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Noctua NH-D12L CPU Cooler Review - Introduction


Noctua is back in the house, this round with a new Noctua NH-D12L CPU Cooler that we review. The L in the name is short for low height. As always the product is silent and offers proper cooling. The NH-D12L low-height dual tower CPU cooler and the NF-A12x25r round-frame 120 mm fan was introduced by Noctua. This low-profile fan is suitable for many 4U enclosures and slimmer tower cases that previously needed 92 mm fans. In terms of efficiency, it has been fitted with five heatpipes and a dual-tower design paired with an NF-A12x25r 120 mm fan allow it to exceed many full-height 120 mm variants in performance. Unlike Noctua's standard 120 mm CPU coolers, which stand 158 mm tall, the NH-D12L is just 145 mm tall. This enables it to accommodate a wide range of 4U rackmount server cases and many tower-style enclosures that are too narrow for 158 mm units and several bigger SFF and Mini-ITX chassis. Despite its lower profile, the NH-D12L beats 92 mm coolers. It can even outperform well-known 120 mm units like the NH-U12S and is frequently comparable to Noctua's award-winning 120 mm flagship model, the NH-U12A.

Because of its asymmetric design, the NH-D12L does not push against the DIMM installed in their slots on Intel LGA1700/LGA1200/LGA115x and AMD AM4/AM5-based motherboards, allowing for simple access to the modules and complete compatibility with DIMMs with tall heatspreaders or RGB lighting. The Noctua NF-A12x25, which was released in 2018, is largely regarded as the finest 120x25mm fan on the market. The round-frame type utilized on the NH-D12L delivers the same famous silent cooling performance while reducing the total cooler height without compromising compatibility with tall motherboard heatsinks or shrouds. The NH-D12L also includes an extra set of fan clamps that may be used to install a second of these NF-A12x25r PWM fans on either the front or rear fin stack. However, it should be noted that the second fan will often sit on top of either the RAM or I/O panel, raising the overall height above 145 mm.

Topped off with Noctua's NT-H1 thermal compound, a 6-year manufacturer's warranty, and the famed SecuFirm2 multi-socket mounting system that already supports Intel's latest LGA1700 socket as well as AMD's upcoming AM5 platform, the NH-D12L is the perfect choice for situations that require serious cooling performance but cannot fit the larger NH-U12A. Let's go onwards into our review.




Product Gallery

Noctua has not altered the package style of its goods, still pretty and effective whilst being recognizable. All of the information is printed on the paperboard surface of the cardboard box.





Noctua's design then — some love it or loathe it. The NH-D12L has a nickel-plated aluminum heatsink and a beige-brown NF-A12x25r placed between the two towers. The cooler is utilitarian in design and lacks visual nuances. So the heat pipes are exposed with no coverings or other gimmicks. A beige-brown heatsink with a fan. On the first appearance, the lack of a fan front appears a little unusual. Optionally you can purchase one and connect it of course. The proof of the pudding actually sits in the middle.



The heatsink fins are straight and do not attempt to bend like other lesser coolers – the Noctua NH-D12L heatsink is large and high-quality, with 38 tightly spaced fins that emit a lot of heat on a tiny area thanks to the pressure-optimized fans. In the middle that fan.







The mounting hardware is top-notch, as is the fan. Even the clamps that hold the fans to the heatsink are of great quality. The wire here stretches somewhat when pulled, but settles extremely comfortably and firmly into the holding position and is kept securely on the fan itself by a small loop, so it doesn't just pop out again.





The heatsink also includes mounting gear for AMD's AM4 and forthcoming AM5, Intel's new LGA1700, and earlier Core-i generations' LGA1200 and 115x versions. Older sockets, even AM3, are no longer supported, but a new high-end cooler for an old system is rare. There's also a fan, two mounting brackets, thermal paste, and a low-noise adaptor to throttle the fan. Installation requires a long screwdriver (included) and, of course, the instructions. the Blue colored (Intel's house color) spacers btw are for LGA1700.










So now we're at the stage where we're progressively putting together a test setup. Everything you need is included, and we believe the Noctua mounting kit is among the best on the market. It is simple and painless to set up.







Mounting the cooler is a very easy thing to do, the secufirm2 mounting kit is sturdy, handy, and really easy to install. Though the motherboard needs to come out of the chassis unless you have a chassis with a back-plate cutout.









First, prepare and insert the rear plate (in our instance, Socket 1150). Simply match the three gaps/holes with the motherboard socket screws.









Place the thick black risers/standoffs over the screws and apply a drop of thermal paste (included) to the surface of the thermal paste. The blue ones, on the other hand, are for Socket LGA1700.







Then we attach two retention clips on the plastic risers and fasten them using thumbscrews. The cooler is now ready for mounting. Once the cooler is in place (remove the fan for installation), line it with the two screw threads. We can attach the screws using the provided screwdriver; just align the fan blades a bit and you can secure the cooler quickly. The fan must be removed for this, but it is readily reinstalled.



Product Installation

Once seated, you can connect the fan power cable to either your motherboard CPU FAN headers or a FAN controller. So yeah, once the motherboard is out, 10 minutes work maximum, we positioned the cooler and are ready for the first test run.









