Noctua NH-U12P CPU Cooler Review

hardnrg - 2007-12-17 20:58:48 in CPU Cooling
Category: CPU Cooling
Reviewed by: hardnrg   
Reviewed on: December 19, 2007
Price: $ 64.99

Introduction:

Noctua is an Austrian company that combines industrial experience and knowledge of cooling products with scientific research in fan technology. This is a recipe for high performance cooling, but with the least amount of noise, something Noctua continues to prove possible with each new product.

Noctua's newest entry into the CPU cooling arena is the NH-U12P. It continues the design of the NH-U series. It boasts four dual heatpipes and comes bundled with a Noctua NF-P12 premium fan and Noctua NT-H1 thermal paste.

So, doesn't this heatsink look familiar? Perhaps like the Thermalright Ultra 120? That's what I first thought when I saw it, and naturally my mind wondered how they compared. They both are vertical heatsinks with four dual heatpipes, so I think it's appropriate that the Noctua NH-U12P be compared and tested against the Thermalright Ultra 120. A tough challenge? Of course!

 

Closer Look:

Ok, so I went to sign for the delivery and got this MASSIVE box, man it looked like Noctua had decided to use one of Shaquille O'Neal's shoeboxes! I thought, "how big IS this heatsink?!" and took a photo of the box with a standard 3.5" hard drive next to it to give you an idea of the size.

 

Those kind people at Noctua had made a hamster house for the NH-U12P to live in during its journey to me. Haha, joking aside though, I like how Noctua use paper/card for almost all their packaging, those inflatable plastic bags and packing peanuts annoy the hell outta me!

 

You can't really see much through the little window on the front of the box. You can see the fan, a few of the heatsink fins, and if you're lucky you might see a hamster! The front of the packaging bullet-points the key features, which are explained on the back of the box.

 

The side of the box shows a technical drawing of the heatsink and the mounting hardware. This is the first time you see what the heatsink actually looks like. The other side just has a few different language versions of the feature explanations.

 

Finally, on the top of the box you get all the technical specifications of the Noctua NH-U12P CPU Cooler and the fan.

 

Closer Look:

Inside the box there are two smaller boxes, one for the heatsink and fan, and one for the mounting hardware and instructions.

Opening up these boxes reveals all the included parts:

Why would you want a screwdriver? Haven't you got a #2 Philips screwdriver already, if not more than one? Well, this actually does come in handy. You'll see in a bit.

Right, let's have a good look at this heatsink.

The heatsink looks like it allows a straight path for the air to travel through the fins. This is by design.

It's symmetrical from front-to-back as well as side-to-side. This allows you to mount fans on both sides if you wish.

Up on top we have the Noctua owl logo, and can also see the ends of the heatpipes.

The upper part of the base looks solid and has two holes drilled through on either side. These allow parts of the mounting hardware to be attached.

The underside of the base has a concentric circle pattern that sort of overlaps other concentric circles. It's hard to explain, but the effect when you look at it is kind of similar to looking at a laserdisc and a vinyl record at the same time. This was pretty much impossible to take a picture of, but here is what it looks like.

There is a manual for 775 and another for AM2, you unfold the one you want like a map. This seems a bit strange at first, reminds me of trying to navigate on journeys through France, but it's a lot better than the single piece of paper you get with most heatsinks.

Well, before I went ahead with the installation, I had to take a look at how the fan clip wires work. The ones on the Thermalright Ultra 120 are really annoying because the ends don't really locate well enough, and installing a fan while the motherboard is in the PC case is a job I loathe.

The sides of the heatsink have a groove that runs down from top to bottom. This allows the length of the clip wire to remain in position.

Then, you can pull the end over the corner of the fan so that the wire sits inside the fan screw hole.

Two pairs of clips are included to allow you to mount fans on both sides. Only one NF-P12 fan is included, but if you decided to buy an additional NF-P12, this is what it would look like.

With my curiosity about the fan clips out the way, it was installation time.

Installation:

First you attach small metal "wings" to the base with screws.

Now the heatsink is prepared for mounting.

