Best Passive Cooler
- Noctua NH-P1
Best Air Cooler
- Noctua NH-D15 chromax.Black
Best Small Form Factor Cooler
- Noctua NH-L9a-AM4 chromax.Black
All CPUs need cooling, and as much as liquid cooling is cool. It’s not for everyone. Pumps can fail, water can leak, and they tend to be expensive. Air coolers are the alternative. They come in all shapes and sizes and can cool anything at the high end. No matter what your need, an air cooler can work for you. The only thing you need to be aware of is clearance.
Air coolers, especially high-performance ones, can be large, potentially interfering with large RAM modules and more minor cases. Not all coolers are large, though. Small form air coolers are a thing but will come with limited performance for high-end CPUs. The cooling power is typically based on the surface area presented and the airflow over it. With passive heatsinks, the balance changes, favoring more significant gaps and higher mass.
To help you find the best air cooler for your CPU, we’ve drawn up our list of the best air coolers for CPUs in 2022.
- Black color scheme
- Heatsink allows for most RAM modules
- Compatible with all mainstream Intel and AMD CPU sockets
- Number of heat pipes: 6
- Number of fans: 2
- Fan size: 140mm
The Noctua NH-D15 chromax.Black is the black version of Noctua’s class-leading NH-D15 cooler. While it’s still available in Noctua’s standard silver with beige and brown, the black version brings a more palatable color scheme for $10 extra. It’s a dual tower cooler that comes with two 140mm fans. The heatsink has been designed so that if you remove the external fan. The fins have good clearance for tall RAM modules. A single fan version is available if you know you need the clearance.
It can cool even overclocked high-end parts while staying quiet. It’s compatible with all mainstream CPU sockets. High-end thermal paste is included. Mounting is generally relatively easy, thanks to the high-quality mounting kit. Clearance of the case may be an issue in smaller cases.
- Subtle black styling
- Pair of Silent Wings fans included
- Ceramic particle coating
- Number of heat pipes:7
- Number of fans: 2
- Fan size: 135mm
Be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4 is a high-end air cooler. It has two 135mm Silent Wings fans designed to be quiet, even at maximum speed. The black styling is subtle and should fit in any build. The black coating includes ceramic particles for increased thermal transmission.
The heat sinks have small cutouts in them for larger RAM sticks. A specialty screwdriver is included, so mounting should be easy. While most modern CPU sockets are supported, Intel’s latest LGA1700 socket needs an adaptor. One is available for free with proof of purchase. However, according to some customer reviews, getting that is apparently quite difficult. Weirdly, the fans used are a non-standard size. In PC cooling, most fans are 120mm, 140mm, or 240mm. While 240mm wouldn’t work for a CPU cooler, these fans are 135mm, making it difficult to use your own fans if you have them spare.
- Truly passive heat sink
- Silent operation
- Compatible with a 120mm fan for improved cooling
- Number of heat pipes: 6
- Number of fans: 0
- Fan size: n/a
The Noctua NH-P1 is a member of a very rare club, the passive CPU cooler. It doesn’t use any fans, relying solely on gravity and the fact that heat rises to cool. This technique does mean that it operates entirely silently. However, it does mean there’s a limit to how much heat it can dissipate. Passive cooling isn’t for everyone. It only really works for low- to mid-range CPUs.
Suppose you want to increase the cooling power. In that case, it is possible to strap a 120mm fan in three positions for maximum compatibility. While the fan isn’t supplied, the mounting clips are included. It still won’t match a standard cooler but will improve performance. The asymmetrical design offers strong RAM compatibility. Covering one side of the CPU socket shouldn’t interfere with anything.
- Slim form factor
- Black colour scheme
- Guaranteed RAM compatibility
- Number of heat pipes: 2
- Number of fans: 1
- Fan size: 92mm
The Noctua NH-L9a-AM4 chromax.Black is a high-performance low, profile CPU cooler. It’s primarily designed to be low profile for small form factor PCs. This means it’s slim, only as tall as a stick of RAM. This comes with the caveat that it isn’t as strong at cooling as its bigger brothers and can’t support high-end CPUs under heavy load.
The linked model is specifically designed for the AMD AM4 socket, though there are versions available for mainstream Intel sockets too. It’s been carefully designed with motherboard standards in mind to ensure that it will be compatible in all setups, never impacting the RAM. As with all Noctua products, the black version commands a small premium over the standard Noctua colors.
That was our roundup of the best air coolers for CPUs in 2022. Have you recently bought an air cooler for your CPU? What sold you on it and your experience with it so far? Let us know down below.