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Noctua NH-L12 Low Profile Cooler

Noctua NH-L12 Low Profile Cooler

April 29, 2012 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Noctua NH-L12

CPU Cooler
Manufacturer
Noctua
Street Price
US$70

As third party CPU heatsink sales are generally driven by enthusiasts with
high power, overclocked rigs, the market is somewhat skewed, biased in favor
of larger coolers. Obviously, the bigger the heatsink, the better it performs,
with today's coolers having reached monstrous dimensions that we wouldn't have
dreamed of a few years ago. They seem to grow with every iteration, acquiring
more heatpipes, fins, and overall mass.

The funny thing is, a big hulking tower and massive heatsink isn't necessary
any more, even if you want to keep things quiet. Advances in CPU energy efficiency
has reduced cooling requirements, contributing to the proliferation of smaller
form factors and cases. Interestingly, a smaller case means the components are
packed into cramped quarters with less extra airflow from case fans, producing
an inherently more challenging environment. This coupled with size limitations
makes cooling efficiency key, and yet the current crop of quality low profile
coolers is almost laughable.



The box, packaging.

Sensing opportunity, premium heatsink manufacturer Noctua recently released
the NH-L12, their first low profile heatsink. It's an interesting turn as the
rest of their limited catalogue consists of large coolers like the NH-D14
and NH-C14
which sport 14 cm fans and weigh around 1 kg. In essence, the new model is a
miniature version of the down-blowing NH-C14, about two thirds the size and
equipped with 12 cm and 9 cm fans rather than 14 cm models. While considerably
smaller, the NH-L12 still exhibits all usual qualities Noctua is known for:
Excellent build quality, quiet fans, and the easy, secure installation that's
been common to all the Noctua coolers for some years. It also carries a high
sticker price: At US$70, the NH-L12 costs the same as its bigger brother.



Package contents.

The package is basically the same as previous Noctua heatsinks. The components
are well padded, a variety of accessories are provided, and the mounting hardware
is separated for convenience. In its stock configuration, the NH-L12 is actually
not that small, measuring 93 mm tall. However, like the NH-C14, the larger top
fan can be removed, taking the height down to 66 mm, close to the limit for
many desktop-style cases. If there's enough room underneath, the smaller fan
can be replaced with the larger one to increase its cooling capacity.



Accessories.

Aside from the obligatory instructions, mounting hardware, and thermal interface
material, Noctua provides a few other extras: Low noise adapters, a dual head
fan adapter to connect both fans to the same fan header, a fan extension cable
(the fans' cables are only 20 cm long), fan isolators and screws to mount the
fan(s) elsewhere in the case if preferred, and a nice metallic case badge.

Noctua NH-L12: Key Features
(from the product
web page
)
Feature & Brief
Our Comment
120/92mm dual fan design

Thanks to its exquisite dual fan setup consisting of Noctua’s highly optimised NF-F12 (120mm) and NF-B9 (92mm) premium fans, the NH-L12 pushes the bar in terms of low-profile quiet cooling performance.
Two fans obviously provide better cooling than one, but using two different sizes/models may create undesirable acoustics.
NH-L12 Extra-low profile in 92mm single-fan mode

The NH-L12 can be used with the NF-B9 92mm fan only in order to reduce the overall height to 66mm. This way, the cooler is suitable for many typical µATX or Mini-ITX enclosures and ideal for whisper-quiet HTPC systems.
The 92mm fan can be used alone, underneath the main heatsink body to fit into smaller cases. The 120mm model might work as well depending on the components around the CPU socket.
NH-L12 PWM support and Low-Noise Adaptors

The NH-L12’s NF-F12 and NF-B9 fans support PWM for convenient automatic
speed control. In addition, the maximum fan speed can be reduced to 1200/1300rpm
using the supplied Low-Noise Adaptors for even quieter operation.
Including low noise adapters are par for the course for Noctua heatsinks.
NH-L12 SecuFirm2™ mounting system

Noctua’s enthusiast grade SecuFirm2™ multi-socket mounting provides
broad socket compatibility (LGA 2011, LGA1366, LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA775,
AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, FM1) and meets the highest demands in safety, performance
and ease-of-use.
Noctua boasts one of the best heatsink
mounting systems. It's compatible with all modern desktop sockets.
NH-L12 Mini-ITX mounting without backplate