Time to prepare the motherboard. Peel off the strip over the adhesive foam and stick the backplate to the motherboard, taking care that the holes line up on all four corners. The backplate is identical to the Thermalright 775 backplate apart from the screw holes.

Then you attach two platform type brackets to each side of the socket with screws through to the backplate. One thing that struck me as very odd is that I can't fully release the CPU socket lever with the brackets in place, so you can't install or remove a CPU with the lower bracket installed! Say, if you wanted to swap CPUs and continue using the NH-U12P, you'd have to undo one of the bracket screws and swing it out the way. Why Noctua, why?

The instructions say to apply a small blob of the included thermal paste at the centre of the CPU. Then you place the heatsink on the CPU and use the spring-loaded screws to clamp it down.

From the side, you can see that the screws are quite close to the fins, so you'd need a long Philips screwdriver, maybe longer than you have to hand. Maybe you don't even have one long enough. Disaster? No! This is why you get a free screwdriver. Sort of like Ikea I suppose, people who buy self-assembly furniture have no tools, and people who buy 3rd-party CPU cooling don't have long screwdrivers. Well, two of mine were hiding somewhere at the time, so it really WAS useful!

Behold, the installed heatsink (making the chipset heatsink look like a munchkin version).

When you install fans, you add the noise reducing silicone strip, and then slot the fan clip wires in position ready for the fan.

Tada. Fan. Pretty much like earlier when I was looking at how the fan clip wires work. This was actually a lot harder this time because the chipset heatsink was kind of in the way (even though I turned it around to be further away). There isn't really much to hold onto when trying to get the ends of the fan clip wires in place, so it was about as equally annoying as Thermalright's latest fan clip design.

Notice how little you have to hold onto in order to move the end of the fan clip wire.

You get two pairs of the silicone strips too, so you can have noise reduction on both sides, and the clip wires don't interfere with each other.

It's easier to see from the exhaust side how the blades differ to regular blades with the notched trailing edge. This is to reduce noise as the fans are intended for low-noise or silent use while still being capable to force air through densely packed fins on a CPU heatsink.

It certainly looks convincing as a heatsink/fan package, but how does it perform?

Specifications:

Socket compatibility Intel Socket LGA 775, AMD AM2 & AM2+
Intel Xeon and AMD 939 on request
Height (without fan) 158 mm
Width (without fan) 126 mm
Depth (without fan)

71 mm

Height (with fan) 158 mm
Width (with fan) 126 mm
Depth (with fan) 95 mm
Weight (without fan) 600 g
Weight (with fan) 770 g
Material Copper (base and heat-pipes), aluminium (cooling fins), soldered joints, nickel plated
Application Intel all frequencies, AMD all frequencies
Fan compatibility 120x120x25mm / 120x120x38mm (2 fans can be installed)
Scope of Delivery
  • NF-P12 premium fan
  • Mounting-clips for 2 fans
  • Ultra-Low-Noise-Adaptor (U.L.N.A.)
  • NT-H1 high-grade thermal compound
  • SecuFirm™ mounting kits for LGA & AM2(+)
Warranty 6 Years

Fan specifications

Model Noctua NF-P12
Bearing SSO-Bearing
Rotational Speed (+/- 10%) 1300 RPM
Rotational Speed with U.L.N.A. (+/- 10%) 900 RPM
Airflow 92.3 m³/h
Airflow with U.L.N.A. 63.4 m³/h
Acoustical Noise with U.L.N.A. 12.6 dB(A)
Input Power 1.08 W
Voltage Range 12 V
MTBF > 150,000 h

Features:

4 dual heat pipes
4 dual heat pipes, soldered joints, and 36 widely-spaced aluminium cooling fins guarantee optimal heat dissipation even at low fan speeds.

Award winning NH-U design
Noctua's NH-U coolers allow for perfect airflow direction and have received more than 150 awards and recommendations from leading international websites and magazines.

NF-P12 premium fan
The NF-P12 has been specifically developed for applications like CPU cooling and brings the performance of the NH-U12 to a whole new level. Thanks to psycho-acoustic optimizations and Noctua's premium-grade SSO-bearing, the NF-P12 achieves exceptional quietness and long-term stability.

