A CPU cooler is one of the simplest components in your PC, but it can be a real headache trawling through reviews and opinions as to which options are best for you. To help inform your decision making we obtained a selection of entry-level coolers along with the stock options supplied with some Intel and AMD CPUs, and tried them out.
Most of the entry-level air coolers take the format of a tower of heat fins, which dissipate heat carried to them via heat pipes: These copper pipes contain volatile fluid that boils at the ‘cold plate’ and then re condenses at the heatsink. This mechanism uses the energy absorbed in the phase change of the fluid to absorb and transfer heat. The fan and number of heat pipes are the primary variables that dictate the ability of the cooler, and the fan itself defines how noisy or quiet the cooler is.
We tested for ease of fitting, cooling capability with an appropriate CPU, noise as represented by fan speed, as well as identifying some compatibility issues with one of the coolers here. By the end of this article, you’ll have all the information you need to choose a cooler for a Ryzen 3600 or 5600X or an Intel i5-10400 to an i5-11600K CPU.
We’ve produced a couple of graphs showing the logged data when running these coolers under an all-core load with an Intel Core i5-11500. This chip draws 110W in this test, enough to expose any Coolers that aren’t up to the task. Sadly that includes the cooler that comes in the box with this CPU.
If you’re interested in more power hungry CPUs requiring more robust cooling solutions, please check out our article on the best high-end air coolers here. We’ve also produced accompanying videos so take a look over on our youtube channel here.
Stock Coolers: Up to the job?
1. AMD Wraith Stealth
AMD supplies the ‘Wraith Stealth’ CPU cooler with their Ryzen 3600 and 5600X. It’s a simple cooler consisting of an aluminium heat sink, with a shrouded fan blowing down over it. Fitment is simple, only requiring removing the plastic ‘hook’ style retaining brackets, and screwing into the existing Motherboard backplate with the sprung screws. Thermal paste is pre-applied, but if you make a mistake in fitting you may want to re-paste before refitting the cooler.
Cooling performance is only acceptable. It doesn’t throttle a Ryzen 3600 under all-core load, but temperatures are high. Fan speeds are also high, meaning this cooler makes an intrusive noise that you will hear in most instances. It’s not acceptable for the Ryzen 5600X, a higher performance CPU with will benefit from a more capable cooler. We’d recommend checking out the affordable tower coolers later in this test if you’re looking at that CPU. A cost-effective solution is to look for an unwanted Wraith Prism from a Ryzen 7 build: These coolers use heat pipes and are much more effective, able to cope with a 95W TDP CPU without issue.
|AMD Wraith Stealth Stock Cooler||Notes:||Rating|
|Supplied Accessories||Free with CPU. AMD Only. No accessories. Thermal paste pre-applied.||★★☆☆☆|
|Ease of fitment||Simple to fit to AMD Motherboard Backplate. Spring screws can be tricky. Pre-applied thermal paste.||★★★★☆|
|Noise||Noticeably loud, but not too high pitched.||★★☆☆☆|
|Cooling Performance||Marginal. Mid 90’s Celcius under all-core load. Acceptable for 3600, not for 5600X.||★☆☆☆☆|
|Value||Free with CPU.||★★★★☆|
|Conclusion:||An acceptable stop-gap option if the budget is extremely tight. Just $20 offers substantially better options and helps reduce both noise and may improve CPU performance.||★★☆☆☆|
2. Intel Stock Cooler
The Intel Stock cooler has been updated for Rocketlake era 11th generation CPUs and is supplied with non-K series i5 options. It now has a black plastic frame and a copper core to assist in heat transfer away from the CPU. Sadly, it appears these changes haven’t been enough. Testing this CPU cooler drove the i5-11500 to its 96C limit and thermal throttling was the result, preventing the CPU from hitting its all-core clock speeds and resulting in lower performance. This was on an open test bench, the situation will only be worse in a closed case no matter how good the airflow. Meanwhile, the fan achieved 3400RPM, generating an irritating buzz. We do not recommend that you use this cooler on any CPU more demanding than an i3, and even in that case you will benefit from a cooler with less intrusive fan noise when it’s working hard.
