Keeping a CPU cool involves finding the right balance between temperatures and noise. Sure, lower temps are always great, but that shouldn’t have to come at the cost of a loud CPU cooler. The quietest CPU coolers on the market strike a perfect balance between both, sacrificing little (if any) cooling performance for ultra-low noise levels.
Yes, you can tweak fan curves to turn any CPU cooler into a relatively quiet one. But a truly quiet CPU cooler, like the ones we’ve selected here, will run quietly out of the box and can be tweaked for even lower noise if you desire. Let’s get started.
The Best Quiet CPU Coolers
Measuring a CPU cooler’s noise output isn’t as straightforward as other aspects of its performance. There are many variables involved, including ambient noise and the distance the noise measurement is taken from.
Different reviewers measure noise differently; ambient noise, equipment, and distance all vary from reviewer to reviewer. This often leads to wildly different results, even for the same CPU cooler. So, while we’ve included noise level measurements for all the coolers on our list, we should stress that not all of these benchmark results are directly comparable.
Instead, consider them general indicators and not ways to directly compare the CPU coolers we’re discussing today.
The Arctic Liquid Freezer II 280 AIO combines excellent cooling, an affordable price, and some of the lowest noise measurements you’ll find on a 280 mm AIO in 2022. This makes it a shoo-in if you’re after a quiet CPU cooler and prefer AIOs.
Arctic uses a thicker radiator than usual with its AIOs. This increased surface area allows for lower fan speeds than is usual, which in turn reduces noise. And it’s hard to argue with the results: Tom’s Hardware recorded an impressive 21.9 dBA at 50% fan speed, measuring from a meter (~3.3 feet) away.
Cranking the fans to 100% only increased the noise level to 25.7 dBA. That’s still incredibly quiet, just about on par with the average library according to the FAA. It’s noticeably quieter than the similarly-priced Corsair H115i RGB Platinum, making the Arctic a great choice if you’re willing to give up the H115i’s RGB lighting.
The thicker radiator ensures that the Freezer II 280’s low-noise performance doesn’t come at the cost of higher temperatures, either. The Liquid Freezer II 280, at 50% fan speed, managed to keep Tom’s Hardware’s 4.2 GHz overclocked Intel Core i7-5930K at a 57.9-degrees Celsius delta over ambient.
The Arctic Liquid Freezer II 280’s 50% fan speed numbers are most impressive here, as it showcases how efficient Arctic’s fans are. The max fan speed temperatures are great, sure, but the fact that the Arctic is 7.4 degrees cooler than the Corsair at mid-range fan speeds is what marks it as a great quiet CPU cooler. The fact that it’s neck and neck with the much larger Cougar Helor 360 mm AIO is simply the icing on the cake.
Overall, the Arctic Liquid Freezer II 280 is one of the best 280 mm AIOs available, especially if you’re after a low-noise, high-performance cooling solution. It does look a bit dull compared to its RGB-heavy competition, but that may be a blessing depending on your aesthetic preferences. If performance is more critical than bling, this is the AIO for you.
Lian Li’s better known for its high-quality cases like the O11 Dynamic, one of the best water-cooling cases available. But there’s more to the company than its cases. Its new Galahad range of AIO liquid coolers has set a new bar for silence and performance, particularly in the 360 mm AIO space.
The Galahad 360 sports a range of performance and aesthetic features that make it an excellent buy for many users. For one, the high-quality RGB fans and rotatable RGB pump block make it a great fit in an RGB-heavy build. But the Galahad 360 isn’t all show and no go; its noise levels and thermal performance make it a compelling buy even if you’re not explicitly searching for an RGB CPU cooler.
TweakTown tested the Galahad 360 and recorded a noise output of 24 dBA when cooling a stock AMD Ryzen 5 3600. That’s one dBA less than the Noctua NH-D15S and two dBA quieter than the Arctic Liquid Freezer II 280. It’s half as loud as the stock AMD Wraith Prism cooler, which is impressive given its vastly superior cooling performance.
The tables turn slightly with a 4.2 GHz all-core overclock on the R5 3600. The Galahad 360’s noise output climbed to 29 dBA with the overclock in place, a single dBA higher than the Noctua and a couple of dBA more than the Arctic.
So while it’s not the outright quietest CPU cooler you can buy based on TweakTown’s testing, the temperatures more than make up for the slight dBA disadvantage. The Galahad 360 kept the overclocked R5 3600 running at 60.7 degrees Celsius, compared to 63.9 with the Arctic AIO. The NH-D15S lagged behind with a comparatively toasty 66.6-degree measurement.
This tells us that there’s room to further bring the Galahad 360’s noise levels down with fan curve tweaks while maintaining temperature parity with other CPU coolers on the market. The standard PWM noise and thermals will be more than adequate for most, but there’s definitely room to tweak if you’re so inclined.
All in all, the Lian Li Galahad 360 is an excellent choice for a quiet AIO as long as your case has the room to accommodate it. It looks good and performs excellently; what’s there not to like? The Galahad 360 is available in black and white.
Scythe’s Fuma 2 is the European company’s entry into the quiet dual-tower CPU cooler market formerly dominated by Noctua (with its NH-D15), and be quiet! (with the Dark Rock Pro 4). Both are excellent dual-tower CPU coolers, but the Fuma 2 is our pick here for its combination of significantly lower price and comparable performance.
TweakTown measured an essentially silent 22 dBA noise level with an Intel Core i7-6700K at stock clocks. This puts it ahead of its more illustrious competition, with the Noctua measuring 24 dBA and the be quiet! recording 25 dBA.
