Often times when people are building themselves a new rig, they focus on the performance and the aesthetics of their build more so than the actual maintenance of it. Of course, your main concern should be the performance first off but what’s the point of building a badass gaming machine if it overheats and throttles? Hence, you should always keep airflow and temperature in mind when making your new system.
The core of a computer system is the processor. It is important to keep the chip at a relatively low temperature for obvious reasons such as longevity and in order to avoid thermal throttling. CPU coolers are the key to keeping your processor cool and keep its performance at the same level as it was out of the box, even a few years down the line. Investing in a great aftermarket cooler is one of the best decisions you can make to ensure you avoid issues like performance drops at least for a few years. Keeping your CPU at a low temperature also lowers the chance of failure and eventually extends the lifespan of your processor.
In this article, we will be exclusively focusing on low-profile coolers, mostly seen in smaller form factor builds. If you are building in a system with an ITX motherboard and have limited space for a CPU cooler, low-profile coolers are the way to go.
Benefits Of An Aftermarket CPU Cooler
Almost every new processor these days comes with a stock cooler in the box. These might be fine for most people who don’t really intend on pushing their rig to the limit and use their PC for less intensive tasks. Then there are the gamers, who really depend on their processor and graphics card for achieving a smooth gameplay experience. It is important that your processor does not overheat and throttle at higher temperatures because what is the point of spending hundreds on CPU and not fully utilizing its full potential? That is when an aftermarket CPU cooler becomes a must. Stock coolers are not the best performers when it comes to temperatures. Sure you might think its fine if you really aren’t pushing the system but still if you are skimping out on an aftermarket cooler you might be compromising the longevity of your processor. Still, the fact that you absolutely need an aftermarket cooler entirely depends on your situation, such as current temps, whether your chip is locked or unlocked and how much you are pushing the system. Obviously, if you are overclocking you need to cool the chip properly to fully achieve the performance you want. Another factor to consider is case size. If you are building a mini-ITX machine then you should be aware that the components inside can get warm pretty quickly. In those situations, aftermarket coolers become a must.
CPU Cooler Basics
Compatibility can be a bit more tricky than it seems. Most newer coolers will support most of the Intel and AMD sockets but always be sure to double check that. Another thing is the size, some coolers might be a tad bit larger and might not be suitable for your specific motherboard or case size. Always check the dimensions of a cooler to avoid this problem.
Performance or cooling capability depends on a lot of things. First off is the TDP which determines how much heat the cooler can dissipate. RPM is the speed at which the fan spins, this is also a key factor along with the actual fan size. Other aspects include whether a heat pipe is used or not and with what materials.
This might not be that much of an important thing to most people. But to those who matter, it’s significant to know how much noise the cooler along with the fan is going to produce. This might be important for people who prefer thing silent.
Another less significant thing but important to keep in mind none the less. If looks matter to you then you might prefer a cooler that fits in with the overall look of your system. For example, Noctua coolers perform well but they have their iconic brown and beige fan designs which look good but out of place in a lot of builds because of the color scheme.
Here’s a table with the most important features of the products on our list
Now that we have discussed all the key aspects of aftermarket coolers along with their benefits, let’s get to our list. We will exclusively be covering low-profile CPU coolers in this roundup. Low-profile CPU coolers are smaller in dimensions and are much quieter than their larger counterparts. These are mostly used in small form factor builds, especially those which use the mini-ITX cases and the ITX motherboards. So, without furder ado, let’s break down our favorite low profile CPU coolers that you should consider in 2019.
The Cryorig C7 is a great performer in a neat little package. It provides a great cooling solution for compact systems and is compatible with nearly all motherboards. This is the perfect solution to keep your processor cool if you have a compact small form factor rig.
The C7 is a very tiny package. The exact dimensions are 97mm x 97mm x 47mm (length x width x height). Rest assured, this will easily fit in any motherboard without getting in the way of your RAM slots. As for the design, the C7 uses a copper base and it is equipped with 4 heat pipes. A 92mm white fan sits on top which has an RPM range from 600~2500RPM which performs quite well. The fan speed is configurable as usual from your motherboard BIOS.
The C7 supports most of the newer Intel and AMD sockets. Do note that if you have an AMD processor using the AM4 socket you will have to contact Cryorig and they will send you a separate bracket for that socket. A minor inconvenience but we do think that this should be included in the box by default. A good plus point is that you do get a decently sized tube of thermal paste in the box.
