Best liquid cooler 2018

What's the best liquid cooler to keep your powerful CPU’s temperatures in check? We've tested the best AIO chillers to find out

Best liquid cooler

The best liquid cooler is the perfect choice for keeping your expensive, lovingly overclocked processor alive. Sure a standard air-cooler will get the job done, but if you want to keep things cheery and chilled throughout your CPU’s life then a good all-in-one (AIO) cooler is the way to go.

The top cooling manufacturers have been put through their pace on our test bench, with AIO liquid CPU coolers from AlphaCool, Thermaltake, NZXT, Arctic, and of course Corsair. But why do you need to go all out on a liquid CPU cooler? If you want to push your processor’s clock speeds to meet its potential then you need to make sure overheating isn’t a factor, and that’s where liquid coolers come in.

You might think water and electronics go together like chalk and a particularly soggy cheese, yet an effective pump and radiator combo will move heat away from that CPU faster than you can say ‘thermal throttling’. Of course, they often feature more RGB LEDs than you can shake a stick at, so you need not worry about colour-matching with the rest of your rig.

And all-in-one liquid coolers take all the pain out of putting the soggy stuff inside your PC. You can create your own custom loops, taking in GPU cooling while you’re at it, but that’s far more in-depth and a serious build project in its own right. AIO coolers, however, can be set up in half an hour and still make a tangible difference to your gaming PC.

The best liquid coolers are:

Check the latest liquid cooling prices on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Best liquid cooler - AlphaCool Eisbaer 240

Winner: Best liquid cooler

AlphaCool Eisbaer 240

Approx. $140 | £126

Vital stats

Cool, quiet, and unobtrusive, everything a good all-in-one liquid CPU cooler should be.

  • Size240mm
  • Fans2x PWM 120mm
  • CompatibilityAM4, LGA 1151, LGA 2011-3

AlphaCool has really outdone itself with the Eisbaer 240. This cooler came out on top of our cooling charts, and it’s cheap to boot. AlphaCool also keeps things standard with its ¼ inch connectors and refillable loop, adding even more lifespan and potential for upgrading down the road.

In ditching the software for this not-so-closed-loop cooler, AlphaCool has made it so that this capable chiller runs straight from your BIOS. This means that fan curves are easily changed to your liking, and no middleman software meddles with your settings – that’s two thumbs up from us.

Thanks to the custom fan curves, the fans didn’t ramp up to full blast quite as often as the other coolers we tested. Despite the low-noise and lower-rpm fans, this cooler still performed incredibly well. It’s not the flashiest of all the chip-chillers, and unfortunately there’s no RGB lighting if you are into that sort of thing, but with a nearly all-black design, sleeved fan cables, and a semi-industrial look, this cooler blends in with your rig and gets on with the job at hand.

The AlphaCool Eisbaer is also available in 120mm, 140mm, 240mm, 280mm, 360mm, 420mm, and the Solo (the pump alone), so you won’t struggle to find the perfect setup for your rig. The only downside is the installation process, which could get a little tricky if you don’t have perfect, unfettered access to your rig, or if it’s in a tight spot…. There is always room for improvement.

With zero RAM clearance issues, a lack of excess cabling, a low price tag, and great maintainability, the AlphaCool Eisbaer 240 is everything a liquid cooler should aim to be – cool, quiet, and unobtrusive.

Best liquid cooler runner-up - Corsair H100i v2

Runner-up: Best liquid cooler

Corsair H100i v2

Approx. $95 | £109

Vital stats

Cool, quiet, and unobtrusive, everything a good all-in-one liquid CPU cooler should be.

  • Size240mm
  • Fans2x PWM 120mm
  • CompatibilityAM4, LGA 1151, LGA 2011-3

Corsair has been in the gaming peripheral game for quite some time, and its H100i v.2 has been a mainstay for many PC gamers since its release. With a premium design that looks hella smart, it compliments almost every build.

The H100i v.2 performs brilliantly in our benchmarking; there is a good reason why we’ve been using this cooler as our test bench workhorse for an age. It features the Asetek design for installation, and you won’t find an easier or quicker setup on any other cooler designs.

You do get to use the latest Corsair iCUE software, which has replaced the functional, but often bug-ridden Link applicaton. This software is likely the best of the bunch, which generally isn’t saying much, but iCUE controls both Corsair’s RGB and its cooling setup admirably. It’s a simple, relatively intuitive bit of software and gives you all the information and control you could want.