Some Intel based Mini-ITX mainboards don’t allow for the installation of backplates. The NH-L12 thus comes with an extra set of Intel mounting bolts which make it possible to install the cooler without using the SecuFirm2™ backplate.
We've never encountered this problem, but Noctua has planned for this scenario as well.
NT-H1 thermal compound

Noctua's much-acclaimed NT-H1 is a well proven pro-grade TIM solution that provides minimum thermal resistance, excellent ease-of-use and outstanding reliability.
We can't comment on the quality of Noctua's thermal compound as we use our own as a control. Most TIMs perform within a few degrees of each other.


Noctua NH-L12: Specifications

(from the product
web page
)
Socket compatibility Intel LGA2011, LGA1366, LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA775 & AMD AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, FM1 (backplate required)
Dimensions 93 x 128 x 150 mm (H x W x D)

66 x 128 x 150 mm (H x W x D) without fan
Weight 680 g

415 g without fan
Material Copper (base and heat-pipes), aluminum (cooling fins), soldered joints & nickel plating
Fan compatibility 120x120x25mm & 92x92x25mm
Scope of Delivery 1x NF-F12 PWM premium fan

1x NF-B9 PWM premium fan

2x Low-Noise Adaptor (L.N.A.)

Y-Split Cable

NT-H1 high-grade thermal compound

SecuFirm2™ Mounting Kit

Mini-ITX Mounting-Kit

Noctua Metal Case-Badge
Warranty 6 Years
Fan Specifications
Model Noctua NF-F12 PWM & Noctua NF-B9 PWM
Bearing SSO-Bearing
Max. Speed (+/- 10%) 1500 / 1600 RPM
Max. Speed with L.N.A. (+/- 10%) 1200 / 1300 RPM
Min. Speed (PWM) 300 / 300 RPM
Max. Airflow 93,4 / 64,3 m³/h
Airflow with L.N.A. 74,3 / 52,6 m³/h
Max. Noise 22,4 / 17,6 dB(A)
Max. Noise with L.N.A. 18,6 / 13,1 dB(A)
Input Power 0,6 / 0,96 W
Voltage Range 12 V
MTBF > 150.000 h

PHYSICAL DETAILS

The Noctua NH-L12 is composed of a copper base soldered to four copper heatpipes surrounded by 60 aluminum fins, all nickel-plated to give it a uniform look. With both fans mounted, it measures 93 x 128 x 150 mm (W x H x D) and weighs 680 grams total.



The NH-L12 is essentially a smaller version of the NH-C14, shrunk for use in smaller cases. The heatpipes are curved into a "C" with the fin mass attached to the upper portion. By our measurements the fins are 0.49 mm thick and spaced 1.51 mm apart on average.



The larger fan is clipped onto the top and the smaller one underneath, both blowing down onto the base and around the socket. The center section of fins form a trench to guide the 92 mm fan to its proper position. Isolation strips on both sides provide some dampening.



The surface of the base is slightly convex and polished to a dull shine.



Bare, the heatsink weighs 420 grams and measures 66 mm high. It resembles one of the first top-down heatpipe coolers, the Thermalright XP-120.



The 120 mm fan can be placed on the underside, but it's a tight squeeze and may interfere with motherboard components. The clearance underneath is only 47 mm, not including the fan.



The dampened corners of the 120 mm fan make it slightly thicker than the standard 25 mm.

BASE & INSTALLATION

The most critical aspect of installation is that the heatsink
be securely mounted. A firm mating results in good contact between the heatsink's
base and the CPU heatspreader and more efficient heat conduction. Ideally it
should also be a simple procedure with the user having to handle as few pieces
of hardware as possible.

The NH-L12 uses the same reliable mounting system Noctua has used
for several years now. It is simple to install, though there are many steps,
and very secure when complete. About the only down side is that the clip on
a motherboard which locks a CPU in place may be impeded by the hardware, which
means you might have to remove all the hardware to change the CPU. This is not
an issue for most users, who (unilke hardware reviewers) don't often swap out
CPUs.



Mounting the NH-L12 on an AMD motherboard is simple as it uses the stock
backplate. The plastic retention module on the top is removed, four plastic
spacers go on the mounting holes and two steel arms are screwed into the
backplate.



