The Best Low-Profile CPU Coolers in 2021

Building a SFF (small form factor) PC based on an Mini-ITX board carries certain limitations with it. One of the biggest limitations is the CPU cooler height, which has to be shorter than what you have on regular air CPU coolers since most Mini-ITX PC cases are much smaller than regular cases. And finding the best low-profile CPU cooler can be a bit complicated since not all are made for every CPU.

Smaller height usually means limited cooling capability. The smaller the cooler the less performance you can expect. There are some low-profile CPU coolers out there that punch above their weight (or better to say, height) but in most cases the taller a cooler is the better it is at cooling the CPU. The height shouldn’t be an issue if you need a low-profile cooler for a low power CPU, with TDP up to 65W.

But if you want to cool a high-performance CPU you’ll need a beefy low-profile cooler. Today we gathered both models made for low power CPUs as well as a couple of choices for those who need a serious cooling performance in a small package. Here they are:

noctua nh-l9i
  • Dimensions (HxWxD) With Fan: 37mm x 95mm x 95mm
  • Number Of Fans: 1 x 92mm fan
  • Max fan Speed: 2500 RPM
  • Max Official Noise Rating: 23,6 dB(A)
  • Intel LGA1150, LGA1151, LGA1155, LGA1156, LGA1200

The Noctua NH-L9i is an excellent low-profile cooler for those who need an ultra-compact cooling solution. Its maximum height with the fan mounted is just 37mm, which is low enough for even the smallest Mini-ITX cases. It’s also pretty narrow so you don’t have to worry about RAM sticks preventing it from being mounted. And its performance is great regarding its size.

The cooler has pretty good noise levels, even under high load. Max noise is about 41 decibels, which is quite low and shouldn’t bother anyone sans those users who can’t bear any sound coming from their PC. The cooler comes with a low noise adapter that decreases noise even further but lowers performance a bit.

This all works in case you use this cooler with a CPU with up to 65W TPD. In extreme cases (read: amazing airflow inside the case) the Noctua NH-L9i can work with a 100W CPU but that’s not recommended by the manufacturer. This is a great low-profile cooler for low power CPUs but high-end CPUs that support overclocking shouldn’t be paired with it. Finally, the cooler works with Intel CPUs out of the box but you can get the AM4 mounting kit if you have an AMD processor (or you can go for Noctua NH-L9a-AM4).

  • Ultra-Compact Dimensions
  • Low Noise
  • Excellent Performance With Low Power CPUs
  • Not Made For High-End CPUs

Cooler Master MasterAir G200P RGB

The Best Ultra-Compact RGB Low-Profile CPU Cooler

cooler master masterair g200p
  • Dimensions (HxWxD) With Fan: 39.4mm x 92mm x 92mm
  • Number Of Fans: 1 x 92mm fan
  • Max fan Speed: 2600 RPM
  • Max Official Noise Rating: 28 dB(A)
  • LGA1200, LGA1151, LGA1150, LGA1155, LGA1156, AM4, AM3+, AM3, AM2+, AM2, FM2+, FM2, FM1

If you want an ultra-compact CPU cooler but also need RGB support, check out the Cooler Master MasterAir G200P RGB. This is another ultra-compact cooler with max height being just 39.4mm and width only 92mm, in line with the Noctua NH-L9i. This allows the MasterAir G200P RGB to be installed inside almost any SFF case. When it comes to performance the MasterAir G200P RGB is pretty solid.

When tasked to cool the Intel i7-9700K running at stock clock it managed to keep it below 90 degrees Celsius under sustained load. That might look as pretty high but bear in mind that this is a very compact, low profile cooler made to be fitted inside virtually any case on the market. Noise levels aren’t too high. The cooler is pretty silent even under heavy load.

Max TDP rating for this cooler is 100W and as you can see technically, it can keep a 95W TPD CPU below 90 degrees Celsius at stock clocks. But we wouldn’t use this one for high-end CPUs, or god forbid for overclocking. Ideally, you would combine this cooler with something that spends 65W of power and isn’t too hot. Say Ryzen 7 3700X or non-K 10th Gen Intel CPUs.

  • Low Noise
  • Solid Performance
  • RGB Support
  • A Tad Bit Taller Than Noctua NH-L9i
  • Not Made For High-End CPUs

Noctua NH-L9x65

The Best Silent Low-Profile CPU Cooler

noctua nh-l9x65
  • Dimensions (HxWxD) With Fan: 65mm x 95mm x 95mm
  • Number Of Fans: 1 x 92mm fan
  • Max fan Speed: 2500 RPM
  • Max Official Noise Rating: 23.6 dB(A)

If silence is what you’re after and you have a case that can fit a cooler that’s 65mm tall, get the Noctua NH-L9x65. This is a low-profile cooler built for silent operation and when it comes to the noise levels, the NH-L9x65 destroys its competition. Cooling performance is solid, with the max official CPU TDP being 85W.

