The tower of doom
Although the name might not be familiar to everyone, Noctua is an Austrian firm that's been producing cooling gear aimed particularly at reducing system noise levels for a while now. Noctua means "little owl," and according to the company, it stands for intelligent and efficient design over brute force. Large tower coolers with massive fans are about as brutish and forceful as air cooling gets, though, so Noctua has some dazzling to do on the intelligent and efficient design front.
Well-known in the quiet computing crowd for being nearly silent, the NH-U12P is one of Noctua's largest heatsinks. It sells at outlets like NCIX for $55, and comes nicely packaged with a 120 mm fan and plenty of accessories. Included among those accessories is mounting hardware for LGA775 and AM2/3 sockets, but not LGA1366. Noctua does sell a Core i7 compatibility kit for the NH-U12P that runs about $6 online, but they'll also send you the kit in the mail if you've already purchased the cooler and can provide proof of purchase of the heatsink and socket 1366 motherboard.
The mounting hardware packaged with the NH-U12P includes motherboard back plates for both natively supported sockets. Users also have the freedom to orient the cooler's airflow path however they'd like, regardless of the orientation of the underlying socket.
To help keep things quiet, Noctua provides rubber strips to sit between the fan and heatsink. Two voltage reducers are also included in the box to give users a measure of fan speed control. An instruction manual, screwdriver, and some of Noctua's own acclaimed NT-H1 thermal compound rounds out the package.
The heatsink itself is crafted from 37 aluminum fins and four U-shaped heatpipes. Each of the fins is cut in a design that Noctua claims allows for smoother airflow between them, reducing turbulence and noise.
The higher cost of the Noctua gets you not only more overall metal than the Revolution, but also nickel plating throughout, which should keep the NH-U12P looking nice for a long time. While not quite a mirror finish, the base of our sample was free of irregularities that might inhibit thermal transfer.
Between the lustrous nickel plating and the attention to detail on each part of the heatsink, the Noctua heatsink oozes good build quality. Time to check out the other half of the package.
Anyone can throw a standard case fan onto a heatsink, but the 120 mm fan Noctua ships with the NH-U12P has several important characteristics the company claims improve performance. For one, the finish on the front side of each blade is textured to break up air, while the back side is smooth to reduce turbulence. Notches in the trailing blade edges purportedly spread noise generated from air movement over a larger pitch range, lessening the fan's whine.
Installing the NH-U12P took a lot more time than the Kingwin, because I had to remove the motherboard completely to attach the custom back plate. The NH-U12P does weigh more than 1.3 lbs without its fan attached, so there's a lot of load for the retention bracket to bear. Getting the fan to stay on with the provided steel clips was oddly difficult. The first side would pop off as soon as I tried to slip the second one onto the fan. After some choice words and a little luck, I finally finished the install.
Since the NH-U12P is such a large heatsink, it's a good idea to double-check dimensions to ensure your motherboard, memory modules, and enclosure will accommodate the cooler. The Noctua's lowest fin measures 1.6" from the base of the motherboard, which is a little more room than you get with the Kingwin. However, the NH-U12P is bigger overall, measuring 6.1" tall, 5" wide, and 3.9" thick, including the fan.