Cooler Master, DEEPCOOL, Noctua, and Thermaltake CPU Cooler RoundupWaco - January 20, 2013
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Closer Look (Noctua NH-L12)
This cooler is one of the lineup that really has me intrigued – Noctua always delivers a quality product and I'm a stickler for quiet cooling. Flipping the box open reveals a pair of boxes housing the heat sink and all of the accessories. Not surprisingly Noctua has included quite a few extras with the NH-L12: a pair of low noise adapters, a four-pin fan splitter, a four-pin extension cable, an installation tool, a tube of Noctua NT-H1 thermal interface material and a fancy steel Noctua case badge. As usual, Noctua has included a very well written manual that cautions against installing the cooler with the heat pipe bends facing upwards. This is a nice little tip, since mounting any heat pipe cooler with the bends facing up, reduces performance quite drastically (though it's surprising how few companies include that information!).
I have to say I have a serious case of déjà vu here. I know this will date me (at least slightly), but the actual cooler design here immediately made me think back to my excelled Thermalright XP-120 from back in the Athlon64 days of yore. Sure, it's quite different in that the fins are only connected to the base via heat pipes and that it only has four of them, but I'm a sucker for nostalgia and the XP-120 is what popped into my head. Anyway, the NH-L12 sports a 120x25mm fan along with a 92x25mm fan to maximize cooling potential with the minimum amount of noise. The fins are angled quite noticeably towards the motherboard, which gives it a bit of an awkward look. The fans attach with extremely easy to use clips that other companies really should copy (did I just say that?).
Unclipping the two fans from the NH-L12 brings the meat and potatoes of this cooler into view. Everything is nickel plated and screams of high quality. The fins are aluminum and ridged to improve turbulence but are quite thinner than the other coolers seen so far in this roundup. Coupled with the fewer heat pipes and the parallel-to-the-board orientation I foresee this cooler struggling a bit more under heavy loads than the more beefy coolers seen previously.
Omnibond LEGO man is pleased but looks a bit confused with how blurry everything is. Perhaps he is still a bit hung over from New Years Eve, but the reality is that the base of the cooler is, while quite flat, not polished at all. This isn't really anything to complain about as it doesn't hamper performance in any real manner, but I did expect a polished base given the fit and finish of the rest of the heat sink.
The two included fans with the Noctua NH-L12 are 92mm and 120mm in size. Both are 25mm thick (which is fairly standard) and have four-pin PWM plugs. The smaller of the two is rated at 1300 RPM and 38 CFM while its larger brother is rated at 1600 RPM and 55 CFM. The frame of the 120mm fan is gilded with rubber isolators that should keep vibration-induced noise to a minimum. The vanes on the 120mm fan are also quite different from what I generally see on fans and should improve static pressure (airflow through resistance) and keep noise down as well.
Installation of the NH-L12 is extremely straightforward. The back plate has various positions for the bolts to fit multiple socket sizes and includes rubber bumpers that both protect the motherboard as well as hold the bolts in place so they don't fall out during installation. Once the back plate is in place, the spacers and mounting brackets can be secured to the board. Noctua has included their standard thumb-screw and Phillips combination nuts here that do their job simply and easily. Securing the heat sink itself to the brackets, however, is slightly awkward. It's easy to see how it should line up to the mounting brackets but when actually positioning the heat sink over the brackets with the lower 92mm fan in place it's quite difficult to line everything up. "Easy to visualize and hard to actually do" describe this process to a tee. Once aligned and tightened down installation of the 120mm fan is a breeze. In the pictured orientation cooling is maximized and clearances are as well – but the NH-L12 does overhang the first two RAM slots and could cause issues with overly-tall RAM modules.
With both fans installed the "low profile" moniker still applies for the most part as this heat sink is quite a bit shorter than all of the tower-style coolers seen so far in this roundup. Without the top fan installed this cooler really would be quite short and would easily fit into some of the more cramped cases no the market with no issues at all. One benefit of the orientation of the NH-L12 is that it blows air across your RAM as well as the VRMs around your CPU socket.