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How to Know If a CPU Cooler Works With Your PC

Upgrade or PC assembly concept. Technician installs a new motherboard with a large CPU cooler in a computer case

How to Know If a CPU Cooler Works With Your PC

Key Points

  • A CPU cooler pulls heat away from the computer’s CPU and GPU to keep them at safe temperatures.
  • To determine if a CPU cooler will work with your PC, check the CPU socket type, TDP rating, and available space.
  • The CPU socket type must match between the cooler and the motherboard.
  • The TDP ratings of the CPU and cooler should also match to ensure proper cooling.
  • Consider the dimensions of the CPU cooler to ensure it will fit in your PC.

In this era of DIY PCs and custom home computer setups, it’s hard to know exactly which parts work with which. Consider this alongside long delivery times, supply chain disruptions, and backorder inventory, it’s a real pain to have to wait weeks (or even months) for a part that doesn’t even end up fitting with your PC anyway. It helps to know whether the part will be compatible before you buy. With this in mind, here’s how you can know if a CPU cooler works with your PC before you check out.

What Is a CPU Cooler?

Heatsink and fan of central processing or the CPU cooler inside pc system unit. Cooling is required to remove the waste heat produced by computer components.
CPU coolers come in many different types, but all achieve the same purpose.

Before we talk about CPU coolers and PC compatibility, we should answer another question first: What is a CPU cooler? It’s this simple: A CPU cooler pulls the heat away from the computer’s central processing unit (CPU) and graphics processor (GPU). In other words, the part cools the CPU. Pretty straightforward, right?

CPU coolers come in many different shapes and sizes (and go by several different names, too). There’s the heat sink, the fan, the closed water loop, and the lot cooler, just to name a handful. Each of these four types accomplishes the same thing: keeping the CPU and GPU chips at safe temps to protect them from heat damage.

Ways to Know If a CPU Cooler Will Work With Your PC

So, how can you know if a CPU cooler will work with your PC? It’s all about socket type, TDP rating, and available space. These three things will help you find out about the part’s compatibility before you buy. Any one of these steps could be enough to answer your question, but it’s best to check all three for the most certainty.

Step One: Verify CPU Socket Type

best lga 1151 cpus
Make sure your socket types match up before you buy.

The best and easiest way to know if a CPU cooler will work with your PC is to check your CPU socket type. This socket connects the CPU to the motherboard. If you know your CPU socket type, then you can compare and contrast it to the part’s. Common types include Pin Grid Array (PGA) and Land Grid Array (LGA). PGAs go with other PGAs, and LGAs go with other LGAs. Think of it like checking the USB type on your phone charger. If the USB types don’t match up, then it’s not going to charge your phone.

Step Two: Check the TDP Rating

Removing an small old CPU cooler from the motherboard. Human hand dismounting an outdated dusty fan, upgrading processor cooling. PC computer heat problems technology abstract concept isolated on red
Both your CPU and CPU cooler will have a TDP rating. Make sure the cooler’s is higher.

Even if your sockets match up, you’ll need to double-check the TDP ratings of both your CPU and cooler. Thermal Design Power (TDP) measures the total watts a part can handle safely. Both the CPU and the CPU cooler have their own TDP ratings. If the two TDP ratings don’t match up, then they won’t make a good pair. That’s because a CPU with a higher TDP rating than its cooler can cause some serious heat damage to the setup. What’s the point of buying the part if it can’t actually cool your CPU?

Step Three: Measure the CPU Cooler

best lga 1155 cpus
Measure the space in your motherboard to ensure you have space for the CPU cooler.

Lastly, let’s think about how much space the CPU cooler will take up. The cooler and the CPU could be a perfect match based on sockets and TDPs, but it’s all for nothing if you don’t have enough room for the part. Look for the part’s length, width, and height. Then, compare those specs to the amount of space you have to work with. If the part is too big, then it’s not worth your time or your money. You need one with the right socket type, a high TDP rating, and the proper dimensions instead.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a CPU cooler?

A CPU cooler does exactly what its name suggests: keeps the temperature of your CPU and GPU at safe, manageable levels to protect the chips from heat damage. Whether it be a heat sink, a fan, or a liquid cooler, the CPU cooler keeps your PC’s most vital components from overheating.

How can you see if a CPU cooler is compatible with your CPU?

CPU cooler and CPU compatibility can be determined in three ways: checking the socket type, checking the TDP rating, and checking the size. Any one of these three considerations should let you know if the cooler and the CPU will be a good fit.

What is socket type?

A CPU cooler will use one of two socket types: a Pin Grid Array (PGA) or a Land Grid Array (LGA). The CPU cooler should clearly state what kind of socket type it uses in the product description.

What is a TDP rating?

A TDP rating, or Thermal Design Power rating, lets you know exactly how much wattage a computer part can handle safely. If the CPU cooler’s TDP rating exceeds that of the CPU itself, then it’s safe to use in your PC setup. If the CPU has a higher rating than the cooler, then the cooler won’t be able to protect the CPU.

Can any CPU cooler fit any motherboard?

No, CPU coolers are not universally compatible. Compatibility depends on the size of the CPU cooler, the type of socket the CPU cooler uses, and the TDP rating of the CPU cooler.

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