By – John Williamson

Noctua Fans Review

Noctua’s NH-D15 flagship CPU heatsink is arguably the best air cooling solution on the market and competes with closed water cooling units like the Corsair H105. However, this level of cooling performance relies on 2 large heatsinks and premium fans which incurs a high cost. Certain customers are also uncomfortable with the notion of installing such a hefty cooler and having restricted space to work around the CPU socket. Today, we are looking at two excellent alternatives at a more affordable price point. The Noctua NH-U12S and NH-U14S are designed with a single heatsink and small diameter measuring 45mm on the NH-U12S and 71mm using the NH-U14S. The question remains if this reduced size has been a concession too far.

Each cooler is bundled in Noctua’s quintessential packaging featuring the highest grade of cardboard and individual labelled sections for the accessories and mounting hardware. Included is the cooler itself, NT-H1 thermal compound, Low-Noise Adapter, Metal Screwdriver, Installation kit for a 2nd fan and Intel/AMD mounts. Once again I have to commend Noctua on their choice of packing materials which provides a large degree of structural support. This level of detail evokes a sense of luxury and Noctua’s entire range is presented in an infallible manner. In terms of aesthetic appeal, it seems Noctua’s trademark colour scheme is quite divisive. I believe it’s unfair to expect a massive deviation as the brown and cream design is distinctive and synonymous with the Noctua brand. In theory, you can paint the fins and outer frame, but this may have a negative effect on airflow and it also invalidates the superb 6 year warranty. From my own personal perspective, I feel the colour contrast works well and the constant outcry about the “sickly” colour is becoming quite tiresome.

The instructions contain extremely clear diagrams and walk you through the entire setup process. Noctua’s SecuFirm2™ mounting system is virtually perfect and the build should only take 5-10 minutes to complete. This is a brief synopsis of the install guide for LGA115x CPUs. Firstly, feed the backplate through the CPU socket and place 4 plastic spacers over the metal legs. Gently position 2 mounting bars over the spacers and ensure the bars are facing outwards. Remember to use the technical drawings to decipher which orientation you want the cooler to be in. Next, align the 4 thumbscrews over the spacers and tighten. Be careful not to use excessive force and screw down in a diagonal pattern. The next step is to apply a small amount of thermal paste. I emphasize small, as overdoing this will negatively impact the cooling conductivity. To fit the heatsink, you need to unclip the fan which exposes two mounting screws. Check that the heatsink base is straight and in-line with the CPU socket before tightening. Finally, clip the fan back on and plug in the cable.

While the NH-U12S and NH-U14S are similar in shape, they do operate using a different heatpipe design. The NH-U12 utilizes 5 nickel plated copper heatpipes while the NH-U14S uses 6. Furthermore, the 120mm variant measures in at 158mmx125mmx41mm and a total width of 71mm with the included NF-F12 PWM fan. In comparison to this, the NH-U14S’s dimensions are 165mmx150mmx41mm and 78mm with the bundled NF-A15 PWM controlled fan. As you might expect, the larger heatsink and fan combo will yield better temperatures but the smaller model is useful for customers opting for lavish RAM with large heatspreaders. The NH-U12S is 100% compatible with any brand of memory while the NH-U14S only manages this feat on Intel 2011 sockets. As a result, it’s vital to check Noctua’s website and see if there is enough clearance as the fan will obstruct the first DIMM slot. I agree wholeheartedly with Noctua’s maximum recommendation of 32mm and suggest you base your calculation on this figure. Another advantage of the NH-U12S is that it doesn’t interfere with the first PCI-E slot on your motherboard. The majority of mainstream motherboards feature PCI-E x1 for the first slot but there are some exceptions. For example, the Gigabyte Z87X-OC has a PCI-E x16 slot in the first position and large coolers will obstruct where the primary graphics adapter should be.

Noctua’s commitment to quality and cooling prowess is shown through the included fan on each unit which performs in an exemplary way. The award-winning 120mm NF-F12 operates at a maximum rotational speed of 1500RPM and airflow rating of 93.4 m3/h. Incredibly, this amount of airflow only comes at the expense of a very quiet 22.4 dB/A acoustical noise value. With the Low Noise Adapter, the RPM is lowered is 1200 and reaches a top airflow figure of 73.3 m3/h whilst only outputting 18.6 dB/A. The end result is a fan which miraculously allows for large overclocks and does so while being significantly quieter than the competition. In real day usage, it’s practically silent and only noticeable if you are listening intently.

