Friday, April 19, 2024

The best budget CPU coolers you can buy for under $50

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Arctic Freezer 36

The best budget CPU cooler

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Thermalright Burst Assassin

Impressive performance for under $30

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Deepcool AK400

An attractive, affordable design

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ID-Cooling Frostflow x 240

Best budget AIO

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AMD Wraith Prism

Best bargain AMD cooler

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Thermalright Phantom Spirit 120 SE

Best dual-tower budget cooler

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You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a great CPU cooler. Indeed, some of the best budget CPU coolers can give you seriously impressive performance, even giving you some headroom for overclocking. You might need to sacrifice on noise levels or aesthetics, as you can’t expect to get the same all-round excellence of coolers that cost in excess of $100.

But you might be surprised how good a $30 cooler (or even less) can be.

Arctic Freezer 36 CPU cooler.

Arctic

Arctic Freezer 36

The best budget CPU cooler

Pros

  • Cools CPUS exceptionally well for the price
  • Comes with double fans
  • Very low price tag
  • Various styling options let you customize your cooling solution
  • Fans are easily removed

Cons

  • Dual fans can create clearance issues
  • The base model isn’t the most attractive

The Arctic Freezer 36 is one of the few coolers at around the $25 mark that comes with not one, but two (!) fans for a push-pull configuration. This typically improves cooling with any heatsink fan configuration by a couple of degrees, so it’s great to see it help the Arctic Freezer 36 deliver some of the best performance you’ll find from an entry-level cooler.

This design competes favorably with much more expensive coolers, helping to keep even top chips that pull around 200W cool enough to run at their peak performance. That still means you should get something bigger for Intel’s latest-generation flagships which can pull well in excess of 200W at times, but it’s great for just about anything else.

You also get a simple mounting mechanism, a straightforward method for removing fans — without the usual ugly metal clips — and with dual fans you can keep noise levels down, too. The standard model is by far the cheapest, but there are slightly more expensive versions with RGB lighting, all-black paint jobs, and more, if you prefer.

Arctic Freezer 36

The best budget CPU cooler


Thermalright

Thermalright Burst Assassin

Impressive performance for under $30

Pros

  • Costs less than $30
  • Effective cooling
  • Vibrant RGB lighting
  • Fewer clearance issues than larger air coolers

Cons

  • Lacks high-end performance of very top air coolers and AIOs

The Thermalright Burst Assassin is an excellent, affordable cooler for AMD and Intel processors. It’s a single tower with a single 120mm fan cooling it and a straightforward mounting mechanism, but its performance is impressive and it’s certainly more than enough to cool midrange processors up to and including the likes of the Intel Core i5-14600K, or AMD’s excellent 7800X3D.

It won’t be as quiet as dual tower coolers, and you’ll want something bigger and more capable — like the double tower Peerless Assassin model — if you want to cool top chips like the AMD 7950X, or Intel 14700K/14900K, but for anything else, the Thermalright Burst Assassin is a fantastic choice.

If you find its $27-ish price tag still a little too steep, ditch the RGB and grab the grey-tone Burst Assassin for just $20 at most major retailers.

Thermalright Burst Assassin

Impressive performance for under $30

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Deepcool

Deepcool AK400

An attractive, affordable design

Pros

  • Strong cooling performance for its size
  • Relatively low noise levels
  • Attractive black paint job
  • Simple mounting mechanism
  • Slim design eliminates most clearance issues

Cons

  • Not the quietest CPU cooler

The Deepcool AK400 is a great CPU cooler if you’re on a budget but don’t want your cooler to look like it was bought on one. It has a deep back paint job on the fan and the top of the tower, which looks great in a darkened PC interior. The performance is strong with this cooler, easily cooling powerful modern processors in the midrange while maintaining comfortable noise levels.

With higher powered chips or heavy overclocking, this cooler isn’t as quiet as some of its contemporaries, but the noise levels are low enough that it’s not overly problematic — especially if you game in headphones, or steer clear from pushing your CPU to its max.

