As processors become more powerful there is a greater need for high-quality cooling. This is particularly important when it comes to Intel’s i7 series of processors.
The i7 7700k and i7 8700k provide huge opportunities for overclocking to ensure you are getting the most out of your kit. But if you are overclocking you need to have a solid water AIO liquid cooler or air cooler to keep your processor fresh.
I have curated the top liquid AIO coolers and air coolers providing you with a list of the best bang for your buck options on the market.
For those of you wanting a quick answer check out the winners below. Read on to find out why these are my top picks and how to choose between an AIO liquid cooler or air cooler.
Liquid AIO Coolers vs Air Coolers
Before we get into the list it is important you know the difference between liquid AIO coolers and air coolers. It might sound obvious but there are a lot of pros and cons to each. If you already know these then skip on to the start of the list below!
Liquid AIO Coolers
Liquid AIO coolers have become increasingly more popular in the past few years providing compact and efficient cooling to all types of processors. Thanks to their compact nature, they fit in almost all cases and can provide aesthetic touches to your setup.
How Do Liquid AIO Coolers Work?
Liquid coolers are made up of a few core parts, the cold plate, radiator. fans and the pipes. Put simply, as the processor heats up the liquid inside the head of the cooler heats up too. The liquid is then pushed through a pipe that flows up to the radiator.
The liquid then flows through the top half of the radiator and as it flows the fans cool the liquid down. The liquid then reaches the end of the radiator and flows back across the bottom half of the radiator towards the other pipe. Once it reaches the pipe it flows back down as cooled liquid towards the processor again to cool it. This is called the ‘loop’.
That was a very simplistic explanation of how it works if you are interested in a more detailed guide check out this video:
Advantages of Liquid AIO Coolers
There are a few reasons you might want to pick up a liquid AIO cooler over an air cooler. As said previously, they are very compact making them easy to fit into your case. This can be important for those of you with smaller cases that still want efficient cooling.
Liquid coolers provide excellent temperatures that can outperform air coolers depending on the product you choose to get.
They also run significantly quieter than air coolers, there is little to no background noise with a liquid cooler. Unless of course, you have noisy case fans too!
Disadvantages of Liquid AIO Coolers
The main points against liquid AIO coolers are that they are expensive. Compared to air coolers they usually go for around 50-100 dollars/pounds more. This price difference can be a lot, especially when it is for only 2 or 6 degrees differences.
An obvious yet rarely occurring disadvantage is that when liquid coolers break it can cause leaking. However this is extremely rare and something you shouldn’t base your decision on.
Air coolers are still highly popular due to their value to performance ratio. They tend to be much cheaper than liquid coolers and often rival their cooling temperatures.
If you aren’t bothered about aesthetics and just want pure performance for a good price then go for an air cooler. However, they are often larger so make sure you have space to house them before buying.
How Do Air Coolers Work?
Air coolers consist of a few main parts, the cold plate, heat pipes, fan and fins. As your CPU generates heat the heat is transferred to the cold plate. The heat pipes make contact with the cold plate and the pipes contain an evaporator. The heat pipes contain a liquid that acts as the coolant for the air cooler.
The liquid is heated up from the generated heat from the CPU and the liquid transforms into a gas and travels up the heat pipes. As the gas travels up, the heat pipes make contact with the aluminium fins. The heat is spread across each layer of the fins and a fan blows cool air onto the fins to cool them. This process repeats and that is a short TLDR of how an air cooler works.
For a more detailed explanation check out this awesome video from Gamers Nexus that includes animations of the process.
Advantages of Air Coolers
Air coolers have a much higher value to performance ratio than liquid coolers do. The Noctua NH-D15 (or any Noctua) provides excellent value for performance. It can match most liquid coolers at a fraction of the price. More on that later.
Air coolers are also very easy to setup and maintain. You plug them in and off they go there is no fuss around pipes and set up. Also, when air coolers fail the impact is not as detrimental to your performance or your hardware.
Disadvantages of Air Coolers
Generally speaking, air coolers are not as efficient as liquid coolers. They tend to have slightly higher temperatures but not by much.
Air coolers can also be large and bulky making them a nightmare to fit into some cases. They can also creep over the RAM (sometimes coined as ‘ram clearance’) slots which can cause problems installing ram.
They are loud. Depending on which air cooler you go for, they can increase the noise pollution of your setup.
Best CPU Coolers for i7 7700k & i7 8700k
Lets get into the list of coolers I recommend for either of these monster CPUs. I have included a list of both liquid AIO coolers and air coolers.
Hopefully by now you have an idea of whether you want a liquid AIO cooler or an air cooler, it is up to you to decide which type of cooler you think is best for your rig.
Best Liquid AIO CPU Coolers
#1 Corsair H115i Pro
Number 1 on the AIO cooler list is the Corsair H115i Pro.
It is a great AIO for cases with 280mm radiator mounts that will provide you with all the cooling you will need for overclocking your i7 to the max.
It comes with dual NL series fans (140mm) to provide high static pressure air delivery. They run quiet (20 dBA) and you can customise the fan speed to your liking so you get the balance of cooling and noise.
It also supports Corsair’s link software so that you can customise the fan speeds, monitor pump speeds or coolant temperature and tweak the RGB LEDs to your liking.
