Life in the lab with Noctua’s CPU coolers

Modern PC hardware has a shorter shelf life than the average teenage idol. While it’s common for CPUs, graphics cards, and other components to remain serviceable for years after their initial releases, most retire to closet file servers, auxiliary BitTorrent boxes, and other secondary systems far removed from the limelight of an enthusiast’s primary desktop. Can you blame them? With each fresh generation of parts comes better performance, lower power consumption, quieter cooling, and tantalizing new capabilities. The aging stars of yesteryear just can’t keep up.

Obviously, the turnover in some component categories is higher than it is in others. Playing games on a three-year-old graphics card involves more trade-offs than living with a case of the same vintage, for example. Cases can remain in their prime through multiple upgrade cycles, which is why we tend to recommend spending a little extra money on a good one. After living with a handful of Noctua heatsinks for a few months, I’m inclined to put CPU coolers in the same category.

That sentiment might surprise you given the socket specification changes we’ve witnessed in just the last few years. Although AMD has maintained the same basic heatsink retention system since Socket AM2 debuted with the original Phenom, Intel has altered its retention hole pattern twice since the Pentium 4 arrived on LGA775. The upcoming Sandy Bridge-E replacement for six-core Gulftown CPUs will ride in an LGA2011 socket with yet another retention scheme.

Some cooler makers offer upgrade kits that can be purchased to adapt older heatsinks to newer sockets. Noctua has upgrade kits, too, but you don’t have to pay for ’em. Send the company a proof of purchase for your original cooler and another proof for an LGA2011 motherboard, and you’ll be shipped a socket upgrade kit free of charge.

We were pleasantly surprised to learn about this free upgrade program when we met with Noctua at Computex in Taipei, Taiwan this year. Noctua seemed to be the only heatsink maker at the show not pimping a line of iPad accessories, gaming headphones, or multi-button mice, so we actually spent a fair bit of time talking about PC cooling. Impressed with what we heard, we decided to subject Noctua’s latest CPU coolers to service in the Benchmarking Sweatshop to see how they would fare. Shortly thereafter, a rather large box arrived containing the NH-U12P SE2, the NH-D14, and the NH-C14 (which are arranged from left to right in the picture above).

In some respects, these coolers use radically different designs. Numerous attributes are consistent across all three, however, including price tags that put these products firmly in premium territory.

Let’s tackle the similarities first, starting with the interface between the heatsink and the CPU. As you can see in the picture above, Noctua doesn’t polish the CPU block to a mirror finish. The surface is flat, but it features an array of tiny grooves designed to encourage the uniform dispersion of high-viscosity thermal compounds. Noctua claims there’s a higher risk of uneven compound dispersion with perfectly smooth surfaces, at least with the thicker thermal paste that’s common these days. Presumably, the grooves are less ideal for use with thinner thermal compounds that are applied with a brush rather than squeezed from a syringe.

To ensure a consistent thermal interface, Noctua solders the heatpipes not only to the wrap-around CPU block, but also to each of the attached radiator fins. All of the fins feature flat profiles devoid of the golf-ball-style dimples that have appeared on some aftermarket heatsinks. Dimpling can add surface area and improve aerodynamics, but Noctua says it experimented with different surface treatments and ultimately preferred the neutral characteristics of the flat profile. That’s not to say that the fins are free of shaping, however. The serrated edges of the fins that make up the NH-D14’s radiators look like they’ve been designed to shred flesh.

Indeed, all three coolers feature different patterns on the edges of their fins. I suspect there’s an aerodynamic explanation behind each pattern, but Noctua wouldn’t share it with me. While the company was more than happy to provide detailed answers to most of my technical questions, it wasn’t keen on revealing all of the secrets behind its designs.

The company did, however, comment on materials, noting that the price of copper has risen quite a bit over the years. Although it’s become more expensive to do so, all of Noctua’s heatsinks continue to use copper pipes and blocks.

While some heatsinks seem eager to show off their tanned copper pipes, Noctua wraps them in nickel-plating. This plating is added to prevent oxidization, which reputable Google sources tell me can reduce copper’s ability to radiate heat to the surrounding air—but not so much to other metal surfaces making direct contact. Nickel plating has better long-term heat transfer properties, and it happens to look pretty slick.

When combined with the bare aluminum fins, the nickel-plated pipes and blocks complete a sterile symphony of elegant industrial design… embellished with fans pulled from Captain Antilles‘ closet. How’s that for an obscure Star Wars reference? The beige and maroon coloring permeates all of Noctua’s fans, and it’s a little unusual to say the least. Noctua is an Austrian company, and the Europeans do dress a little differently than us North Americans, who pick up on trends months or years later—see the current epidemic of skinny jeans.

Those colors will have to catch on for one to have any hope of matching Noctua’s fans with the rest of one PC’s components, although I can see some complementary hues in Asus’ Sabertooth motherboards. Props to Noctua for doing something distinctive on the aesthetic front while maintaining an understated profile. I have to admit, the retro-space-age vibe of these things has really grown on me.

