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Choosing a CPU Cooler
January 22 2008

Choosing a CPU Cooler

If you're building your own system and you've purchased a retail box CPU, more than likely you also received a OEM CPU cooler bundled with it. That is the manufacturers recommended heatsink, but more importantly to them, it's usually the cheapest possible unit they can include to keep your new CPU from melting all over your motherboard.

Even though most of us know that companies like Zalman, Thermalright, Arctic Cooling, Thermaltake, and VapoChill make some of the best CPU coolers on the market. However you won't see those included with your new heatsink. Why not? Because why should they include a $60 heatsink when they can include a $10 heatsink. Get the picture? They don't care that it runs the absolute coolest, only that it runs within a wide, but "safe" area.

Very few "stock" heatsinks are made with copper (which is the preferred choice for heat dissipation on air cooling). Most of them are made using aluminum, which is of course much cheaper to manufacture.

When you want greater cooling, or less noise generation than you currently have now, that is when you turn to the aftermarket cooler solution. However I will warn you know that you better do your research before you run out and buy the biggest heatsink, or the shiniest heatsink that you can find. There are some important fundamentals that you'll want to look for when deciding on a new CPU Air Cooler.

1) Will you be overclocking?
2) Is there adequate airflow within your case?
3) Is there adequate space around the socket area?
4) How much are you willing to spend?

I will say right now, first and foremost, that the newest rage in CPU air cooling is heatpipe technology and it comes highly recommended. The overall design of CPU coolers using heatpipe technology is far superior in my opinion and should always be looked at first at this point. Luckily for you, there are a ton of heatpipe coolers on the market now so availability won't be the problem, choosing the right one for you is the issue.

Let's take a look at most popular CPU coolers on the market:

Arctic Cooling Freezer 64 Pro - AM2 Ready (AMD Athlon 64 / Athlon FX / X2)

Zalman CNPS9500 AM2 Ultra Quiet CPU Cooler (AMD AM2 / 754 / 939 / 940)

Thermaltake Big Typhoon 4 in 1 CPU Cooler w/ Heatpipe Cooling Technology

Zalman CNPS9500 LED Ultra Quiet CPU Cooler (Intel 478 / 775, AMD 462 / 754 / 939 / 940)

Now as you can see, the coolers I've just shown you are for maximum cooling power. They're not cheap, they're not small, but they cool like few others can. If you want the best air cooling, you've got to pay for the best. However that price can vary from $30-$70 usually. So you really need to decide how "cool" you want/need to be. However those listed above are just some of my personal recommendations. Just make sure you have the (height) space in your case for them.

Now to the obvious section: Compatibility. If you're shopping around looking for a new cooler, or even thinking about getting a new cooler, you better know what socket CPU cooler you're going to need. If you don't know right now, as you read this, then you're at the wrong step in the process. You need to know what you need, before you buy what you can't use! :)

Another key decision, or maybe observation, at this point is you need to take into account how much room you have around your CPU socket area. Do you have a heatpipe cooling solution on your motherboard already that is taking up some space? Or perhaps some capacitors that are right up against your CPU mounting bracket? Those are very important factors in deciding what kind of cooler you're hardware situation can handle. Luckily most mid-range and enthusiast boards now have quite a bit of room around the socket.

The basic rule of thumb is the bigger the fan, the slower it needs to spin to generate airflow and therefore should be quieter. You don't want a little screaming 80mm fan on your heatsink if you have instead have a 120mm fan that's practically silent, and actually moving more air. 92mm and 120mm are the preferred choice for upper class air cooling solutions.

Getting back on the topic of copper vs. aluminum: basically you want copper and as much of it as you can get. If you take a good look at the Zalman CNPS9500 cooler(s) above, you can see that there is a ton of copper in them. And not only on the base, but also a huge fin circumference that helps is dissipating heat. So far with the advancements of air cooling, that is pretty much the pinnacle of designs. You've got tons of copper, a large figure '8' heatpipe and a 92mm fan blowing right thru it. It honestly doesn't get any better than that right now. Now only does it look fantastic, it's also up there with, if not THE, best CPU air cooler on the market right now. However for around $70, it better be.

So let's take a look back at what we've learned so far...

1) Copper, Copper, Copper!

2) Heatpipes, Heatpipes!

3) The bigger the fan the better. It'll run slower and produce more airflow while still remaining very quiet.

4) Do your research!

Know as much about a product as humanly possible before buying it. That'll reduce getting products that aren't compatible or that you simply end up not liking at all.

If you're reading this, you're definately on the right track. And I say that for a couple reasons. For one thing, here at they have a huge selection of cooling products and even better than that, they have great high resolution pictures of each and every product. So rarely do you not know exactly what you're getting and what's included. It's one of those things that ALL shops, no matter their market, should do to provide as much information to the customers as possible.

I hope you've learned a couple things in this article. It's impossible to touch on every single persons situation, but if you've read this, you should have a better idea on what to look for. There are new designs in CPU coolers coming out seemingly everyday now but the basics are still there. As the times change and new methods hit the market, you can be sure that and will bring them to you up close and personal. Good luck in your search and if you have any questions you can hit up the VH Forums for more specific answers.