The heatsink is then bolted to the steel arms, via two strategically located holes on the heatsink. The fans have to be removed for this step.



Fully mounted with both fans.



RAM clearance was an issue on our board. With the heatpipe bends facing the memory slots, the first slot would only accept a bare DIMM. The advantage of this orientation is additional cooling for the VRMs.



Reversed, the heatsink body covered the first three memory slots on our board. This is a good thing if you want to keep the memory cool, but it creates a height limit of 47 mm. The Corsair Dominator memory pictured above is 49 mm tall, only able to fit in the last slot.



The 120 mm fan fit underneath but the fins had to be bent upward when we were slipping the fan in. We also had to angle it off-center in order to plug in the AUX12V connector.

TESTING

Before thermal testing, we took some basic physical measurements.

Approximate Physical Measurements
Weight
420 g

680 g w/ fan and clips
Height 93 mm
Fin count 60
Fin thickness
0.49 mm
Fin spacing
1.51 mm
Vertical Clearance*
47 mm
Horizontal Overhang**
0 mm (with fan clips)
* measured from the motherboard PCB to
the bottom fin of the heatsink.

** measured from the far edge of the heatsink to the top edge of the motherboard
PCB.


Comparison: Approximate Fin Thickness & Spacing
Heatsink
Fin Thickness
Fin Spacing
Phenom II AM2+

stock cooler
0.31 mm
1.03 mm
Phenom II AM3

stock cooler
0.33 mm
1.05 mm
Scythe Big Shuriken
0.33 mm
1.19 mm
Noctua NH-L12
0.49 mm
1.51 mm
Gelid Slim Silence
0.57 mm
1.66 mm
Scythe Kozuti
0.12 mm
1.69 mm
Scythe Samurai ZZ
0.33 mm
1.74 mm
Gelid Silent Spirit
0.36 mm
1.77 mm
Xigmatek HDT-SD964
0.38 mm
1.86 mm
Prolimatech Samuel 17
0.56 mm
1.98 mm
Arctic Cooling Alpine 64
0.87 mm
2.11 mm
Scythe Ninja Mini
0.42 mm
3.46 mm

Testing on larger heatsinks are done on our
i7-1366 heatsink testing platform
, while smaller coolers tackle our
AM3 heatsink testing platform. The NH-L12 was tested on the AM3 test platform.
A summary of the test system and procedure follows.

Key Components in AM3 Heatsink Test Platform:

  • AMD Athlon II X4 630 AM3,
    2.8GHz, 45nm, 95W TDP.
  • Asus M4A785TD-V EVO ATX motherboard.
    785G chipset.
  • Kingston
    SSDNow V
    30GB 2.5" solid-state drive. Chosen for silence.
  • 2GB
    Corsair Dominator
    DDR3 memory. 2 x 1GB DDR3-1800 in dual channel.
  • FSP Zen 300W
    ATX power supply. Fanless.
  • Arctic Silver
    Lumière
    : Special fast-curing thermal interface material, designed
    specifically for test labs.
  • Noctua 140 mm fan (used when possible with heatsinks that fit 140x25mm
    fans)
  • Nexus 120 mm fan (used when possible with heatsinks that fit 120x25mm
    fans)
  • Nexus 92 mm fan (used when possible with heatsinks that fit 92x25mm
    fans)

The systems are silent under the test conditions, except for the CPU cooling
fan(s).

Normally, our reference fans are used whenever possible, the measured details
of which are shown below.

Reference Noctua 140mm fan

Anechoic chamber measurements
Voltage
Speed
12V
28~29 dBA
1250 RPM
9V
21 dBA
990 RPM
7V
15~16 dBA
770 RPM
6V
13 dBA
660 RPM


Reference Nexus 120mm fan

Anechoic chamber measurements
Voltage
Speed
12V
16 dBA
1100 RPM
9V
13 dBA
890 RPM
7V
12 dBA
720 RPM


Reference Nexus 92 mm fan

Anechoic chamber measurements
Voltage
Speed
12V
16 dBA
1470 RPM
9V
12 dBA
1150 RPM

