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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

Today we are testing the Noctua NH-L12 CPU cooler, which has a horizontal heatsink, four heatpipes, and two fans (one 120 mm and the other 92 mm wide). Let’s test it!

The NH-L12 cardboard box is shown in Figure 1. It seems like Noctua abandoned the beige tones, since this box has a beautiful white and brown combination.

Noctua NH-L12Figure 1: Package

Figure 2 shows the contents of the box: the cooler itself, a syringe of thermal compound, manuals, a case badge, and installation hardware.

Noctua NH-L12Figure 2: Accessories

Figure 3 displays the Noctua NH-L12.

Noctua NH-L12Figure 3: The NH-L12

This cooler is discussed in detail in the following pages.

[nextpage title=”The Noctua NH-L12″]

Figure 4 illustrates the side of the cooler, where the design is clear to see. There is a 120 mm fan over the horizontal heatsink and a 92 mm fan under it, both blowing the air downwards. This design, although not presenting as much cooling performance as the tower coolers, helps in cooling the components surrounding the CPU as well as the memory modules.

Noctua NH-L12Figure 4: Side view

Figure 5 reveals the front of the cooler, where you can see the tips of the heatpipes and the shape of the fins.

Noctua NH-L12Figure 5: Front view

Figure 6 shows the rear of the cooler, where there are the curves of the heatpipes.

Noctua NH-L12Figure 6: Rear side

Viewed from the top, the entire heatsink is covered by the top fan.

Noctua NH-L12Figure 7: Top view

[nextpage title=”The Noctua NH-L12 (Cont’d)”]

In Figure 8, you can see the bottom of the cooler. Notice that the bottom fan is smaller than the heatsink. The base is made of nickel-plated copper. Figure 9 reveals the detail of the cooler base surface, which has a near-mirrored finishing.

Noctua NH-L12Figure 8: Bottom view

Noctua NH-L12Figure 9: Base

The fans can be easily removed by merely pulling the wires. The heatsink without the fans can be seen in Figure 10.

Noctua NH-L12Figure 10: Fans removed

Figure 11 shows the fans that come with the NH-L12; both are PWM-compatible.

Noctua NH-L12Figure 11: Fans

[nextpage title=”Installation”]

The nicely insulated backplate for use with Intel CPUs is shown in Figure 12, with the screws inserted in the holes that match our socket LGA1155 motherboard. On AMD systems, the stock backplate must be used.

Noctua NH-L12Figure 12: Backplate with screws

After inserting the backplate on the solder side of the motherboard, you need to install four spacers and two metal holders, securing them with thumbnuts, as shown in Figure 13.

Noctua NH-L12Figure 13: Holders installed

Next, put the cooler in place and hold it with two screws. There are holes in the heatsink that allow one to reach the screws. Although we removed the top fan, doing that is actually unnecessary.

Noctua NH-L12Figure 14: Heatsink installed

Then, just install the fan on the heatsink. Figure 15 reveals the cooler installed in our system.

Noctua NH-L12Figure 15: Fan installed

[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]

We tested the cooler with a Core i5-2500K CPU (quad-core, 3.3 GHz), which is a socket LGA1155 processor with a 95 W TDP (Thermal Design Power). In order to get higher thermal dissipation, we overclocked it to 4.0 GHz (100 MHz base clock and x40 multiplier), with 1.3 V core voltage (Vcore). This CPU was able to reach 4.8 GHz with its default core voltage, but at this setting, the processor enters thermal throttling when using mainstream coolers, reducing the clock and thus the thermal dissipation. This could interfere with the temperature readings, so we chose to maintain a moderate overclocking.

We measured noise and temperature with the CPU under full load. In order to get 100% CPU usage in all cores, we ran Prime 95 25.11 with the “In-place Large FFTs” option. (In this version, the software uses all available threads.)

We compared the tested cooler to other coolers we already tested. Note that the results cannot be compare
d to measures taken on a different hardware configuration, so we retested some “old” coolers with this new methodology. This means you can find different values in older reviews than the values you will read on the next page. Every cooler was tested with the thermal compound that comes with it.

