5 Best CPU Coolers for Intel Core i9-12900K

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best cpu coolers for intel core i9 12900k
best cpu coolers for intel core i9 12900k

Intel is back. This time with their new series of Alder Lake Core processors, and it’s safe to say that they’re back with a vengeance. Gone is the 14 nm lithography, the low core and thread counts, and the conventional inter-core architecture. Now we have a 10 nm Enhanced SuperFin processing node, a 16-core 24-thread model, and an incredibly bold hybrid x86 design that supports Performance cores, Efficiency cores, DDR5 memory, and a PCIe 5.0 interface.

The flagship CPU of this new generation of competitively built (and priced) Intel processors? The Intel i9-12900K. 16 cores (8 p-cores, 8 e-cores), 24 threads, 30 MB Cache, turbo frequency of 5.2 GHz, and… 125 W Processor Base Power (PBP)? With a Maximum Turbo Power (MTP) of 241 W?! What does this all mean? What’s the CPU’s TDP?!

Well, for starters, Intel has decided to remove the TDP (Thermal Design Power) value altogether, instead opting for a pair of new metrics: PBP is a time-averaged measurement of the power dissipation during a high complexity workload at the CPU’s base frequency (3.9 GHz). Then, the MTP is a measurement of the “maximum” sustained power dissipation during Turbo Boost clock frequencies; though higher power draw may occur for short durations (<=10 ms). When under load, and given that thermal headroom is available, the CPU will always operate at this 241 Watt power consumption level. This is a significant upgrade from previous-generation Intel CPUs (9th,10th, and 11th, generations) that – by default – had a 56-second upper power-level duration. It basically means that if your CPU is adequately cooled, then you can draw from your processor’s maximum Turbo Boost clock frequency for substantially longer and sustained periods of time.

Naturally, a few new questions arise, like what is the best way to chill this power hungry CPU and keep it cool for as long as possible? Is it necessary to maintain high-level cooling for these extended periods of time? What are the best CPU cooler models for the tasks?

Before we get into that, it’s important to mention that though these 125 W and 241 W metrics seem extreme, the Alder Lake processors are actually less power demanding than previous-generation Intel CPUs. The new 10 nm architecture is far less power hungry than what the overused 14 nm lithography demanded, and (together with the new e-cores) the CPUs require far less power than their predecessors. In fact, they have been measured to be twice as efficient.

Air Coolers vs AIO Coolers for Intel’s Alder Lake CPUs

A common query when searching for a CPU cooler, is whether one should opt for air cooling or liquid cooling. 

How does each type work? What are their inherent pros and cons? Let’s take a look.

Air Cooling

The most common type of CPU coolers are of the HSF (HeatSink and Fan) variety. These coolers work by absorbing heat from the heat spreader of the CPU through their coldplate, then transferring that heat to a set of heatpipes. These heatpipes actually contain a liquid coolant within them (usually just distilled water), that turns gaseous and moves up toward the heatsink’s fin-stack array, naturally taking the resulting heat with them. A fan (or fans) then cools the aluminum fins by pushing/pulling the hot air away from the heatsink. This allows the gas in the heatpipes to cool down and condense, so it can drip back to the bottom of the heatpipes and repeat the cycle.

Advantages

  • Great cooling in bursts.
  • Low price.
  • Potential for upgrades by installing additional/better fans.
  • Easy to install on different chipsets/motherboards.
  • Low noise emissions.
  • Easy to fix; not so prone to mechanical malfunctions.
  • H-type (horizontal fan) air coolers also chill the VRMs surrounding the CPU.

Disadvantages

  • Not very stylish.
  • Clunky.
  • Can increase internal airflow impedance.
  • Cooling can be lacking when operating for extended periods of time.

