All right, moving onto overclocked performance, we're going to look at load numbers exclusively. Yes, we collected idle data, but it's pretty meaningless, so we're just going to save everyone time by skipping right over it.
We really like CPU-z because we view it as the best approximation of an actual high-intensity application. It produces a heavy load without venturing into "power virus" territory. And in this realistic overclocked test, we see that the Arctic and Scythe coolers put up the best numbers, with every other cooler far behind in terms of thermals or noise. Impressively, none of these coolers is run ragged in this test, as we can't pick out a single one that is both running really hot and really loud. We didn't love the sound of the SilverStone, but at least its thermals were decent. And while the slim NH-L12S is probably at its limit, at least it maintains its composure, providing a very good noise profile right at the edge of its useful thermal range.
This torture test proved too much for a couple of the challengers, which led to a complete system crash and stopped testing prematurely. That means the results for the slim NH-L12S and the RGB-lit Cryorig H7 aren't reliable. As for the rest, well, only the Fuma Rev. B really had what it took to handle the massive heatwave created by our overclocked eight-core CPU running full bore, with the rest either getting dangerously close to thermal overload, or just running way too loud.
Now, as we mentioned at the outset, we received so many product samples in response to our request for AM4 coolers that we simply had to break the test into two separate articles. Luckily, because we conducted the liquid cooler shootout on the very same AM4 platform, we can actually show you how the seven air coolers in this shootout compare to the four liquid coolers in our earlier shootout, as well as the reference NH-D15 air cooler, which happens to be the most powerful air cooler on the market. Get ready for the coup de grâce, dear readers:
This graph is so big that you'll need to click on it to expand it in your browser, and once you do, you'll be able to feast your eyes on overclocked CPU-z benchmarks for no fewer than a dozen coolers, all tested on the same platform over the course of one month. If you think that was a lot of work, you're right on the money! And what this shows, to our amazement, is that a few of the air coolers are just behind the liquid coolers in terms of thermal performance. In fact, the Scythe Fuma and Arctic Freezer 33 actually slide right on past the "best" air cooler in the world, the Noctua NH-D15, which costs nearly twice as much. Oh my, oh my. That being said, the best liquid coolers still rule the roost, specifically the Reeven Naia 240 at $110 and the Thermaltake Water 3.0 280 at $150. They offer the tantalizing combination of better performance and lower noise levels. No, they don't offer better performance per dollar, but when you want extreme performance, you better be willing to pay for it, and both of these models deliver it in spades.
The Final Tally
OK, let's work the numbers to get a better understanding of where all the challengers landed. We assigned each cooler a rank from 1 (worst) to 7 (best) in five different categories: ease-of-use, aesthetics, noise, performance, and price. We then added up the results to arrive at a final score, with a higher score being better.
The Performance Winner: This one's easy. By virtue of its flat-out mesmerizing performance, the Scythe Fuma Rev. B runs away from the pack. As we noted above, it in fact beat the Noctua NH-D15 that we previously tested, despite coming in at half the price. This is a serious win-win. But it's not perfect. The Fuma has some pretty bad RAM clearance issues, it's surprisingly hard to install, and didn't look great in our system because we had to lift the fan way above the RAM slots. But in terms of price/performance, oh my goodness, it's in a league of its own!
Runner Up: You may note that the Scythe Mugen 5 Rev. B ended up with an identical score to the Fuma, but it couldn't be a more different cooler. We actually asked Scythe up front why it offered two 120mm coolers at the same pricepoint, and we got what turned out to be a very accurate answer: the Fuma is designed for flat-out performance, and the Mugen is designed for compatibility, ease of use, and quiet operation. If you're more interested in a positive user experience than pushing your system to the max, we actually recommend the Mugen over the Fuma, especially considering that it comes with the wonderful new Kaze Flex fan. We should note that the Noctua NH-U12S actually bested the Mugen in just about every regard, with one glaring exception: price. It's just too expensive for a 120mm cooler, and we've told Noctua as much. At $60, you should be looking at a 140mm model, for example the Noctua NH-U14S, our favorite cooler ever released.
The New Reference Low-Profile Cooler: Right from the start, we knew that Noctua's NH-L12S wasn't going to challenge the big tower coolers. But given that this was Noctua's first new cooler in over two years, and its only cooler to include both Intel and AM4 brackets in the box, it deserved a look. And based on our benchmarks, it's the new reference cooler for low-profile systems. Offering Noctua's trademark ease-of-use and top-notch accessory package, a fantastic custom-designed slimline fan that allowed it to run in absolute silence at idle (literally, no noise), and very reasonable performance given its 70mm height, it's the only low-profile cooler we'll be recommending for systems with sufficient clearance. It's simply superior to everything else on the market, and while you can save $5-10 going with competitor's offerings, you're going to lose in the end.
As for the rest, well, they were good, but they weren't great. The Arctic Freezer 33 eSports Edition was a very competent cooler, and would have done better in this roundup if it weren't for the existence of the Scythe Fuma. And the SilverStone AR03, well, if all you care about is thermal performance, its ultra-high RPM fan will get you that at very low cost, but we think this model's due for an update sometime soon. Finally, it's with regret that we have to give a "no-buy" recommendation to the Cryorig H7 Quad Lumi. Given that the original H7 won our previous 120mm cooler shootout, we had high hopes, but they were dashed. Cryorig has not improved performance, and at nearly twice the MSRP, the Quad Lumi doesn't get a pass simply for adding RGB lighting. If you really want sweet lighting on a cooler, step way up to Thermaltake's gorgeous Floe 280 Liquid Cooler, which has the performance and quiet operation to back up its good looks.
That's it for now, and we mean for a while! We're done testing coolers for 2017, and maybe for 2018 as well! In the meantime, check out all our CPU cooler recommendations at every price point in the CPU Cooler Buyer's Guide, updated quarterly!