Room temperature measurements were taken with a digital thermometer. The core temperature was read with the SpeedFan program (available from the CPU thermal sensors), using an arithmetic average of the core temperature readings.

During the tests, the panels of the computer case were closed. The front and rear case fans were spinning at minimum speed in order to simulate the “normal” cooler use on a well-ventilated case. We assume that is the common setup used by a cooling enthusiast or overclocker.

The sound pressure level (SPL) was measured with a digital noise meter, with its sensor placed near the top opening of the case. This measurement is only for comparison purposes, because a precise SPL measurement needs to be made inside an acoustically insulated room with no other noise sources, which is not the case here.

Hardware Configuration

Operating System Configuration

  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit SP1

Software Used

Error Margin

We adopted a 2°C error margin, meaning temperature differences below 2°C are considered irrelevant.

[nextpage title=”Our Tests”]

The table below presents the results of our measurements. We repeated the same test on all coolers listed below. Each measurement was taken with the CPU at full load. In the models with a fan supporting PWM, the motherboard controlled the fan speed according to core load and temperature. On coolers with an integrated fan controller, the fan was set at the full speed.

Cooler Room Temp. Noise Speed Core Temp. Temp. Diff.
Cooler Master Hyper TX3 18 °C 50 dBA 2850 rpm 69 °C 51 °C
Corsair A70 23 °C 51 dBA 2000 rpm 66 °C 43 °C
Corsair H100 26 °C 62 dBA 2000 rpm 64 °C 38 °C
EVGA Superclock 26 °C 57 dBA 2550 rpm 67 °C 41 °C
NZXT HAVIK 140 20 °C 46 dBA 1250 rpm 65 °C 45 °C
Thermalright True Spirit 120 26 °C 42 dBA 1500 rpm 82 °C 56 °C
Zalman CNPS12X 26 °C 43 dBA 1200 rpm 71 °C 45 °C
Zalman CNPS9900 Max 20 °C 41 dBA 1700 rpm 62 °C 42 °C
Titan Fenrir Siberia Edition 22 °C 50 dBA 2400 rpm 65 °C 43 °C
SilenX EFZ-120HA5 18 °C 44 dBA 1500 rpm 70 °C 52 °C
Noctua NH-L12 20 °C 44 dBA 1450 rpm 70 °C 50 °C

In the graph below, at full load you can see how many degrees Celsius hotter the CPU core is than the air outside the case. The lower this difference, the better is the performance of the cooler.

Noctua NH-L12

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

The main specifications for the Noctua NH-L12 CPU cooler include:

  • Application: Sockets 775, 1155, 1156, 1366, 2011, AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, and FM1 processors
  • Dimensions: 5.0 x 5.9 x 3.7 inches (128 x 150 x 93 mm) (W x L x H)
  • Fins: Aluminum
  • Base: Nickel-plated copper
  • Heat-pipes: Four 6-mm copper heatpipes
  • Fan: One 120 mm fan and one 92 mm fan
  • Nominal fan speed: 1,500 rpm and 1,600 rpm
  • Fan air flow: 54.97 cfm and 37.85 cfm
  • Maximum power consumption: 0.6 W + 0.96 W
  • Nominal noise level: 22.4 dBA and 17.6 dBA
  • Weight: 1.5 lb (680 kg)
  • More information: https://www.noctua.at
  • Average prince in the U.S.*: USD 60.00

* Researched at Amazon.com on the day we published this review.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

If we simply analyze the temperature performance offe
red by the Noctua NH-L12, it can be considered a mainstream performance CPU cooler with a price tag that approaches most high-end competitors. The NH-L12, however, must be analyzed keeping in mind its concept: it is a low profile, ultra-silent cooler. With both fans installed, it is 3.7” (93 mm) high, but if you need to install it in a really small case, you can remove its 120 mm fan, making it only 2.6” (66 mm) tall. It also presents the high-quality construction we are accustomed to seeing in Noctua products.

If you are looking for a good, quiet cooler for use in an HTPC (Home Theater PC) or small form factor (SFF) computer, the Noctua NH-L12 is an excellent choice, thus receiving the Hardware Secrets Silver Award.