It is totally up to you how you want to position the fan (front/middle/back), obviously, we'd recommend it to be seated in the middle. Alternatively, you can add another fan, later on, some clips for mounting are included as extra.








As you can see, the heat-pipe is oriented in the direction of the DIMM slots, and as a result, all DIMMs may be placed since the asymmetrical design incorporates sufficient distance between the DIMM slots. It's really good.







Preparing the System Overclock

We'll take a look at the cooler in a variety of system setups and operating situations. For those of us who are audiophiles, it is important to pay close attention to noise levels. On the other hand, there is your standard non-overclocked mainstream usage, and then there are the performance enthusiasts that overclock their systems. So, keeping several possibilities in mind, we'll be experimenting with three different aspects of the cooler.

dBA noise pressure levels


Temperature with the CPU at default settings


Temperature with the CPU at 4600 MHz with 1.3 Volts applied to the CPU






Keep in mind that all of our testing are carried out at a temperature of approximately 21 degrees Celsius. As a result, we went on with the Core i7 4790K processor, which was literally the most powerful but hottest processor money can buy you. You are all aware that once a processor is overclocked with additional voltage, the temperatures spiral out of control quickly.
Why (still) this processor?

For any processor operating at a specific TDP level, the heat signature is generally the same for the majority of toasty processors, which are around the 90-watt mark in power consumption. Heat is heat, and aside from minor variances in performance, it makes little difference whatever processor you utilize in the same TDP range.

TDP is an abbreviation for thermal design power. a power of 90 watts TDP is a measure of the maximum amount of heat that a computer processor, in this case a CPU, may generate in watts. For example, a quad-core, hexa-core, octa-core of even 16-core processor with 90 Watts of heat output is still ... 90 Watts of heat output, and all of them would be stressed at that same temperature, which could be in the 65 degrees Celsius range depending on the cooler. More watts frequently equate to better performance, but they often equate to higher temperatures and greater power consumption. Why is the 4790K still in use? It would be a shame to throw away the many dozens of findings we've accumulated over the years, and from the standpoint of thermal design and heat signature, there isn't much of a difference between the 11900K and the other options.












So we'll be testing that processor at default clock frequencies, and then we'll blast the processor with 1.30 Volts like shown above. That voltage is not really needed for 4600 MHz but typically will bring the processor with a non-performance heatpipe cooler towards 90 Degrees C). We are merely trying to see how the cooler will behave under such stringent conditions. All temperatures reported are the processor package sensor temps. The cores will independently differ a little in Degrees C here and there. We measure at an ambient room temperature of 21 Degrees C.
The CPU stressor

We test processor coolers following a strict protocol. We have already shown you the BIOS settings for the overclock. To stress the CPU we apply the stress modes (default and OC 1.3V) and have our stress software wPrime finish a full run twice. We, however, have a security feature enabled, if a cooler reaches 98 Degrees C the system will power down to prevent it from damage. Below, an example of one of our test runs. We note down the package temperature, the per core temps as such can differ here and there. For LOAD testing we note down the MAXIMUM measured temperature after a two full wPrime 1000M runs. In the example below we use a clock setting of 4600 MHz on all CPU cores with a strict 1.3 Volts on the processor.





Testing the cooler

It's time to put our theories to the test. The cooler that we tested today will function flawlessly with any processor, from entry-level to high-end, at its default operating speeds; of course, there is still potential for overclocking to further improve performance. We have developed a test system policy for cooling benchmarks that is more efficient. Let's have a look at the results for the system in its non-overclocked default configuration. The IDLE temps are shown below, indicating that your processor is doing little to nothing at all. In your system, it's just sitting there and waiting.







If you take a glance at the chart above, you will notice that the processor LOAD temperatures are quite high (in the non-overclocked state), this isn't LCS. We take our measurements in a room with an ambient temperature of 21 degrees Celsius. Environmental temperatures have an effect on cooling performance, albeit in a minor way. We make a note of the temperature of the CPU package that was measured to be the highest.

Guru3D's rule of thumb on CPU load vs cooling temps:

Anything up-to to roughly 50 Degrees C or lower we consider enthusiast-class cooling


Anything in-between 51 to 60 Degrees C we consider performance cooling


Anything in-between 61 to 70 Degrees C we consider mainstream cooling


Anything above 71 Degrees C we consider average cooling

This kit thus sits at the threshold of mainstream cooling at processor default clock frequencies.
Acoustic Performance

With a certified dBA meter, we measure how many DBAs originate from the PC. It's slightly subjective as there is always noise in the background, from the streets, from the HDD, PSU fan, etc so this is by a mile or two, not a precise measurement. You could only achieve objective measurement in a sound test chamber. Take this measurement as an indication, not a precise measurement, please.