There is also the zero RPM mode which is a coolant profile that operates when your system is running at really low temperatures. It will automatically turn off the fans to eliminate any noise.
The H115i Pro also has a tool-free mounting bracket which makes it super easy to install on most of the major CPU sockets.
Performance wise this is one of the best coolers you can buy. It is a little pricey but if you want a quiet, efficient cooler this is your guy.
#2. EVGA CLC 240/280 (Best Value)
EVGA sits at number 2 with great cooling performance and very quiet acoustics (40dBA). Either the 240 or 280 both deserve the number two spot which one you choose will depend on the size of your setup.
Similar to Corsair, EVGA offer ‘EVGA Flow Control Software’ that gives you full control over your fan speed curve, RGB lighting pump control and custom profiles.
#3. Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML240R
Cooler Master also have a solid range of AIO coolers. Their MasterLiquid ML240R provides a great cooling solution for a competitive price.
Boasting the best RGB lighting on the list you can customise it to your liking and it extends across the fans.
There are two MasterFan MF120R fans which provide great air pressure. However there is no option to customise the speeds.
The pump uses a dual-chamber design to enhance liquid pressure and braided tubing which looks better than rubber.
Sitting at number three on the list it isn’t as efficient as the EVGA or the Corsair but still holds its own.
#4. Arctic Liquid Freezer 360
If you are on a budget then the Arctic liquid freezer 360 might be for you. It provides efficient cooling at a surprisingly quiet noise level.
At heights of 45 degrees under load, the Arctic liquid freezer provides great value for money.
The Arctic liquid freezer uses four low noise 120mm fans mounted either side of the radiator.
The first two fans push air through the radiator and the second two fans pull air through. This is known as ‘push-pull’ and can provide great results.
Overall a surprisingly cost-effective solution for those of you on a budget and looking for a solid AIO liquid cooler.
Best Air CPU Coolers
Let us move onto the air coolers that provide slightly better value for money but some of them don’t quite meet the same temperature levels as the AIO coolers above.
#1 Noctua NH-D15
It is a dual-tower cooler that will meet the highest demands of overclocking. It features two NF-A15 140mm fans with PWM support for automatic speed control. This helps improve its efficiency. It has a multi socket mounting system so that it can fit into all high end CPUs and a 6 year warranty.
With all of this comes a surprisingly quiet operating level. Noctua prides their coolers on their acoustics. Compared to other air coolers on the list it does run quietly but obviously not to the same levels as an AIO liquid cooler.
For the price you can’t get better performance but it is up to you whether you can value performance over aesthetics and whether you can fit it in your setup.
#2. Cryorig R1
Often seen at the top of air cooler recommendations is the Cryorig R1 and rightly so. Cryorig has patented their own ‘DirectCompress soldering’ that increases the contact surface between the heat pipe and the heat sink fans.
This improves cooling efficiency since surface area is the most important factor.
Their fin system in the tower stack is split into two sections. The loose air intake and the high density exhaust section. The fins in the exhaust section squeeze the airflow and increase the speed at which the hot air escapes.
The Cryorig also prides itself on its acoustics. Their ‘high precision low noise’ bearings reduce vibrations and give the fan a more compact fit to reduce noise.
Overall a solid competitor to the Noctua NH-D15. If you can’t fit the Noctua in your case then definitely consider the Cryorig R1.
#3 Dark Rock Pro 4
The Dark Rock Pro 4 from bequiet is another large high quality CPU air cooler.
As you can guess from the name of the manufacturer it runs very quietly at only 24.3 db at max fan speed.
This is very impressive for an air cooler seeing as that rivals most AIO coolers under high load.
It sports two fans, one 135mm and 120mm. Unlike other coolers, it has a fan half way through the fin tower to extract heat and improve cooling.
The Dark Rock Pro 4 is also very easy to install and supports all high-end CPU sockets (except Threadripper). Aesthetically it definitely has one up on the Noctua with its stylish black fins and fan. A nice extra is that they provide you with a Phillips screwdriver inside the box.
Overall the fan provides high end cooling with a very silent operation but is quite large so keep that in mind.
#4 Scythe SCMG-5100 Mugen 5
Last but not least is the Scythe 5100 Mugen. If you are on a budget then definitely consider the Scythe as it is very competitively priced and has fantastic reviews.
It consists of one 120mm fan and a fairly large body (40 aluminium fins). You can optionally install a second fan for push-pull.
There are 6 6mm copper heat pipes for coolant and the copper plate is very smooth for optimum cooling.
When the pc is on idle the fan is basically inaudible but under load there is a very faint purr at around 1200 rpm.
With lots of options comes lots of questions so let me break it down simply for you. If you want an AIO cooler then I suggest the Corsair H115i Pro. It provides excellent cooling and is easy to set up at a competitive price.
If you want an air cooler then I suggest the Noctua NH-D15 as its cooling performance is basically unmatched and it runs fairly quietly too. However, since the Noctua is rather large it might not fit into your case so you might want to consider the other options on the list.
If you are on a tight budget and just want optimum cooling then I would recommend the Scythe SCMG-5100 Mugen as it is very cheap for the performance it provides.