Noctua NH-U12S

On the NH-U14S, a larger 150mm fan is supplied to enhance the heat dissipation over a greater surface area. The NF-A15 functions at 1500RPM and reaches a maximum airflow of 140.2 m3/h whilst making an peak acoustical output of 24.6 dB/A. Using the Low Noise Adapter limits the RPM to 1200 and sets a maximum airflow of 115.5m3/h and noise rating at 19.2 dB/A. When compared to the NF-F12, the NF-A15’s significant size increase allows for a dramatic improvement in airflow and noise to performance scaling. By default, the NF-F12 is quieter, but it struggles to ramp up the airflow at a set RPM due to size limitations. Nevertheless, both fans are whisper quiet and attain monumentally impressive temperatures.

The usual testing procedure involves a continuous run of OCCT whilst monitoring temperatures, audible noise and default fan curve. To maintain a consistent set of results, a delta temperature of 19C was monitored throughout the review and any deviations were adjusted to make the results fair. At stock voltages using an i7 4770k, 3 Noctua IndustrialPPC fans controlled to 1200rpm and the NH-U12S, there was max rating of 29C and an average of 27C. Under load, the heat output increased to 51C on average and reached 53C which leaves a large margin for error on the hot Haswell chipset. It is possible to attach a second NF-F12 fan but the price to performance ratio was minimal on stock and overclocked settings. With a second fan, the temperature dipped by 1C on idle and 3C under heavy load. This is to be expected at the default, conservative voltage ratings.

Overclocking any Haswell CPU requires serious cooling apparatus and the NH-U12S and NH-U14S are more than capable of reaching a mid-high tier base clock. In single fan mode, applying 1.298v at 4.5GHz, the NH-U12S hit a maximum temperature of 35C on idle and an average of 33C. Under 100% load, this figure topped out at 83C and managed a toasty average of 78C. For a cooler of this size, the results are extremely impressive and just about within the acceptable range for a stable 24/7 overclock. Please remember this is with a delta of 19C so your results in warmer climates may not allow for such a high clock speed. Also, every chip has varied potential due to the silicon lottery. When using dual NF-F12 fans, the temperature at idle peaked at 34C and maintained an average of 33C. When stressed, the CPU did slightly better and hit a maximum figure of 79C and average of 76C. In all honesty, the NH-U12S is competitively priced and with the added expense of a second NF-F12, you might as well opt for the NH-D15. As you can see, the performance gains are fairly small and not going to be a key difference in attaining over 4.5GHz.

The NH-U14S has an extra bit of grunt due to the larger fan and 6 heatpipe construction. At stock voltages, the cooler maintained a maximum of 27C at idle and average of 26C. During a prolonged spell of OCCT, the load temperatures operated at a maximum of 50C and average of 49C. Attaching a second fan only improves the cooling performance by a mere 1-2C. From the baseline tests, there isn’t a major difference between the coolers under low voltages. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth when overclocked. Once overclocked to a reasonable 4.5GHz at 1.298v the temperature gap widens as the NH-U14S remains relatively cool with an average of 76C and maximum of 78C. In dual fan mode, the statistics change to 74C and 77C. In summary, the NH-U14S is a step above its smaller brother and offers superb potential for fairly large overclocks.

To put these results into perspective, it’s vital to make some comparisons against the most popular coolers available today. The NH-U14S outperformed the Corsair H100i by 2C while operating at near-silence while the Corsair AIO was obnoxiously loud. Unfortunately, the NH-U12S couldn’t quite reach this level of cooling but it was only 4C off the target temperature. The NH-U14S also beat the Noctua’s own NH-D14 by 1C despite only having a single heatsink. Other closed loop coolers like the Corsair H110, Swiftech H220 and more were in a class of their own and it would be unfair to compare these products based on the price difference.

Noctua NH-U12S

Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

The Noctua NH-U12S and NH-U14S offer a phenomenal grade of cooling given the reasonable size and single heatsink design. Furthermore, I was thoroughly impressed with the noise to performance ratio and surprised to see the 140mm unit achieve better temps than a 240mm closed loop cooler operating at full fan speed.  With a 6 year warranty and MTBF rating over 150,000, the NH-U12S and NH-U14S are more affordable versions of the NH-D15 and uphold Noctua’s pedigree as the best supplier of air cooling solutions.

Noctua NH-U12S and NH-U14S CPU Cooler Summary:

TPG Hardware

    • Time Used – 9 Days
    • Software Used – OCCT, HWMonitor, CoreTemp, CPU-Z
    • Acquisition Method – Review Unit
    • System Specs – Intel I7 4770K, 16GB RAM, Gigabyte GTX 980 4GB
    • Compatibility – Intel LGA2011-0 & LGA2011-3 (Square ILM), LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA1150 & AMD AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, FM1, FM2, FM2+
    • Availability – Newegg

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