performance was about the same as the Corsair A70.

The Venemous X, on the other hand, is only slightly worse than the Thermalright Silver Arrow or the Noctua NH-D14, making it one of the best coolers.

It’s also $15 cheaper than either, so if you want some of the best cooling on a tight budget, this is the cooler for you.

If you prefer to bring your own fans, you can do so and save $8 in the process.

THERMALRIGHT SILVER ARROW$90: Thermalright Silver Arrow

  • Compatible with Socket: AMD AM2/AM2+/AM3/AM3+, Intel LGA775/1155/1156/1366
  • Recommended for: 140W or lower TDP CPUs. For those of you looking nothing short of the best cooler, without the noise usually associated with such a cooler. Good for any kind of overclock.
  • Dimensions: 147 x 123 x 160 mm (L x W x H)
  • Details: 4x8mm nickel-plated copper heatpipes, dual-radiator, 2x140mm fans

The Thermalright Silver Arrow is, overall, the best air cooler on the market.

If you haven’t heard of Thermalright, they are a high-end cooling systems manufacturer that is considered one of the leaders in the industry.

In most cases, it outperforms the former leader, the Noctua NH-D14. Not only that, but the Thermalright is also much more quiet.

However, this is an extremely large cooler (at 147mm(L)x 123mm (W)x 160mm(H), so you should make sure that you have adequate clearance in your case.

It’s not cheap, at $90, but expect to pay that much for the best.

You can also add a third fan to the cooler, although I wouldn’t recommend it as this only lowers temperatures by 1-2C on average.

$89: Noctua NH-D14

  • Compatible with Socket: AMD AM2/AM2+/AM3/AM3+ (with included backplate), Intel LGA775/1155/1156/1366
  • Recommended for: 140W or lower TDP CPUs. For those of you looking nothing short of the best cooler, without the noise usually associated with such a cooler.  Good for any kind of overclock.
  • Dimensions: 158 x 140 x 160 mm (L x W x H)
  • Details: 6x6mm nickel-plated copper heatpipes, dual-radiator, 1x140mm fan, 1x120mm fan

Performance is nearly identical to the Silver Arrow (a fraction of a degree less in most cases). However, the NH-D14 has more RAM clearance due to it’s asymmetrical design.

It’s also known to outperform the Silver Arrow in a few oddball cases where you have a very extreme overclock (when your going into the 90C or above range at load), which you shouldn’t be doing anyway.

Still not going to work with your insanely tall Corsair Vengeance though.

The Best Low-Profile CPU Coolers

Scythe Big Shuriken$35 – Scythe Big Shuriken

  • Compatible with Socket: AMD Socket 754/939/940/AM2/AM2+/ 478, Intel LGA 775 / LGA1155 / LGA1156 / LGA 1366
  • Recommended for: HTPCs or small case with small clearance. Not the most quiet cooler, but definately a step up from the stock cooler.
  • Dimensions: 125 x 135 x 58 mm(L x W x H)

Overtaking my former recommendation of the Zalman CNPS8700 is the Scythe Big Shuriken. The main reason is that the Shuriken supports more sockets, while still outperforming the stock cooler.

This is the shortest of my low profile recommendations, coming it at 58mm tall.

If you need something really tiny, this is your cooler. It offers good cooling while being quiet.

I’d recommend this to anyone who is working with a limited space, like in a HTPC.

COOLER MASTER GeminII S

$40: COOLER MASTER GeminII S

  • Compatible with Socket: AMD 754/939/940/AM2/AM2+/AM3, Intel LGA775/1155/1156/1366
  • Recommended for: HTPCs or small case with small clearance. Much better than the Zalman CNPS8700, but also taller.
  • Dimensions: 124 x 120.8 x 88 mm (L x W x H)

This is a low profile cooler, coming it at 88mm tall.

It’s a bit bigger than then Scythe Big Shuriken, but it’s also a lot more effective.

I’d recommend this to anyone who is working with a limited space, like in a HTPC.

Noctua NH-C14

$77: Noctua NH-C14

  • Compatible with Socket: AMD AM2/AM2+/AM3, Intel LGA775/1155/1156/1366
  • Recommended for: HTPCs or small cases, with an higher TDP CPU, that has enough clearance. Much better than the Zalman CNPS8700, but also taller.
  • Dimensions: 166 x 140 x 130 mm (L x W x H)

This is a low profile cooler, basically a modified and turned Noctua NH-D14.

The innovative part of the design is that you can have one or two fans.

If you remove the top fan, the cooler measures just 105mm tall. With both fans, it’s 130mm tall.

The NH-C14 offers near Silver Arrow and NH-D14 performance, with low noise, while being much shorter, and thus easier to manage.

Sadly, this cooler is prohibitively expensive for most people (to whom I’d recommend the GeminII S).

