The Noctua NH-D14 was a groundbreaking CPU heatsink which set a new benchmark for air cooling solutions. Noctua utilized all their expertise to create a product perfectly designed for heavy overclocking whilst attaining virtually silent operation. It easily surpassed single radiator water cooling AIOs such as the Corsair H60 and became the enthusiast aftermarket heatsink of choice. The NH-D14 even rivalled 240mm AIOs like the Corsair H100i and performed better when you take into account the performance to noise ratio. The H100i could achieve lower temperatures by 1-2c but this was under maximum fan speeds and became obnoxiously loud.
The NH-D14 was released in late 2009 and is starting to show its age as Thermalright’s Silver Arrow Extreme cooler outperforms the Noctua model in terms of raw cooling ability. Water Cooling AIOs have become extremely popular due to their smaller size and widespread compatibility with taller RAM SKUs. The NH-D14’s surface area impeded higher heatspreaders and required low profile RAM for installation. The majority of users are now purchasing memory with extravagant heatsinks to add character to their build and formulate a unified colour scheme. The Corsair Dominator Platinum sticks with white LED accents are a common choice for extreme overclockers.
While AIOs are more aesthetically pleasing and make system maintenance easier, there are still concerns about pump reliability. The Corsair H100i and Swiftech H220 have experienced pump leakages and the idea of water dissipating into your rig is worrying for a lot of users. As a result, traditional air coolers are far from extinct and have a strong foothold in the market. Noctua’s successor, the NH-D15 is an engineering marvel and redefines what an air cooler is capable of.
Noctua’s packaging is sublime and divides each component of the cooler into separate labelled boxes. This attention to detail is staggering and makes the unboxing process effortless. The boxes themselves are constructed from rigid cardboard and have an easy to open flap which has very little chance of ripping. Included in the box is the Intel and AMD Mounting Systems, second NF-A15 PWM fan, the Heatsink and an Accessories Box containing Fan Clips, Low-Noise Adapters, Y Cable, Case Badge, Allen Key, Rubber Grommets and Traditional Screws. The NH-D14 was often difficult to disassemble and put back into the original packaging. Thankfully, the NH-D15 is a vast improvement and can be repackaged without any difficulty due to the more streamlined and organised box layout.
The NH-D15 is undoubtedly the easiest cooler I’ve ever fitted and can be installed by novices with no technical experience. There is a backplate included and usually the first step is to feed the screws into this plate. However, Noctua have taken the liberty of doing this for you and reducing the installation time and possible frustration levels. The NH-D14 required you to push 4 screws firmly into the backplate’s holes. This wasn’t an ideal situation because the screws could move about or turn slightly when you place it through the motherboard’s mounting holes.
The Secufirm2 mounting system has undergone a major revamp as the backplate is constructed from hardened metal and doesn’t slide around the motherboard’s socket. This system destroys the likes of the Swiftech H220 and Corsair H110 which employ thinner backplates with adhesive strips. These lower quality alternatives are fiddly and can move about when you want to hold the backplate into position. Often, the backplate installation is the most troublesome for users so this thick, heavy backplate is a huge deal and Noctua should be commended for using high quality materials. Also, Noctua will provide upgrade kits for future sockets at no additional cost. This level of service is impeccable and beyond any other major manufacturer.
Once you have fed the backplate through the 4 holes in the motherboard’s tray, it is time to place the spacers over the screws. Gently hold the backplate into position and slide the spacers over all 4 screws. When you have done that it is time to affix the Mounting Bars. Before you even think about attaching these bars, it is vital that you work out the desired orientation of the cooler. Placing the Mounting Bars in a horizontal position will install the cooler with a vertical alignment while a vertical position creates a horizontal positioning for the heatsink. In most cases, I would suggest using a vertical orientation for better airflow. However, it all depends on how your system fans are setup for either positive or negative air pressure. If this sounds a bit confusing, you could try both alignments and compare the results of all your hardware. Large coolers can have a negative effect on GPU temperatures if the airflow becomes restricted.
After deciding the orientation, you now have to gently place the Mounting Bars over the spacers and tighten four thumb screws slowly. The Mounting Bars have various holes for different sockets so you have to position the bars very carefully. Please make sure that the curved sides of the Mounting Bars are positioned outwards or the cooler will not be aligned properly. Once the mounting system is in the desired position and securely locked down then you can gently tighten the 4 screws with a screwdriver.
The next step is to apply the premium grade thermal paste directly onto the CPU. I would advise against using 3rd party thermal paste such as the Arctic Silver 5 because the included Noctua TIM is excellent. Noctua also give you a decent volume tube which allows for a number of reinstallations. Please at all costs take note that you only need a tiny pea size amount of thermal paste for conductivity. Many users become too eager and douse the CPU in a river of TIM. This is counterproductive and will lead to worse temperatures. 99.9% of the time poor CPU temperatures are down to either this or inadequate seating of the heatsink.
