We revised our test setup, and submitted 33 popular CPU coolers to our rigorous new tests. Read on to find out which one cools the best, which one is the most silent, and most importantly, which one gives you the best value for your money.
When you buy a processor it almost always comes with a CPU cooler these days, with as a result that the affordable CPU cooler market has pretty much disappeared. The market for high-end and fancy coolers is thriving, however, since more powerful coolers are needed when you want to overclock a CPU. Noise is another reason to not use the stock cooler. While they usually aren't extremely loud, separately sold coolers are often more silent. The combination of good cooling performance with silence is what makes a good CPU cooler.
New test setup
Ever since Hardware.Info came into existence in 1998, we've tested CPU coolers the same way. We used a heatsource (a light bulb) that produced a very specific amount of heat, in a way that was easy to reproduce so we could easily compare results.
Since we strive for perfection, we have made the test even more true-to-life now. A CPU doesn't produce heat in an even and consistent way a light bulb does, it has hot spots and the heat is primarily focused on top side of the processor.
So instead of using light bulbs, we now employ professional CPU simulators that replicate the exact heat production and signature of a Socket 1155 Ivy Bridge and Socket 2011 Sandy Bridge-E processors. They also fit into the official processor sockets and produce heat the same way a real CPU does. That means that the Socket 1155 has separate heat generators for the CPU and GPU parts. The temperature sensor is now integrated into the CPU simulator. The temperatures that we record are therefore representative of the heat produced by real processors.
We can still control the amount of heat produced, so we can test different CPU coolers in a reproducible manner.