Silent spinners

The novel color scheme resides solely on the fans, which are specifically designed for the task of pushing air efficiently through the narrow gaps between fins of a radiator. Noctua uses nine large, tightly packed blades that cut the air at a low angle to maximize the pressure. A separate family of more propeller-like fans is tailored for use on enclosure walls or with coolers that have wider fin spacings.

There are two different fan designs found on the trio of coolers that has been making the rounds on my test rack: the 120-mm NF-P12 and its P14 brother, which measures 140 mm across. Both models rely on the same core set of technologies.

Let’s start with the most obvious attribute: the pair of notches cut into the trailing edge of each fan blade. Noctua calls these vortex-control notches, and they’re meant to reduce turbulence, resulting in quieter, more efficient operation. The notches are staggered slightly from blade to blade to spread any noise they create across a wider spectrum to blend in more easily with background noise.

The DC motor charged with generating the actual airflow is a custom Noctua design. According to the company, the motor offers smoother transitions between its coils than lesser motors—another win for silence and efficiency. Noticing a trend here?

The oil-pressure bearing has also received some special attention in the form of a magnet that helps to stabilize the rotating axis and to prevent any abrasion during initial spin-up. Keeping the spindle pristine improves long-term stability, Noctua says, and it backs up the talk with an impressive 150,000 MTBF rating for the fans and a six-year warranty.

We’ll test noise levels in a moment, but before that, I should point out one disappointing characteristic of these spinners: they use three-pin DC headers that are incompatible with the temperature-based fan speed switching on some motherboards. Noctua was unhappy with the subtle switching noise it detected on the speed-control ICs associated with four-pin PWM fans, so it set about designing a quieter one for the Focused Flow fan we saw out on display at Computex. Unfortunately, that fan hasn’t hit the market yet.

The Focused Flow has integrated rubber bumpers, but Noctua relies on separate strips to dampen vibration noise with its current coolers. On the NH-D14 and C14, a slick clip mechanism is anchored to the fans with rubber stoppers that poke through the screw holes. The clips hold the fans securely to the heatsinks and are easy to fasten and remove, which is a definite improvement over the simpler design found on the NH-U12P SE2 and more than a few of the other air towers I’ve used over the years:

A bracket for all sockets

I led by talking about Noctua’s socket upgrade policy, so forgive me for taking this long to talk about the actual retention bracket that makes this possible. Out of the box, the bracket is compatible with all desktop sockets from AMD since Socket AM2 and from Intel since LGA775. The design is a simple one: two screws anchor the CPU block to posts that poke out of retention bars one screws into the motherboard.

On AMD sockets, the bars screw directly into the existing backplate. Spacers raise the bars to the correct height, and all one has to do is make sure they’re oriented in the right direction. Alas, this setup doesn’t provide the option of rotating a cooler’s orientation by 90 degrees to avoid specific clearance conflicts.

There are no such problems with the Intel retention kit, which has the luxury of slipping into holes arranged in a perfect square. The problem is, that square comes in three different sizes and with different back plates, so a more elaborate bracket is required. Noctua supplies a rubber-lined backplate with a pull-away section for sockets newer than LGA775. There are three distinct notches cut into each of the backplate’s arms to match different hole spacings, plus posts, spacers, and a set of thumbnuts to secure the retention bars to the mobo.

Don’t have a screwdriver? Noctua provides a rather lengthy one with each of its coolers. The long reach and thin profile is necessary to get at the retention screws on the block, which are inaccessible on all but the NH-C14 without removing at least one fan. On the C14, you can thread the screwdriver between the fan blades and the gaps built into the radiator itself.

Using these coolers primarily in my lab, where systems are pulled apart and reassembled on different motherboards sometimes several times in one day, I quickly found myself frustrated with the retention mechanism. Everything fits together nicely, and the screw threads tolerate multiple installations without losing their grip, but there’s a lot of pulling fans and fiddling with the screwdriver.

Most coolers of this size require some disassembly before they can be removed, so the Noctuas are hardly unique in this aspect—the retention system is just less than ideal for quick swaps. For the typical user, who will assemble his system once and then go months if not years before touching it again, the retention bracket will work just fine. Just keep in mind that you’ll need access to the underside of the CPU socket in order to add the backplate to Intel systems.

Three coolers

So, on to the coolers. Let’s start with the NH-U12P SE2, which is the cheapest of the trio at $63 online. This dual-fan air tower is a souped-up version of the original NH-U12P we faced off against a water-cooling system a couple of years ago.

The NH-U12P SE2 measures 4.7″ x 5.0″ x 6.2″ (120 x 126 x 158 mm) and tips the scales at 2.1 lbs (940 g). Noctua has even more detailed measurements for all the coolers available on its website, but the important one to keep in mind here is 1.6″ (40 mm), which is the distance between the base of the block and the lowest point on the radiator stack—the DIMM clearance, in other words.