Measurement and Analysis Tools

  • Extech 380803 AC power analyzer / data logger for measuring AC system
    power.
  • Custom-built, four-channel variable DC power supply, used to regulate
    the fan speed during the test.
  • PC-based spectrum analyzer:
    SpectraPlus with ACO Pacific mic and M-Audio digital
    audio interfaces.
  • Anechoic chamber
    with ambient level of 11 dBA or lower
  • Various other tools for testing fans, as documented in our
    standard fan testing methodology
    .
  • SpeedFan,
    used to monitor the on-chip thermal sensors. The sensors are not calibrated,
    so results are not universally applicable. The hottest core reading is used.
  • Prime95,
    used to stress the LGA1366 CPU heavily, generating more heat than most real applications.
    8 instances are used to ensure that all 4 cores (with Hyper-threading) are
    stressed.
  • CPU Burn,
    used to stress the AM3 CPU heavily, generating more heat than most real applications.
    4 instances are used to ensure that all 4 cores are
    stressed.
  • CPU-Z,
    used to monitor the CPU speed to determine when overheating occurs.
  • Thermometers to measure the air temperature around the test platform
    and near the intake of the heatsink fan.

Noise measurements are made with the fans powered from the lab's variable DC
power supply while the rest of the system was off to ensure that system noise
did not skew the measurements.

Load testing was accomplished using Prime95 or CPUBurn to stress the processor, and the
graph function in SpeedFan was used to ensure that the load temperature is stable
for at least ten minutes. The temperature recorded is the highest single core
reading. The stock fans were tested at various voltages to represent a good
cross-section of airflow and noise performance.

The ambient conditions during testing were 10~11 dBA and 21~23°C.

Stock Fan Measurements

Specifications: Noctua NH-L12 Stock Fan (120mm)
Manufacturer
Power Rating
0.6 W
Model Number
NF-F12 PWM
Airflow Rating
93.4 m³/h
Bearing Type
SSO
Speed Rating
1500 RPM
Corners
Open
Noise Rating
22.4 dBA
Frame Size
120 x 120 x 25 mm (26 mm thick with the corner padding)
Header Type
4-pin
Fan Blade Diameter
113 mm
Starting Voltage
4.6 V
Hub Size
41 mm
Weight
170 g
Data in green cells provided by the manufacturer
or observed; data in the blue cells were measured.

Noctua's standard 120 mm fan model has been the NF-P12, which had "vortex-control
notches," small portions cut out of the fan blades to reduce turbulence
and spread the noise over a wider frequency range. The model included with the
NH-L12 is a modified version with the notches moved to the struts which are
wide and thin and sit at an angle. The struts are more numerous, while the blades
are fewer and straighter.

Specifications: Noctua NH-L12 Stock Fan (92mm)
Manufacturer
Power Rating
0.96 W
Model Number
NF-B9 PWM
Airflow Rating
64.3 m³/h
Bearing Type
SSO
Speed Rating
1600 RPM
Corners
Open
Noise Rating
17.6 dBA
Frame Size
92 x 92 x 25 mm
Header Type
4-pin
Fan Blade Diameter
87 mm
Starting Voltage
4.7 V
Hub Size
32 mm
Weight
80 g
Data in green cells provided by the manufacturer
or observed; data in the blue cells were measured.

By comparison the 92 mm model is more like the old design with straight struts
and notches on the blades. The blade edges have a rather unusual shape, like
the cutting implements of ancient hominids.

Stock Fan Measurements
Voltage
Stock 120 mm*
Stock 92mm*
Combined
Speed (RPM)
Speed (RPM)
12V
1420
26
1680
23
28~29
10V
1190
20~21
1450
19~20
22~23
9V
1080
18
1320
17
20
8V
960
15
1200
15
17
7V
840
13
1060
13
14~15
6V
720
11~12
920
11~12
12
*Single fans mounted to heatsink underside.

Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle from
the center of the heatsink.

Ambient noise level: 10~11 dBA.

The two fans were close in noise level and had a fairly smooth character, but
only at lower speeds. At 9V and above, the smaller fan was noticeably whiny
while the larger model took on a lower, buzzy profile. Unfortunately their noise
signatures didn't really blend together, creating a cacophony when both fans
are used simultaneously. The 92 mm fan hits the higher notes while the 120 mm
fan generates a low-pitched hum.



