Noctua NH-U12S Review

ccokeman - 2013-05-20 20:49:43 in CPU Cooling
Category: CPU Cooling
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: December 4, 2013
Price: $69

Noctua NH-U12S Introduction:

If you are talking about high performance air-cooled solutions, then the name Noctua is sure to enter the conversation. When you start mentioning high performance air coolers that don't use fans that will make your ears bleed, the list shrinks dramatically, leaving just a few really strong players with Noctua being in the top two. Having first-hand experience with many of the company's innovative designs, gives me a distinct perspective on what they have to offer the end user. With the NH-U12S, Noctua has addressed one of the glaring problems associated with high performance air-cooled solutions: the inability to use all the DIMM slots on a motherboard due to heat sink interference. This is especially true when you are talking about modules with large heat shields, such as the Patriot Viper Series, Mushkin Ridgebacks, Corsair Vengeance and Dominator modules, and many more out on the market. It's an issue that means a compromise on how you cool the CPU or how much memory to install in the system, not to mention whether you can use a set of high performance modules or have to stick to standard modules.

These are problems that are not Noctua-specific, but rather an issue with pretty much any company that offers a large tower-design heat sink. Some companies have addressed the issue with new slim tower designs, like Noctua's NH-U12S, or moved to one of the many all-in-one (AIO) liquid solutions on the market. An AIO solution is nice, but over the long term, most people do not trust liquid solutions and would rather stick with straight-up air cooling. In that case, Noctua has an option for that user in its NH-U12S. Priced at $69 and equipped with a six-year warranty, Noctua has what may be one of the best cooling solutions to meet the challenge of memory compatibility head on. Let's see how it does when put to the test.

Noctua NH-U12S Closer Look:

Noctua's packaging is not flashy, in that it does not use wild graphics and bright colors to draw attention to the package. Instead, Noctua uses an understated design that is full of information on all sides to ensure the consumer has all the needed information for an educated purchase decision. That is when shopping at a brick and mortar locations, of course. The front panel shows a list of specifications without a lot of detail to draw you in. On the back is a brief description of the attributes that make the NH-U12S a solid product, while one side panel features technical specifications, with the opposite side providing details on some of the unique features of the NH-U12S. 









As I have seen in the past, Noctua packs the box with everything you will need while making sure the heat sink arrives unscathed. The hardware accessories are packaged individually in boxes, including the AMD-specific, Intel-specific, and common parts. These boxes take up what little available space there is inside the packaging.



Individually packaging the accessories has always been something that Noctua has done. The method of delivery has changed this time around, with each part of the SecuFirm2 mounting kit segregated into boxes rather than bags. The AMD brackets are used specifically for AMD solutions and support all the latest sockets. The Intel SecuFirm2 bracket kit includes a robust backplate that is designed specifically for Socket 115X usage, rather than being multi-socket compatible like much of the rest of the line up. I understand the reasoning though, as this cooler is designed to address a specific issue seen on Intel Socket 115X, 2011, and AMD platforms with memory clearance. The common parts kit includes a screwdriver, low noise adapter, fan mounting hardware for another NF-F12 PWM fan, and Noctua's own NT-H1 thermal compound.




Each time I have looked at a heat sink from Noctua, it's amazing to see how the engineering work behind a quiet, high performance cooling solution is implemented. When you sit down and think about it, each thing the company does is for a reason and addresses the shortcomings of other designs, in order  to deliver on the company's core principles.

Noctua NH-U12S Closer Look:

The Noctua NH-12S is a tower-style heat sink in the ever popular U12 series, which measures 158x125x71mm with a single NF-F12 fan attached. Adding a second fan brings the depth to 96mm. Minus the fans, the fin array is only 45mm thick; 26mm narrower than the fin array of the NH-U12P and narrower than competitor Thermaltake's NiC-F4. Naked, the NH-U12S weighs in at 580g, while it jumps to 755g when equipped with a single fan. Slimming down the fin array accomplishes the ultimate goal of this cooler: providing 100% memory compatibility by allowing space for memory modules that use taller heat sinks on the DIMMs. A single NF-F12 Focused Flow fan is provided with the NH-U12S, but you can add an optional second fan to improve thermal performance.















Pulling the fan off the heat sink, we see that the NH-U12S follows tradition, using a baseplate with five U-shaped heat pipes that carry the thermal energy from the CPU through the base and into the fin array to be dispersed by the airflow through the large aluminum fin array. One thing you'll notice is that the fin array is not as dense as some offerings, but this does not seem to impact performance in the slightest. Using the high static pressure Focused Flow fan, there is no problem with airflow on this heat sink.



The top view of the tower shows the termination points for the five nickel-plated copper heat pipes. Noctua's logo and name are embossed in each of the fins and adds a nice touch if you have a case window. When you look at the shape of the fins in the array. they are slightly tapered inwards toward the center with several notches that add surface area for added cooling performance. The hole in the top is used to access the retaining screw for the SecuFirm2 bracket on the heat sink base. The nickel plated copper base is smooth with very fine machining marks that I have seen on each of the Noctua heat sinks I have looked at. So far this surface has not been an issue as far as cooling performance is concerned. Each of the five U-shaped, nickel-plated copper heat pipes are run strategically through the aluminum fin array to deliver the best possible cooling performance.