Each of the NH-12P SE2’s 120-mm fans spins at 1,300 RPM by default. Noctua also includes in-line resistors that’ll knock the speed of each fan down to a low-noise 1,100 RPM or an ultra-low-noise 900 RPM. There are individual resistors for each fan and a Y-cable to connect both leads to a single motherboard header.

If one radiator and quad heat pipes aren’t enough, the NH-D14 provides upgrades on both fronts. This behemoth sells for a whopping $86, and it’s easy to see where the extra money is going: more pipes and a second radiator.

The NH-D14 links a pair of radiators with six heatpipes that blossom up from the CPU block. In between those radiators sits a 140-mm fan, while a 120-mm one clings to the outside of one of the cheese graters. There is 1.7″ (44 mm) of clearance under the radiator, and the side-mounted fan can be pushed way up either of the twin towers to stay out of the way of taller memory modules or VRM heatsinks.

Interestingly, the NH-D14 is missing the pair of thin metal rods used to stabilize the radiators on the C14 and U12P. Perhaps due to that omission, one of our D14’s radiators curves ever-so-slightly away from the CPU block, which is somewhat disappointing given the precise engineering on display elsewhere. Bending it back required more force than I was willing to exert on the toothy radiator with my bare hands.

All told, the NH-D14 weighs 2.7 lbs (1240 g) with appropriately plump 5.5″ x 6.2″ x 6.3″ (140 x 157.5 x 160 mm) proportions. The 140-mm fan spins naturally at 1,200 RPM, while the 120-mm unit ticks over 100 RPM faster. Both can be knocked down to 900 RPM with the included ultra-low-noise adapters.

Don’t have the vertical clearance for a tower? The NH-C14 cocks its radiator at 90 degrees and uses the fans to blow down on the socket. There are six heatpipes in total, and a separate support piece bears some of the weight of the radiator.

This comparatively low-slung design has 5.5″ x 6.5″ x 5.1″ (140 x 166 x 130 mm) dimensions, and you can lop about an inch (25 mm) off its height by ditching the top-mounted fan. For those who require more than the 1.5″ (38 mm) of clearance between the CPU block and the bottom-mounted spinner, the bottom fan can be removed to raise the roof on the RAM to 2.5″ (64 mm).

As on the NH-D14, the C14’s 140-mm fans rotate their blades at 1,200 RPM unless one attaches the resistor-based adapters. The low-noise adapter slows the fans to 900 RPM (which oddly qualifies for ultra-low-noise status on the D14), while the ultra-low-noise resistor cuts them to 750 RPM.

Despite having a single radiator, the NH-C14 sells for only $1 less than the D14. There isn’t much more metal here than there is on the NH-U12P SE2; the C14 weighs in at an even kilogram, or 2.2 lbs.

The verdict

I’ve said more about these coolers than I expected to, and Noctua is to blame. The company’s website is rife with detailed technical explanations of its design philosophies, which makes me feel like a nerd in science class—in a good way. But talk is cheap, and it’s time to see how these coolers perform. For our comparative testing session, I set up an open test bench based on an X58 motherboard with an old-school Core i7-920 overclocked to 3.36GHz on 1.28V. This chip dates back to the original Nehalem launch, so it runs warm enough to be a good test of cooling performance.

To ensure low ambient noise levels, the rest of the system was outfitted with quiet components, including a silent SSD, a passively cooled graphics card, and one of Corsair’s AX650W PSUs. While one would enable automatic fan speed controls in a normal system, we’ve disabled them here to ensure an even playing field for all the fans. Cooling performance was tested at idle and under an eight-way Prime95 load using the app’s maximum-heat torture test. CPU temperatures were monitored using RealTemp, and we used the temperature of the hottest core (which was always core 0, by the way). For competition, we called upon a classic: a Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme with a single 120-mm fan. In its heyday, the eXtreme cost about the same as the NH-U12P SE2, making it a worthy opponent for the Noctua coolers.

At idle, there’s only a four-degree spread between the various cooling configurations. That delta grows to five degrees under load, so we’re not talking about huge differences in CPU temperatures.

Only the NH-D14 provides better cooling performance than the Ultra-120, and then only by one degree under load. That said, all three Noctua designs are within one degree of the Thermalright competition when running their fans at full speed. Adding in-line resistors to the Noctua fans only ups the temperatures by a few degrees at most.

Employing the low- and ultra-low-noise adapters has a much more pronounced impact on noise levels, which was immediately apparent in our near-silent test environment. To monitor noise levels accurately, a TES-52 digital sound level meter was placed 12″ from the edge of the system and out of the direct path of airflow. Since the fans were running at a constant speed, we only tested noise levels at idle.

