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Heatsink: Noctua NH-C14

Tom's Hardware's 2010 Gift Guide: Part 1, For System Builders
By: Chris Angelini

Noctua should already be familiar to our readers as one of the most extreme vendors catering to proponents of air cooling. Its designs are some of the largest around, and we’ve used its NH-D14 in the past as a reference for our more ambitious attempts at pushing 5 GHz overclocks on air.

The problem with air cooling, of course, is that it relies on the quick dissipation of heat through one or two materials (usually a copper base and aluminum fins), relying on ample airflow to then transfer that heat into the surrounding environment. Improving cooling capacity necessitates more metal, better mechanisms for dissipating heat evenly, and fans powerful enough to prevent saturation. As heatsink vendors continue pushing the envelope, coolers not only get more expensive, but also larger, increasing the likelihood of a compatibility issue with motherboard-based components or chassis clearance.

Noctua’s latest release isn’t as aggressive as the NH-D14, but it does offer a ton of flexibility for enthusiasts who still want ample overclocking potential in a more specific operating environment. The NH-C14 employs what Noctua calls a C-type flow design, where the unit’s base sits on the CPU surface and six pipes transfer heat to an array of fins parallel to the motherboard’s surface.

You can use the NH-C14 in its most effective dual-fan mode, with one 140 mm on top of the fin array and another below, you can use it in a low-profile mode, with just the bottom fan in place, or you can use it in high-clearance mode, with just the top fan installed. There are clearly usage models where all three configurations could come in useful. But Noctua bundles two of its NF-P14 fans (which sell for $30 each, separately) with the kit anyway. Also included is a syringe of Noctua’s NT-N1 thermal compound.

At the end of the day, $85 is a lot to spend on a heatsink. But if a sub-$100 cooler helps take your $300 Core i7-950 beyond the performance of a $1000 Core i7-975 at lower temperatures than Intel’s stock cooler, consider that money well-spent. Best of all, the NH-C14 is compatible with Intel’s LGA 1366, 1156, 775, and 1155 processors, along with AMD’s AM2, AM2+, and AM3 CPUs.

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