AIO Cooling

Liquid AIO (All In One) CPU coolers succeed where air coolers fail in terms of sustainable cooling, by cycling liquid through two reservoirs. This allows them to chill the CPU consistently, and for longer periods of time. They accomplish the task by drawing heat from the CPU’s heat spreader via a baseplate, and transferring it to a liquid (distilled water, usually with glycol) that is then pumped away after it reaches a high-enough temperature. The liquid is pumped through a tube towards a radiator, where it can transfer its heat to said radiator’s aluminum fins. While this is happening, a different reservoir of coolant is pumped towards the waterblock of the cooler through a second tube. After the radiator and the liquid running through it are sufficiently cooled by a set of fans (which are typically one to three in number, depending on the radiator size) the liquid is stored in a reserve, ready to be pumped back toward the baseplate and repeat the cycle.

Advantages

  • Consistent cooling for extended periods of time.
  • Stylish.
  • Clutter free interior.
  • Allows for better airflow within the case.
  • Some AIO coolers have a VRM cooling fan underneath the waterblock.

Disadvantages

  • Expensive
  • Several working parts that can deteriorate and/or malfunction.
  • More noise due to the combination of fans and pump.
  • Lower life-span.

Which cooling type is best for 12th generation Intel CPUs?

Intel CPUs are best known for two things: Their Turbo Boost technology… and running hot. The new 12th generation processors, albeit less power demanding than their predecessors, are still no exception to this rule.

Intel’s Max Turbo Frequency works by monitoring the CPU’s thermal headroom, and automatically overclocking its single-core frequencies to provide a boost in performance when necessary. This is especially important for gaming – where bursts in performance are needed in order to avoid frame drops during busy events – as well as for active workloads; like video editing or motion design. 

When it comes to maximizing boost-clocking potential, HSF (air) coolers are the best option. The design of the copper heatpipes is exceptional for dealing with thermal bursts. The smaller amounts of liquid can quickly absorb heat and transfer it to the heatsink rapidly – and when the turbo boost is not active, the gas within the heatpipes will have time to condense and return to its original position.

But there is a downside to HSF coolers: they struggle to maintain temperatures low for prolonged periods of time. This is where liquid coolers thrive. Whether it be long gaming sessions, or extended bouts of rendering, the AIO cooler can handle even the most power demanding CPUs with ease. And since most 12th generation Intel CPUs are still quite power hungry when compared to their AMD equivalents, they do need consistent cooling to operate smoothly, and optimally.

All in all, the choice between purchasing an HSF cooler or an AIO cooler really depends on your particular needs, and how you intend to use your CPU. Gaming and active workloads (with a preference for low noise emissions and/or on a lower budget) work best with air cooling. Passive workloads and longer gaming sessions (with emphasis on a stylish setup) work best with AIO liquid cooling.


Best Coolers for i9-12900K- Our Recommendations

Best Air Coolers

The Intel i9-12900K – being the flagship option of Intel’s Alder Lake series processors – will require the best cooling options available – especially if you plan on utilizing the air chilling method. Therefore, only D-type air coolers (dual vertical tower & dual fan) will be compatible.

1. Best Budget Air Cooler for 12900K

Scythe Fuma 2

Firstly, if you’re planning on building a smaller case, or looking for a cooling option on a budget, then nothing beats Scythe’s Fuma 2 for its price. This incredibly unique dual tower, dual fan, cooler offers the most cost efficient performance in the market.

The Fuma 2 has a rather strange fan configuration, but its cooling performance has proven its design setup to be innovative. It uses two Kaze Flex 120 mm fans, though the fans are different from each other. One of the two fans is the normal Kaze Flex PWM-controlled model with a 25 mm thickness, but the other fan is the slim version of the Kaze Flex with a 15 mm thickness. And not only is this fan thinner, but it is also built to spin in the opposite direction of the regular Kaze Flex, resulting in higher combined static pressure and less air turbulence. In fact, if you need even more cooling power (and you have enough space in your case) you can even install a third Kaze Flex fan – and additional mounting brackets are included. Both fans operate at 300-1200 rotations per minute (RPM) – which is rather low for 120 mm fans – and have an airflow of 33.86 CFM & 51.17 CFM with static pressure of 0.9 mmH2O & 1.05 mm H2O respectively. They generate just 23.9 and 24.9 dBA noise levels, which means they will hardly be audible from a foot away. Also, with their sealed precision Fluid Dynamic Bearings (FDB), the slim can last 100,000 hours, while the thicker Kaze Flex can last 120,000 hours.

