Noctua NH-D14 flagship dual-fan CPU cooler

Cooling
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FINAL THOUGHTS

The Noctua NH-D14 is a grand statement by a company that specializes only in high quality CPU coolers and matching fans. The flagship model impresses in every way:

  • High quality manufacturing, including soldering of fins to heatpipes.
  • Superbly design mounting hardware for consistent, tight, repeatable installation in every instance, on both AMD and Intel desktop motherboards. It seems perfectly safe to mount on any board, despite its high mass. The other HS with comparable mounting hardware is the Prolimatech Megahalems, but it is only compatible with Intel socket boards.
  • Design should fit most systems without issues, despite large size.
  • High quality accessories such as ULNA.
  • Great attention to details.
  • Top cooling results.

The Noctua NH-D14 in its stock form nudges past the Prolimatech Megahelams for best cooling of a hot, overclocked i7 processor at sub-20 dBA@1m noise level. The concept of dual-fans on a heatsink in push-pull mode has been explored before by other manufacturers, but the implementation by Noctua is better than all the rest thus far. (Thermalright IFX-14 is the only obviously worthy competitor we haven't reviewed; a sample has been requested.) The greatest benefit comes at lower fan speeds, where the usual drop in pressure with a single fan is avoided, thus maintaining very good cooling at very low noise levels.

Our experiments with the two stock fans suggests that the 14cm fan is doing most of the cooling work, although the 12cm fan is very helpful at lower speed with a red-hot CPU. Depite all the features to reduce noise and improve airflow, the Noctua fans are not exceptionally quiet. Their tonal aspects are sometimes intrusive, and their ultimate noise-to-airflow ratio is not remarkable.

Far better in this regard are the Nexus 120 fans that were swapped in place of the stock fans. With the i7 CPU overclocked and overvolted, the two Nexus fans on the NH-D14 matched the best cooling performance of the stock fans while making less noise. What makes this result all the more compelling is that the Nexus 120 is really just a slower version of the Yate Loon sleeve bearing 120mm fan that's sold in the US and Canada for $5~7.

Our findings on the combined noise of two Nexus 120 fans will likely spark another massive discussion in our forums about multiple fans for CPU heatsinks. It's highly likely that with a reasonably quiet, smooth fan, the slight increase in noise of two of them at a low speed (say under 700 RPM) over one is probably completely inaudible in most PCs for most users. Yet, at low speeds, the cooling performance will definitely be boosted — assuming your heatsink isn't already at the limits of its intrinsic thermal transfer capability (read: not too small). The question of 2-fan performance on other heatsinks we've rated highly with one fan will have to be addressed, hopefully in the near future, and perhaps in every new review of heatsinks that accommodate two fans. The cost in additional time and effort and in review complexity will have to be weighed. In the meanwhile, users of other highly rated heatsinks such as the Megahalems, the various Thermalrights, Scythes, Xigmateks, etc. may want to try the simple experiment of adding a second fan.

Getting back to the NH-D14, Noctua's flagship model sets the highest standards, and it is a welcome addition to the range of CPU heatsinks for performance enthusiasts, especially those who want to experience their power computing silently. Many of its features really deserve to be applauded; it's only the relatively ordinary performance of its fans and the high sticker price which stops it from getting an Editor's Choice award.

Noctua NH-U12P

PROS

* Top-notch performance
* Great manufacturing quality and attention to details
* Secure, consistent, easy to use mounting system
* Fans fairly quiet when undervolted
* Good mechanical design should fit in any high performance case.

CONS

* Expensive
* Fans still not quite quiet enough for real silencers

Our thanks to Noctua for the NH-D14 sample.


The Noctua NH-D14 is Recommended by SPCR

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Articles of Related Interest
SPCR's 2010 CPU Heatsink Test Platform
Prolimatech Megahalems
Noctua NH-U12P
Thermalright HR-01 Plus
Scythe Mugen-2
Cooler Master Hyper Z600
Intel's HSF for Core 2 Extreme
Thermalright Ultra-120 extreme

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Discuss this article in the SPCR forums.



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