Are Aftermarket Coolers Worth it?

Aftermarket CPU cooler

With the hardware development world taking the ‘less power draw’ and ‘lower thermal output’ route, are aftermarket coolers still worth it? 

Modern stock coolers have come a long way. In most cases, they should be enough. But if you want to overclock your CPU, then an aftermarket solution is a must. The same goes if you want the quietest gaming experience.

Of course, not everything is black and white when it comes to building a PC. If you’re thinking of replacing the cooler shipped with your CPU, check out our comprehensive guide to find the best option for you.

What is an Aftermarket Cooler?

Aftermarket coolers don’t come bundled with the processor. They’re sold separately by companies other than the CPU manufacturers. They’re also generally more expensive than stock coolers, but they offer better performance to gaming enthusiasts and heavy PC users. 

Unlike top-down stock coolers, most aftermarket coolers come in tower designs. They offer the best balance between price and performance. They have excellent cooling efficiency and are quiet when not pushed too hard. But not all CPU cases can accommodate them because of their bulky design.

If you want to get the most out of your system, there’s no beating a liquid cooler. They’re simply the best at heat dissipation. Plus, they produce less noise pollution. But they can get quite expensive and are more complicated to install.

Is An Aftermarket Cooler Necessary?

This is a tricky question because it all boils down to your personal preferences and performance requirements. 

How are you going to use your PC? Do you want to overclock your CPU, or do you just want to keep the temperatures low? Do you want the quietest gaming experience possible, or is a bit of noise okay?

If you want to squeeze every bit of performance from your system, an aftermarket solution is a must. But if you have no plans of overclocking and don’t mind a bit of noise when things get heated, you can stick with your stock cooler. It should work just fine, and it’ll also save you a few dollars.

Factor in your needs when deciding whether to get an aftermarket cooler or not. If you’re not going to use your PC for gaming or other CPU-intensive tasks, you’re better off with a stock cooler. There’s no point in getting anything beefier than what came with your CPU if you’re not going to use it anyway. Just hold on to your money or get something that would offer more value to you, like extra RAM. 

Stock Cooler Versus Aftermarket Cooler: Which is Better?

Most stock coolers are low-profile air coolers that work well with low-end processors. But depending on the CPU’s thermal needs, some features may vary. In fact, some of the latest AMD coolers, such as the Wraith PRISM and Wraith Spire, can handle some light overclocking. Of course, expect the fan to cause a ruckus. 

Also, the choice of stock coolers is quite limited. After all, you only get what comes with the processor. But there’s no shortage of aftermarket options.

A stock cooler should work fine for systems using up to an Intel Core i5 or a Ryzen 5 processor. Anything higher than that, you may already need an aftermarket solution, especially if you’re hell-bent on overclocking your CPU.

Processor manufacturers are constantly pushing the envelope for every chip they release. It’s not uncommon to see CPUs with massive heat sinks nowadays. But they still can’t compare to aftermarket coolers when it comes to cooling efficiency.

Do You Need an Aftermarket Cooler If Not Overclocking?

Need? No. Getting one won’t make much difference with normal usage. But a good aftermarket cooler might run quieter. If you don’t mind the noise, most stock coolers can keep the CPU running at safe temperatures.

Is a Stock Cooler Good Enough for Gaming?

It should be enough for casual gaming. But it can get very limiting if you start pushing your CPU. It could start heating up real quick, and high temperature is never good for your system.

That said, some high-end processors are bundled with powerful coolers. They’re enough to keep the computer operational even while gaming, as long as you don’t do heavy overclocking. But you should expect a fair bit of noise. You may also experience some throttling when playing CPU-intensive games.  

When Should You Buy an Aftermarket CPU Cooler?

Most stock coolers get the job done without any problems. Of course, there are instances where you’ll need to upgrade to a better one, such as the following. 

  • Stock cooler is not working properly
  • Need for better cooling
  • Stock cooler is too noisy
  • Gaming
  • Overclocking your CPU

How to Improve Cooler Performance

It’s normal for your cooler’s performance to degrade over time. After all, it’s not meant to last forever. Like every other PC component, a cooler’s lifespan is finite. But there are steps you can take to help prolong its life and improve its performance.

Improve PC case airflow

People often obsess about coolers. So they tend to overlook one basic but important thing: airflow. Your heat sink uses the air surrounding it. You’ll only be wasting your cooling system’s potential if the airflow isn’t correctly set up. 

You can start by improving your PC cable management to let more air in. You can also add more case fans. The more fans you have, the better cooling you get. But that also means more noise. 

You must position your fans carefully for better airflow. Cool air needs to flow in, and hot air needs to flow out. Most case fans have markings that tell you which way air flows. So take note of that when installing them. If you’re not sure, you can attach tissue strips to your fans to see which way the wind blows when you turn them on. 

Use a good thermal paste for your heat sink

Although the surface between the CPU and the cooler’s base plate looks smooth, there are microscopic gaps that the naked eye cannot see. This can result in poor heat transfer. This is where thermal paste comes in. 

It makes the heat transfer from the CPU to the heat sink seamless. Without it, your PC will eventually overheat and fail. A good thermal paste is also a must if you plan to overclock your rig to its full potential. But you don’t just slap it on your CPU. There’s a proper way of applying thermal paste.

Clean your PC

It isn’t always the cooler’s fault when your CPU starts overheating. Sometimes it’s something as simple as dust buildup. Mass amounts of dust clogging the fans can quickly turn up the heat. It doesn’t matter even if you have the best and most expensive aftermarket cooler. You won’t get your money’s worth if you don’t do proper maintenance. 

So make it a point to regularly dust the fans, and don’t forget to clean your heat sink thoroughly while you’re at it. For liquid coolers, make sure you replace the liquid coolant and clean the coolant pipes at least once a year to prevent buildup. 

Close your PC case

You may think you’re helping cool your CPU by keeping the case wide open. But you’re only attracting dust buildup. And we’ve already talked about how that isn’t good for your computer’s overall performance. If you have installed your fans properly, there’s no reason to keep the case open. 

Concluding Thoughts

Whether upgrading or building a new PC, your choice of CPU cooler will impact your system’s noise, temperature, and overall performance. But that doesn’t mean you should replace your sock cooler right away, especially if it’s still doing its job.  
Of course, if you have extra cash to spare, installing a tower or liquid cooler is never a bad thing. But don’t throw away your old one just yet. There are still plenty of things you can do with your old CPU cooler.

Lucas Coulson

I first got into building my own computer when I was around 12 or 13. The first computer I had ever built didn't work. So I kept researching to figure what I did wrong. I really enjoyed researching, learning, and building computers, so I decided to turn it into an online business, and here I am.

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