Noctua's Focused Flow fan is included with the NH-U12S instead of the popular NF-P12 used on earlier iterations of the U12 heat sink family. Having looked at the NF-F12 Focused Flow PWM fan earlier, I found it outperformed the NF -P12 at a lower noise level with the advantage of PWM control. Measuring 120x120x25mm, the NF-F12 uses "a stepped inlet on the fan body to promote turbulent airflow into the fan, which improves compression of the air stream and reduce the noise signature. Small inner microstructures also help to improve airflow and static pressure efficiency on the suction side of the Heptaperf fan and reduce the fan noise. The improved airflow stream is pushed through the 'Focused Flow' frame, where it is straightened, channeled, and 'Focused' by the 11 stator vanes. These vanes are equipped with Vortex control notches and are placed at variable intervals that range from 31 to 37 degrees apart; all in the name of improved flow and reduced noise. The second generation SSO2 full metal bearing is machined from solid brass for a longer lifespan and improved fan blade stabilization. The motor magnet is placed closer to the axis of the fan blade shaft; again, for improved stabilization in combination with the new metal shell. The NF-F12 PWM has removable rubber vibration dampers to keep vibrations quiet. The back side of the motor houses the new NE-FD1 PWM IC, which incorporates SCD technology to reduce noise at very low fan speeds, as the NF-F12 PWM can run as low as 300 RPM."



Installation of the NH-U12S is for all intents and purposes, one of the easiest heat sinks to install thanks to Noctua's oft-copied SecuFirm2 mounting system. As long as you have a chassis with an opening in the motherboard tray behind the socket (most do these days), you will not need to remove the motherboard for installation. Simply push the back plate through the heat sink mounting holes around the socket, place the spacers on the studs, place the brackets on the studs, thread on the retaining nuts, and then tighten in an alternating sequence until the nuts bottom out on the spacers. All that is left is to apply the NT-H1 thermal paste and use the supplied screwdriver to tighten the NH-U12S onto the mounting brackets. Mount up one or two NF-F12 Focused Flow fans and you are ready to go. Once installed, the reasons for putting the successful U12 series on a diet was to provide clearance for high performance memory modules that use larger-than-normal heat sinks, like the Mushkin Redline kit pictured here. Clearance between the modules and NF-F12 fan is about an eighth of an inch. Not a lot, but the Redline Ridgeback heat sink is really robust. On the backing plate, you see the designation 115X. This means that Intel socket compatibility using the back plate is going to be limited to Intel Socket 115X motherboards. Mounting to an Intel LGA 2011 or AMD socket does not require the use of the back plate and is slightly different in that the installation utilizes parts of the existing socket mounting package to complete the installation on these platforms. If working with sockets not supported out-of-the-box, Noctua does provide the NM-I3 SecuFirm kit free of charge to support additional socket compatibility.



Wedging five heat pipes into a slimmer fin array and having the ability to use a pair of NF-F12 fans looks like a promising combination to handle the thermal load of the Core i7 2600K. The question is, how will the slimmer design actually work?

Noctua NH-U12S Specifications:

Socket compatibility
Intel LGA2011 (Square ILM), LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA1150 & AMD AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, FM1, FM2 (backplate required)
Height (without fan)
158 mm
Width (without fan)
125 mm
Depth (without fan)
45 mm
Height (with fan)
158 mm
Width (with fan)
125 mm
Depth (with fan)
71 mm
Weight (without fan)
580 g
Weight (with fan)
755 g
Copper (base and heat-pipes), aluminium (cooling fins), soldered joints & nickel plating
Fan compatibility
120x120x25 mm
Scope of Delivery
NF-F12 PWM premium fan
Low-Noise Adaptor (L.N.A.)
NT-H1 high-grade thermal compound
SecuFirm2™ Mounting Kit
Anti-vibration pads and fan-clips for second NF-F12
Noctua Metal Case-Badge
6 Years



NF-F12 Fan:

120x120x25 mm
4-pin PWM
Blade Geometry
Frame Technology
Focused Flow™
Rotational Speed (+/- 10%)
1500 RPM
Rotational Speed with L.N.A. (+/- 10%)
1200 RPM
Min. Rotational Speed (PWM)
300 RPM
93,4 m³/h
Airflow with L.N.A
74,3 m³/h
Acoustical Noise
22,4 dB(A)
Acoustical Noise with L.N.A.
18,6 dB(A)
Static Pressure 
2,61 mm H2O
Static Pressure with L.N.A.
1,83 mm H2O
Max. Input Power
0,6 W
Max. Input Current
0,05 A
12 V
> 150.000 h
Scope of Delivery
Low-Noise Adapter (L.N.A.)
    4-Pin Y-Cable
    30cm Extension Cable
    4 Vibration-Compensators
    4 Fan Screws
6 Years


