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

Eight Low-Profile CPU Coolers For Your Compact PC, Reviewed
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A recent look at ASRock's M8 compact barebones PC saw us undervolting our CPU in order to run stably, overclocked. This forced us to ask the question: how much cooling can we fit inside a slim enclosure? Eight heat sink vendors helped us find the answer.

Compact enthusiast-oriented PCs are becoming increasingly popular as hardware vendors improve the efficiency of their components alongside raw performance. In the last year, we've covered complete mini-ITX systems, low-profile memory kits, and small enclosures. We even based an entire System Builder Marathon on the mini-ITX form factor.

One thing we found during that exercise was that it's difficult to match the dimensions of boutique-built boxes with high-end hardware, if only because there aren't many enclosures optimized for tiny spaces and big specs. Always eager to make bold statements of frugality, I came upon ASRock’s M8 mini barebones system, to which I added a number fairly potent parts. I then ran smack up against the reason that Chris paid big bucks for his Tiki: ASRock’s M8 wasn’t designed for high-performance CPU cooling. The best I could do was 4 GHz, and that was only after I reconfigured the barebones machine's intake and exhaust fans, upgraded the CPU cooler, and locked the processor's core voltage at a level below Intel's stock ceiling. Clearly there was room for improvement.

We set our upper limit for cooler size at 4” to cover the largest of slim cases, and eight different heat sink vendors responded with samples. Six of them even fit within the approximate 3” limit of ASRock’s M8. One manufacturer said it thought its submission would qualify, but might not fit our test motherboard (even though we were sure it would). Several others asked us for a few additional millimeters of headroom, though that would have resulted in a vicious cycle. It was important to us that we keep this a comparison of truly low-profile coolers to address the growing compact computing market.

Here are today’s contenders:

Low-Profile CPU Cooler Features
 Gamer Storm
Gabriel
Noctua
NH-L12
Scythe Big
Shuriken 2 Rev. B
SilenX
EFZ-100HA2
Height2.4"3.7"2.3"2.2"
Width4.8"5.8"5.3"4.7"
Depth4.8"5.3"4.9"4.8"
Base Height1.1"1.6"1.4"0.8-1.5" Tapered
Assy. Offset0.6" x 0.5"0.5"NoneNone
Cooling Fans(1) 120 x15 mm(1) 120 x25 mm,
(1) 92 x25 mm
(1) 120 x12 mm(1) 92 x15 mm
Connectors(1) PWM(2) PWM(1) PWM(1) Three-Pin
Weight14 Ounces24 Ounces17 OuncesEight Ounces
Intel Sockets115x (1150/1155/1156)115x, 2011, 1366, 775115x, 2011, 1366, 775115x, 775
AMD SocketsFour-bolt RectangularFour-bolt RectangularAll Four/Two-boltAll Clip-On
WarrantyOne YearSix YearsTwo YearsThree Years
Web Price$40$70$48$15

Due to distribution issues, the Gabriel CPU cooler’s price is an estimate based on the company’s other products. That doesn’t leave any room for award recognition, but it still lets us get a look at performance in lieu of its final release. Noctua’s NH-L12 is distinct in that it's the largest cooler to qualify for our story.

Low-Profile CPU Cooler Features
 SilverStone
Nitrogon NT06-Pro
Thermalright
AXP-200R
Xigmatek
Janus
Zalman
CNPS8900 Quiet
Height3.2"2.8"2.5"2.4"
Width5.5"6.0"4.7"4.7"
Depth5.5"5.4"4.7"4.7"
Base Height1.2" (w/fan)1.4"1.2"1.3"
Assy. Offset0.8" (x)1.1" (x)0.6"None
Cooling Fans(1) 120 x20 mm(1) 140 x13 mm(1) 120 x15 mm
(1) 80 x10 mm
(1) 110 x25 mm
Connectors(1) PWM(1) PWM(1) PWM
(1) Three-Pin
(1) PWM
Weight23 Ounces24 Ounces15 Ounces14 Ounces
Intel Sockets115x, 2011, 1366, 775115x, 2011, 1366, 775115x, 2011, 1366, 775115x, 1366, 775
AMD SocketsFour-bolt RectangularAll Four/Two-boltFour-bolt RectangularFour-bolt Rectangular
WarrantyOne YearOne YearOne YearOne Year
Web Price$58$80$40 $40

Thermalright’s special-edition AXP-200R is similarly estimated to cost slightly more than the AXP-200. Both coolers are identical apart from fan color, though we aren't worried about value judgements on a product that sells for at least $64. On the other hand, exceptional performance could open the door to Tom's Hardware Elite recognition, regardless of price.

Designed to support two fans in a push-pull configuration, SilverStone’s NT06-Pro includes only one. The firm instructs users of low-profile cases to mount the fan below its radiator, so that’s how we're testing it. It might even squeeze into ASRock’s M8 in this configuration, though the side panel would probably block airflow through its fins.

Display 47 Comments.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , January 23, 2014 1:26 PM
    Quote:
    It is sad that tomshardware did this benchmark in open air which pretty much never happens in RL cases. Low profile hsfs are meant to be used in htpc & compact cases which are usually air tight.
    To begin with, no they are not. And to end with, the best case for this type of cooler is a SilverStone model that has an intake over the CPU, but that specific case performs unlike any other case which means it would set unrealistic expectations.

