The CPU cooler is something of an unsung hero. Its job--keeping your processor from overheating--is obvious, but its importance goes largely unrecognized.
Air Cooling: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus ($26)
Typically AMD and Intel package a CPU cooler when you purchase a processor in a box. Overall, these stock fans do a fine job, but they are noisy. And you certainly wouldn’t want to try overclocking a processor that has just a stock cooler--they simply aren’t large enough to handle the task.
If you want to use a traditional air cooler, I recommend the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus. It’s inexpensive, yet it doesn’t sacrifice on build quality or construction. You’ll be able to find variants that fit both Intel and AMD CPUs; just check the product description when you’re shopping around.
The Hyper 212 Plus delivers on all counts. Copper pipes transfer heat from the CPU to the aluminum fins, and the 120mm fan circulates the warm air out into the case.
It won’t be the quietest option, but that larger fan will beat the stock AMD or Intel heat sink handily, and the improved cooling capability will leave your system with a bit of thermal headroom, if you’d like to experiment with some overclocking later on.
Liquid Cooling: Corsair Hydro Series H80 ($100)
If you really want a high-performance system (and you have room in your budget), liquid cooling is a great option. Installing liquid cooling once required cut tubes, reservoirs, and pumps. That’s still the case at the advanced end, but enclosed products now integrate the pump, reservoir, and fan into a single, easy-to-install piece.
The Corsair Hydro Series H80, for example, consists of a radiator, a cold plate, and two connecting tubes. Thermally conductive fluid runs in the tubes; the cold plate mounts onto the CPU, and heat transfers from the CPU into the cooling fluid. The fluid flows from the cold plate to the radiator, where the heat transfers away, blown out of the case by fans. The cooled liquid then heads back to the CPU, and the process repeats.
Compared with air cooling, a liquid product offers greater cooling potential with less noise, a boon for overclockers who don’t want a jet engine sitting under their desk. If you aren’t interested in overclocking, you can buy a slightly less expensive liquid cooler that will still make your PC significantly quieter.
Since the H80 comes with mounting brackets for most modern CPUs, it offers flexibility should you choose to upgrade your CPU or motherboard later on, or should you jump between AMD and Intel wares. Its radiator is thick, too, and it fits standard 120mm fans--you can install it almost anywhere in your case, in a two-step process that takes mere minutes.