Updated: May 23, 2015

REVIEW: Best CPU Cooling Guide - Keeping your CPU Cool with Fans or Heatsinks

How CPU fans and heatsinks protect your computer and keep your system from overheating
For most of us, a computer is a major expense, and for a lot of us they are necessities. Work, school, communication, entertainment - all of these can be found in a computer. They are the workhorses of the 21st Century, and sometimes they need a break, like the rest of us. A CPU fan can be remarkably effective in maintaining your computer's performance and protecting your investment, no matter what you use it for. Especially if you are a high-powered gamer, tweaking your system for optimal performance, a CPU cooler can be a necessity. If you've got your machine tricked out with lights and custom mods, your going to want to keep it cool. Picking the right CPU cooler is essential. What will work with your computer? How powerful should it be? Will it be quiet? Here are some answers that will make your choice a bit easier.

cpu coolers


Why Do You Need a CPU Cooling System?

The CPU, or the brain of your computer, sends messages and commands to other components. And when it's doing this, your computer can get hot. Electricity is passing through conductive materials, like aluminum or copper, which then oscillate. The oscillations produce heat. How much depends on your computer. For instance, if you have a 500Hz computer, it will oscillate 500,000,000 times per second. If your fan isn't doing its work effectively, eventually the heat can damage the conductive materials, impacting the performance of your computer. And if you didn't pay an arm and a leg for your computer, you will probably run into overheating issues at some point.

Your system does have a fan, but it does not cool the CPU specifically. A metallic heat sink sits on top of your CPU and draws heat away from your processor. The fan then moves the air away and out. It moves air throughout the computer case, but this movement can be stifled, or suffocated, if you block the vents. This is easy to do on a laptop: just putting the computer on your lap or any other soft surface can suffocate it. In addition, you paid less for your computer because the manufacturer cut costs by placing only an exhaust fan at the power supply. These don't really do much considering the capabilities of your computer, so overheating is very common in all but very high-end models. You'll find CPU fans and CPU coolers priced from about $20 up to almost $100 for really fancy models. Amazon lists more than 50 CPU coolers here.

How to Choose the Best CPU Cooling Product for Your Computer

Your computer will use a specific type of CPU fan. Before heading to a store or online vendor, make sure you check the following in your owner's manual (or for some people who lose them, pop online and look up the specs for your make and model):
  • *The brand, socket type, and size of the CPU. You need a fan that matches the socket type.
  • *Check the dimensions of the fan.
  • *Check the airflow rating. Higher ratings indicate a higher volume of airflow per minute. If you tax your computer, called "overclocking," choose a fan
  • with more cooling power.
If you're hearing the word "socket" for the first time in relation to computers, don't worry. It is easy to find out what type of socket your computer has. It will tell you in your user's manual, or you can determine the type by the processor you have (Intel or AMD). For example, if you have an AMD Athlon 64x2 processor issued in 2006 or after, you have an AM2 socket. Make sure to check for your particular model.

Your next step is to find the best CPU fan for your computer. For example, if you have an Intel Socket 775 or AMD Socket AM2/754/940, the Zalman Ultra Quiet CPU Cooler (less than $50) is a good choice. This was chosen as one of the best by OverClockers.net - and if anyone needs good fans, it is people who overclock. It features 100 percent copper heat sink (which draws heat from the processor) with an "aerodynamically optimized tunnel for maximum cooling, curved heat pipe design for heat transfer that uses 3 heat pipes instead of 6, and quiet operation. Besides being a top choice of experts, the Zalman is overwhelmingly popular with users. One reviewer called it "wicked cool." We agree. And the price is wicked cool, as well. All Zalman CPU Coolers here.

What is the Best CPU Cooler? CPU Cooler Review

BenchmarkReviews.com tests and reports on the best CPU coolers each year, hoping to point overclockers and mod enthusiasts in the right direction. Recent top picks included Prolimatech Megahalems, Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme, Xigmatek Thor's Hammer, Cooler Master Hyper Z600, Xigmatek Dark Knight, ranging from ultra expensive and hard to find to about $40-$60 and available from most online computer stores. On with some other options.

If you have Socket 478, 940, 775, 939, AM2, or AM2+, the Scythe Ninja 3 Universal CPU Cooler is a top choice among forum users and editors alike. Here is why one user said that you can't go wrong with a Ninja: it is a 2-in-1 cooler that has fan and fanless modes and has 6 heat pipes, low noise 120mm fan and mounting clips, and relatively easy installation. It costs under $40.
A top choice for those with Intel P4 LGA 775 or AMD K7 or K8 sockets is the Thermaltake Big Typhoon. The Big Typhoon is a 4-in-1 system with 6 heat pipes, high density aluminum fins, copper base solder for perfect contact, and 12cm silent fan. Ultra-quiet, the Big Typhoon costs about $40. There are a wide variety of cooling units available. The key to choosing the right one is to know your socket type. Without this, you have no way to choose the right model, never mind one that is the most effective. After this, keep the big brands in mind: Scythe, Thermaltake, Zalman, Artic Cooling, and Sunbeam's Tuniq Tower are among the best in the business. They all typically fall under the $50 mark, which is not a bad price to pay to keep your system cool and running optimally. If you can prolong its life by a year, two, three, or even more, then your cooling fan has more than paid for itself. Look here for an extensive selection of CPU cooling systems.