Noctua NH-L12 Low Profile Cooler

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For its size, the Noctua NH-L12 is the best CPU heatsink we've tested. Essentially a smaller version of the NH-C14, the design seems to scale favorably, working particularly well with both fans running, surpassing taller tower coolers with 92 mm fans like the Scythe Ninja Mini and Xigmatek HDT-SD964 by a healthy margin. However, in this state, it stands 93 mm tall, hardly what one would consider low-profile.

Its height is just 66 mm with a single fan, making it compatible with a slew of smaller, mostly desktop-style cases. Unfortunately, in this configuration, its cooling proficiency is only impressive with a 120 mm fan. Many modern motherboards have large VRM and/or chipset heatsinks that might get in the way, although this isn't an issue for most mini-ITX and some micro-ATX motherboard models. The level of cooling delivered when using only the stock 92 mm fan is good, but not that competitive, considering that smaller, much less expensive alternatives like the Scythe Big Shuriken perform comparably.

The fans Noctua include are fairly close in noise level except at maximum speed, allowing users to control them together without having one fan overpower the other, at least in theory. Combined, at lower speeds, they sound fairly benign, but at high speeds their different sound characters become noticeable. As the larger fan has a lower pitch, both fans' acoustic deficiencies become audible when running simultaneously. For example, we found that at 12V, the individual fans sound less annoying than both fans at 10V, even though together, the measured noise level is lower. Some form of intermodulation distortion may also have been present.

Like other Noctua heatsinks, the NH-L12 is a premium product. Its construction is top-notch, the mounting system is superb and versatile, and there are many useful included accessories. It also has a price similar to its bigger brothers, despite being considerably smaller. The current street price is US$70, a substantial amount given its physical dimensions. It's not unwarranted for the best in its class, but it still seems like a lot. That's one of the unfortunate consequences of the current lack of choice for lower profile, highly efficient CPU heatsinks.

Our thanks to Noctua for the NH-L12 heatsink sample.

Noctua NH-L12 is Recommended by SPCR

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