This cooler does sometimes reach some extreme noise levels, which is why the new H100i Pro RGB version comes with the ML-series maglev fans. While these more standard fans are working hard to keep the CPU at great temperatures under load, it seems the high fan speeds could’ve been dropped a small amount with little change in the cooler’s performance. But all that said you get a great product that becomes a fierce competitor, with a more-often-than-not low price tag.

Corsair H100i Pro RGB

Runner-up: best liquid cooler

Corsair H100i Pro RGB

Approx. $120 | £110

Vital stats

It may be slightly lagging behind the H100i v2 in cooling performance, but the fantastically low noise levels make it a worthy chip-chiller.

  • Size240mm
  • Fans2x PWM 120mm maglev
  • CompatibilityAM4, LGA 1151, LGA 2011-3

The latest update to the classic Corsair H100i liquid CPU cooler isn’t just about that new ring of LED light around the shrunken pump. It’s not even about the more svelte design of the radiator either. No, the real boon of the new H100i Pro RGB is the noise it makes… or rather the lack thereof.

Thanks to the super-quiet maglev fans included in the package, and the addition of a Zero RPM mode, the Pro RGB can stay almost entirely silent for much of the time your PC’s online. Relying on the flow of water and the passive cooling of the radiator alone the H100i can keep the CPU cool enough not to have to worry the fans until you start to really thrash it. That means in a lot of games, ones that are more GPU and less CPU dependent, you may not hear the fans at all.

The overall cooling performance may not be up to its H100i v2 brethren, but it’s far quieter and that means it can deliver a great gaming experience that doesn’t bother you with a turbine roar unless it really needs to.

Read our full Corsair H100i Pro RGB review.

Best liquid cooler runner-up - Thermaltake 240 Water 3

Runner-up: Best liquid cooler

Thermaltake 240 Water 3.0

Approx. $114 | £105

Vital stats

Mercifully ditches the app control and overly RGB pump, in favour of quality, quiet cooling performance.

  • Size240mm
  • Fans2x PWM 120mm
  • CompatibilityAM4, LGA 1151, LGA 2033, LGA 2066

Thermaltake’s Water 3.0 is the slightly more budget-friendly version of its Premium Floe Riing 240 cooler. It ditches the RGB pump lighting and the app support, thankfully, but still delivers low-noise performance with a little more flash.

The Water 3.0 comes with a fan controller in the box, although it is dictated through the buttons on the controller rather than in-app. This controls fan lighting profiles, but it also allows for either low-noise mode or normal mode for performance.

Even in the default mode, the Water 3.0 is very quiet, and the controller does a great job of limiting the RPM under load to keep things much quieter than the competition. There is a pay off for this hushed operation, however, and the Water 3.0 did reach higher maximum temps than other coolers we tested.

At stock speeds, this cooler is more than capable, and as one of the cheapest options it’s a great buy for someone that wants a quiet liquid-cooled build. This cooler is capable with some mild clockspeed tuning, but for anything a little more intensive, you might want to look elsewhere.

Best large liquid cooler - Corsair H115i Pro RGB

Winner: Best large liquid cooler

Corsair H115i Pro

Approx. $140 | £119

Vital stats

Mercifully ditches the app control and overly RGB pump, in favour of quality, quiet cooling performance.

  • Size240mm
  • Fans2x PWM 120mm
  • CompatibilityAM4, LGA 1151, LGA 2033, LGA 2066

The Corsair H115i Pro RGB offers good performance with incredibly low noise – mostly thanks to the two maglev 140mm fans. Sure, it may be a little pricey, but it’s nothing that gamers aren’t used to with the 280mm competition.

The two ML-Series 140mm fans combine the low-RPM performance of the larger blade size with the low-friction operation, thanks to the magnetic levitation design. This combination is conducive to the fantastic airflow these fans produce with little noise whatsoever. A welcome change from the usual whirr of liquid coolers.

With Corsair at the helm, and RGB in the name, it’s easy to guess that this cooler comes fitted with a handful of rainbow LEDs to light up your rig. Surprisingly, these little luminous electrodes never made it into the fans, although that is likely good news for your bank account.

Corsair’s H115i Pro is a welcome addition to any silence-focused build – mostly because you’d barely know it was there if it wasn’t for the considerably chilly CPU temps. It’s not the absolute best chiller around, or the cheapest for that matter, but I’ll be damned if there are any quieter all-in-one coolers out of the box than this one.