The aluminum dual tower heatsinks are connected to the baseplate through six sintered and nickel-plated copper heatpipes for optimal heat dissipation. The asymmetric design of the heatsink also ensures compatibility with a wide variety of cases and RAM configurations.

The Scythe Fuma 2 (which includes a thermal compound) can be purchased for just $59.99: an incredibly low price to cool the beast of a CPU which is the Intel i9-12900K.

NOTE: For LGA1700 compatibility, you will also need to purchase the Scythe mounting kit (SCMK-1700), which will cost an additional $7.90.


2. Best Performance Air Cooler for 12900K

noctua-nh-d15-se-am4

The Noctua NH-D15 is perhaps the best air cooling option available in the market. Not only does this CPU cooler offer the highest cooling performance of its class, but it also has incredibly low noise emissions. It also comes with an extended 6-year warranty, with an unrivalled Mean Time To Failure (MTTF) of 150,000 hours; so it can be used through multiple generations of future CPUs to come.

But how does the NH-D15 achieve such levels of performance? Well, through the use of two of its in-house NF-A15 140 mm fans. These premium PWM controlled fans have the ability to output up to 68 CFM of airflow, and 1.51 mmH2O of static pressure each, while spinning at just 1,200 RPM. Because the fans are large, and therefore rotate slower, they are also more silent. And to amplify this effect, Noctua has built these fans using silent SSO2 magnetic bearings, which, of course, also increase their longevity.

NF-A15s are therefore used to cool the two large heatsink towers, which are made of aluminum fin-stack arrays. Heat is directed towards these towers through six direct-contact heatpipes that are built with copper, but also nickel plated for better heat distribution. The heatpipes are also spaced further apart in order to cover a larger surface area, which in-turn increases the overall airflow efficiency. Another contributing factor to the NH-D15’s superior cooling is the Noctua NT-H1 thermal compound that provides minimum thermal resistance, and is included with the purchase of the cooler.

You can currently find the NH-D15 for $101, or $111 if you prefer an all black exterior. Both of these options are LGA1700 ready (they include the NM-i17xx-Mp83 mounting-kit), so you don’t have to worry about any compatibility issues upon installation.


Best AIO Coolers

Liquid AIO coolers come in a variety of shapes and sizes: from 92 mm single fan, to 420 mm triple fan configurations. But to power the i9-12900K, you will need top-tier cooling performance, so we suggest opting for nothing less than a triple-fan model with a radiator that is at least 360 mm in length.

Best Budget AIO Cooler for i9-12900K

ARCTIC Liquid Freezer II 420

If a high price to performance ratio is what you’re looking for, then you can’t go wrong with ARCTIC’s Liquid Freezer II 420. It might not be the flashiest cooler out there, but it has the performance power to cool any CPU in the market, including the powerful i9-12900K.

Because this AIO cooler is so massive (420 mm in length), it can hold three 140 mm ARCTIC P14 fans; all of which are PWM controlled and can spin to speeds of up to 1,700 RPM. They output 2.4 mmH2O static pressure and 72.8 CFM each. Also, since these fans have high quality fluid dynamic bearings, their noise emissions are kept fairly low – with a maximum dBA measurement of just 43.8 by AnandTech. But this AIO’s cooling solution doesn’t stop there. It also has a fourth mini fan (40 mm) on the pump head that is PWM controlled. This VRM fan is used to cool the voltage transformer and surrounding VRM, and can spin between 1,000 and 3,000 RPM.

The pump itself is situated on a copper & micro-skived-fin cold plate, and is also PWM controlled. It operates at 800 to 2,000 RPM, and is connected to the radiator using 450 mm sleeved tubes. Additionally, 0.8 grams of MX-4 thermal paste is also included.

