Cooling for modern CPUs
Cooler manufacturers and consumers in recent years need to rethink their approach to CPU cooling and embrace the notion that for the high-end, better CPU cooling usually results in higher average clocks rather than lower temperatures. Overheating damage has become extremely rare with both AMD and Intel processors thanks to safety measures that throttle cores before they become too extreme or shut the PC down completely in emergencies.
In the early 2010s, the performance of CPU coolers was easy to compare. The product that cooled the CPU to a lower temperature at a similar noise level was the better cooler. Today’s CPUs are designed to last a lifetime at high temperatures and always deliver the highest possible performance. For example, all testing for AMD’s Ryzen 7000 series was done at 95°C and the chips’ expected lifetime is based on this. Given no limitations, these CPUs will always aim for the highest possible temperature and performance during multi-threaded workloads. The same applies to Intel CPUs. If you want to take full advantage of high-end CPUs, you need to embrace core temperatures above 90°C (194°F) as the new normal. This is new and unintuitive. For those of us who have worked with PCs for many years and are used to CPU temperatures below 70°C (158°F), this is something we need to learn to accept. On the other hand, this design approach always guarantees you get the best possible CPU performance for your money.
TDP definition and its issues
We explained the different approaches to TDP in a video, but we will go into a little more detail in this article. We recommend you watch this video first, to get the gist of the topic.
TDP stands for Thermal Design Power and is the amount of waste heat a chip produces and needs to be dissipated by the cooling solution. It is a simple reference point for system builders to determine which cooling solution is appropriate for which CPU.
For everyone at home, TDP is a bit of an abstract value, as every company has their own calculation path to reach their TDP values, making them impossible to compare to each other. Users at home can often not replicate the exact same conditions and not all variables are even known to the public. On top of that, real-world application can vary widely, especially in the era of out-of-the-box clock boosts. It became clear to us that we needed to find another way to give fitting CPU cooler recommendations to our customers that are easy to understand and as close to the conditions at home as possible.
be quiet! cooler performance ratings
Because of the stated issue that TDP is not always helpful to select an appropriate cooler, we have expanded the information on our product pages. Each of our coolers has received a rating, which is displayed on top of the product page.
- A+: be quiet! coolers with this rating are ready for almost anything. Even with AMD Ryzen 9 or Intel Core i9, you will still have room for high boost-clocks and overclocking.
- A: These coolers are suited for anything up to an AMD Ryzen 9 or Intel Core i9 processor. Typical gaming loads are conquered with high frequencies.
- B+: Any be quiet! cooler with a B+ rating can handle processors up to an AMD Ryzen 7 or Intel Core i7.
- B: A cooler with a B rating is suited for mainstream builds with an AMD Ryzen 5 or Intel Core i5 processor. Some coolers with this rating have specific use cases, for example for small form factor builds.
These ratings are generic by design, to give you a good idea at first glance what you are buying into. Of course, you can always mix and match to your preferred specs and preference, for example if you prefer lower fan RPM. At the same time, if you do not expect to use the CPU’s full capacity very often, a smaller cooler will get you to the finish line as well.
CPU Cooler Check – The helpful be quiet! tool
If you would like to dive deeper into which cooler fits your build the best, we also have a solution for you. The CPU Cooler Check provides two kinds of information:
- Motherboard compatibility (VRM coolers and RAM): If you select a motherboard, the tool will show you if you may experience limitations with any of our coolers. For example, on some motherboards, the heatsink or fan may hang over the RAM slots, limiting the height of the memory.
- Performance and recommended coolers: If you put in a CPU, the tool will recommend CPU coolers based on real-world testing data.
The model test setup
For our CPU cooler testing, we are using a Dark Base Pro 901 case with all fans set to 100% PWM speed and run the system through a multi-threading load. The recommendations in this tool are mostly based on average core clock, but also package power and core temperatures. We have gathered testing data since AMD’s Ryzen 7000 and Intel’s Core 13th generations, so if you are in the market for a cooler for your brand-new CPU, we have got you covered!
Your exact conditions at home may vary, so some rule of thumb still needs to be applied. Think of it like highway lanes: If we recommend a CPU cooler for a specific CPU, that CPU is driving in the fast lane. With a smaller cooler, the same CPU may only be suitable for the slow lane. High-end CPUs are perfectly capable of working with smaller coolers, but you may be leaving performance on the table, if you often work them at full capacity.
Benefit of better cooling for modern high-end CPUs
The fact that modern high-end CPUs are built to run at maximum temperature does not mean you need no longer pay any attention to your cooling solution. The cooling ability of the cooler directly influences the performance of the CPU, allowing it to run longer at higher clock speeds. Modern CPUs run on intelligent boost systems, that boost and throttle performance on single cores, if necessary.
It should be noted that a case with a good airflow concept or additional cooling fans can make a huge difference for CPU and GPU clocks and temperatures. We hope the explanations are clear and you feel well-prepared to decide which cooler to get for your build!
There are more things to consider when choosing a cooler than its performance for some, of course, for example height, compatibility, design and ARGB lighting. This is all explored in our constantly updated We hope this guide and our new tool help you all with your decisions about the right cooler for your build. Have fun and stay be quiet!