As you can see this cooler can work with 95W CPUs, just don’t go too far (don’t overclock the CPU) and make sure your case has solid airflow. While the 84 degrees Celsius is technically safe, we definitely wouldn’t OC the CPU. Overall, the Noctua NH-L9x65 is a pretty solid cooler that focuses on silent performance. It’s pretty tall for a low-profile CPU cooler so make sure you can fit it inside your case. On the other hand, it’s just 95mm wide so it’ll fit onto any Mini-ITX motherboard.

  • Extremely Silent
  • Excellent Performance
  • Can Be Used With High-End CPUs
  • Not Made For OC
  • A Bit Tall For A Low-Profile Cooler

Thermaltake Engine 27 1U

Ultra-Compact Low-Profile CPU Cooler For Low Power CPUs

thermaltake engine 27 1u
  • Dimensions (HxWxD) With Fan: 27mm x 91.5mm x 91.5mm
  • Number Of Fans: 1 x 60mm aluminum fan
  • Max fan Speed: 2500 RPM
  • Max Official Noise Rating: 25 dB(A)
  • Intel LGA 1156/1155/1150/1151

The Engine 27 1U from Thermaltake is the most compact cooler on the market that provides acceptable performance. The all-metal design means the fan is made of metal and integrated into the body of the cooler. This allows the Engine 27 1U to be just 27mm tall, by far the shortest cooler on this list.

If you have an ultra-compact SFF case that has extremely low CPU cooler clearance this model could be just what you need. Max CPU TDP of 70W is what we’ve expected from a cooler that’s this compact. Performance is solid, not too shabby but also not exceptional. Noise levels are in the middle of the pack, reaching about 43 decibels at 100 percent RPM. Not quite silent but not ear-shattering.

What you should know is that noise is a high-pitched whine and at 100 percent RPM the noise is unbearable. This is another reason to not use high-end CPUs with this cooler. It’ll work at high RPM at all times and the noise will probably make you insane after some time. We would use this cooler with low power CPUs, up to 65W, that aren’t used for heavy work. Something like HTPC or SFF gaming PC based on a non-K Intel or Ryzen 5 3600. Finally, the Engine 27 1U is a pretty expensive cooler. Get it only if you really need an ultra-compact cooler that’s shorter than 30mm.

  • Solid Performance
  • Ultra-Compact Size
  • High Pitched Whine Can Be Annoying
  • Expensive
  • Not Compatible With Ryzen CPUs

Scythe Big Shuriken 3 CPU Air Cooler

The Best Low-Profile CPU Cooler

scythe big shuriken 3 cpu air cooler
  • Dimensions (HxWxD) With Fan: 69mm x 122mm x 122mm
  • Number Of Fans: 1 x 120mm slim fan
  • Max fan Speed: 1800 RPM
  • Max Official Noise Rating: 30.4 dB(A)

The Big Shuriken 3 from Scythe offers both compact dimensions and high enough performance for high-end CPUs such as the i9-9900K, Ryzen 9 3900X, or i9-10900K. At 69mm this cooler is taller than most other low-profile coolers. It’s also pretty wide at 122mm. Double-check your case clearance specs before getting this one since a good number of compact SFF cases won’t be able to fit the Big Shuriken 3.

If you manage to fit it, expect excellent performance. This model will keep the CPU temps at acceptable levels no matter the load. And when the fan is at 100 percent RPM it even surpasses a good number of air and AIO coolers (those are working on silent profiles, mind you), which is an amazing result. Noise levels are also praiseworthy. Even at 100 percent RPM, the fan reaches only about 35 decibels. Under normal load expect the noise to stay below 30 decibels.

If you want to build a high-end SFF gaming PC, this cooler is the best choice on the market. It will be able to keep even the most demanding CPUs, such as the 9900K or 10900K, under check. You can even try overclocking the CPU if your case has good enough airflow. In fact, this is the best low-profile CPU cooler for overclocking. Just don’t go too far and replace the default fan with something beefier such as the Noctua NF-F12. Do mind that adding the NF-F12 will increase the height of the cooler from 69mm to 77mm.