The C7 performs pretty well for its size. Cryorig promises 25% better performance than the stock Intel cooler and this is true for the most part. The C7 can easily handle lower watt processors such as i3 and Pentium processors but even core i5 is not a big issue. Mind you this is not recommended for overclocking but it can handle most newer high-end processors although you might see temps ranging from 65-70 on load. But on anything lower than an i7 this thing is absolutely perfect. The only slight gripe we have with this cooler is that the fan is a bit too loud on load.
BeQuiet products truly live up to their company’s title. All of their coolers perform well and, you guessed it, are some of the quietest performers in the market. The Shadow Rock LP lives up to that reputation as it is a low-profile cooler with a generous 130W TDP and impresses us in the acoustics department.
The cooler is paired with bequiet’s own 120mm fan which spins at 1500RPM. It uses 4 6mm copper heat pipes for effective heat distribution. Apart from that, the fan has an overall good looking aesthetic. The slight disadvantage is this design is the actual size. This is still a low-profile cooler by all intents and purposes but the aluminum fins hang over the DIMM slots on your motherboard. This might be a problem if you are using RAM sticks with larger heat spreaders so make sure there are no compatibility issues there. A plus point though is the easy installation.
Once we get to the performance is when we really acknowledge that this is, in fact, an amazing low-profile cooler. It can handle most processors out there and the performing is on par with bigger air coolers. It can even handle some slight overclocking which is quite impressive. Mind you, we wouldn’t recommend using this for a higher core count processor and especially not if you’re overclocking (liquid AIOs should suffice you for that).
Equipped with high-quality parts and visual pair, the Shadow Rock LP is also a great performer and an easy recommendation for anyone. Just make sure that you don’t run into fitting issues such as the heatsink limiting your RAM modules.
It’s hard to talk about air coolers without mentioning Noctua. Primarily known for their high-performance case fans, Noctua also makes great air coolers. We will be concerning ourselves with their low profile offering the L9i.
The NH-L9i is a small cooler coming in at a height of 37mm. It boasts 100% compatibility for any RAM module out there, so don’t fret over compatibility issues as this will easily fit in a motherboard. It sports a 90mm high-performance Noctua fan which is unsurprisingly rocking the classic beige and brown. People are starting to complain that the aesthetics of Noctua fans can be an eyesore in a lot of builds, so definitely keep the color scheme in mind so it matches your system (if that matters to you).
Moving onto the performance, paired with a 90mm fan with a range of 600RPM-2500RPM the L9i is a decent performer. We would not recommend this for overclocking but it keeps processors such as i5 and i3 relatively cool and it remains silent while doing so. However, if your motherboard has enough RAM clearance for the above mentioned Shadow Rock LP from BeQuiet, we would definitely recommend going that route. Even if you are facing clearance issues we’d still recommend the Cryorig C7 over this because when you compare both of these coolers, the L9i from Noctua leaves a bit more performance to be desired. For extremely tight situations though, the L9i is a good choice and it comes in at a low price.
Now this is a breath of fresh air. Air coolers are mostly big, bulky and nothing impressive to look at. The MasterAir GM100 changes that mindset with a unique UFO shaped design paired of course, with an RGB fan on the top. CoolerMaster calls it an “RGB Ring” and it definitely delivers in the looks department. Unfortunately, this might be your classic form over function situation.
One thing to keep in mind is that in pictures, the GM100 might look small but is actually quite large and has some compatibility issues with RAM modules. The installation process is also a bit difficult. The cooler is paired with a 92mm fan which runs at 600-2400RPM. The RGB is controllable of course and you do get a controller for that in the box.
The actual performance is nothing surprising. It is just an average cooling solution when it comes to low-profile options and performs well enough in most scenarios. But when you compare it to the rest of our list it just falls short. We would not recommend this for higher-end processors that require serious cooling. However, if you want a cool looking CPU cooler that fits into your build and pairing it up with a somewhat lower end processor, this is an amazingly good-looking option.
Last up on our list is another solid option from Phanteks. This is their low-profile PH-TC12LS CPU cooler. Apart from the horrible naming scheme they chose for this cooler, this is a great performer and an easy recommendation.
This cooler has a really cool all-black design going on which we are definitely a fan of. The aluminum fins are all painted black, it uses great nickel heat pipes and the white fan on top really complements the overall look. Definitely nailing it in the aesthetics department. The actual installation is reported to be a bit difficult. Compatibility shouldn’t be too much of an issue as the overall size is quite small.
The actual performance is nothing mindblowing but it is decent enough compared to others on this list. Again, definitely not recommended for overclocking but it will be fine with most lower-end processors. Another great choice for a mITX build. The unfortunate thing is that BeQuiet! and Cryorig’s offerings perform much better.
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