What’s best about this AIO cooler, however, is its price. Despite its massive size and top of the line cooling potential, you can purchase the Liquid Freezer II 420 for just $124; including an impressive 6-year warranty. The link above will direct you to the ARCTIC Liquid Freezer II that includes an LGA1700 mounting kit.


Best Overall AIO Cooler for i9-12900K

Corsair H170i Elite Capellix

If you’re willing to go all-out with your CPU cooler purchase – which is always a wise investment when building a new PC – then the Corsair H170i Elite Capellix is one of the best AIO coolers money can buy. It offers a stylish RGB display for both the fans and pump header, as well as some of the best cooling performance of its class. It is also relatively silent, and sells at a reasonable price.

The H170i Elite Capellix makes use of three stylish 140 mm Corsair ML RGB fans that can spin up to an impressive 2,000 RPM; while only generating noise levels between 10 to 37 dBA. This is made possible through use of their magnetic levitation bearings and, of course, their PWM controls. Each fan can generate 1.27 mmH2O of static pressure, and up to 55.4 CFM of airflow. 

Additionally, each fan is decked with eight individually controlled LEDs, while the pump head has 33 of its own ultra-bright LEDs. All 57 of these LEDs can be controlled, and customized, via Corsair’s iCUE software. The pump head can also be changed with an alternate pump cap if desired.

To better draw heat from the CPU’s heat spreader, the H170i uses a 56 mm split-flow copper cold plate with 128 micro-skived fins per inch. Then, the low-noise centrifugal pump – which delivers a flow rate of up to 0.82 ml/min, while generating just 20 dBA – delivers the liquid to the radiator through the cooler’s black-sleeved low-permeation rubber tubing.

You can currently find the Corsair H170i Elite Capellix cooler for $229, backed by a 5-year warranty. NOTE: In order for the H170i to be compatible with the LGA1700 socket, you will need to purchase Corsair’s CW-8960091 Retrofit Kit, though the good news is this will only cost you an extra $2.99.


Most Stylish AIO Cooler for i9-12900K

MSI CORELIQUID K360

Now, let’s say you want to go a step beyond just having RGB lighting for your fans and pump header, and you instead want to add some extra pizzazz to your setup. That’s where the MSI CORELIQUID K360 shines… quite literally. It not only features ARGB displays for its three 120 mm fans, but it also comes with a 2.4 inch LCD display that you can use to monitor your hardware’s system metrics or add customizable graphics, photos, or gifs to be displayed while your PC is operating.

Of course, style is cool and all, but does this CPU cooler perform? Indeed it does, and it can compete with some of the best AIO coolers available. It does so by using three of MSI’s own 120 mm fourth generation TORX fans, which can spin up to 2,500 RPM and output 77.4 CFM of airflow & 4.28 mmH2O of static pressure. The downside of these fans is that they’re built with double ball bearings, so their life expectancy is rather low (at around 100,000 hours). Their noise levels are also not too great, but still decent at 39.9 dBA. On the other hand, the Asetek pump produces noise levels of just 20 dBA, and will last upwards of 50,000 hours. The evaporation proof tubing (which is 500 mm in length) ensures that no leaks occur, further increasing the cooler’s overall lifespan, which is backed by MSI’s 5-year limited warranty.

Like the aforementioned ARCTIC Liquid Freezer II, the MSI K360 also comes with a VRM fan attached to the water block –  though this fan is 50% larger (60 mm in diameter). With its larger overall size, this mini fan will keep your motherboard’s VRM temperatures low, so you can overclock to your heart’s content. Despite being smaller than the two previously mentioned AIO coolers, the MSI CORELIQUID K360 is priced at $229.99 – which is a bit expensive, but arguably worth it for the level of customization it allows for your setup. In regards to the LGA1700 upgrade kit, you can get one for free through MSI’s website here.


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