To install the heatsink itself you need to unclip the middle fan and place the cooler over 2 small points facing upwards on the Mounting Bars. You must unclip the fan slowly and carefully because you don’t want to snap the metal clip and have to spend ages reattaching it. Now that the fan has been removed all you have to do is tighten the 2 screws in a gradual manner. Turn each screw a tiny amount and move onto the next so there isn’t an unbalanced pressure on one side of the cooler. Following these steps should create a tight fitting which cools the CPU within the expected parameters.
Then you must reattach the middle fan with the clips and plug it into the CPU header if you are only using the 1 fan mode. If you wish to employ the dual fan mode, then you simply clip the other fan onto the heatsink and use a Y Cable to connect 2 fans to 1 CPU socket. Another option is to connect the Y Cable to Low Noise Adapter for reduced fan speeds and silent operation. It is imperative that you connect the Y Cable first and not the Low Noise Adapter.
The Noctua NH-D14’s height caused a myriad of fitting problems with high profile RAM. Noctua have taken this complaint on board and replaced the higher surface area with a wider space to enhance cooling whilst adding greater RAM compatibility. Despite this, you can only use the middle heatsink fan with taller memory as the 2nd fan is obstructed by large heat spreaders. This is not a massive issue but the difference in temperatures between single and dual fan mode is approximately 3-4c. Noctua include rubber mounts so you can use their award winning NF-A15 PWN as a system fan instead. This means it doesn’t go to waste and can improve on overall system temperatures.
This new design does have one major drawback which effects the first PCI-E slot of your motherboard. The 150mm heatsink hangs over the PCI-E slot and obstructs you from placing your graphics card into that position. In most cases, this isn’t a huge problem because the first slot is populated by a PCI-E x1 option instead of your main PCI-E x16 Graphics Card slot. However, there are motherboards which are wired differently and use the first slot as the main X16 graphics. My motherboard for example, the Gigabyte Z87XOC-CF has a PCI-E X16 then X1 meaning I can’t use the primary graphics adapter in single card mode where it was designed to be utilized. I can place the GPU into a lower slot but this is far from ideal. It is vital that you check this compatibility list to see how installation would affect your motherboard’s layout.
- Intel I7 4770K @4.4GHz (1.254v)
- Noctua NH-D15 Cooler
- 16GB Corsair Dominator Platinum 2133mhz CL9
- Sapphire AMD 4GB 290 Tri-X OC
- Gigabyte Z87X-OC-CF
- Seagate 480GB SSD
- Western Digital 3TB RED NAS Drive
- Corsair Air 540 Case
The Noctua NH-D15 performs brilliantly and even gets close to 280mm radiator coolers such as the Corsair H110. Idle temps were 31C which matched the H110 thermals and almost beat the Swiftech H320 which ran at 29C. Idle temperatures are not that important though especially when overclocking a haswell CPU which needs some hefty cooling apparatus. OCCT was used to distinguish between the various heatsinks using a worst case scenario. The NH-D15 ran at 73C under extreme load whilst its predecessor, the NH-D14 operated at 77C. While this isn’t a massive decrease, it is enough to eke out that last 0.1Ghz. These results also show how brilliant the NH-D14 is today and the NH-D15 is a continuation of this excellent formula. The Corsair H105 was slightly warmer attaining a 74C temperature whilst the H110 obtained a 70C score. It is staggering that the Noctua NH-D15 can even come close to dual radiator water cooling solutions but somehow it manages to do so. The most expensive cooler in the range, the Swiftech H320 shows its dominance and ran at 67C. These results in general illustrate that the NH-D15 is a powerhouse which regains the top spot in air cooling and comes mightily close to top tier water AIOs.
It’s important to note that the NH-D15 performs much quieter than a lot of AIOs which have a pretty loud pump noise. The H100i is extraordinarily noisy under full load and would be a terrible choice for those looking for a silent build. The NH-D15 is astonishly quiet, so much so, you can hardly hear it even during stressful tasks. When you attach the Low Noise Adapter, this effect becomes even more remarkable as your rig becomes silent and I mean completely silent. The impact of this adapter is less than you would expect at around 5C. A decibel meter showed that my entire rig operated at 7.43db lower simply by replacing the Switchtech H320 with the Noctua NH-D15. Noctua’s R&D into silence pays off and creates a wonderful experience.
From an aesthetics standpoint, the NH-D15 does appear more pleasing to the eye through its wider shape. However, it is still a fairly hefty cooler and will cover up a lot of your motherboard’s real estate. Also, the burgundy fans are not for everyone and this colour scheme will clash with a number of rigs. As I have mentioned in a previous Noctua review, these fans go beautifully with a white chassis. If you only care about pure performance then this complaint can be ignored. I would urge Noctua to rethink about its colour scheme given the amount of consumers now investing in modding and colour coordination. Having a customizable set of fans like the Corsair SP120s should yield greater sales figures.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
The Noctua NH-D15 is a exemplary CPU heatsink which tames the hot Haswell (1150) chipset whilst being virtually silent. However, please be aware of the silicon lottery which means your chip may perform better or worse than mine. Noctua is so confident in this product that they offer a 6 year warranty. This offers you peace of mind in comparison to Water Cooling alternatives. The only drawback is the PCI-E issue but I suppose it’s the lesser of two evils because there is now widespread RAM support. The NH-D15 is a fantastic investment and worth every penny.