  • Superb Performance
  • Can Be Used With High-End CPUs
  • Performance Is High Enough To Allow Overclocking The CPU
  • Competitive Price
  • Chunky For A Low-Profile Cooler

ARCTIC Alpine 12 LP

The Best Budget Low-Profile CPU Cooler

arctic alpine 12 lp
  • Dimensions (HxWxD) With Fan: 42.2mm x 95mm x 95mm
  • Number Of Fans: 1 x 120mm fan
  • Max fan Speed: 2000 RPM
  • Max Official Noise Rating: 0.3 Sone @ 2000 RPM
  • LGA 1151, 1150, 1155, 1156

The Alpine 12 LP from ARCTIC sports an incredibly low price and delivers a solid performance. Its height is only 42.2mm so you’ll be able to install this one into almost any SFF case. Performance is in line with the Noctua NH-L9i; enough for CPUs with up to 65W TDP but we wouldn’t use anything more potent with this cooler. Noise should also stay in line, as long as you don’t use the CPU for heavy-duty work such as rendering for hours or such.

Noise levels are also pretty solid. This isn’t the most silent cooler around but it isn’t among the loudest low-profile coolers either. This is a great replacement for stock Intel and AMD coolers and it should work best in NAS or HTPC SFF builds. You can get it for your SFF gaming rig, just remember that any CPU over 65W TDP is a no go.

  • Sells For Peanuts
  • Solid Performance For The Price
  • Isn’t Compatible With Ryzen CPUs

How To Choose A Low-Profile CPU Cooler

Getting a low-profile CPU cooler means you own or plan to build a small form factor PC, based on a Mini-ITX case. That carries a few things inherent with Mini-ITX cases:

  • Less than perfect airflow
  • CPU cooler clearance that varies from case to case
  • Tight room for components

These issues, if you want to call them like that, can affect even the best low-profile CPU coolers. Let’s explain how they affect coolers and at the same time, what to look for when in the market for a low-profile CPU cooler.

Clearance and CPU Support

Each Mini-ITX case features a different clearance for the CPU cooler. Some cases can host even regular size coolers while others are limited to the most compact low-profile coolers around. This means that finding a perfect cooler is more than finding one with great cooling performance and relatively low noise.

Before pulling the trigger, check dimensions of the said cooler and see whether it’s too tall for your case. Then, check whether the cooler isn’t too wide for your PC. Even the best Mini-ITX motherboards have limited space for different ports and slots since they are rather small so RAM sticks can prevent your cooler from being installed more often than it’s the case with regular boards. So, check whether a specific cooler is too wide for your PC before buying it.

Finally, low-profile coolers have lesser cooling performance compared to regular air and water CPU coolers, which is expected regarding their size. This means your CPU will run hotter than if it were part of a regular-sized PC. This also means that you have to be extra careful if you own a high-end CPU.

These processors require lots of juice and can emit tons of heat. Some of the best CPU coolers are reserved for those high-end processors, and they are miles ahead of low-profile ones when it comes to the raw cooling performance. So, check whether the cooler you’ve picked is physically able to keep your CPU at default clocks before deciding to buy it. You can scourge through forums or official reviews. Some manufacturers, such as Noctua, have in-depth pages listing all compatible CPUs for each cooler they produce.

Mind The Noise

Cramped space inside SFF cases means less airflow which leads to fans having to work harder to ensure components are running at acceptable temperatures. Higher RPM numbers mean more noise. And some low-profile CPU coolers can be rather noisy when near or at their peak RPM.

If you’re someone who doesn’t like noise check noise levels during gaming sessions, these numbers should provide the best approximation of how loud the cooler is. Most reviews include noise levels under normal load, along with stress tests that torture the cooler to its limits.

Stress tests are great to see just how much performance a cooler can deliver, but they aren’t the best way to check for noise levels. Almost every air-based cooler will emit noticeable noise levels when put under extreme load.

No, You Probably Don’t Want To Overclock The CPU

Finally, if you’re building a small form factor PC and plan on getting a CPU that supports overlocking, think twice before doing that, especially if you want to put the build in a small Mini-ITX case that doesn’t support lots of case fans and that has less than great airflow. But great airflow and Mini-ITX case don’t go one with another so even if you get a case with great airflow for a Mini-ITX form factor it won’t have the same airflow levels as Micro ATX or Mid and Full Tower cases.

If you really want to do it well, either get the most powerful low-profile cooler you can find or an AIO. And remember that, even with the best low-profile CPU cooler around you won’t get great OC results. It’s simple, low-profile CPU coolers aren’t built for overclocking the CPU and they shouldn’t be used for that.

About The Author

Goran Damnjanovic

Goran studied psychology but video games and PC hardware were much more interesting. On top of that he likes writing so he decided to become a writer. And it was the right choice. Other than games and hardware, Goran is interested in basketball, Sci-Fi literature, and music.

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