My ears didn’t deceive me—there’s a huge difference in noise levels between the various fan speeds. Without the adapters in place, the NH-D14 and C14 are both louder than the Thermalright cooler. Throw resistors into the mix, and the noise generated by those coolers drops by an impressive 7-10 decibels.

The NH-U12P SE2 looks particularly good here, registering the lowest noise levels of the bunch with all speed settings. Noctua’s fans are so quiet that two of them generate less noise than the one fan Thermalright slaps on the Ultra-120.

These results are too limited in their scope to give us a exact read on where the Noctua heatsinks sit in the vast continuum of coolers currently on the market. I’m a little hesitant to draw definitive conclusions as a result, but a few things are pretty clear. The most obvious is the fact that the NH-D14 and C14 don’t offer substantially lower CPU temperatures than the U12P SE2, which costs about $20 less. I can see paying the premium for the C14’s unique profile, but it’s harder to make the case for the D14 unless you’re really worried about thermals. If lower temperatures are your primary goal, the all-in-one water coolers found in the D14’s price range are probably a better option.

For most enthusiasts, the NH-U12P SE2 provides the best balance of acoustics, cooling performance, and overall value of the three models. $63 may sound like a lot to spend on a CPU cooler when perfectly competent alternatives can be had for half the price. I doubt those cheaper offerings will be nearly as quiet, though. They won’t have six-year warranties, and good luck the next time AMD or Intel transitions to a new desktop socket.

Countless CPU heatsinks have passed through our labs over the years, and the NH-U12P SE2 is easily my favorite. I like the thing so much that it’s going into the new PC I’m slowly assembling for myself. Once that system is up and running, I’ll no doubt be tasked with another cooler review and have to pull out the U12P for comparative reference. When that happens, I’m going to go out and buy a new one instead. The NH-U12P SE2 is that good.

Comments closed
    • paralou
    • 8 years ago

    Hi,
    We use Noctua coolers for years with great satisfaction.
    Latest example:

    Computer case Lian-Li PC V2120
    ASUS P9X79 Deluxe motherboard
    Intel Core i7-3960X processor
    Noctua NH-D14 cooler ( a real dinosaure on a tennis cour !)
    G.Skill DDR3 8 x 4GB 32GBZL
    OCZ VeroDrive3 x2 240GB (testing)
    nVIDIA Quadro FX 5800 graphics card
    Plextor DVD
    Corsair 1200 Watts power supply

    Installing Windows 7 Pro 64 bit (some technical install problems due to the X9 motherboard)

    No other drives connected yet !

    Temprature CPU: +33°C / +91°F
    Temperatue motherboard: +35°C / +95°F
    CPU Fan 1 Speed: 505 rpm
    CPU Fan 2 Speed: 418 rpm
    The four (4) case fans are running between 650 rpm and 850 rpm.

    CPU Q-Fan control = Active

    PS: The two fans from the Noctua NH-D14 do have 4 pins each and checking the BIOS Screen from the motherboard, they continuously are variating the rpm according to the temperature of the CPU !

    The motherboard has 2 connexions for CPU !

    There is no sound difference between computer ON/OFF !
    Sorry for my spelling but i’m a french speaking person !

    Regards,
    Jean

    • anotherengineer
    • 8 years ago

    I have been running an older NH-U12P for awhile now and been very pleased with it. A lot better quality that the 212+ and the corsair A50

    I have swaped out the noctua fan for an 800rpm scythe s-flex with FDB though, under fan control (idle) fan turns about 500rpm.

    silence is golden, now if I could only afford a 256GB M4 I could pull the noisy WD black.

    • pullmyfoot
    • 8 years ago

    Little mistake.

    “Although AMD has maintained the same basic heatsink retention system since Socket AM2 debuted with the original Phenom”

    Phenom should say Athlon

      • axeman
      • 8 years ago

      64

        • derFunkenstein
        • 8 years ago

        And even then I believe it’s different between S939 and S754. It’s only stabilized with AM2.

          • Bauxite
          • 8 years ago

          I believe S939 would be the earliest socket that used this mounting format. It appears they are going with the “If it ain’t broke” method. My guess is they will keep using it until there is an actual mechanical reason for a change.

          I wish Intel would take a cue from this, while I prefer their square patterns (although it doesn’t matter with premium heatsinks) they could have put 4 holes reasonably far apart years ago and stuck with it like AMD. Its one thing to change the socket to support new tech but the overall size of assembled cpus has been quite stable.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 8 years ago

      The original Athlon rode in a Slot-A cartridge. Heatsinks from that era are definitely not compatible with modern processors.

        • Firestarter
        • 8 years ago

        Well I did manage to get an old Alpha heatsink (slot 1) to fit rather well on a Socket 370 Tualatin, by sawing away some of the fins and using a standard clamp to fit it to the socket. I guess you could pull the same trick today. You’d probably need 2 of those screaming Delta’s to get even adequate performance out of it though.

    • mboza
    • 8 years ago

    Shame the measurements aren’t comparable to older reviews.