Best large liquid cooler runner-up - NZXT Kraken X62

Runner-up: Best large liquid cooler

NZXT Kraken X62

Approx. $149 | £132

Vital stats

A great centrepiece to your high-end build, but not the level of performance you might expect given the aesthetics.

  • Size280mm
  • Fans2x PWM 140mm
  • CompatibiltyAM4, LGA 1151, LGA 2033, LGA 2066

NZXT loves to make its products stand out from the crowd, and the Kraken X62 is no different. This chunky 280mm cooler features a unique infinity mirror lighting design that makes the Kraken x62 an incredible build centrepiece.

With the stunning design and top build quality, you won’t be disappointed by this chiller’s cosmetics, yet the performance left a lot to be desired. Sadly, it seems this is not entirely due to issues with the cooler or fans themselves, but is yet again another issue with bundled software.

The full potential of this cooler is dashed by the inadequacies of the NZXT CAM software, which in our experience doesn’t control the cooler when it should, doesn’t report the vital information – such as fan speed or liquid temperature – whatsoever, and ramps fan speed up at a moment’s notice to 100%. Thanks to the app’s unfinished and shoddy deployment, the performance of the cooler really suffers, and for the price tag, this absolutely shot_uldn’t be the case.

Adjusting the fan curves yourself should bypass most of the issues with this cooler, although you can’t ditch the app entirely when it controls the top selling point of this cooler – the lighting. Those 140mm fans should allow you to run at lower RPMt_ and, in turn, lower noise levels – so make the most of them yourself as CAM won’t do it for you.

Overall, this is the most stunning-looking cooler of the lot. NZXT has a certain flair for lavish designs, and you won’t find many other coolers that draw the eye away from a flashy graphics card as much as the Kraken x62. Unfortunately, NZXT couldn’t carry this level of detail over to its CAM app, which left this chiller with mediocre performance. If you aren’t scared of kicking fan control back to BIOS, then it should be, at least, a quieter unit. Even so, at its high price point, you shouldn’t have to eek every bit of performance out of your luxury cooler yourself.

Best cheap liquid cooler - Arctic Liquid Freezer 240

Winner: Best cheap liquid cooler

Arctic Liquid Freezer 240

Approx. $106 | £78

Vital stats

Arctic's cooler is one of the cheapest we've tested and also the only one to ship with four fans to create a full push/pull configuration.

  • Size240mm
  • Fans4x PWM 120mm
  • CompatibilityAM4, LGA 1151, LGA 2033, LGA 2066

Arctic is offering the cheapest chiller we’ve looked at by far, though frustratingly it’s seemingly a little tough to get hold of in the US at the moment. But Arctic is one of the few manufacturers to include enough fans in the box to set up a full push/pull configuration right out of the box. Thanks to these extra fans spinning away in your rig, this cooler offers great cooling potential and value for money, and was almost our pick as the best liquid cooler overall.

There are packs of RGB-plastered fans that cost more than this entire pump, radiator, and fan combo combined. Not only is this exceptional value for money, but it’s more than capable performance-wise, with temperatures sitting pretty between some far more expensive alternatives. Despite doubling the fan count of the competition, it is far from noisy, even under heavy load. Those extra fans don’t need to work as hard to keep the chip cool, and this approach certainly pays off for Arctic.

With price/performance metrics off the charts, it’s really no surprise the Liquid Freezer was a close second for the top spot. No it’s far from the prettiest design in the world, and Arctic have ditched all the RGB flair, but in return you get a cooler that gets the job done – with no unnecessary features, and no frustrating software. Kudos, Arctic.

PC water cooling

Sure, going to the extreme effort of adding a full water cooling loop to your gaming rig will give you the best combination of performance and pretties, but it takes a hell of a lot of work. And if you’re not building a showpiece machine, or a super-overclocker, then chances are you just want something simple to chill your chips with.

And that’s the beauty of the all-in-one liquid cooler. The AlphaCool Eisbaer is our current favourite, offering the option to widen out the closed loop thanks to its standard 1/4-inch connectors and refillable reservoir. It’s also not too pricey either.

But Corsair’s range delivers some excellent liquid coolers too, with the H100i v2 offering great chip-chilling performance and the Pro RGB version able to run in a completely silent, passive mode.

Then at the more budget end of the market, the Arctic Liquid Freezer is the cheapest kit, yet still comes with four fans to enable a push-pull setup for extra cooling. Now there’s no excuse not to liquid chill your chips.