Noctua NH-D14 flagship dual-fan CPU cooler

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TEST SET B: Stock fans, overclocked/volted CPU settings

Noctua NH-D14 w/ Stock Fans, i7-965 Overclocked/volted
Fan Voltage
NF-P14 only
Both fans
NF-P12 only
SPL
°C Rise
SPL
°C Rise
SPL
°C Rise
12V
30
41
30
41
24
49
8.5V
20
48
21
44
17
54
7.3V
16
48
17
46
14
60
6.5V
14
51
14.5
48
12
63
5V†
-
-
12
54
11
FAIL
*See above text for explanation of chosen fan voltage points
°C Rise is the rise above the temperature of the intake air.
Note that the 5V reading for 2 fans can only be achieved by reducing the voltage after the 14cm fan is already spinning at a higher speed.

Even with the i7 overclocked and overvolted, cooling results with the stock dual-fan configuration remain very good. The lead over the rest of our field increased with the hotter CPU, with a 3~5°C advatnage over the nearest competitor at every matching SPL. With just the single 14cm fan, performance also holds up very well, nearly matching the 2-fan setup, and still besting the rest of the field. The 12cm fan brought performance considerably lower, as with the first set of tests.

°C rise Comparison: i7-965 @ 3.6GHz, 1.40V (Asus P6T SE)
Heatsink
Nexus 120mm fan voltage /
SPL @1m
i7-965 OC Rank
12V
9V
7V
16 dBA
13 dBA
12 dBA
Prolimatech Megahalems
50
53
59
#3
Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme
51
56
63
#4
Noctua NH-U12P
53
56
60
#5
Scythe Mugen-2
53
56
62
#5
Thermalright Ultra-120
56
60
67
#7
Zalman CNPS10X Extreme
60
66
FAIL
#8
Scythe Kabuto
62
70
FAIL
#9
Noctua NH-C12P
64
73
FAIL
#10
Noctua NH-D14 - dual stock Fans
17 dBA
14.5 dBA
54
#1
46
48
Noctua NH-D14 - 14cm fan only
16 dBA
14 dBA
n/a
#2
48
51
Noctua NH-D14 - 12cm fan only
17 dBA
14 dBA
63
#6
54
60

TEST SET C: Reference Nexus 120 fans, default CPU settings

To satisfy the dedicated DIY enthusiast's curiosity, the stock fans were replaced with two Nexus 120, our point of reference fan. This fan is audibly quieter, smoother and blends more easily into the background than either of the stock Noctua fans. It has also often provided better than expected cooling with many heatsinks, given its slow speed (1100rpm at 12V) and low rated airflow.


Nexus 120 fans were jury-rigged with some wire. (The black marks on the white fins enable RPM readings with optical tachometers.)


Noctua NH-D14 w/ Nexus 120 reference fans, i7-965 default settings
1 Nexus 120
2 Nexus 120
Fan/SPL
°C Rise
°C Rise
Fan/SPL
12V/16
36
31
12V/19
9V/13
38
33
9V/14
7V/12
41
36
7V/12
°C Rise is the rise above the temperature of the intake air.
SPL is cited in dBA@1m

The 3 dBA@1m increase at 12V effected by the second fan follows acoustic theory, which states that two identical sources of sound will result in a 3 dB increase in SPL, but unexpectedly, there is only 1 dBA increase at 9V and none at 7V. A close listening to one vs two Nexus 120 fans at the 9V and 7V settings — mostly at 6" or closer distance to the fans — led to these conclusions:

  1. In the anechoic chamber, it is extremely difficult to hear any difference at 7V, but there is a subtle qualitative difference at 9V,
  2. In an ordinary room, whether any difference is audible depends partly on proximity effects. If positioned very close to a reflecting surface like a wall, then the two fans sound a bit louder at 9V.
  3. All the listening confirms that the difference between one and two fans is at least very subtle.
  4. Inside a typical PC, the difference between one and two Nexus 120 fans at 9V or less is probably not audible for the vast majority of users.

When referenced to SPL, the dual-Nexus fan results with CPU at default settings are actually better than with the stock Noctua fans. The 31°C rise best result was also achieved with the stock Noctua fans, but at a noise level of 30 dBA rather than the 19 dBA of the Nexus fans. This suggests that at lower noise levels, the Nexus fan produces a bit more airflow that the Noctua fans, even though the latter have higher maximum airflow capability. It also suggest that at 12V, the stock Noctua fans produce more airflow than is actually useful; the CPU temperature might not change even if the fan voltage is dropped to 10V, for example. The cooling performance drops only 5°C from 12V to 7V.

Even a single Nexus 120 fan does a fine cooling job on the NH-D14, very quietly. The temperature with one fan at 12V is the same as two fans at 7V, suggesting that the second fan "doubles" cooling effectiveness.

TEST SET D: Reference Nexus 120 fans, overclocked/volted CPU settings

Noctua NH-D14 w/ Nexus 120 reference fans, i7-965 OC'd settings
1 Nexus 120
2 Nexus 120
Fan/SPL
°C Rise
°C Rise
Fan/SPL
12V/16
45
44
12V/19
9V/13
52
46
9V/14
7V/12
57
49
7V/12
°C Rise is the rise above the temperature of the intake air.
SPL is cited in dBA@1m

It's hard to believe, but the slow Nexus 120 fans manage to provide enough airflow to this big Noctua heatsink to keep it a top contender at matching SPLs against all comers even when the i7 is overclocked and overvolted. With these fans at 12V, the combined SPL is just 19 dBA@1m, yet the 44°C temperature rise achieved is the same achieved by the stock fans at 21 dBA. With two fans, the spread between 12V and 7V is just 5°C, making it easy to choose quieter, slower speed operation — even if the intake air is a too-hot 40°C, the CPU will remain under the 90°C mark where clockspeed throttling becomes a risk. (Most PC enthusiasts would be remiss to have 40°C in their case; temperatures closer to 30°C are easily reachable even in a quiet, modest airflow case.) An inescapable point: The fact that two Nexus fans are quieter at the same performance makes one question how good the Noctua fans are.



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