We know that much like every other PC component, not all CPU coolers are made equally – after all, if they were I’d be out of a job and you’d be reading the weather update. So as 2016 comes to a very frosty finish I take a look back at some of the highs – or should that be lows – of the coolers that have graced our testbench this year and try to work out which is the best CPU cooler.
#5. Thermalright Macho Direct and Macho 120 SBM CPU Coolers
Kicking off the chart it would have been rude to have ignored the powerhouses that are the Thermalright Macho Direct and its non-identical twin the Macho 120 SBM. There are more subtle differences between this pair than the obvious direct contact heat pipes, but not enough to have them separated for the chart, and although they come with the massive caveat that they are probably too large to be useful their size gives them an enormous advantage over other coolers when it comes to performance. And I don’t just mean other air coolers, these two have beaten more than enough AIO liquid coolers to make it into the chart.
#4. Cryorig H5 Ultimate CPU Cooler
Another monstrous cooler makes it into the chart and again it’s the massive size of the heatsink that’s the main advantage here. Like the Machos, the Cryorig H5 Ultimate beats a substantial number of liquid coolers as well as the majority of those using air in the thermal charts under load but being slightly smaller it is a bit more easily handled and a lot more compatible with other hardware. It’s also fairly easy to install once you get the hang of it.
#3. Arctic Liquid Freezer 120 CPU Cooler
If you were asked to name some high-end cooler manufacturers, Arctic might not be your first choice. In fact, it might not even make it on to your list, after all, how good can an AIO costing around £50 actually be? The answer to that particular question is very good. Very good indeed. The Arctic Liquid Freezer 120 might only have a modest 120mm radiator and your standard Asetec flexible tubing, but the fans that Arctic have provided are utterly amazing, so much so that they turn this underdog into a cooler capable of beating the Fractal Design Kelvin T12 when it went on our bench and that’s at stock AND overclocked in both load tests.
#2. Cooler Master Hyper TX3i CPU Cooler
If you read our Cooler Master Hyper TX3i CPU cooler review, then you might be wondering why this is in the chart at all, especially so high up, since it’s a little 90mm cooler. Well, regardless of what Jeremy Clarkson would have you believe, not everything in this world comes down to power. This is a small cooler and one that for its size packs a mighty punch being able to support a overclocked Intel i7 4770k at 4500MHz and still beating off many of its competitors. But there’s one more trick up its sleeve that makes this one of my personal favourites of the year and that is all down to convenience. You see it’s one of the only coolers that I have come across that retains the ‘Stock Intel’ style of push plugs to attach it and that means that from box to board it really is just a matter of seconds and you’re away. No messing about with a backplate and tiny screws or bolts, and when you install as many coolers as I have to and then reinstall them for good measure that convenience makes a lot of difference. Oh, and it’s less than £20 now too!
#1. Fractal Design Kelvin CPU Cooler Series
At the top of this round-up and at the top of our thermal charts too, it’s the mighty Fractal Design Kelvin S36 and its kin, the S24 and T12 that you can read about here in case you missed our review. Quiet, sexy and powerful, it’s not your run of the mill Asetec rebrand, these have been totally redesigned to include a super-powerful pump and standardised connectors for the hoses so that you can change the tubing or even use them as the basis of a whole liquid loop. Fractal Design didn’t get their S36 back as, um, I’m still testing it in my personal rig, and it’s still going strong so they’re not getting it anytime soon.
If you have a personal favourite of the year that I’ve missed, it might be that we didn’t get a chance to test it here at Play3r, or for one reason or another I didn’t rate it as much as these – please don’t be offended just let me know in the comments. After all, this is just my opinion and we’d like to hear yours too.