    I really like the Noctua coolers, but they always seem a little disappointing when you compare the results to the price and the technical bits on their website, compared to the TRUE and other towers.

    • SnowboardingTobi
    • 8 years ago

    I know how good TRUE coolers are (I’ve got one with the older Noctua fans), but for those that don’t know how well they perform, it would have been nice to see a stock cooler on the graphs just to see where your money is going towards.

    • chrissodey
    • 8 years ago

    Once I bought a Corsair H50, I have never looked back. The idle temps were very similar to my old Arctic Freezer 7 (one of the best air coolers ever made) so I was a little dissappointed until I started over clocking and the temps didn’t raise nearly as fast as with air coolers. Now we have both Corsair and Antec making a great selection of all-in-one liquid coolers. Why does anyone want to pay Nocuta prices for air?

      • Draphius
      • 8 years ago

      i had an h50 and after 1 hour of a load the temps would start to raise higher and higher till it hit about 85c. with my nh-d14 and my i5 oc’d to 4.8ghz i only get into the 60c range no matter how long it runs, it is a little noiser though then the h50 but i also get the piece of mind knowing that a pump cant fail on me which is y i replaced my h50. fans can fail all they want my d14 can still keep it cool enough with just passive cooling

        • chrissodey
        • 8 years ago

        I guess I should explain how I use my H50 a little better. I don’t use the stock solution. I replaced the stock fan with 2 120mm Silverstone fans on a fan controller. I run them at about 60% of their max speed to keep them quiet. The push pull truly maximizes the efficiency of this cooler. As far as the worry of the pump going out, I’m not. If the system gets too hot it will automatically shut down.

      • mboza
      • 8 years ago

      Where and when do your load temps level off with the H50? With water your CPU will take longer to heat up and cool down, due to the mass of water in the cooling loop that also has to be heated and cooled.

      Fundamentally heat pipes are more efficient at CPU temps than water, and I would be surprised to see any water loop that was better than a tower with a similar fan setup. Where water does win is if you have large radiators (like 3 x 120mm or more), allowing you to have more fans, or at least if you are pumping the water to a radiator outside the case so need fewer case fans. But I think every review of the pre-built water coolers I have seen has them losing to the big towers.

      • BestJinjo
      • 8 years ago

      Simple. Because none of the corsair units can provide the same or better performance as the best air coolers at LOW noise levels.

      A Corsair H80 is about 15*C worse than a $40 Thermalright Macho HR-02 at the same noise levels.
      [url<]http://www.xbitlabs.com/picture/?src=/images/coolers/scythe-mugen-3/zchart_diagr_big.png[/url<] That's to say nothing of the $70-85 air coolers that destroy the more expensive H100. So where would the Corsair H50 fit? It wouldn't do well at high overclocks. So there you have it. The best air coolers cost less, provide similar or better performance at lower noise levels. The question actually should be reversed: With so many awesome air coolers, why does anyone even bother with an H50/60/70/80? Unless you are space constrained or have some personal fear of putting a 1kg cooler on your board, there are at least 5 air coolers that are all superior to any self-enclosed water looped system. The only water system that hands down smokes all air coolers is the XSPC Rasa 750 RS360 WaterCooling Kit [url<]http://www.sidewindercomputers.com/xsra750rswak1.html[/url<] Now that's a water cooling setup worth buying!

        • Draphius
        • 8 years ago

        nah the only water cooling setup worth buying is a custom setup and id say the heatkiller 3.0 has the lockdown on best cpu block. of course building a custom watercooling setup can be scary to get into and if its your first go id recommend not upgrading your main computer because u may be down for a couple weeks while u wait for a part u didnt realize u needed. hands down a custom loop will destroy any kit but the level of difficulty is quite abit higher. kits are a good to get oyur feet wet though so u understand the principles then u can play around from there.

        • Bauxite
        • 8 years ago

        The default fans on the corsair units are mediocre as well, raises the actual price quite a bit.

    • UberGerbil
    • 8 years ago

    I just noticed the NH C12P-SE14 (the single-up-fanned sibling to the reviewed NH-C14) is on sale at NCIX.com in a [url=http://us.ncix.com/products/?sku=60909&vpn=2500K%20%26%20NH%20C12P-SE14&manufacture=Bundle%20Deals&promoid=1316<]combo deal[/url<] with the 2500K for $239.99. That's pretty much a golden invitation to the folks who want to try their hand at painless overclocking.

    • LoneWolf15
    • 8 years ago

    This continues to make me happy with my Thermalright TRUE Black (basically the U120 Extreme) purchase. I needed a bolt-through kit upgrade to go from 775 to Socket 1155, but the kit mounts things a whole lot better, so I’m happy.

    Fan upgrades were easy too –I went from one Scythe S-Flex to two Scythe Kama Flow 2 medium-noise models, and it works quite well and is still fairly quiet. I do wonder how the Ultra 120 Extreme would do with two fans vs. the Noctua.