At 9V, the two stock fans together produced 20 [email protected]

Cooling Results

Noctua NH-L12
Fan Voltage
°C Rise
°C Rise
Both Stock Fans
Stock 92 mm Fan (bottom)
12V
28~29 dBA
14
23 dBA
23
10V
22~23 dBA
16
19~20 dBA
26
9V
20 dBA
17
17 dBA
29
8V
17 dBA
18
15 dBA
30
7V
14~15 dBA
19
13 dBA
34
6V
12 dBA
22
11~12 dBA
40
Fan Voltage
Stock 120 mm Fan (bottom)
Ref. 120 mm Fan (bottom)
12V
26 dBA
18
14~15 dBA
21
10V
20~21 dBA
19
-
9V
18 dBA
21
12 dBA
23
8V
15 dBA
23
-
7V
13 dBA
25
6V
11~12 dBA
29
°C Rise: Temperature rise above ambient (22°C)
at load.

As one would expect, using both fans generated the best results, cooling our CPU about 2°C better at the ~20 [email protected] level and about 7°C better at ~12 [email protected] compared to using just the stock 120 mm fan. At higher speeds the difference was minimal but the gap widened as the speed lowered.

The performance advantage of the 120 mm stock fan over its smaller 92 mm brother was much greater, 7°C in favor of the larger fan at ~15 [email protected] At the almost inaudible 6V level, the lead hit double digits. Our reference Nexus 120 mm fan was exceptional, delivering almost the same cooling proficiency as the stock fans combined, only a 1~2°C poorer at similar noise levels.

Heatsink Comparison Table

°C rise Comparison
20
19
18
17
16
15
14
13
12
Noctua NH-L12 (both stock fans)
17
-
-
18
-
19
-
22
Noctua NH-L12 (ref. 120mm fan)
-
-
-
-
-
21
-
23
Noctua NH-L12 (stock 120mm fan)
-
-
21
-
-
23
-
25
-
Scythe Ninja Mini

(ref. 92mm fan)
-
-
-
-
23
-
-
-
27
Xigmatek HDT-SD964
-
-
-
-
-
22
-
27
34
Scythe Samurai ZZ (ref. 92mm fan)
-
-
-
-
-
25
-
-
31
Scythe Samurai ZZ
-
-
29
-
-
30
-
-
32
Prolimatech Samuel 17

(ref. 120mm fan)
-
-
-
-
27
-
-
31
36
Noctua NH-L12 (stock 92mm fan)
26
-
29
-
30
-
34
-
Gelid Silent Spirit (ref. 92 mm fan)
-
-
-
-
-
30
-
-
36
Scythe Big Shuriken
26
-
-
-
30
-
-
37
37
Scythe Kozuti

(ref. 92 mm fan)
-
-
-
-
32
-
-
-
38
Scythe Kozuti
-
-
37
-
-
40
-
45
Gray boxes indicate failure CPU overheating.

With just the stock 92 mm fan, the NH-L12 is not very impressive considering its size, just edging out smaller, shorter Scythe Big Shuriken and being outperformed slightly by the Prolimatech Samuel 17 and Scythe Samurai ZZ. When equipped with just the stock 120 mm fan it was more formidable, leaping to the head of the pack and competing directly with tower coolers like the Scythe Ninja Mini and Xigmatek HDT-SD964. Armed with our 120 mm Nexus reference fan or both of its stock fans, the NH-L12 outpaces the entire field, particularly at ultra low noise levels.

MP3 SOUND RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high
resolution, lab quality, digital recording system
inside SPCR's
own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber
, then converted to LAME 128kbps
encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation
from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of
what we heard during the review.

These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds
in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer
or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient
noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. Be aware
that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn't hear it from
one meter, chances are we couldn't record it either!

The recording starts with 5~10 second segments of room ambiance, then the fan
at various levels. For the most realistic results, set the volume so that
the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then don't change the volume
setting again.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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

* * *

Articles of Related Interest


Scythe Kozuti Low Profile CPU Heatsink
Gelid Slim Silence & Prolimatech Samuel 17 Low Profile CPU Coolers
AMD
Phenom II Stock Coolers

Intel LGA1366 Stock Cooler: Good Enough?
Gelid Silent Spirit &
Scythe Samurai ZZ CPU Coolers

SPCR's 2010 CPU Heatsink
Test Platform [Updates: 10 April & 31 May]

* * *

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