Aftermarket CPU coolers are much more powerful than the stock coolers that come with CPUs. The idea behind getting an aftermarket CPU cooler is to provide more cooling power. After building my own PC I was curious whether an aftermarket CPU cooler is worth it, so I did a ton of research, and here’s what I found.
Aftermarket CPU coolers are worth it if you’re going to overclock your CPU. Otherwise, you don’t generally need one. The main advantages of an aftermarket cooler are that it is a lot quieter than the stock cooler. The stock cooler is designed to handle the CPU working at the maximum factory clock speed.
Intel CPUs are designed to ‘throttle’ performance when the demands are very high on the CPU, or the CPU gets hot enough which can likely cause damage to the CPU. With a stock cooler, it shouldn’t occur because of overheating unless there is a fixable issue with your stock cooler.
In this article, I will explain everything I’ve learned, and everything you need to know about keeping your stock CPU cooler or upgrading to an aftermarket CPU cooler.
Is It Worth Upgrading from a Stock to an Aftermarket Cooler?
Most CPUs and graphics cards (GPUs) come with a stock cooler. But, if you built your own PC, or have friends that have you may have noticed that there are also aftermarket coolers that tend to provide much more cooling. However, are these necessary, and is it worth upgrading the stock coolers to aftermarket ones?
It’s worth it if you want to reduce the noise of your computer. Aftermarket coolers are much quieter than stock coolers. But, you absolutely need an aftermarket cooler if you’re going to overclock your CPU. Some GPUs also don’t come with a cooler so you need to buy one separately.
Overclocking a GPU means you turn up the settings to get increased performance. The increased performance draws more power, which heats up the CPU more. Overclocking is above what the stock fan is designed to cool.
This can cause what is called ‘throttling’. Throttling is a feature of Intel CPUs. When the CPU gets too hot the CPU will be slowed down automatically, causing your computer to run a lot slower until the CPU cools down. If the CPU gets too hot it can also reach the thermal cutoff. This is a safety feature where the computer will shut down automatically.
Does Hot Weather or a Hot Room Mean You Need an Aftermarket Cooler?
Living in a hot climate or if the weather is particularly hot does not generally require an aftermarket CPU cooler either. There are many anecdotal stories of people who have used the stock cooler on Intel and AMD CPUs in a hot room, or in very hot climates and have no issues with them starting to throttle. Or, shutting down due to overheating. So, no the climate does not affect whether you need to upgrade your stock cooler (built-in fan + heatsink) to an aftermarket one.
How to Check If Your CPU Is Throttling (Slowing Down a Lot)
There is a very good free computer hardware diagnostic tool called CPU Z, that will give you a ton of metrics about the hardware that aren’t built into Windows. One of the really good metrics it shows is how often your CPU clocks.
Meaning it runs at the maximum speed it can. This causes your CPU to throttle automatically and slow down. Using the tool you can see what’s called the ‘clock frequency’. This is the frequency your CPU reaches the maximum speed and is usually throttled.
CPU Z can be downloaded for free here. This info plus the temperature will give you a really clear picture of what your CPU is doing. To see the temperature you need another free software. A good one is HWmonitor, it tells you the temperature of your PC, the voltage, and the fan speed of your cooler. You can download it for free here.
Will a Better Cooler Improve CPU Performance?
CPU performance is affected by how hot the CPU gets. When the CPU gets too hot it will get throttled, where the CPU is slowed down to allow it to cool off. With this safety feature, will a better cooler stop this from happening or otherwise increase CPU performance?
Generally, a better cooler will not improve CPU performance on its own. A CPU with the stock cooler will be as fast as it can be without the need for a better cooler. It’s possible to overclock some CPUs which does improve performance and requires an aftermarket cooler.
If there’s an issue causing your CPU to overheat using the stock cooler it can throttle the CPU and decrease performance. So, in one sense getting a better cooler can solve this issue. However, it’s better to do a bit of digging to find the cause of the issue.
Common issues that cause overheating with a stock cooler are:
- Dust build-up on the fan
- Airflow vents on the case are obstructed
- Trying to run applications that aren’t suited to the CPU
The dust build-up is a very common issue that causes the CPU to overheat. As well as, accidentally placing your case where the air vents are blocked by something. It’s very easy to clean the dust out of a PC using disposable cans of compressed air.
If you’ve got a fairly old CPU and are trying to run some new software like the latest version of photoshop. Or, one of the latest games places a big demand on the CPU, and in many cases, the program or game will simply crash.
As the CPU is trying to load everything for one of these programs or games it will generally be at the max clock speed consistently. This can cause the CPU to overheat and become throttled slowing down your PC a lot.
A higher-powered fan won’t solve this problem and give you increased performance as the CPU is already being throttled because it’s at the maximum clock speed. Rather than because it’s running too hot.
If you’re looking at getting a new CPU it’s important to look into the different reviews of the main CPU brands. Or, you may have an Intel CPU at the moment that is overheating. I looked into this issue and provided an answer in this article about whether Intel CPUs overheat.
When Do I Need an Aftermarket CPU Cooler
CPUs come with a cooler, so you may be curious about what aftermarket CPU coolers are and why you need one. Here’s a summary of the main reasons you need an aftermarket CPU cooler.
You need one when you are overclocking your CPU or planning to and if you want something a bit quieter. A stock CPU cooler isn’t powerful enough if you’re overclocking your CPU, and they are noisier than an aftermarket CPU cooler.
If the volume of your computer doesn’t bother you and you’re not planning to overclock your CPU then you don’t need an aftermarket cooler. Most people leave their computer on all the time.
If you’re not using it but you’re in the same room as your computer the noise can be noticeable. It doesn’t switch on and off like a fridge so after a while you get so used to it you hardly hear it. But, if you don’t mind spending some money to get a better fan the fact that it makes no noise can be a luxury you can live with, some of them look particularly cool.
Will an Aftermarket Cooler Prolong the Life of the CPU?
CPUs can be quite expensive, therefore, making one last as long as possible is a good idea. And you also may be wondering what the additional benefits are of an aftermarket cooler if you’re thinking about getting one. Here’s the answer:
An aftermarket cooler will only prolong the life of a CPU that is overclocked. The reason is that an overclocked CPU operates at a higher temperature than what the stock fan is designed for. This will cause the CPU to overheat and can damage it without an aftermarket fan.
But, if you’re not overclocking your CPU an aftermarket fan won’t prolong the life of your CPU at all. CPUs are designed to operate normally with the stock fan, and an aftermarket fan is only required if the CPU runs hot.
This only occurs if it’s overclocked or it gets covered in dust. Also, the air outlet on your CPU case can be obstructed or covered in dust which causes the airflow to be much less. But, whether you have an aftermarket fan or use the stock fan the issue with the dust will mostly be the same.
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I started building and fixing PCs in high school. After a couple of years of offering consultancy to a PC repair shop, I became the goto guy for all my acquaintances for PC/Laptop related buying advice or troubleshooting.