Today we review the Noctua NH-L12, which is a low profile silent heatsink. Thanks to advances in die fabrication technology, today’s fastest PC’s are quieter and more efficient than ever. Because of this, it may not be out of the ordinary to consider building a powerhouse system in a small enclosure. After all, if you can have all the power you need in a small, quiet form, why not do it?
Another thing to consider, are all the people living outside North America. Space is limited in European and Asian countries, and for many, building a full or even mid-sized ATX rig is out of the question. Thankfully, those people can still enjoy high performance with the latest hardware.
If you are building a small form factor system with silent performance in mind though, you will need to take cooling into consideration. The stock CPU cooler may ‘do the job’ but if you want your CPU to run in turbo mode as often as possible, without creating a huge amount of noise, you’ll need to consider a high performance, low profile cooler. Noctua has just released such a cooler, the NH-L12, and we’ll be looking at it today:
The Noctua NH-L12 is the type of cooler you’ll need to consider if building a system in the “2U” range or so (that is 3.5 inches or 89mm – read more about Rack Units here). At just 66mm tall, it can actually fit in quite a few places that others may not. With a single 90mm fan installed on the underside of the heatsink, it will have no problem cooling Intel CPUs with a TDP of 95w or lower. This of course includes all the latest from the Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge lineups. It will manage with higher wattage CPUs like Sandy Bridge-E, but it wouldn’t be a good idea to do so in smaller enclosures that lack sufficient airflow. In other words, it sort of defeats the purpose, and a 130W CPU in a SFF system is probably not the best idea anyway. The Noctua NH-L12 has a trick up its sleeve for those higher wattage CPUs; they have included a second 120mm fan that sits on top:
This brings the height up to 93mm, which is still quite a bit shorter than the beasts we’ve been reviewing lately, like the Thermaltake Frio OCK (158mm) and Noctua’s own NH-D14 (160mm). It’s no longer considered a “Low Profile” cooler at this point, but it might still be more suitable than the two ‘beasts’ in some cases that are small but not low profile. For full details on Noctua’s CPU TDP guidelines for both Intel and AMD platforms, check out this detailed page. We will be testing it on both a low wattage Ivy Bridge CPU, and a high wattage Sandy Bridge-E. No overclocking today however – that is not recommended with this heatsink. Both these CPUs get extremely hot once the clock speeds and voltage start going up, and you will run into throttling in no time. This is a specialty low-profile product, and it would be a horrible idea to push 200-300W TDP in a small form factor case.
As far as aesthetics go, that is certainly down to personal opinion. In my opinion, the beige/brown fans give off a feeling of refinement, which is certainly suitable for Noctua’s products (and price). If Thermaltake is Mountain Dew SuperNova, then Noctua is The Macallan 18 Year Single Malt (sherry oak cask, of course).
On the next page, we’ll take a closer look at the Noctua NH-L12, and check out its installation method.