This cooler only serves to highlight the inefficiency of Intel’s latest CPUs. It should not be supplied with them, a few dollars reducing in MSPR to put towards an adequate aftermarket cooler would be more welcome.
|Intel Stock Cooler||Notes:||Rating|
|Supplied Accessories||Free with CPU. Fits Intel only. No accessories.||★★☆☆☆|
|Ease of fitment||Easy to mount although the plastic through pins is not the most secure. Pre-applied thermal paste.||★★★★☆|
|Noise||Noticeably loud, high pitched. Annoying.||★☆☆☆☆|
|Cooling Performance||Inadequate. Immediate 96C and throttling with an i5-11500||Not recommended|
|Value||Well, it is ‘free’.||★★☆☆☆|
|Conclusion||Not acceptable, needs to be replaced with something better.||★☆☆☆☆|
Best Entry Level Air CPU Coolers
1. BeQuiet! Pure Rock Slim
Moving to aftermarket tower coolers with 92mm fans, the Bequiet! Pure Rock Slim is a cost-effective option with 3 heat pipes and a brushed silver backplate. Fitting is somewhat fiddly on intel, with a pair of brackets that must be screwed into the cold plate, and then plastic push pins to secure it that do not give the most robust installation force. On AMD, fitting is much simpler with the use of a retaining bar that latches to the standard AMD retaining brackets. Thermal paste is pre-applied so do your best to fit it right the first time! Of note is that on an AMD CPU it will only fit with the fan facing up/down, not the more traditional ‘pointing towards the rear’ so if the aesthetics are important that may not be to your liking.
In operation, this cooler proves capable with mid-range CPUs. It maintains 80C under all-core load, and fan speeds stay under 2000RPM and the noise does not become intrusive. It appears that BeQuiet! have prioritised the sound profile over outright cooling performance but this is a balanced cooler that will deal with the Ryzen 3600 or intel i5 non-K CPUs well, whilst keeping costs down.
Overall this is a cheap (at $20-$25) cooler with good looks and reasonable performance and we have no hesitation recommending it for an entry-level build.
|BeQuiet Pure Rock Slim||Notes:||Rating|
|Supplied Accessories||Thermal paste pre-applied.||★★★☆☆|
|Ease of fitment||AMD fitting bar is simple, Intel fitting is less robust and a little fiddly.||★★☆☆☆|
|Noise||Reasonable under load.||★★★★☆|
|Cooling Performance||Acceptable on 65W CPUs such as the 3600 or i5-11400. Will handle the 5600X if budget is a priority.|
|Value||Good value at under $25.||★★★★☆|
|Conclusion||A decent option for mid-range CPUs||★★★☆☆|
2. Arctic Freezer 7X
Arctic have a good reputation in the cooling segment with great value Fans and high performance all in one water loops, so we were eager to try out the Artic Freezer 7X. This cooler uses a 92mm fan like the Bequiet Pure Rock Slim but has just 2 heat pipes, although they are in direct contact with the CPU heat spreader. The fan is aggressively profiled and ducted, whilst the sides of the radiator fins are enclosed to create a tunnel for air to be forced through.
Our first challenge with this cooler came in fitting it to our Intel test bench, using the ASUS TUF B560M Motherboard. The cooler has two sprung arms to latch onto a plastic fitting ring, and they were too wide and interfered with VRM and M.2 heatsinking in both orientations. There is an offset angle orientation but the cold plate does not cover the whole CPU surface is mounted in that orientation. This was also a problem with the MSI B560M Bazooka, and whilst it is possible to fit the Gigabyte B560M Aorus pro it means not fitting the Primary M.2 heatsink as it interferes with the retaining clip. We could find no note of a compatibility list on the Arctic site, and our email request to support remains unanswered a week later. Instructions aren’t supplied, there’s a QR code directing you to the Arctic site and the instructions don’t make mention how to adjust the fitting ring for different Intel sockets.
Fitting on AMD is mercifully simple and universal, using the standard AMD retention clips.
Once fitted, the cooler performed well. It maintained 70C on our test CPU with the fan at just over 2000rpm, and the noise was audible but not intrusive. That it achieves this performance with just 2 heat pipes is to the credit of the design, the fitting mechanism is to its detriment.
