Eight Low-Profile CPU Coolers For Your Compact PC, Reviewed

Test Settings And Methodology

One point of testing all these coolers is to find one that really allows overclocking in tight spaces. The problem is that cramped PCs are usually warm without even beginning to overclock. Given the problems of small enclosures and the lack of custom-fit solutions (such as the one found in my boss’ Tiki), I picked the O/C settings from our ASRock M8 review.

Test System Configuration
CPUIntel Core i7-4770K (Haswell): 3.5-3.9 GHz, 8 MB Shared L3 Cache, LGA 1150, Overclocked to 4 GHz at 1.05 V
MotherboardAsus Z87-Pro Rev 1.02, BIOS 1007 (05/17/2013)
RAMG.Skill F3-17600CL9D-8GBXLD (8 GB) at DDR3-1600 C9 Defaults
GraphicsIntel HD Graphics 4600
Hard DriveSamsung 840 Series MZ-7PD256, 256 GB SSD 
SoundIntegrated HD Audio
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit Networking
PowerCorsair AX860i: ATX12V v2.3, EPS12V, 80 PLUS Platinum
Software
OSMicrosoft Windows 8 Professional RTM x64
GraphicsIntel 9.18.10.3071
ChipsetIntel INF 9.4.0.1017
Benchmark Configuration
Prime95v27.9, AVX FFT length 8K, continuous for at least 2 hours
RealTemp 3.70Maximum Temperature, All Cores Averaged
Galaxy CM-140 SPL MeterTested at 1/4 m, corrected to 1 m (-12 dB), dB(A) weighting

Another market for compact cooling is found in home theater systems, where stock cooling solutions might be too noisy. Thus, acoustics are an important consideration in today’s analysis.

The cooling capacity versus noise debate brings up a point made by one of our readers in our recent closed-loop cooling finale. Some products achieve their best cooling-to-noise ratio at a fan speed that’s significantly below maximum. Other coolers behave as if they need more powerful fans to reach their full potential. Readers suggested that we retest everything using a common fan arrangement, but that doesn’t work in a low-profile device comparison where many of the test subjects can’t hold a common fan configuration, or would no longer fit within the low-profile theme using standardized fans.

We don’t like playing favorites, but we also don’t like punishing a company for adding the extra capacity of a 3600 RPM fan when the product operates optimally at 1800 RPM. On the other hand, it would be arbitrary to pick our own fan speed and apply it to all products regardless of design factors.

So, I’ve left it to manufacturers to decide what speed to use. If the product includes a two-speed selector, I test both speeds. If it includes a resistor wire, I’ll use it. If it’s an analog controller, I’ll test the top and bottom speed settings. At this time, I cannot find a fairer method to compare cooling to noise other than to rely on the hardware included with the cooler.

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56 comments
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  • CommentariesAnd More
    Good article.
    4
  • laststop311
    I knew the noctua was going to win before I even looked at the results.
    4
  • lowguppy
    It is really nice to see a low profile round up when a year ago it was hard to find low profile coolers at all. I have to ask though, were these tested on an open bench or in an enclosure? I think to really judge them you have to put them in a box. Maybe not that silly ASRock chassis, but something a like a BitFenix.

    Also, every mini-ITX motherboard is a little different. It would take some work, but it would be nice to see coolers cross referenced with different motherboards for compatibility. Just reading reviews it is pretty common to find one or two "Didn't fit my board" comments while other reviewers found the coolers to fit perfectly.
    2
  • Someone Somewhere
    Quote:
    Several others asked us for a few additional millimeters of headroom, though that would have resulted in a viscous cycle


    Do you mean vicious? Because I'm fairly sure the cycle wouldn't be a thick liquid.
    6
  • slomo4sho
    I am surprised that the Cooler Master GeminII didn't make this list.
    1
  • GoliathPtXs
    i feel that only a few of them ( like 3 or 4 ) are really low profile coolers, rest are just normal size, bearing in mind that the big ones are labeled as tower coolers...
    2
  • cheesyboy
    Inches/Millimeters/Inches/Millimeters/Inches/Millimeters....