Yes, the i7-6700K is an older CPU, but it was a relatively high-power and high-temperature part in its day. Hence, the numbers are still quite relevant for most of today’s mid-range CPUs.
Even a 4.6 GHz overclock to the i7-6700K can’t ruffle the Fuma 2’s feathers. The Fuma 2’s noise output climbs slightly to 24 dBA, still well below the Noctua (27 dBA) and be quiet! (28 dBA) CPU coolers.
As you might imagine, though, this excellent noise performance does mean it’s slightly worse off temperature-wise than the Noctua. The Fuma 2 kept the overclocked i7-6700K at 72.5 degrees Celsius. That’s a bit higher than the
So it’s not the best dual-tower cooler in terms of outright temperatures, but 72.5 degrees is still an excellent performance for an air cooler. When you consider the significant price difference between the Scythe Fuma 2 and the Noctua
The Scythe Fuma 2 is an excellent combination of mid-range price with high-end thermal and noise performance. It’s one of the quietest air coolers you can buy right now, and it only compromises slightly on temperatures to achieve that.
Not everyone wants or needs a hulking dual-tower air cooler in their rig. If you’re after the best quiet CPU cooler that won’t take up too much room or interfere with your RAM kits, take a look at Noctua’s long-running classic, the NH-U12S.
The NH-U12S is a single-fan, single-tower CPU cooler designed for maximum compatibility with all kinds of setups and computer cases. As with all Noctua coolers, the fan is the company’s own NF-F12 PWM, whose low-noise performance helps make the NH-U12S a great silent air cooler.
At 50% speed, TechPowerUp recorded a 38 dBA noise level measured from 30 cm (11.8 inches) away. The Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO, another popular single-tower CPU cooler, measured 43 dBA in the same test.
TechPowerUp tested the NH-U12S with an overclocked Intel Core i7-3960X ES running at 4.1 GHz. The CPU hit a maximum of 60 degrees Celsius with the NH-U12S running Aida64, which is respectable for a single-tower CPU cooler.
You can add an extra fan to the NH-U12S to further reduce CPU temperatures at the cost of increased noise. However, the small delta arguably isn’t worth it from a noise or price perspective, especially not if you’re adding another Noctua fan.
We’re sure that a single fan will be more than enough for most mainstream CPUs even now. The i7-3960X was a high-power, high-temperature CPU, so even if this data is a bit old, the NH-U12S should still comfortably be able to handle anything below an AMD Ryzen 9 or a modern Intel Core i9. If you’re cooling one of those CPUs, then you’re better off with the Fuma 2 or the AIO coolers on our list instead.
The Noctua NH-U12S is arguably one of the best single-tower CPU coolers of all time, with its combination of good performance and comparatively low noise. Sure, you can get better-performing and quieter coolers, but not in this form factor.
Looking for a good deal? The simplified Noctua NH-U12S Redux is available at a slightly lower price. Cooling performance is similar to the original, but the Redux is marginally noisier than the original by a single dBA in AnandTech’s testing.
5. Noctua NH-P1
If low-noise just doesn’t cut it, and you’re after the absolute quietest CPU cooler you can possibly buy, then it’s time to go passive with Noctua’s NH-P1. The NH-P1 is a hulking slab of metal designed to cool your CPU via heat conduction and your case airflow.
The NH-P1 is a passive CPU cooler designed for specific use-cases where absolute silence or dust mitigation are paramount. The fanless design doesn’t just eliminate noise; it also minimizes dust buildup since you don’t have a fan sucking in and forcing dusty air through the cooler.
This makes it excellent for 24/7 servers by eliminating noise and reducing maintenance due to reduced dust build-up and zero chance of parts failure on the CPU cooler. And while you can use it in a standard rig, we don’t feel that it’s worth it unless you’re really fussy about your rig’s noise output.
It’s not that the NH-P1 is bad; it’s just not magic. It’s only really capable of cooling low-to-mid-power CPUs like the Intel Core i5-12400 or the AMD Ryzen 5 3600, and even then, at relatively high temperatures compared to a standard CPU cooler. Overclocking headroom is also mostly nonexistent, and you may even see lower boost clocks than usual when using the NH-P1.
Gamers Nexus tested the NH-P1 with an overclocked AMD Ryzen 5 3600, recording a temperature delta of 64.6 degrees Celsius under load. That’s safe, but definitely on the high side. You can probably get away with that if your ambient temperature is low enough. Still, we’d recommend sticking with stock clocks or an even lower-powered CPU for safety.
It doesn’t look great for the Noctua NH-P1, we admit. But the NH-P1 is a niche CPU cooler that can’t really be judged against more conventional cooling solutions. If you’re building a standard gaming or productivity rig, we’d recommend you look elsewhere.
But if you happen to need the combination of silence and zero-maintenance operation that it offers, then it’s easily the best choice available right now. Just be sure to check Noctua’s detailed CPU compatibility and case compatibility lists before you commit to the NH-P1. It’s not a cheap cooler, after all.
Whether you prefer AIOs or traditional air coolers, there’s a quiet CPU cooler out there for you. Choosing between our picks for the quietest CPU cooler depends on how roomy your case is and how hot your CPU is. Rocking a mid-range Intel or AMD CPU? The Noctua NH-U12S should fit the bill. Building a high-end silent workstation? Then the Lian Li Galahad 360 AIO is worth considering.
You really can’t go wrong with any of the picks here, although the passive cooling option probably isn’t something we’d recommend for an everyday build. If you’re having trouble choosing between the AIO or air coolers on our list, check out our guide to liquid vs. air cooling for some helpful info.