Whilst we had no problems with the performance of this cooler, the confusion and incompatibilities over the Intel fitment were a big disappointment, and as such we can’t recommend it for any Intel system: You absolutely want good motherboard VRM heatsinking for the power-hungry intel i5 CPUs, but there’s no guarantee this cooler will fit, and no easy way to check. Arctic need to provide this information to customers to help them make their purchasing decision.
For AMD, it’s a good, cost-effective option with decent performance, and it will cool a Ryzen 3600, 3700X, or 5600X acceptably well. We can’t recommend it for Intel due to the fitting issues we encountered, so look to the BEquiet! Pure Rock slim as an alternative, or else the 120mm coolers that follow in this test.
|Arctic Freezer 7X||Notes:||Rating|
|Supplied Accessories||Thermal paste pre-applied. No instructions.||★★☆☆☆|
|Ease of fitment||Instructions are not clear. AMD – No issues.|
Intel – Incompatible with some micro-ATX B560 motherboards.
|Noise||Audible but unintrusive, fan speeds at 2000RPM under full load.||★★★☆☆|
|Cooling Performance||Good performance at the price, capable of cooling a Ryzen 3600 or 5600X.||★★★☆☆|
|Value||Good for AMD, poor for intel.||★★★☆☆|
|Conclusion:||A good option for AMD, but look elsewhere for Intel.||★★☆☆☆|
3. Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo V2
This cooler shows it’s age mainly in the hardware it’s supplied with. There’s a large range of posts and brackets to enable it to fit to a number of older intel sockets. This leads to a slightly confusing installation process where the back plate must be configured correctly, and the right stand offs selected for the socket type. The back plate is plastic and feels somewhat flimsy until braced by the cooler itself. The instructions are reasonable, but indicate that you should apply the thermal paste early in the process – a sure fire way to get it spread all over the socket as you fit brackets prior to mounting the cooler itself.
Performance is good. The fan maintains 1200RPM and noise is low. There’s enough thermal headroom to tune the fan profile to your liking, for either lower noise or lower temperatures at the expense of higher fan speed but at our default test settings temperatures remained under 70C.
Overall this cooler is still a good performer, but is let down by the legacy fitting options confusing the install process, and by newer designs offering better value and a higher quality package. At the right price, it’s still a solid buy.
|Hyper 212 Evo V2||Notes:||Rating|
|Supplied Accessories||Fan splitter, Tube of thermal paste, spare fan brackets.||★★★☆☆|
|Ease of fitment||Fiddly fitting on Intel. The backplate feels a little flimsy.||★★☆☆☆|
|Noise||The 120mm fan is quiet under load and allows the profile be tuned to your liking.||★★★★☆|
|Cooling Performance||Good cooling performance, adequate for a Ryzen 5600X or intel i5-10600K or 11600K at a push.||★★★★☆|
|Value||Reasonable value but now outshone by competitors.||★★★☆☆|
|Conclusion:||The genre-defining cooler now looks a little long in the tooth, a refresh is overdue.||★★★☆☆|
4. ID Cooling SE-224-XT RGB
The ID Cooling SE-224-XT is available in a number of configurations, with a basic version, black or white version, and this RGB Version. The cooler is the same basic design throughout with four heat pipes and a 120mm fan compatibility and ID Cooling quote a 180W Capacity.
In the box you get a tube of thermal paste, RGB Splitter to allow the fan and RGB ‘face plate’ to synchronise, and even a stand alone SATA powered RGB Controller if your motherboard doesn’t have 12V RGB compatibility. They also include spare fan clips to enable easy fitment of a second fan.
Fitment is straight forwards, with a solid metal backplate supplied, and a mounting mechanism that works in the same way as Noctuas. There are no RAM or GPU interference issues although Ram with thick heat spreaders will likely touch the fan. Only the RGB on this version slightly complicates set up and install, with a little extra cable management required, but that’s to be expected with any RGB components. The instructions are straightforward to follow.
Performance is good, matching the Hyper 212 with the fan at 1200 RPM and CPU temperatures maintained in the high 60’s.
