5 best CPU air coolers in 2024, from budget-friendly to high-end options

5 best CPU air coolers in 2024, from budget-friendly to high-end options
Images via Vetroo | Corsair

Written by 

Harry Boulton & Jack Roberts

Last updated 

20th Mar 2024 17:17

Contents

While AIO and liquid cooling are certainly in vogue when it comes to keeping your processor frosty, the best CPU air coolers will not only save you money (and plenty of hassle) but could enhance your performance across both budget and high-end options.

Hardware - especially on the PC side of things - is all about finding those marginal performance gains to help you achieve that ideal optimised set-up. The best gaming PCs have all of the ideal components, but you're going to need to keep your PC cool if you're looking to hit those high refresh rates on the top 1440p gaming monitors.

How we chose the best CPU air coolers

The air coolers on our list have been chosen in regard to their price and performance qualities, as you're always going to want to look for hardware that meets that sweet spot of the two.

Image of the best CPU air coolers in 2023
Click to enlarge

When considering each product's performance, we have had a look at features like noise level, size, and cooling effectiveness to truly evaluate what the best options for you and your PC are in 2024.

Furthermore, while many of the top options on this list are on the more expensive side of things, they might not be what suits you best, so make sure to consider all options and how they factor into your PC to make sure that you're picking up the ideal product.

Best budget-friendly CPU air cooler

Image of the ARCTIC Freezer 34, which is one of the best CPU air coolers in 2023
Click to enlarge
Image via ARCTIC

ARCTIC Freezer 34 Esports Duo details:

  • Price: $52.25
  • Compatability: AM5, AM4, 1700, 1200, 1155, 1151, 1150, 2066, 2011(-3)
  • Key features:
    • Dual fan design
    • Top price-to-performance ratio
    • Sleek black and white aesthetic

There's no better budget option when it comes to CPU air coolers in 2024 than the ARCTIC Freezer 34, as for just over $50 you're getting top-tier performance in most gaming scenarios.

The thing with CPU coolers is that they very much scale with your PC, and it's often very easy to buy more than you need. If you've got a budget or lower mid-range CPU, you'll find that you don't actually need more than a cooler like this, and spending even double won't wield too much in terms of performance boosts.

So, going for the ARCTIC Freezer 34 will prove to be the perfect choice for many, as it keeps your CPU as cool as it needs to be, ensuring top performance in your favourite single-player and esports titles like Counter-Strike, VALORANT, and Baldur's Gate 3.

Pair this with one of the best wireless gaming mice and a high refresh rate monitor and you'll be well on your way to becoming a pro.

Mid-range CPU air cooler

Image of the Noctua NH-U12S
Click to enlarge
Image via Noctua

Noctua NH-U12S Redux details:

  • Price: $54.95
  • Compatibility: AM5, AM4, 1700, 1150, 1151, 1155, 1156, 1200, 1366, 2011, 2011-3, 2066
  • Key features:
    • Wonderfully quiet
    • Zero RAM clearance issues
    • Noctua without the beige-brown colourway

If you're looking to spend a little bit more for some extra performance then the Noctua NH-U12S is the right choice for you when it comes to CPU air coolers.

Noctua is a name that you'll certainly become well acquainted with by the end of this list, as it often provides the best of the best when it comes to air cooling, and this certainly continues with the NH-U12S.

While this cooler does only feature one 120mm fan, it's certainly not lacking when it comes to cooling potential and excels with its noise levels too. The fan in question is Noctua's famous NF-P12 redux fan which features a 1700rpm speed with PWM that automatically adjusts to suit whatever you're doing.

This means silent performance while idle, and ensures that your CPU cooler is never making too much noise if it doesn't need to.

Low-profile CPU cooler

Image of the Noctua NH-L9a, the best low profile CPU air cooler
Click to enlarge
Image via Noctua

Noctua NH-L9a details:

  • Price: $44.95
  • Compatibility: AM5 (partial), AM4, AM2 (with optional bracket)
  • Key features:
    • Top-tier performance despite size
    • Can fit into any build
    • Super quiet performance

Anyone on the hunt for a CPU air cooler in their small form factor (SFF) system would be silly not to go for the Noctua NH-L9a, as it is the best of the bunch with performance that vastly outperforms its size.

While the common cooling solution in most SFF systems has switched to AIOs, you do reach a point with smaller cases where you genuinely can't fit either the radiator or block of an AIO and air is the remaining solution.

In this instance, the measly 37mm height of the NH-L9a is perfect, as it won't get in the way of any components you have sandwiched in, and will keep your CPU as ice-cold as it needs to be - and with barely any noise too! When I've picked parts for an ITX build in the past, the NH-L9a is always my air cooler of choice, as it is supremely reliable and always does the job you need it to without complications.

We have opted for the classic beige-and-brown colours that made Noctua so recognisable for those extra style points, but there are also black and grey variants if you want to go a little more stealthy.

Quiet & stealthy CPU air cooler

the be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 5 CPU cooler
Click to enlarge
Image via be quiet!

be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 5 details:

  • Price: $79.90
  • Compatibility: AM5, AM4, 1700, 1200, 2066, 1150, 1151, 1155, 2011
  • Key features:
    • All-black design
    • Super quiet performance
    • Great for high-end CPUs

Achieving near-silent noise levels at top performance isn't something that many CPU air coolers can boast, but the be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 5 somehow accomplishes, even with demanding workflows.

By their own words, the Dark Rock Pro 5 never goes above 24.3Db(a) - roughly between a ticking watching and the rustling of leaves - and that is at the maximum fan speed, so you're very unlikely to ever be bothered by the whir of this cooler when playing.

Furthermore, its dual heatsink design combined with two Silent Wing fans ensures that your processor stays at its peak performance even with the most powerful hardware and most power-hungry games or programs.

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What is the best CPU air cooler in 2024?

Image of the best CPU air cooler in 2023, the Noctua NH-D15
Click to enlarge
Image via Noctua

Noctua NH-D15 details:

  • Price: $119.95
  • Compatibility: AM5, AM4, 1851, 1700, 1200, 115x
  • Key features:
    • Black design goes with everything
    • Top-of-the-range performance and noise levels
    • Future-proofed for the latest motherboards

There was no other choice we could have gone for than the Noctua NH-D15 as the best CPU air cooler, as it ticks every single box possible and offers uncompromising performance with super quiet noise levels.

With a noise level of only 24.6dB at peak performance, you will barely hear the NH-D15 move as it keeps your system running, and it can handle even the most powerful CPUs without really breaking a sweat.

This is all due to the two heatsinks that are paired with two of Noctua's highest-performing NF-A15 140mm fans to pull in as much air as possible without creating any discernible noise.

Furthermore, one of the biggest selling points of this model is its compatibility, as it supports both AM5 and LGA1851 platforms so you're guaranteed to be able to benefit from its excellent performance until at least 2027 and likely beyond.

Check out our hardware homepage for more guides. We've also covered the best CPU thermal paste, the best HDMI cables, the best airflow PC case, the best budget mechanical keyboards, and the best 2TB M.2 SSDs.

GGRecon uses affiliate links, if you purchase any products from our links we may earn a commission.

Harry is a Guides Writer at GGRecon, having completed a Masters of Research degree in Film Studies. Previously a freelance writer for PCGamesN, The Loadout, and Red Bull Gaming, he loves playing a wide variety of games from the Souls series to JRPGs, Counter-Strike, and EA FC. When not playing or writing about games and hardware, you're likely to find him watching football or listening to Madonna and Kate Bush.

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