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CPU Guide

CPU Cooler Guide for the Masses

  1. Introduction
  2. CPU cooling acronyms
  3. Types of CPU Coolers
  4. Benefits and Types of CPU air coolers
  5. Benefits and Types of CPU Liquid Coolers
  6. Stuff to check before purchasing CPU coolers
  7. View All

Modern desktop CPUs have come a long way in terms of performance and power consumption. Because of this, it helps in its own way to build either the smallest form factor systems or the best performance & expandability an end user can get. For both types of systems and anything in the middle, an aftermarket CPU cooler for additional cooling is needed with modern CPUs due to its multi-core design and the requirements to keep up with many types of CPU-intensive demands end-users have. Heat dissipation and TDP rises up when a processor is overclocked, and the CPU needs to be cooled down to a preferable temperature to avoid thermal throttling. Be it gaming, rendering, processing videos and many workloads, multiple manufacturers have multiple solutions to cool down your CPU.

CPU Guide

Unless the default settings are changed in a system, the processor reduces its core clock speed automatically if the workload is low. Therefore, it consumes a little less power and gives away lesser heat. If the CPU load is high, the CPU will run at a required core clock, consume a bit more power and needs to dissipate heat quickly to perform optimally. That’s the role of the CPU cooler. It helps to dissipate heat as quickly as possible for the CPU processor to perform optimally. If it’s not cooled properly, the system will throttle the CPU by reducing the clock speed, slowing down the performance. The worse case scenario is that the system will shut down or restart when it exceeds a certain temperature threshold. Sure, you can turn off the safety net via BIOS by turning off temperature and power saving controls, but you’re simply putting your investment at risk with the stock CPU cooler rather than solving the problem. In hot and humid environment, dissipating heat from the CPU as quickly as possible may be even more challenging if you don’t make the right purchase.

It also helps to maintain the lifespan of the CPU, especially when it’s overclocked. In such cases, heat from the CPU needs to be dissipated as quick as possible, especially when it’s on load. Overclocking the CPU will increase the TDP on idle and load (depending on the architecture and other factors), so the rate of dissipating heat is required not to avoid thermal throttling, but also to help maintain the lifespan of the processor.

Are stock CPU coolers completely useless? Maybe not, but it depends on the scenario especially considering the ambient temperatures. The end result of not-so-good cooling while using the system to its potential and sound from the CPU cooler usually encourages users to purchase a better options. Reviews help you to make that choice from time-to-time. However, knowing about different types of CPU coolers helps system builders to know what they need to be looking for.

When I tested the Noctua NH-L9x65, NH-D9L, NH-U9S and Coolermaster Hyper D92 along with Intel stock cooler, comparison was done using an Intel Pentium G3258, an unlocked  dual-core processor with base clock of 3.2 GHz with 53w TDP and a Core i7 4790K with base frequency of 4 GHz with 88w TDP. The results are as follows:

The test was done in a closed case setup. This is important since many components run within the computer tower, and many of the components generate heat. Hard drives, motherboard chipset, graphic card, processor, add-on cards- almost anything inside a PC case

As you can see, the stock CPU cooler on i7 4790k load is at 100% load is touching 90 degrees Celcius. With aftermarket CPU coolers mentioned above, the Intel i7 4790k is cooler at 61-68 degrees Celcius. But it’s different with the dual core based Intel Pentium G3258. With a non-overclocked setup, the stock CPU cooler stays at 61 degrees load while NH-L9x65 is 5 degrees cooler. There is a bigger gap when overclocked as stock cooler touches 74 degrees Celcius while NH-L9x65 is at CPU.

Note that all these tests were done using Noctua NT-H1 thermal paste.

That said, buying the right CPU cooler is important. Some CPU coolers are large which may become an obstacle for your existing setups. Height of certain CPU cooler is larger than the space that the case provides. Some manufacturers provide all the CPU mounting options you will need. Some will provide good quality mounting kits. Some may provide the ones that provide either bad contact. Some motherboard components might even prevent installation of certain CPU coolers. Some CPU cooler backplates and brackets have a bare metal contact against the motherboard, which would either damage the soldered components while tightening it or shorten the motherboard or both.

It is, therefore, important to ask yourself this question before considering to purchase an aftermarket CPU cooler. In any case, choosing a CPU is easier than it looks as long as good enough research is done. This CPU Cooler guide will also address any misunderstandings (if any). If the CPU stock cooler does the job, good for you. If it doesn’t, time to hunt for an aftermarket option that suits your requirement. It is also important to see if you really need a better CPU cooler or just need to improve cooling for your case. As always, we’ll start with the basics.

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