    • d0g_p00p
    • 8 years ago

    I bought the CoolerMaster Hyper 212 and replaced the fan it came with a Noctua fan, It’s a great combo. However if I was in the market for a HSF today I would no doubt pick up the NH-U12P SE2.

    • helix
    • 8 years ago

    Disclaimer: I don’t (yet) own one of these things, so I don’t have hands on experience.
    That said, just looking at these designs I think you would need an acoustic spectrum analysis to measure the resulting noise. Like “looking inside the dB”. This is as much about acoustics as it is about fluid dynamics.
    To generate a clean tone use a straight even string or membrane. We don’t want that.
    Resonance gets a peak if you have square things. We don’t want that.
    You will have turbulence around where the metal fins cut the air, but if you let a segment of that turbulent flow start a at place that is slightly offset from the segment next to it, the force on the metal by the turbulence will be mixed up and thus evened out. As an oversimplification, think of adding offset sine-waves.
    These are the ramblings of someone with vague memories from a basic course in fluid dynamics. Take it as such.

    You can of course also dampen vibrations with rubber and plastic and stuff but that would not be the clean theoreticists and perfectionist way of solving the problem. Expensive? Yes, but I suspect these guys have more Matlab licensing costs to cover then most of their competitors.

      • helix
      • 8 years ago

      It could of course also be:
      Looks sciencey -> gets guys like me to thing about science -> geek marketing.

        • Draphius
        • 8 years ago

        thats basically what got me to buy my noctua fans and after using them along with a variety of other fans i would rate them lower then other brands simply do to bearing failures and not so great airflow, they are quiet but every one of my noctua fans is out of balance and i know that is doing nothing for the life of the bearings inside em. also it kinda scares me when my 900g heatsink is shaking, whats that gonna do to my mobo after a year or 2. at this point im down to one noctua fan left in my system which will be replaced by a thermalright 140mm fan soon. love the thermalright fan after a month of use so far, 4 pin headers and they arent out of balance, they move more air and they are just as quiet

    • glynor
    • 8 years ago

    I have two of the NH-U12P SE2’s and I just got one of the NH-C14’s for my HTPC case.

    I love them. They’ve been extremely reliable. I have a 120mm Noctua fan that has been running 24/7 for 4 years now, basically without stopping (it is in my firewall), and it is still as quiet as the day I bought it.

    Big fan of their stuff (pun intended).

    • Neutronbeam
    • 8 years ago

    I’ve got the Noctua NH-C12P [precursor to the NH-C14] on my rig but with a more powerful fan from another company. Not being a fan of ridges, I lapped the base down to copper and smoother nickel. Been very happy with the heatsink, and build quality is just outstanding. It’s a premium product but to me it’s worth it.

    • Elsoze
    • 8 years ago

    I’ve had a NH-C14 for a few months now. I got it because of their bracket/upgrade policy. Expensive, but worth it.

    It’s one of the few massive coolers that would fit my setup. Still have an old X3-720 (2.8Ghz). I have 4 sticks of ram close to the CPU. The C14 without the bottom fan fits well, and blows air over the RAM. That’s mostly because it completely hangs over all 4 sticks of RAM 🙂

    When I put the C14 on it and started it up it registered at 17 C idle. Seriously. It has gotta be a little off but I touched the heatsink and it felt cool. Under full load for 15 minutes it topped out around 28 C. When clocked @3.4Ghz it shows 37 C under 15 minutes of full load. I could easily push it higher.

    Oh, and as a bonus, they included extra screws to use the now “extra” fan somewhere else.

    Absolutely fantastic.

    • ModernPrimitive
    • 8 years ago

    I’m no doubt the odd man out but I’ve never been able to get past the beige and brown fans. It wouldn’t keep me from buying one if all other variable called for it but I spent too many years trying to rid myself of beige computers and parts… lol. I’ve no doubts about Noctua being top notch hardware, they just remind me of the Merle Norman cosmetics somehow… 😛

    For nostalgia, my first hi-po heatsink was the Alpha PAL8045. I jumped on the Thermalright bandwagon after that and the last 2 builds have been xigmatek. I would probably go with the 212 EVO right now but not set on any certain one.

    • grantmeaname
    • 8 years ago

    Socket AM2 debuted with the Athlon 64, right?

      • Yeats
      • 8 years ago

      Yup. Athlon 64 (single and dual core) and Sempron. Phenom came later.

    • flip-mode
    • 8 years ago

    Nice article Geoff. I love the quality and the attention to details that Noctua puts into their heatsinks and I’m occasionally tempted to purchase one even though I have no need to. I’ve been rocking a Scythe Ninja since the days of my socket 754 Athlon 64 3000+ and two processors since so I must totally support the idea that it is worth paying more for an excellent heatsink when it will last so long.

