Noctua are known worldwide for their premium quality fans and coolers. They were founded in 2005 and their fan base grew rapidly. They strive to deliver only the best and they aren’t deterred by having to charge more for a better product. There are a lot of other budget brands out there which you could get away with, but if you’re passionate about silence or high quality gear, Noctua are right up your street. Their fans have a six year warranty which is unbeatable as far as I am aware. Their core beliefs are to provide quality components, fantastic customer service and class leading cooling performance.
Noctua aim to cater for every market and today a miniature variant is on the test bench. It is namely the NH-L12 which is a cooler that is just 66mm tall without the top fan installed. It’s aimed at ITX/HTPC users who want great cooling performance where space is at a premium.
There are two fans included with the cooler and at a cost of roughly £45, I aim to find out how well it performs. It’s going to be cooling the i7-4770K of mine and I must say that I have high hopes for it based on previous coolers that I’ve used from Noctua. Anyway, only testing will provide us with results so let’s crack on.
|Socket compatibility||Intel LGA2011 (Square ILM), LGA1366, LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA1150, LGA775 & AMD AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, FM1, FM2 (backplate required)|
|Height (without fan)||66 mm|
|Width (without fan)||128 mm|
|Depth (without fan)||150 mm|
|Height (with fan)||93 mm|
|Width (with fan)||128 mm|
|Depth (with fan)||150 mm|
|Weight (without fan)||415 g|
|Weight (with fan)||680 g|
|Material||Copper (base and heat-pipes), aluminium (cooling fins), soldered joints & nickel plating|
|Fan compatibility||120x120x25mm & 92x92x25mm|
|Scope of Delivery||
|Model||Noctua NF-F12 PWM & Noctua NF-B9 PWM|
|Max. Rotational Speed (+/- 10%)||1500 / 1600 RPM|
|Max. Rotational Speed with L.N.A. (+/- 10%)||1200 / 1300 RPM|
|Min. Rotational Speed (PWM)||300 / 300 RPM|
|Max. Airflow||93,4 / 64,3 m³/h|
|Max. Airflow with L.N.A.||74,3 / 52,6 m³/h|
|Max. Acoustical Noise||22,4 / 17,6 dB(A)|
|Max. Acoustical Noise with L.N.A.||18,6 / 13,1 dB(A)|
|Input Power||0,6 / 0,96 W|
|Voltage Range||12 V|
|MTBF||> 150.000 h|
As with any other Noctua cooler, it comes in a very Noctua-esque sort of box with its colour scheme and its design. Every aspect of the box, apart from the bottom, is loaded with information about the cooler and the fan(s). On the front of the box it has information about the items which are included with the cooler and some of its features such as the SecuFirm2 mounting system and the inclusion of the two fans as well as the NT-H1 thermal paste.
On the north side of the box (if you have it facing you face on), there is a range of information regarding the features on the cooler. Things such as the fan sizes are stated as well as the actual models, the design is commented on and something which needs a special mention is that this cooler is 100% compatible with all ITX motherboards due to some special designing at Noctua. ITX motherboards usually have a lot of capacitors and such on the back and around the socket as space is at a premium but they still want to carry as many features as possible on the motherboard. Due to this, things have to be mounted on the rear of the board as well as on the front and it means that some motherboards cannot use a backplate for heavy coolers as it will interfere with the components. Noctua have designed a screw that allows you to use this cooler on an ITX board, which is probably one of its sole purposes being a low-profile cooler.
Opening up the box reveals an accessories box. It contains everything from the Noctua badge for your case to the thermal paste and mounting systems. Removing this puts the cooler in our sight. I must say that this cardboard is very well constructed and it feels sturdy. As with everything from Noctua, they don’t skimp, even with things such as the packaging. It’s a nice touch and something which makes them who they are today.
As this cooler supports a multitude of platforms, here is a list of its accessories:
1x NF-F12 PWM premium fan
1x NF-B9 PWM premium fan
2x Low-Noise Adaptor (L.N.A.)
NT-H1 high-grade thermal compound
SecuFirm2™ Mounting Kit
Noctua Metal Case-Badge
The Noctua colour scheme is immediately obvious with its beige and brown-ish sort of colour. It’s not likely to be seen inside a HTPC as those things are usually stuffed away and not visible unless you’re working on them. I don’t mind the colour scheme; I actually think it’s nice that Noctua keep to their roots with the colour scheme. Many other manufacturers cave in and see that others are doing black fans so everyone does it. I admire that Noctua have not yet made this jump and stick to their colours, no matter what. It’s the performance and overall near silence of the fans that wins the customers in the end.
