Best Air CPU Coolers

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Best Air CPU Coolers

Post by PCLife on Tue Sep 13, 2016 4:01 pm

Lower CPU temperatures provide improved stability, efficiency and reliability. This benefits everyone, from overclockers seeking the highest work rate, to efficiency enthusiasts trying to achieve the least energy per unit of work. Nothing promotes cooling value better than a big passive heat sink and a cheap active fan. Designs that improve airflow while also reducing noise drive higher cooling-to-noise performance ratios.

We rank performance by a cooling-to-noise ratio, and value as performance-per-dollar. The formula for success has always involved a mixture of increased surface area and improved airflow to keep temperatures low, along with highly-conductive materials to promote the transfer of heat between the CPU and the cooling surface. Maximizing performance usually requires a large heat sink, though some of these models are too large to fit mid-sized or smaller cases. We divide the range into Big Air solutions over six inches tall, Mid-Sized coolers that are between three and six inches tall, and low-profile "Slim" coolers that are less-than three inches tall.

Large coolers generally require a tower, though a few Mini-ITX gaming cubes are designed extra tall to compensate. Mid-sized coolers fit most mid-sized cases and motherboards, albeit with reduced performance of smaller fans and sinks. Slim coolers are under three inches tall and are generally designed for low-profile cases. Due to various socket positions of different motherboards, it's important to compare the actual specifications of each cooler to the motherboard as well as the case.

Best Big Air CPU Coolers

Noctua NH-D14

For around $20 less than the newer D15, Noctua's NH-D14 is a few mm smaller in each direction and weighs a few ounces less. Once the air cooler to which all of our closed-loop liquid coolers were compared, this old standby remains on our favorites list due exclusively to its lower price.

Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 3

Slipping in size between its biggest competitor's D14 and D15 models, the Dark Rock Pro 3 also shows in-between cooling performance. Lower noise that those competitors brought an overall performance win for the Dark Rock Pro 3 and a trophy to the showcase of manufacturer be quiet!
Most of the readers we've talked to think that the Dark Rock Pro 3 looks better than competing models, with its black-anodized brushed aluminum top plate and matching button-style heat pipe covers, but better overall performance at a similar price was reason enough for this model to earn our accolades.

Deepcool Gamer Storm Assassin II

The Assassin II breaks the awards monotony of its highly-rated rival by producing nearly as much cooling performance at nearly as low a noise level for a price that's not quite nearly as high. That just means its brand, Gamer Storm, which itself is a brand of Deepcool Global, does a good job of selling the Assassin II at a better-value price.

Noctua NH-D15

If you have room for the NH-D15's 162x152x162mm dimensions and aren't afraid to hang its 1350g weight (including brackets), you can't go wrong with its supreme cooling capacity and low noise capability. That's three pounds, by the way, which means you'll probably want to mount it to at least a six-layer board and never move your PC once it's assembled.
The extreme performance comes not just from the size of this sink's fins, but from the design of its two 150mm fans. Noctua includes a speed-reducing resistor wire for each of them, but we suggest setting up an appropriate fan profile in your motherboard's firmware.

Best Mid Air CPU Coolers

Noctua NH-U9DX i4

Designed for the tight confines of multi-CPU servers, few retail brands have even noticed Intel's Narrow ILM or taken note of its unique mounting bracket. ASRock's so familiar with the problem that the firm added a $33 server-style CPU cooler and a closed-loop liquid-cooler bracket to the retail box of its X99E-ITX/ac. That left us with as many problems as solutions though, since the included cooler produces over 54db of noise, and the included bracket supports only Cooler Master's poorly-rated and scantly-available Seidon 120V. Fortunately, Noctua was ready to bring Narrow ILM into the office with a new bracket set to fit its existing (and recently discontinued) NH-U9B SE2.
The NH-U9DX i4 gives ASRock X99E-ITX/ac owners and 2P workstation users a quiet user environment with Noctua's legendary cooling advantages. At full fans, the NH-U9DX i4 had over 18% more cooling capacity while producing just over 1/4 the apparent noise of its closest competitor. Magic happens at 50% fans, where the NH-U9DX i4 produced a whisper-quiet 19.5 decibels while still providing a 16% cooling advantage over its sever-oriented rival.

DeepCool Gammaxx 400

Barely qualifying as "Big Air" with a height of 6.1" but a thickness of only 3.0", the Gammaxx 400 produces the lowest temperatures we've seen from a single-tower design. It's also the lightest cooler in its size class at 21 ounces, the cheapest of its performance class at $30, and scores its low temperatures by being only slightly noisier than its closest rivals. The Gammaxx 400 even finished in a dead heat with coolers costing twice as much in our cooler-to-noise comparison, and its only competitive deficit is that it looks as cheap as it is.
The combination of high performance and low price made the Gammaxx 400 my only choice when it came time to lay out some real money in my Q1 2016 System Builder Marathon machine.

Best Slim Air CPU Coolers

Reeven RC-1001b Brontes

Reeven's RC-1001 Brontes very nearly pushed both of its compact cooling rivals out of the competition, coming up just short of the larger Shadow Rock LP from be quiet! in temperature and temperature-to-noise ratio, while being as short and inexpensive as the tiny SilverStone AR06. The RC-1001 is a little wider than the AR06 though, which could be an issue on some crowded boards. Still, the combination of being the second-smallest, second best performer, and tied for cheapest was enough to convince our editors that the RC-1001 deserves our top award.

Be Quiet! Shadow Rock LP

Bumping right up against our 3" (76mm) limit for "slim cooling" qualification, the Shadow Rock LP was both the coolest and the quietest of the samples in our five-way roundup. With enough overall performance to earn our recommendation prior to subsequent price drops, the fact that this best-performing slim cooler is now the cheapest makes it the most-obvious choice for builders who have little more than the required space to install it.

Raijintek Pallas

Raijintek's Pallas is a new and inexpensive slim CPU Cooler aimed at the Mini-ITX segment, intended to compete with Thermalright's top-of-the-line AXP-200. It has the unique ability to cool overclocked 180W CPUs that even some tower coolers can't handle, making it an option for use in larger systems as well. At $40, the Pallas is also less expensive than its direct competition, making it the new reference for cooling performance in the low-profile space.

SilverStone Argon AR06

A mere 58mm tall (2.3"), SilverStone's Argon AR06 proved itself the little cooler that could in our most recent five-way roundup. It had the worst temperatures of our "performance" coolers, but not by much, and was certainly up to the task of cooling a frequency-fixed Core i7-4690 at extreme loads and 1.20V. Fortunately, it achieved mid-pack quietness in spite of its size. Simply passing our test in such harrowing conditions is quite a feat for a cooler this small, particularly when it costs less than $40.

Last edited by PCLife on Tue Sep 13, 2016 6:44 pm; edited 3 times in total

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