If you want a slightly fancier version, the digital edition has a built-in CPU temperature readout on the top, while there’s a dual tower and dual fan version for added performance, at an increased cost.

Deepcool AK400

An attractive, affordable design


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ID-COoling

ID-Cooling Frostflow x 240

Best budget AIO

Pros

  • Impressive performance for the price
  • Attractive white or black paint jobs
  • Quiet outside of extreme loads
  • LED fans included

Cons

  • Outdated mounting design is tricky to install
  • Lacks back-end software adjustments

Budget AIO coolers are typically no better than their air counterparts, and often more expensive to boot, making it easier to recommend cheaper air coolers instead. However, if you’re set on an AIO, you can get a very affordable, very capable option in the form of the ID-Cooling Frostflow 240. It’s a little dated, with older mounting mechanisms which some have found a bit tricky to use, but it gets you solid 240mm AIO performance for less than $55. That’s hard to turn down.

It’s a 240mm AIO, so comes with twin 120mm fans which are pretty quiet during operation and their white lighting is eye-catching, although not customizable. Indeed there’s no software here, so fan and pump speeds are motherboard controlled, only. That’s straightforward, but does mean you miss out on the nuance of custom fan curves.

You should likely budget to replace this model a little earlier than you would more renowned brands, but many buyers continue to use these after several years without issue, making it a solid budget AIO cooler.

ID-Cooling Frostflow x 240

Best budget AIO


AMD

AMD Wraith Prism

Best bargain AMD cooler

Pros

  • Strong cooling performance
  • Low profile design is great for small builds
  • Impressive noise levels
  • Comes free with your CPU

Cons

  • Mounting clips can be a bit fiddly
  • Not as high performance as larger towers

First off, don’t buy this cooler. The aftermarket prices are silly for some reason, but we wanted to include AMD’s stock cooler for its higher-end CPUs — the 7700 and 7900 — because you really don’t need to upgrade from it if you have one. It’s pretty compact compared to the larger tower coolers on this list, and it has an attractive design with the AMD shroud and RGB lighting. It’s not even that noisy, considering it’s a “stock” cooler.

You might want something bigger for better cooling or lower noise levels, but if you just need a CPU cooler of some kind, you really don’t need any more than this.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the lower-end Wraith Spire and Wraith Stealth coolers, which offer significantly weaker CPU cooling performance. That’s unfortunate as those coolers are the ones that ship with the true budget processors — which is where a decent free cooler would be handy. They’ll get you up and running, but don’t expect to run your CPU at full performance with one of those in place. A Wraith Prism, however? You’re all good to go.

AMD Wraith Prism

Best bargain AMD cooler


Thermalright

Thermalright Phantom Spirit 120 SE

Best dual-tower budget cooler

Pros

  • Dual tower cooler performance for less than £40
  • Double fans lets them spin slower, for lower noise levels
  • Attractive RGB styling
  • Straightforward mounting mechanism

Cons

  • Some clearance issues with tall RAM

Dual tower coolers offer better performance than single towers just by virtue of having more metal to soak up extra heat. But they also offer larger surface areas, making it easier to cool that metal down and in turn cool down your CPU. That’s why they tend to be more expensive too, but not in the case of Thermalright’s Phantom Spirit. It has dual towers, dual fans, fancy RGB lighting, and an attractive design, and you can get all that for just $36 at the time of writing.

There isn’t another dual tower cooler that gets even close to the bang for buck value of this cooler. Seriously. It can handle well over 200W, so you could even use this on some of the hottest of the latest CPUs and it will do a great job. It can’t quite compete with the very top air coolers, but it’s nipping at their heels and they cost two to three times as much — sometimes even more.

Dual tower designs do have some clearance issues with tall memory, but other than that, there’s almost nothing to complain about here. It’s very cheap, offers excellent performance, and low noise levels in an attractive chassis. It’s great.

Thermalright Phantom Spirit 120 SE

Best dual-tower budget cooler

Still trying to pick between air and water cooling? Check out our debate on which is best. We also have a guide to the biggest CPU coolers ever, if you’re keen on a bit of heatsink envy.

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