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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

19 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
301 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best liquid CPU coolers for gaming

Last Updated November 2019

If you’re a PC gamer, then you probably already know that your gaming rig has one big problem to contend with: heat. A top-of-the-line CPU will power all of your gaming adventures, but not without a proper cooling solution to help it run at optimal temperatures. And that’s where a liquid CPU cooler comes in.

A liquid CPU cooler has one job: to handle all of the heat generated by the CPU and keep the internals at nice low temperatures. Traditional computers use heatsinks, special metal blocks that rest on top of the CPU and facilitate airflow. Modern PCs use liquid cooling, which might sound counterintuitive, but it’s actually the most efficient way to handle heat. Essentially, cold liquid flows through tubes to keep the CPU temperature low, and multiple fans work together to push all the hot air out as exhaust.

The first liquid CPU coolers had multiple components that were prone to leaking, making them complicated and risky. A lot has changed since then, and now it’s easy to find a CPU cooler that’s leakproof and simple to set up. If you’re ready to take the plunge and turn your gaming PC into a super-cooled powerhouse, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know to find the perfect liquid CPU cooler for your gaming PC. When you’re ready to buy, check out some of our favorites, too.

The liquid inside most liquid CPU coolers is water with a few additives to help reduce the risk of fire.

Key considerations

There’s quite a bit of variety across the liquid CPU cooler market, so it pays to do your homework ahead of time so you know what you’re looking for. To help you narrow your search, answer these questions:

How much room do you have in your PC case?

The most important thing to know is how much physical installation space you have. Many liquid CPU coolers take up quite a bit of room in a PC case and require you to arrange the water-cooling tubes around your computer’s internal components. That can get dicey, especially if you have a beefy video card. Before you start shopping, look inside your PC and investigate your available space. You might need to move a few things, such as move your video card to a different slot if you’ve got one. Before you buy, make sure the liquid CPU cooler you get will have enough room in your rig!

Is your PC case transparent?

There are two types of PC gamers: those who like to see the insides of their PCs and light them up with multicolored lights, and those who don’t. If you’re in the former category, you’ll probably want to look into liquid CPU coolers that include programmable colored lights. Lighting up your PC can be a ton of fun – you can even coordinate the colored lights to match your current favorite game while you play – but it’s not for everyone. If you’re not into LED lights, you can save some money by buying a liquid CPU cooler without them.

How quiet does your gaming PC need to be?

Aside from heat, your gaming PC’s other big problem is sound. Powerful CPUs require powerful cooling solutions, which in turn have powerful fans, and all that adds up to a decent amount of noise. If you game with headphones on, or you game somewhere where you can crank the volume, you don’t need to worry about how loud the fans are on your liquid CPU coolers, but if you're in a place where you need to keep the noise down, you’ll want to pay extra for a model with ultra-quiet fans.

EXPERT TIP

Make sure that any fans included with your liquid CPU cooler are the right size for your PC case. Cases typically have room for multiple 120 mm fans, although many have space for 240 mm fans. Examine your PC case and figure out how many fans you’ll want and what size they need to be.


Staff  | BestReviews

Liquid CPU cooler features

Once you have a general idea of what you need out of your liquid CPU cooler, it’s time to start shopping. Pay the closest attention to these features:

Socket compatibility

CPUs come in a variety of form factors and plug directly into your motherboard, which acts as a socket for the CPU itself. Because CPU form factors are so specific and varied, they require that any liquid CPU cooler comes in the same form factor. The bottom line is that once you know what type of CPU socket your current motherboard and CPU use, you can buy a liquid CPU cooler built for the same socket type. (Also keep in mind that many liquid CPU coolers include hardware that works with multiple socket types.)

LED lighting

If you’re a fan of lighting up your PC case, we’ve got good news for you: most liquid CPU coolers come with LED lights so you can decorate the interior to your heart’s content. Lighting is purely a matter of taste, but if you’re into it, you might want to compare your lighting options. Some liquid CPU coolers even include software so you can put on your own light shows while you game.

Wattage

Like everything else in your PC, your CPU cooler draws power, and you’ll want to make sure that both your motherboard and power supply will work with the liquid CPU cooler you buy. If you’re unsure where to start, read reviews to see what power supplies or motherboards other gamers use with their liquid CPU coolers.

Some of the best deals in liquid CPU coolers are bundles. If you’re also in the market for a new CPU or motherboard, look for bundles and save a few bucks. Bundles are also great for first-timers because the parts are all guaranteed to work together.

