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Noctua CPU Coolers, Why We Love Them


Back in the old days cooling wasnít something anyone cared about when it came to desktop computers. Big supercomputers like the Cray II were using elaborate liquid cooling solutions as far back as the 80s, but for most users the CPU fan (there was no such thing as a GPU) was something you never thought about.

After desktop CPUs began hitting speeds well above 1Ghz and especially after enthusiasts realised they could push the silicon way beyond factory specifications, the high performance cooler market exploded. Today you can find a bewildering array of coolers using a variety of technologies: from good old vanilla air cooling to exotic thermoelectric and liquid solutions, there are many ways to chill your hardware.

To us, cooling is about stability, longevity and reliability. The workstations we build, be they Intel or AMD, often have to run at 100% load for long stretches of time. One 140W CPU is bad enough, how about two or even four? Then our clients also expect us to squeeze all of that heat into a tower case that will fit under their desks. Clearly we need cooling solutions that are a cut above the rest.

It isnít just about keeping things cool either, noise management is nearly as important. Especially when working in quiet environments or when many computers are operating in one room. A mild hum can become deafening when multiplied by 100 server racks.

Finally, they have to look good. Okay, thatís not important from a functional perspective, but we build our machines to a high standard which includes top notch machining and tidiness to a fault. One ugly component can ruin the look of a computer, especially if you have an attractive case with windows or mesh viewing ports.

Weíve tried more brands of cooler than weíd care to count, and none of them hit the sweet spot between performance, noise and quality the way that Noctuaís products do. As high-performance Intel- and AMD- workstation builders we have to make sure that our equipment is rock solid when it comes to thermal management. A gaming system builder might get away with solutions that are low on quality and high on flashiness, but if we get it wrong we get broken computers, unhappy customers and a sore bottom line.

Every TitanUS computer has a Noctua cooler either as standard or as an option. We always recommend that our clients fit their machines with Noctua products for their peace of mind and ours.

We donít have the space to discuss the whole range of coolers, obviously, but there are four units in particular that should be a good sample of these fansinks overall.

The first cooler weíll look at is the Noctua NH-L9i, which is at the lower end of the scale. This sub-$50 cooler weighs in at 420g and supports a single 92mm fan. This cooler is a low-profile unit thatís specially designed for use in slim cases and with mini-ITX motherboards. Itís primarily aimed at being very silent. It even comes with a low-noise adapter that lets you further reduce the RPM of the fan, making it virtually silent, as long as the CPU has a TDP of 65W or less. The NH-L9i doesnít cool any better than the stock Intel unit it replaces, but it does so much more quietly with the guarantee that it wonít interfere with RAM, graphics cards or very slim cases. Itís a brilliant little cooler for those impressive mini-ITX powerhouses.

The NH-L12 is slightly bigger, slightly heavier and slightly more expensive (approx. $70) than the NH-L9i, but gives a bit more versatility in its application. By default this cooler has a unique dual-fan design, with a 92mm fan underneath the radiator and a 120mm fan on top. The 120mm fan can be removed to reduce the profile of the cooler, which makes it ideal for mini-ITX builds. In general the NH-L12 is a better choice than the L9i as long as you donít have any components that will interfere with it and of course the L9i is quieter with the low-speed adapter fitted. With the 120mm fan in place this is a great cooler for ĶATX builds.

Noctua NH-L12 and NH-U14S

When we look at full-sized tower coolers the NH-U14S is a solid choice. At a price of approximately $80 is isnít far off the NH-L12, but it is designed for an entirely different purpose. Standing at a respectable 165mm, this isnít going in a slimline case any time soon.The NH-U14S comes with a 140mm fan as standard and, as with other Noctua coolers, lots of small details aimed at making everything quieter. Just as with the L9i you get a low-speed adapter to quiet things even more, but with a max noise level of 24,6 dB(A) it isnít exactly a screamer. Nonetheless, assuming your CPU has a low enough TDP, using the low-noise adapter cuts that maximum figure down to 19,2 dB(A).

The U14S performs right in the middle of the pack in terms of thermal performance, but at the top when it comes to noise levels. Add another identical Noctua fan and the thermal performance equals some pretty elaborate and expensive high-end air coolers without sacrificing much in the noise stakes. The U14S is a great all-rounder for general system builds which doesnít cost a fortune and equals or outperforms expensive and noisy solutions from other manufacturers.

The big dog in this selection is the NH-D14. This thing is massive at 1240g. It has a huge twin-radiator six-heatpipe design with on 140mm and another 120mm fan as standard. The clever thing about the D14 is that the radiators are asymmetrical and the 120mm fan position can be moved somewhat, allowing for good compatibility with big RAM modules, despite how gigantic the cooler is. The D14 is so powerful, it actually produces internal case airflow, cooling other component as well. At full throttle this cooler only hits 33dB, literally 7 decibel quieter than a whisper. In fact, every single Noctua cooler mentioned here maxes out at a noise level most people would fail to hear at all.

The final note on Noctua products and why we use them has to be about reliability. Most of their coolers carry a 6-year factory warranty and the fans generally have MTBFs of more than 150 000 hours. These arenít flashy coolers that keep an overclocked CPU just under melting point for an hour or two, these are coolers designed to keep the CPU in itís healthy operating range at stock speeds, quietly for years without any complaints. Thatís why we love them, they are made according to the same philosophy of quality and performance we put into our system builds. Machines that work all-day, every-day, no exceptions.