    • Chrispy_
    • 8 years ago

    I haven’t read the review yet, but after reading the first paragraph, I have to say that Noctua rocks.

    Quiet, well-made, and future proof. I bought the original variant of the NH-U12P, and that was two socket upgrades ago. Best £40 I ever spent on cooling!

    • Firestarter
    • 8 years ago

    I don’t care which coolers you guys test, as long as you keep making these fricking awesome photos of them! It’s a shame that these little big wonders of nickle-plated copper and aluminium are usually tucked away inside a case.

    • ThorAxe
    • 8 years ago

    Having a D14, two TRUEs and two U12Ps I can safely say that the D14 whips them in terms of performance and noise.

    An 800MHz overclock on a Core i7 920 resulted in a greater than 6C win for the D14 over my trusty TRUE. It is true that as fan speeds increase the TRUE catches up but at the expense of noise.

      • BestJinjo
      • 8 years ago

      The review didn’t overclock the i7 920 enough. Most can do 4-4.2ghz. D14 really shines with much greater load, such as 2600k @ 4.9-5.0ghz. It makes no sense to get a D14 and only overclock an i7 to 3.3-3.4ghz. It’s no wonder it didn’t show much of an advantage over the other coolers in this review. The reviewer should have tried a much hotter CPU such as an X6 1100T @ 4.0ghz or 990X @ 4.5ghz, etc.

        • ThorAxe
        • 8 years ago

        Agreed.

        Mine does 4.2GHz (Prime95) although the sweet spot for voltage and performance is around 3.6GHz (1.1375v) to 3.8GHz (1.16875).

        • mboza
        • 8 years ago

        I think performance (temp rise above ambient) will be linear with power, so the relative rankings of the coolers should not change with a higher power CPU.

          • BestJinjo
          • 8 years ago

          Right, but the performance difference between them would grow. If you crank the voltage and overclock a 2600k to 4.8-5.0ghz, Noctua NH-D14 will hover around 90*C, which means all of these other coolers would be inadequate.

          [url<]http://forums.anandtech.com/showthread.php?t=2181357&page=5[/url<] No one buys an $85 NH-D14, Silver Arrow, Archon, etc. and does a "mild" overclock. That's why there are Corsair A70 and Cooler Master Hyper 212+ for those situations for $30. If you are spending $70-85 on a super cooler like that, then you are going for maximum overclock at the lowest possible noise levels. Under such a scenario, most $30-50 coolers fall apart - they either have to resort to 2000rpm or higher fan speeds, or the temperatures become unacceptable. [url<]http://www.xbitlabs.com/picture/?src=/images/coolers/scythe-mugen-3/zchart_diagr_big.png[/url<]

          • ThorAxe
          • 8 years ago

          Actually temperatures will not be linear. Once the smaller heatsinks reach their maximum heat dissipation their temps will rise dramatically, at this point the larger heatsinks’ temps will rise at comparatively much slower rate.

    • Metonymy
    • 8 years ago

    Maroon? Nice article and this is a trivial thing to focus on, but did you really think that the fan color scheme is beige and maroon? I use Noctua fans and the blades sure look like some version of brown to me.

      • FranzVonPapen
      • 8 years ago

      I visited the comments for the same (and sole!) purpose:

      The fans appear brown, not maroon. Brown and beige – earth tones…

    • StuG
    • 8 years ago

    Woot Ultra FTW 😀 Mine is still going strong after a long time.

      • Jigar
      • 8 years ago

      X2, one of my best investments, though mine is just ULTRA not the extreme, i think it is still not bad.

    • Draphius
    • 8 years ago

    i own the nh-d14 and ive also purchased a few 120mm and 140mm fans from them. ive used them all now for about 6 months and i have to say they are a nice product but definetly not worth the price they ask. ive had 2 fans lose all there oil showering my case with little droplets of oil(lotsa oil in these little guys) which they replaced promptly. ive also purchased a few thermalright and scythe fans and i have to say id go with thermalright every time now and after placing 2 ty-140’s on my nh-d14 the temps dropped 4-6c on each core with prime 95 running, plus they have the 4pin header and can be dynamicaly controlled. its a great product but for some of the flaws id go with something a little cheaper after using multiple different solutions. i do love the heatsink and am waiting on my silverarrow purchase so i can do a comparison between the 2 edit: a good thing with the 140mm noctua fans is they are much more compatible then other fans ive used when your replacing 120mm fans with larger ones.

    • Plazmodeus
    • 8 years ago

    I have a great deal of respect for TR, so I hate to be critical, but this article screams for two products whose omission is glaring. The first is either an i7-2500k or 2600k, OC’d to a decently challenging clock. That’s the sweet config of the day, and thats what I’d like to see you test the Noctuas on. Secondly, the Coolermaster Hyper 212+ is the popular value alternative to the Noctua coolers, it would be the logical product for them to be tested against. If TR showed me that a Noctua cooler would get my OC’d rig running significantly faster, cooler, or quieter I’d go buy one tomorrow.