The most noticeable part of the cooler is going to be the 120mm fan that is situated on top of the cooler. Being the type of cooler it is, it will also blow air over the RAM (if you’ve configured it like I have) or over the VRMs of your motherboard.
The NH-L12 features four heatpipes which draw heat from the base and into the dense heatsink array (as pictured above). Noctua fans are fantastic for their static pressure so it makes sense to pack as many fins into the space as they can.
Underneath the cooler is another fan and it is 92mm in size. It may seem a little pointless but what this does (other than cooling the CPU a bit more) is blow air around the socket which helps to keep the motherboard cool. This is especially useful in ITX situations as the southbridge tends to be located very close to the CPU socket. Any additional airflow over these components will not only help to keep the temperature of the components down, but also the overall case temperature too.
Installing the NH-L12 is just like installing any other Noctua cooler. It uses the same mounting system called SecuFirm2. Noctua have also included some other screws with this cooler to ensure that you can install it to an ITX motherboard. Some ITX motherboards have stuff on the back of the board and/or socket which makes it impossible to have a back plate installed. There’s really no difference to them. The only thing that the ITX kit does is remove the need for a back plate to be installed for the screws.
The first stage of installation requires you to install a back plate which has holes for 775, 115* and 1366. Note the cut outs which you must place the right way around or the back plate will hit the socket back plate too. It’s something simple but I’m sure it’s something a few will overlook when they install it for the first time. It’s just a warning, nothing more. So once you’ve located the right holes and pushed the screws through, it’s a case of installing the spacers on the other side, followed by the two brackets which are then secured into place with four thumb screw nuts. They can be tightened using a screw driver too but you need to be careful that you do not over tighten the whole assembly.
Now that the brackets are in place, it’s a case of installing the cooler to the brackets. The mounting mechanism is already installed to the base of the cooler which makes it easy to finish the installation. All that is left to do is put on some thermal paste in whichever method you prefer, be a pea-sized blob or spread out, and then install the cooler. For this part of the installation, you can choose to take the top fan off or leave it on. It makes no difference to the ease of installation so I left it on, although I did try without and it was the same.
Thermal performance is obviously key to a cooler. However, this is a low profile cooler which means it really is pushed to its limits with a hot running chip like the i7-4770K from Intel. In both idle and loaded situations, whether it be stock or overclocked, it holds some of the highest delta temperatures so far. However, that is to be expected due to its size. It does manage to outperform the Thermalright AXP-200, though. It also manages to keep my i7-4770K at 4.5GHz under Prime95 loads. Admittedly it is only just, but it does.
It was definitely one of the warmer coolers that have ever graced by test bench but I must applaud it for being able to tame an i7-4770K at 4.5GHz, something which the Thermalright AXP-200 did not manage, even with a SB-E Extreme fan on top of it (2500RPM 140mm). The audio levels which this cooler produced, even with its dual fan configuration, were minimal. It’s something which I have come to expect when using Noctua fans and coolers, so it’s good to see that they are maintaining their high quality products. Whilst it did let my i7 hit very high temperatures (around 95°c), I was happy enough to class it as a pass as it never went any higher than that. It is still very warm but it didn’t cause my chip to throttle which makes it a pass in my eyes. An added bonus, just like most low-profile coolers, is that it cools your RAM or your VRMs (depending how you install it) and it also cools around the socket too.
It’s time to talk money, as we all know how much of an important factor that is for the vast majority of us. So, considering it comes with two high-quality Noctua fans which retail for over £30 (both together) on their own, this cooler is outstanding value for money. It can keep the mighty i7-4770K at 4.5GHz relatively happy and it does so whilst being very quiet too.
The colouring of the Noctua fans has always been a controversial thing that people discuss. Some love it and some hate it. If it were me, I’d say ignore the colouring (if you hate it) and get this cooler in your ITX or HTPC rig. As it is going to score top marks in all three categories, I am going to give it the editors’ choice award. I feel that this cooler is deemed to be worthy, until something better comes along. I’m very impressed with the performance, price point and the design of the cooler. It also feels very well constructed which is a big plus in my books. Great job, Noctua! You’ve created a phenomenal ITX/HTPC cooler!
Many thanks to Noctua for providing us with a sample.
Noctua have done it yet again. If you are in the market for a low-profile cooler for your ITX/HTPC system, look no further than the NH-L12. It performs fantastically, it’s very quiet, and it is not going to break the bank either. It ticks all of the right boxes as far as I am concerned. Thumbs up to Noctua for a fantastic cooler.
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