Overall this cooler makes a strong case for itself in this segment. It’s attractively priced, with a variety of versions to suit your preferences for color, RGB or cost. The range of accessories is impressive particularly this RGB models inclusion of a stand-alone RGB controller to ensure you can integrate it to any PC build, and we like to see the generous tube of thermal paste included as well: That’s a bonus if you need to refit the cooler for any reason. ID-Cooling has clearly given a lot of thought to the design and implementation of this cooler and it all adds up to a very attractive package, and meets the needs of this section of the market perfectly. It gets the ‘Best in Test’ award for this entry-level cooler roundup.
|ID Cooling SE-224-XT RGB||Notes:||Rating|
|Supplied Accessories||Thermal paste, Bracketry, spare fan clips, RGB controller, RGB Splitter, ID ‘badge’. Instructions||★★★★★|
|Ease of fitment||Bracketry is simple and well made. Installation is easy.||★★★★☆|
|Noise||Matches the Hyper 212, with headroom to tune for lower temperatures or less noise to your preference.||★★★☆☆|
|Cooling Performance||Good performance. Capable of cooling intel i5’s and Ryzen 5600X adequately.||★★★★☆|
|Value||Excellent value thanks to the price and||★★★★★|
|Conclusion||This is our recommended entry-level cooler. It does nothing wrong, comes with good accessories, and represents great value.||★★★★★|
Fan Speeds and Thermal Performance Testing
Taking a quick look at the data we logged in our testing, we can see the different tiers of performance on offer. This test involved running Cinebench R23 on a 10-minute loop. This CPU pulls 110W in this workload. We’re showing the first five minutes here as nothing particularly interesting changes after that. The AMD Wraith Stealth is excluded as it is a different workload.
The Intel Stock cooler shows the worse temperatures, with the Intel i5-11500 hitting 96 °C and throttling the CPU. The Bequiet! Pure Rock Slim maintains a much more reasonable 80°C, and does this with no noise. The Arctic Freezer 7X manages to maintain 70°C despite it’s 92mm fan and two heat pipes.
The two larger coolers are both equipped with four heat pipes and a single 120mm fan. They perform almost identically in this test. Both maintain 65-67°C throughout.
The fan speeds clearly differentiate between the fan size, primarily. The Intel cooler has the smallest fan and spins it the fastest, 3400RPM, whilst failing to adequately cool the CPU. Both 92mm fans spin at around 2000RPM under load, but both remain impressively quiet despite this.
And both 120mm fans maintain 1200 RPM whilst cooling the CPU, meaning they are much less intrusive.
Conclusions and other options
This testing showed the value of a modest upgrade from the stock Intel and AMD CPU coolers. The AMD Wraith Stealth is marginal, whilst the Intel Stock cooler is simply unacceptable for the intended CPUs. On all but the most restricted budgets we’d recommend upgrading them to ensure your CPU achieves it’s potential, and to improve your quality of life through reduced noise.
In this test, the ID-Cooling SE-224-XT shone through as the best entry-level cooler here. The combination of trouble-free fitting, good bundled accessories, and all-around performance means we are happy to recommend it to you for any build involving an entry to mid-level CPU.
This test drove home the point that cooling capacity and noise are closely correlated to the size of the fan – we’d recommend opting for at least a 120mm fan cooler provided it fits in your case and you can afford one.
Whilst the Bequiet! Pure Rock Slim and Arctic Freezer 7X both acquit themselves well, without intrusive fan noise, they include compromises: the Bequiet! runs slightly hotter, and can’t be mounted facing front to back on AMD motherboards. The Arctic Freezer 7X has a frustrating fitting mechanism when used with Intel. At the right price, they’re a useful step up from the stock included coolers, once you’re sending $20-$25 we’d suggest finding a few dollars more for the ID-Cooling SE 224. The basic version is available for just $30.
If these coolers aren’t available, we’d recommend the following coolers: The Deepcool Gammax 400 is an excellent value choice, with four heat pipes and a 120mm fan it will perform much like the Hyper 212 EVO V2 and SE-224-XT. The BeQuiet! Pure Rock 2 Black is available at $44 and marries a single fan 4 heat pipe arrangement with a slick black aesthetic.
And whilst the Arctic Freezer 7X disappointed, the Arctic Freezer 34 E-sports uses a more versatile and conventional mounting system, and a 120mm fan. It’s available in a range of colors to match your build and is a good choice at around $35. Finally, The Noctua NH-U12S Redux creeps in at under $50 and uses 4 heat pipes and Noctuas very robust mounting system for a low noise alternative.