      • Draphius
      • 8 years ago

      the 2 chips you would like to see produce very little heat therefore u would not be able to figure out the deltaT aswell as they have done using a chip that pumps out a good amount of heat.

        • bimmerlovere39
        • 8 years ago

        An NH-U[b<]9[/b<] is plenty enough cooler for a stock-clocked 2600k, even with the U.L.N.A.'s fitted on both fans. (In a P183 with 2x500rpm Slipstreams & 2 PWM Slipstreams. So quiet. So fast... :D)

        • bitcat70
        • 8 years ago

        Would an OC’d Bulldozer make a Noctua sweat?

          • Draphius
          • 8 years ago

          hmm id love to see those tests done as long as they include thermalrights silver arrow aswell. wish i could remember the watts BD was pulling oc’d in an article i read but if i remember right it was around the 300watt range

            • bitcat70
            • 8 years ago

            I think it was this: [url<]https://techreport.com/articles.x/21848/2[/url<]. But that was with water cooling. I don't think it would go that high on air even with a Noctua. And as others mentioned it would be cool to see how these coolers compare with stock ones which could be used as a baseline. Also, was the chip chosen for the review the hottest one around?

            • Draphius
            • 8 years ago

            just read a review on another site and they hit 400 watts on the fx8150, it seems when u use a well threaded application that it sucks up more power then ever. i agree that closed loop watercooled heatsink they used probly doesnt compare to any top tier aircooled heatsink.man does BD have anything going for it? my wallet is freaking out thinking about intel with no competitor

        • flip-mode
        • 8 years ago

        They produce plenty of heat when you add volts and MHz.

    • Jambe
    • 8 years ago

    btw, this is random, but if you guys used one of those +1 buttons for Google+ I would click the crap out of it on articles like this. Little gems of writing about niche hardware hold a special place in my heart and I like to share ’em.

    • Jambe
    • 8 years ago

    Such attention to detail in already-geeky hardware is almost erotic.

    Nice article!

    • Bauxite
    • 8 years ago

    I use the U9Bs in my own 4U rackmounts, probably the biggest that will fit and really helps to quiet things down. They work on just about any socket or board you can find.

    BTW directron consistently has good/best prices on noctua coolers and fans since I got hooked on them.

    • Compton
    • 8 years ago

    I love my U12P. I even like the “unique” aesthetic of the Noctua fans. Initially, I had purchased it to go on an AMD system, about six weeks before I updated to a SB rig. Noctua made available another set of AMD mounting brackets, for free, that enable east-west orientation on AMDs. That was awesome, because it can’t be cheap to send a box of metal from Austria to North Carolina.

    Incidentally, I don’t find the U12P (which I now use on Intel boards) to be tedious to assemble and disassemble (I do so frequently). You don’t even need the screwdriver for the U12P in most configs, and the reassurance of having a system devoid of the hope-this-shiznit-is-on-right-pushpin-design is worth it’s weight in [insert precious metal here]. I’m using the ultra-low resistor on one fan on an overclocked 2500K, and love every minute I don’t have to hear a fan. Pair a Noctua with a Seasonic X series, and you have the backbone of a really quiet system. I’ve had good luck also using the 12 in a passive configuration, but you really need the right kind of case — plus, you can’t hear the Noctua fans with ultra-low adapters anyway.

      • Forge
      • 8 years ago

      Passive use: The Noctua coolers’ fans are too densely placed for good passive performance. The sheer number of fins somewhat offsets that, but I’d recommend always using at least one low speed fan, just to keep inter-fin air pressure up a little.

    • Sargent Duck
    • 8 years ago

    I’ve been using a Noctua 120mm fan for some time, very impressed with it.

    • phez
    • 8 years ago

    TRUE 4 lyfe

    • imtheunknown176
    • 8 years ago

    Nice write up, and nice coolers. Geoff, do you have any way of measuring the VRM temperatures when these are mounted in cases? I’ve always been partial to downward blowing HSFs even though they seem to be a little less efficient than tower designs. I like the fact that they keep air moving by those hot parts, even if it is warm air. Case fans should keep air moving past these parts but I can imagine that taller objects around the socket can create turbulence making airflow less than ideal. This will be very specific on one’s set up but it would be nice to see some actual numbers.

      • Draphius
      • 8 years ago

      one nice thing about the d14 is that u can move the fans up and down on the heatsink allowing u to provide more airflow to the vrms. mine has the fan exposed about 1″ below the heatsink to help cool them, u could probly go 2 inches depending on clearences

    • Palek
    • 8 years ago

    Thanks for the article Geoff!

    Correction needed: the noise level graph says degrees Celsius in the bottom.

    • DrDillyBar
    • 8 years ago

    I agree completely. That 12 looks nice if I ever need a CPU cooler again.
    If ever there was a good spot to spend a few extra bucks….

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