The human hearing system has different sensitivities at different frequencies. This means that the perception of noise is not at all equal at every frequency. Noise with significant measured levels (in dB) at high or low frequencies will not be as annoying as it would be when its energy is concentrated in the middle frequencies. In other words, the measured noise levels in dB will not reflect the actual human perception of the loudness of the noise. That's why we measure the dBA level. A specific circuit is added to the sound level meter to correct its reading in regard to this concept. This reading is the noise level in dBA. The letter A is added to indicate the correction that was made in the measurement. Frequencies below 1kHz and above 6kHz are attenuated, whereas frequencies between 1kHz and 6kHz are amplified by the A weighting.





TYPICAL SOUND LEVELS




Jet takeoff (200 feet)

120 dBA




Construction Site

110 dBA

Intolerable


Shout (5 feet)

100 dBA




Heavy truck (50 feet)

90 dBA

Very noisy


Urban street

80 dBA




Automobile interior

70 dBA

Noisy


Normal conversation (3 feet)

60 dBA




Office, classroom

50 dBA

Moderate


Living room

40 dBA




Bedroom at night

30 dBA

Quiet


Broadcast studio

20 dBA




Rustling leaves

10 dBA

Barely audible






The fans are not audible while the computer is idle or load. The results remained very impressive once we put the CPU through its paces with many full wPrime runs. So it begs the question, what happens when we overclock our computer? Well, we only see an increase in DBa levels when we apply 1.35V voltage to the processor and overclock it.


Processor overclocking with Higher Voltage

Now we up the ante. Please keep in mind that the voltage levels of 1.30V and higher are the ones at which Haswell processors have major problems as the result of the previously mentioned heatspreader in comparison to the TIM design solution from Intel. We tune the Core i7 processor to run at 4600 MHz across all cores and deliver 1.30 voltage to the CPU while filling it with 100 percent stress so that wPrime can execute on all available CPU threads three times. The IDLE data are shown first, followed by the total core load results.











The temps often rise above and beyond 80~90 Degrees C for a lot of heatpipe-based coolers, which is a definitive no-go.





Here the overclocking process is advanced in three steps, each of which increases the core voltage from 1.30v to a greater (unrealistic) 1.40v in order to determine our thermal threshold (the point at which we can no longer overclock). At 1.4 volts, any heat pipe cooler would fail, but with LCS, you can keep the temperature just under or at the 80 degrees C mark for extended periods (which I can only advise for a short period).







In general, the cooling capacity is very adequate, and the acoustic levels are good.
Final words and conclusion

This Noctua NF-D12L delivers a high degree of dual-tower performance in a reasonably small size. As always the quality oozes the minute you open the Noctua box. Overall, the cooler is almost unquestionably recommended, however, has a hefty price tag. If you have the room, you can also locate the larger and somewhat stronger Noctua NH-D15, or for a little less money, the be silent! Dark Rock Pro 4. However, none of these coolers will fit into older or smaller cases as securely as the NH-D12L. Compared to LCS, this unit is only 3-4 Degrees C away from liquid cooling.


Aesthetics & Design

This section will be repetitive: We've said it before and we'll say it again: Noctua's color palette for their products is at the very least controvertible. Brown/beige hues are just out of step with today's high-end desired and colorful items. Regardless of the hues, end-users are prepared to look aside since the quality of the coolers themselves is simply too amazing. We certainly appreciate Noctua's dilemma; Gigabyte uses Blue, ASUS ROG uses Red, and each firm has its own house color scheme and so trademark for corporate branding.






Performance

Cooling-wise, the NF-D12L does well with the difficult-to-cool a 90W processor. The performance of the default clock frequency is great, nothing more, nothing less. Overclocking with a CPU like this on heat-pipe cooling is usually not a good idea. The NF-D12L kept everything in line though even at 1.35~1.40 Volts / 4600 MHz temps remains okay, though not advised for long-term (hours and hours) CPU load, but is certainly comfortable enough for brief use spurts. Acoustic are darn fantastic as well. Especially at processor default, you'll be hard-pressed to hear or notice this unit. On the outer edge of overclocking with more voltage, here you can tell it has a bit less cooling capacity, but even then managed to impress us.
Pricing

The NH-D12L is priced at EUR/USD 89.90 by Noctua. That's not bad given that it contains the NF-A12x25r PWM fan, which retails for EUR/USD 29.90 on its own. It certainly is a lot of money for a heatpipe cooler though. It comes with a six-year guarantee and is being sold by various global merchants as we speak.
Final Words

The NH-D12L is 145mm tall – 13mm shorter than typical Noctua models – and uses a custom-built NF-A12x25r fan with rounded edges that can be lowered between the fin stacks without tainting neighboring components. Yep, it doesn't quite beat a water cooler, but the gap is not that big with a 3-4 Degrees C delta. The regular NT-H1 thermal compound and low-noise adaptors are included, as are SecuFirm 2 mounting kits for the latest Intel/AMD sockets – including LGA1700 and the impending AM5 – and the entire package is backed by a fantastic six-year guarantee. There's no word of an all-black Chromax variant just yet, but the NH-D12L is available now for $90 in the US or £80 in the UK, and that does make this cooler a bit expensive. You do purchase sheer quality though, Noctua products also come with excellent after-sales service. If you require an upgrade kit for a future socket and the cooler supports it, Noctua will almost always get you one for free. It's a very competitively performing cooler and comes recommended by us.

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