    It's good to see consistency ;)
    0
  • AJSB
    Those things are WAY TOO BIG for really compact mITX systems....

    I'm using one from Titan that is really small: 107x70x12.5mm (official dimensions are incorrect) for the skived copper heatsink and can use 60mm or 70mm fans...i'm using a Titan fan that is 70x70x10.

    Really compact....check my build at www overclock net:D

    I i will add soon more pics and you will see something that is really small.
    1
  • Amdlova
    i got here the cp 12 se14 on the lian li v 351 pushed the 3770k 4.6ghz... not bad at all now the noctua is cooling the 3470 no problems.
    0
  • Yuka
    Anonymous said:
    I am surprised that the Cooler Master GeminII didn't make this list.


    I was going to post precisely that.

    I have one for my A8 8350 (100W) and it does a wonderful job inside a TT SD200.

    And this is the CM cooler we're talking about: CM GeminII M4

    Cheers!
    0
  • expl0itfinder
    When is Noctua going to start making their fans in different color schemes? Their current pink on brown is the only thing that's holding me back.
    3
  • rolli59
    Nice article, I would have liked to see a Cooler Master offering in there as well.
    0
  • jerreddredd
    I am surprised also that Cooler Master GeminII wasn't included.
    anyone else think its ironic that Silenx's entry was that one of the loudest?
    0
  • de5_Roy
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    I am surprised that the Cooler Master GeminII didn't make this list.


    I was going to post precisely that.

    I have one for my A8 8350 (100W) and it does a wonderful job inside a TT SD200.

    And this is the CM cooler we're talking about: CM GeminII M4

    Cheers!

    toms asked the vendors. may be coolermaster chose not to participate or didn't meet the set conditions. 8 vendors sent their samples according to the article.
    0
  • RedJaron
    Anonymous said:
    It is really nice to see a low profile round up when a year ago it was hard to find low profile coolers at all. I have to ask though, were these tested on an open bench or in an enclosure? I think to really judge them you have to put them in a box. Maybe not that silly ASRock chassis, but something a like a BitFenix.

    Also, every mini-ITX motherboard is a little different. It would take some work, but it would be nice to see coolers cross referenced with different motherboards for compatibility. Just reading reviews it is pretty common to find one or two "Didn't fit my board" comments while other reviewers found the coolers to fit perfectly.

    I agree, these need to be tested in a tight case, preferably one where the low height is needed ( so no Prodigy, no HAF XB since those can fit normal tower coolers. ) The numbers here show what they can do in a normal ATX case, and that's a valid as some people don't like the torque of a 1kg sink hanging off their CPU. But since you were specifically asking for low-profile clearance for something like the Tiki and M8, these coolers need to be tested in that type of environment.

    Guppy is right, you can't test every case and mboard combo, but if you could somehow finagle a run of three common boards and cases, it'd be very appreciated.
    0
  • noob2222
    If tested outside the case will change the results dratically if the heatsink is next to the lid and no exhaust holes directly above it. The shrouded fans will be struggling to get any air flow into it. This is where the silverstone, zalman, and silenx will be better.

    Ths silverstone may even pull ahead since it has the lowest mounted fan in the group, the air wil still be pulled through the heatsnink. the zalman should be able to pull some air from the sides if mounted next to the lid.

    the 92mm fan on the silenx is its major flaw.
    0
  • 10tacle
    Anonymous said:
    When is Noctua going to start making their fans in different color schemes? Their current pink on brown is the only thing that's holding me back.


    As an NH-D14 owner, I can't agree more. But the fan cowling color is not "pink". It's more of a very light pale beige... almost skin colored (typical non-tanned white person's skin). I honestly don't think Noctua could have chosen a more ugly color combo. Seriously. I took mine apart and painted it with matte (flat) black model paint (cowling, fans) and it looks awesome...disappears into the case if you will and doesn't look so obnoxious.
    1
  • 16bit
    The Zalman surprised me.
    1
  • buzznut
    This is great, seems like a pretty good lineup. Not sure I would have included the Noctua, although the cooling results are significant I suppose. I have a couple of mini itx builds in my future, so this is very handy.
    0
  • palibaya
    Why Prolimatech Samuel is not added?
    0