Improved compatibility
Thanks to its raised fin-stack, the NH-U12P offers improved compatibility with main boards featuring very high chipset coolers.

SecuFirm™ multi-socket mounting system
Noctua's professional SecuFirm™ mounting system for LGA 775, AM2, and AM2+ provides superior reliability and contact pressure.

Includes Noctua NT-H1 high-end thermal compound
Noctua's NT-H1 is a pro-grade TIM solution that provides minimum thermal resistance, excellent ease-of-use, and long-term stability.

Testing:

The Noctua NH-U12P will be tested directly against the Thermalright Ultra 120 on the same system. Both heatsinks were tested with one fan blowing against the heatsink, or two fans in a push-pull configuration. For these tests, Noctua NF-P12 and Panaflo FBA12G12M1A fans were used to cool the heatsinks. The average (mean) temperature of the CPU cores will be recorded when the CPU is at idle and at load (four core load from Prime95 v25.3, Torture Test, Large FFTs), for scenarios when the CPU is at stock speed/volts (Q6600 @ 2400 MHz, 1.296v/1.280v), and also overclocked/overvolted (Q6600 @ 3400 MHz, 1.536v/1.504v).

Testing Setup:

Overclocked settings:

Cooled by Noctua Fans

With the Noctua fans being used on the heatsinks, there is very little in it at stock speed/volts. But, when the speed and volts are increased to the overclocked settings, the gap between the NH-U12P widens. There is only a soft whirring sound with both Noctua fans running.

Cooled by Panaflo Fans

These Panaflo fans are server/industrial class, and produce a lot of airflow at the cost of noise. You can see that two Panaflo fans in push-pull provide the best cooling for both heatsinks. With this higher airflow, the gap between the NH-U12P and Ultra 120 is smaller compared to when using the Noctua fans. Subjectively, the two Panaflo fans at full speed are only just tolerable for short periods.

Overall, the Noctua NH-U12P lagged behind the Thermalright Ultra 120 consistently. The difference in temperatures was at most 2°C at stock speeds when using the same fan configuration. Things get a bit worse when overclocked, resulting in a maximum difference of 5°C when using the same fan configuration.

Cooled using a single Noctua fan with the noise reduction adapters

Subjectively, the Noctua fan at full speed has a very soft whirring/whooshing sound. With the Low Noise Adapter (L.N.A.), the fan is just barely perceivable, and with the Ultra Low Noise Adapter (U.L.N.A.), the fan becomes inaudible. So it's quite a pleasant surprise to see that the temperatures don't go up very much when silencing the fan!

Conclusion:

So, would I have been happier if there was a hamster in the box instead of a heatsink? No. The Noctua NH-U12P holds its own against the Thermalright Ultra 120 (probably the NH-U12P's most closely matched competitor), and comes with what may well be the perfect fan to many: generous airflow at a very subdued noise level. It also comes with fan clips to let you run fans on both sides, which gives you further cooling performance.

However, the Noctua NH-U12P would have to be priced accordingly to be able to compete with the Thermalright Ultra 120, considering the slightly inferior cooling performance. The most annoying thing was probably the fact that there was barely anything to hold onto while attempting to get the fan clip wire into the fan hole. So, in cramped spaces, this becomes near impossible. I'd really like to see an alternative fan mounting method because the fan clip wires don't really stay in place when installing (they only just rest in the groove until you touch them and then they pop out).

The mounting brackets that create a raised platform stop the LGA775 socket lever from being functional, effectively locking your CPU in place unless you remove the bracket. This seems like a very poor fundamental design flaw to me, but luckily installing and removing a CPU isn't something most people do very often at all.

Why would you buy the Noctua NH-U12P instead of the Thermalright Ultra 120? Both have four dual heatpipes. One comes supplied with a fan. One performs better than the other. If you want a silent-running, high performance heatsink with everything you need to be up and running within minutes included in the box, then the Noctua NH-U12P is a very decent choice.


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