Noctua NH-U12S Features:


All information courtesy of Noctua @

Noctua NH-U12S Testing:

Testing of Noctua's latest high performance tower design, the NH-U12S, will be accomplished installing the cooler into the test system mounted into a case, not a test bench. Most systems are built and mounted into a (relatively) sealed chassis, so this method will be used to generate the load and idle results to give a real world view as to what kind of cooling performance one can expect, based on the test system listed below. Of course, your results may vary due to case design and ambient air temperature by several degrees. The CPU load is generated by Prime 95 version 27.7 for a period of two hours, with a cooldown period of one hour after the computer has returned to an idle state. Real Temp 3.70 is used to log the temperatures over the time frame with the highest and lowest averages across the four cores of the Core i7 2600K test CPU. Ambient temperatures are kept at 24 °C throughout the testing to minimize the impact of a variable temperature. Each cooler is tested with the manufacturer-supplied thermal compound as delivered. Many of us have our own TIM favorites, but for the end-user without a half dozen tubes of thermal paste laying around, the supplied TIM will have to do and thus how these coolers will be tested.

Testing Setup:


Comparison Coolers:






In both the stock and overclocked idle tests, the Noctua NH-U12S was able to deliver temperatures consistent with the highest performing air coolers in this comparison field, which contains coolers costing much more. Looking at the load results, the NH-U12S does an excellent job of shedding the thermal load generated by the processor. At stock speeds it delivers cooling results on par with the best air coolers I have tested, including 140mm fans and dual-tower-equipped designs. When overclocked, its smaller size hinders performance slightly, but still outperforms all but three air-cooled heat sinks. These of course have multiple towers and a larger heat pipe matrix. When you take that into consideration, the NH-U12S performs above its weight class both stock and overclocked.

Noctua NH-U12S Conclusion:

Noctua continues to put together cooling solutions to meet the needs of the enthusiast market by leveraging the engineering behind the company to deliver an excellent product. That design excellence does come at a cost, but that cost is tempered by the long term cooling performance you get in return for your hard-earned dollar! At $69, the NH-U12S is in the upper range of what most people will spend on the cooling solution for their computer. When you look at the performance levels you get by adding a second NF-F12 Focused Flow fan, you certain add to the price, but you also push the performance up another level for your added coin. The bottom line is that cooling performance comes with a price; always has and always will. Comparing the NH-U12S to other top-level heat sinks and taking the thickness of the fin array into account, shows that it performs above its size in all cases. A truly impressive feat at only 45mm thick.

A well designed base and heat pipe system is part of the reason for the great cooling performance, but is only half the solution. You need a fan(s) to transfer the thermal load from the fin array to the surrounding environment. For this purpose, Noctua uses the NF-F12 Focused Flow fan. This PWM fan is built using some truly unique features, which include a stepped inlet to the fan body to promote turbulent airflow into the fan, small inner micro-structures that improve airflow and static pressure efficiency on the suction side of the Heptaperf fan to reduce the fan noise, and a "Focused Flow" frame, where the airflow is straightened, channeled, and "Focused" by 11 stator vanes. A second generation SSO2 full metal bearing is machined from solid brass for improved fan life by improving blade stabilization. The NF-F12 PWM has removable rubber vibration dampers, while the motor houses a new NE-FD1 PWM IC to reduce noise at very low fan speeds. It would seem that fan innovation drives performance.

One of the main reasons for the slim-down in depth is that many sockets now have compatibility issues with larger performance memory modules. To get around these issues in the past, you either bought low profile DIMMs, did not populate several slots that interfered with the heat sink and fans, or you had to offset the fan and compromise cooling performance. This is something I have had issues with for years now and have at times had to employ each of those solutions in turn. Noctua's S revision to its NH-12 series addresses this concern with space to spare, allowing me to populate all four DIMM slots on the test motherboard with absolutely no interference. Noctua's SecuFirm2 mounting system covers all the latest sockets and is one of the most comprehensive installation kits you will ever receive, with everything you need to install the NH-U12S on any modern board. The mounting system is so well thought out that it truly allows for one of, if not the easiest heat sink installations on the market.

As a purveyor of low-noise, high-performance cooling solutions, Noctua take noise seriously and does everything it can to keep noise levels low. At maximum RPM, the NF-F12 fans are rated at 22.4 dBA – not loud by any stretch of the imagination and inaudible from three feet away when locked in a chassis. If that is still too loud, Noctua includes an L.N.A., or Low Noise Adapter, that drops the maximum fan speed down with a corresponding reduction in the noise level to 18.6 dBA. At 18.6 dBA, the NF-F12 fans are dead silent for all intents and purposes. When you get to the point of making a choice on your cooling solution, you really cannot go wrong with the NH-U12S. It has got enough technology built in to make your head spin, runs dead silent, looks great, fixes one of the greatest cooling challenges, and comes with a six-year warranty to make sure you are happy with your purchase in the long term. The NH-U12S does it all and does it well!