The Best Silent CPU Cooler

Thermalright HR-02

$80: Thermalright HR-02

  • Compatible with Socket: AMD AM2/AM2+/AM3 (With optinal mounting kit), Intel LGA775/1155/1156/1366
  • Recommended for: Those of you looking for absolute silence, without sacrifincing too much overclocking potential.
  • Dimensions: 110 x 140 x 160 mm (L x W x H)

Are you a freak about noise?

Think even Noctua and Thermalright’s high performance, low noise systems are too loud?

Look no further than the Thermalright HR-02, the most effective passive cooler on the market, beating the Noctua NH-D14 fanless.

This passive cooler is a massive heatsink.

Don’t let the lack of fans fool you; tests show that even without fans, this cooler will outperform many other aftermarket coolers while trouncing the Intel stock cooler.

You can even add 120mm or 140mm fans for even more cooling (although getting the Silver Arrow or NH-D14 is a better active solution).

You’ll get absolutely no noise, and you’ll be able to overclock at your pleasure.

Bonus Section: The Best Thermal Interface Material (TIM)

To make your CPU Cooler perform to the best of its abilities, I recommend using Indigo Xtreme. It’s available for:

It is regarded as the best by most and also, it doesn’t need a cure time, its performance is consistant, it’s easy to clean up and it’s specifically engineered for the specific socket that you use.

Note: The CPU Coolers that I recommend already include thermal compound, so you technically don’t need to buy any. However, the Indigo Xtreme is recommended if you demand the highest performance. It is pricey, so getting a better cooler might be more advisable. If you desire a more traditional thermal paste, most CPU coolers come with high end pastes, or you can get Arctic Cooling MX-4, an excellent thermal paste.

Conclusion

We hope that you liked this updated version of “The CPU Coolers For Your Money”.

There’s always place for improvement, so we invite you to leave your feedback, questions and suggestions to Brian and me right below in the comments section.

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Category: The Best PC Parts For Your Money

About Brian: Hi. My name is Brian, and I am currently a high school student from Long Island, New York. I've always had an interest in computers, so when I heard that Mathieu was asking for guest writers, I jumped at the opportunity. .

  • Rsantos1111

    Nice artice…..Thank you……..

    • brian

      just a slight revision

  • Add

    No comment on any of the liquid coolers available out there?

    • brian

      Antec Kuhler 620/920 and Corsair H50/60/70 are all inferior to the high end air cooling I recommend, all while being louder. They really don’t provide great value. Unless you have very high RAM, there’s no reason to get any all-in-one water cooling kits.

      • chris

        the H60 is louder than some of these fans listed? All I know is my stock cooler for my i7-2600k was 20c higher than my idles with the corsair H60. It was only $60 too. Less dust intake too?

        The $35 – Scythe Big Shuriken looks sweet though.

  • Aaron

    If I overclock my cpu (I7 2600k) to like 4.8 ghz (unless that isn’t recommended) and have 2 video cards (probably 6950s or 6970s) would I need liquid cooling. Also how hard is it to assemble liquid cooling.

    • brian

      No you would not need liquid cooling. You’d need the Corsair A50 or better (I’d recommend the A70). I’ve never used liquid cooling so I can’t comment.

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  • NnjaS

    Whats your take on the Cooler Master V8

  • Raiden

    is the Thermalright Silver Arrow still the best cpu cooler?

    • http://www.hardware-revolution.com/ MathieuB

      I’d still classify it in the top 3 CPU Coolers, with the Noctua NH-D14 and the Phanteks PH-TC14PE.

  • Alex

    Contradiction?
    You say: “Thermalright HR-02 … beating the Noctua NH-D14 fanless”
    and then: “although getting the Silver Arrow or NH-D14 is a better active solution”
    I can’t make sense of it.

  • RICKY

    HI MATHIEU,
    HOW ABOUT ARCTIC COOLING? I’VE BEEN LOOKING AT THIS FREEZER i30 AND IT LOOKS PRETTY AWESOME…I’M USING MOST OF THEIR PWM FANS AND THEY ARE PRETTY QUIET AND EFFICIENT… MOST IMPT OF ALL IS THEIR PWM WHICH LETS YOUR MOBO DECIDES ON THEIR SPEED… PRETTY SWEET! BTW, I USED SCYTHE BIG SHURIKEN ON MY THERMALTAKE LANBOX LITE BUT I CHANGED THE 120mm FAN WITH ARCTIC COOLING 120mm FAN WITH PMW…THANKS FOR A GREAT ARTICLE ONCE AGAIN…KEEP IT UP MAN…I’M LEARNING A LOT AND HAVING FUN…I CANT WAIT FOR MY NEXT BUILD…THANKS.

  • Jarick Socorro

    is there a chance for this section to be updated?