Staff
BestReviews

Liquid CPU cooler prices

Inexpensive

Entry-level liquid CPU coolers typically cost between $50 and $100. The models in this range are basic but competent. If you just want a liquid CPU cooler and you don’t need any extras like multiple fans or multicolored lights, you can get a solid performer without spending a lot.

Mid-range

The best values in liquid CPU coolers are in the $50 to $150 price range. These models offer a good balance between features and cost. If you’re willing to spend more than $100, it’s not tough to find one with multiple fans or even one that works with multiple different CPU socket types. If you’re serious about your gaming, you’re going to want to spend at least this much.

Expensive

Liquid CPU coolers that cost more than $150 are good for serious gamers, but casual users don’t need to spend this much. Models in this price range are designed for intense gaming and typically include every feature you can think of, such as multicolored lights or even custom software for monitoring temperatures.

CAUTION

All CPU cooling units have a thin layer of thermal paste between the CPU and the cooling unit itself. Thermal paste is an adhesive designed for heat management, and it’s essential. Never build a PC or install a CPU cooler without it – you could permanently damage both components.

Tips

  • Always double-check that the liquid CPU cooler you buy supports your CPU’s socket. Your liquid CPU cooler has to be compatible with the form factor of your CPU, so before you buy, make sure you know what socket you use, and make sure your liquid CPU cooler will work with it. If you’re not certain, you might want to buy a model that includes hardware for working with multiple CPU socket types.

  • Determine your CPU temperatures. If you’re replacing a CPU cooler, use software to determine your current CPU temperatures so you can compare it with your new CPU temperatures. There are dozens of freely available software applications for monitoring core temperature. To get a sense of the “before and after,” install a temperature monitor and find out what temperatures your CPU maintains, then do the same once you’ve installed your new liquid CPU cooler. That way you’ll know exactly how much it has improved.

  • Consider overclocking. Your CPU is built to run at a certain speed, but with the right liquid CPU cooler, you can set your computer to run even faster because the temperatures are so low that the machine remains stable. This practice, known as overclocking, is popular among gamers. Just make sure your new CPU cooler is keeping temperatures down to an acceptable level. An overheated CPU can lead to complete system failure!

  • Avoid getting the liquid in your eyes or skin. If your liquid CPU cooler ever leaks, avoid getting any of the liquid in your eyes or on your skin – it can cause irritation. And if you do get any on you, rinse it off thoroughly with water.

Other products we considered

If you’re looking for a liquid CPU cooler that’s affordable and easy to install, it’s hard to go wrong with the upHere All-in-One High Performance Liquid CPU Cooler. It’s got dual fans, it works with CPUs from both Intel and AMD, and it’s one of the simplest kits available. If you’re a newbie to PC building but dying to try liquid cooling, this is the kit to get. Another favorite of ours is the AigoDIY Liquid CPU Cooler. It’s got dual 240 mm fans that are designed for PC cases with exhaust on the top, which can be key, especially if your PC is in a tight space. If you’re looking for a solid, affordable option that directs airflow upward, look no further.

If you’re new to PC building, download the instructions for any CPU coolers you’re considering. Sometimes the included instructions are clear; other times they’ll leave you scratching your head. Give yourself a preview of the installation process before you buy, and look for instructions you feel confident about following.

FAQ

Q. Is it hard to install a liquid CPU cooler?

A. It depends on your experience with building computers. Installing a liquid CPU cooler means dealing with your computer’s internal components. Mostly, you’ll be installing the CPU to the motherboard, then attaching the liquid CPU cooler on top of that, and then connecting the cooler to the motherboard and the power supply. If you’ve built a PC before, you’ll find the process straightforward, but if you’ve never done it before, consider getting some help from a friend with experience.

Q. Why do some websites talk about refilling coolant in CPU coolers?

A. In the early days of liquid CPU coolers, users had to buy the components separately, and that meant having to handle coolant. In modern liquid CPU coolers, everything is sealed, so you don’t ever have to refill the coolant manually. (If you happen to encounter a liquid CPU cooler that requires you to refill coolant, don’t buy it.)

Q. If I buy a liquid CPU cooler with LED lights, can I disable them?

A. Yes. In most cases, it’s easy to disable LED lighting using included software. If you buy a liquid CPU cooler that doesn’t come with software, that’s OK – many of these models have lights that require their own power connection, so you can just leave them unconnected.

The team that worked on this review
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    Alvina
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    Amos
    Director of Photography
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    Branson
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    Editor
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    Ciera
    Digital Content Producer
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    Web Producer
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    Post Production Editor

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