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Does changing the stock CPU cooler for an after-market one make a difference?

The cooler that came with your PC will does the job. It has to, otherwise, you're buying a faulty product. But doing the job and doing a good job are different things entirely. The Alienware Aurora R5 (opens in new tab) I picked up and reviewed recently came with a pretty puny air cooler over its Core i7 6700 CPU. Not particularly impressive for a high-spec pre-built desktop PC.

Nevertheless, it did the job fairly well. It wasn't particularly loud and overly high temperatures didn't seem to be a thing. But I still decided to take a punt and swap it to see if there was any real improvement.

For science.

And there's no liquid involved here, we're talking air cooler to air cooler.

The process

CPU Cooler

RAM

Changing out the stock cooler is a straight forward process if you've never done it before. The only thing you may have to do — as I did — is remove the motherboard from the PC case to get access to the rear.

In my case, I've gone for a Cryorig C7 (opens in new tab) low profile cooler because of the space restrictions imposed by the compact enclosure of the Aurora R5 case. As it's a universal cooler for both Intel and AMD sockets there's a custom bracket for it to bolt to that anchors on the back of the motherboard. Hence needing to disconnect everything and remove the board from the case.

Cryorig C7

And a pro-tip for anyone else doing this on a Dell or Alienware PC: Dell seems to use crazy adhesive tape to mount its own cooler bracket which isn't exactly a delight to remove. So go in prepared and with patience.

The CPU cooler connects to the motherboard via a single connector that'll most likely be located just above the CPU socket. Once your new cooler is bolted in place, simply plug in and fire up the PC to make sure it's working properly. It's best to do this while the case is still open just to save yourself the effort in the event something is wrong.

The results

3D Mark stress test

Stress test in 3DMark yielded almost identical temperatures.

To be clear, I wasn't expecting a lot from this. It was partly through curiosity, partly through just wanting to squeeze a bigger cooler inside my PC. There are some immediate differences between the stock cooler and the Cryorig, however: Noise.

It's just as quiet under normal, everyday use as the stock cooler, no surprises there. But under load, like when gaming, it's definitely quieter. It's a larger cooler with a much larger fan, but it's also better when it comes to noise. This is almost certainly a benefit you'd expect on any aftermarket cooler over the stock option. Some, like the Be Quiet Shadow Rock (opens in new tab) are specifically targeted at those looking for the quietest possible choice.

Under a quick stress test using the 3DMark suite there wasn't any real difference in CPU temperature. Where there is an improvement is in how quickly the temperature dropped again after the load was withdrawn and how cool the CPU is during normal use.

Temperatures from the built-in AW Command software.

Temperatures from the built-in AW Command software.

In this circumstance, the temperatures are about 4-5 degrees celsius lower than the old, stock cooler, and it cools down quicker than the old one did. The CPU fan rarely goes above 20% unless doing something stressful, the same being said of the intake and exhaust fans built into the case.

So, there is an improvement, albeit a mild one in this case. It's quieter under load and quicker to cool with a lower standard operating temperature. It's certainly more efficient that what went before it.

So why change at all?

PC cooler

Now THAT'S a cooler (Image credit: Windows Central)

In my case, I was limited to what sort of cooler I could use because of the confines of the Aurora's case. It had to be a low profile cooler, and while there is an improvement it's nothing dramatic.

Generally speaking, a larger, more efficient cooler will be better for keeping the CPU cool, especially if you plan on doing any form of overclocking or lengthy stress, such as VR. It's not as simple as the bigger the better, though. Look for the design, the number of heat pipes, quality and size of fans etc.

You could also skip the air cooler entirely and go for an all-in-one liquid cooler. You don't have any fans over the top of the CPU in this kind of setup, instead attaching a block which connects to a radiator via liquid-filled tubes.

Keeping temperatures in line is important for the stability and longevity of your system. With a CPU like the i7 6700 I won't be overclocking (the 6700K would be the choice there), so an air cooler is working fine to maintain a stable, cool system for me. What you're going to do with your PC will determine the cooling route you need to go down.

But if you're going to be pushing it a lot, probably avoid the stock in-box cooler. Sometimes "good enough" isn't quite good enough.

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

11 Comments
  • yes
  • While overclocking is nice and all, I change out my cooler for the express purpose of peace and quiet. I'm surprised the only metric measured for this article was thermal. I know for most, heat is the priority. But it is not the only reason to consider ditching the stock cooler.
  • agreed!!! The temperatures are not as high as in the mid 2005 era. Nowadays CPUs are much cooler because the advanced 14nm technology
  • "will does the job"? C'mon Rich 😜 Anyway, nice article, but even though expected would have liked to also see you do a similar comparison with a liquid unit, just for completeness's sake.
  • does it have access for any water pipes?
  • Considering my AMD FX system requires a fan setup that sounds like a jet-plane taking off, I'm not too concerned about sound at this point. All I care is that the cooler has enough capacity to free all those angry watts in there.
  • FX was a mess, yeah. Ryzen is doing a LOT better on the TDP front, and the high-end Wraith coolers AMD offers seem to be really good, about as good as something in the lower price brackets of third-party (think the Hyper 212 EVO).
  • Gonna be upgrading to Ryzen probably later this year when the price comes down a bit. Looking forward to something that's a little less power hungry, especially since it looks like my next apartment won't have utilities included in the rent, gonna have to buy the electricity myself 😬
  • The price isn't going to come down. In fact, it shouldn't have to. AMD is beating Intel on price with Ryzen pretty good and well. Ryzen 5's out in a few weeks, that's where you'd want to aim for a mainstream-priced CPU. If you're near a MicroCenter, they usually offer slightly better CPU prices than places like Amazon and Newegg, but only in-store. They also do combo pricing when you buy a board to go with it.
  • Absolutely yes, only by choosing a good aftermarket cooler. Coolermaster, zalman and noctua are the best ones for me. Arctic works good also at a cheaper price.
  • Does the pope **** in the woods?