    In other words, the best case for THIS roundup was no case at all. There simply isn't a "typical semi-compact" case that performs similarly to most other semi-compact cases.
  • 0 Hide
    nazgron , January 23, 2014 1:22 PM
    It is sad that tomshardware did this benchmark in open air which pretty much never happens in RL cases. Low profile hsfs are meant to be used in htpc & compact cases which are usually air tight.
  • 1 Hide
    Alec Bramlett , December 23, 2013 11:46 PM
    everytime I saw the word "janus", I had a freudian slip. ugh
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , November 27, 2013 2:22 AM
    Quote:
    in the market, no player now follows "a standardized set of dimensions". We have to check tons of information before we purchase anything. A Cube Case may house any of the coolers tested. But a "mini" one might take in half of them.
    That's a red herring. Every standard component follows a standard set of dimensions, including form factors that include Mini ITX, Micro ATX and ATX. Those form factors tell manufacturers where to put the standoffs, where to put the slots, the size and placement of the I/O shield, etc.

    So like I said, "small" is not a form factor. On the other hand Mini ITX is, and everyone who produces a Mini ITX case followed the Mini ITX form factor's fixed set of dimensions for the slot, standoffs, and I/O shield.

  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , November 26, 2013 5:59 AM
    Quote:
    Huh. I though SFF stood for Small Form Factor, not Shuttle Form Factor. You learn something every day (well, some days).
    It's been misappropriated. And other than that, "small" is not a form factor. Form factors have fixed dimensions :) 

    In fact, the definition of "form factor" is "a standardized set of dimensions".
  • 0 Hide
    Someone Somewhere , November 26, 2013 4:30 AM
    Huh. I though SFF stood for Small Form Factor, not Shuttle Form Factor. You learn something every day (well, some days).
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , November 26, 2013 3:36 AM
    Quote:
    After all, Noctua is much higher than any other. how many real SFF case can it fit?
    None of these can fit today's "real" SFF cases, because "real" Shuttle Form Factor has its own cooler. All of these will fit a "real SFF" case if you remove the factory cooler though.

    As for gaming cube cases made popular by Shuttle, you can go fairly big, usually just under 5". That's still too short for tower coolers though. The medium-compact cubes that came after give you around 4". And slim cases usually give you around 3".

    Getting to the intent of your original question, it fits over half the Mini ITX cases I've tested.
  • 0 Hide
    Stevemeister , November 20, 2013 10:50 AM
    I was looking at the Zalman Low Profile Cooler for my son's computer before this article was published and on the basis of the rating went and bought it. I can testify it works really well and is very quiet installed on an AMD Phenom II 965 - certainly way quieter than the stock cooler that made the computer sound like a jet engine once the CPU was loaded up.
  • 0 Hide
    ECA , November 20, 2013 12:08 AM
    I made a suggestion to some companies about case CLEANING..but no one wants it..
    SO..
    THESE ARE GREAT, if you can keep your case CLEAN.. WHO wants to CLEAN THE DUST out of these? considering the air flow, it will all be UNDER the fins..

    My comment to a CLOSE BOX with a FORCED fan INPUT and OUTPUT...is that a vacumme cleaner?
  • 0 Hide
    balister , November 18, 2013 1:41 PM
    Quote:
    How about one with the other in brackets? Because frankly I haven't got a clue what an ounce is without using Google.

    E.g. 120mm (4.7").


    Surprisingly, the conversions are similar and relatively easy to remember (because the numbers are close)

    1 inch = 25.4 mm
    1 ounce = 28.4 g (1kg = 35.2 ounces or 2.2 pounds)

    so quick rules of thumb (yes, this is off slightly, but it's relatively close)

    100 mm (or 10 cm) ~ 4 inch
    100g ~ 1/5th of a pound
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , November 18, 2013 12:24 PM
    Quote:
    Crash, any chance we'll see some cooling numbers from these inside actual SFF cases? Maybe use the three smallest cases from the ITX SBM ( including the slimline bonus build? ) I know that'd require extra time, but it'd be incredibly useful to the SFF builders.
    I don't see how anything I use would be representative of anything but what I used, concerning a compact case. For example, SilverStone has a nice case with a fan blowing down from the top that would fit most of these cooler (probably all of them), but most cases lack that feature.

  • 0 Hide
    RedJaron , November 18, 2013 12:02 PM
    Crash, any chance we'll see some cooling numbers from these inside actual SFF cases? Maybe use the three smallest cases from the ITX SBM ( including the slimline bonus build? ) I know that'd require extra time, but it'd be incredibly useful to the SFF builders.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , November 18, 2013 10:15 AM
    Quote:
    How about one with the other in brackets? Because frankly I haven't got a clue what an ounce is without using Google.

    E.g. 120mm (4.7").
    Perhaps if you can get the boss to spring for a digital scale to prevent rounding errors :) 

    The US is the land of 12-ounce cans of beer and 20-ounce bottles of other beverages, except milk that typically comes in gallons, half gallons, and cups. But the one-cup container says "half pint" just to confuse people who can't do fractions :p 

  • 0 Hide
    Someone Somewhere , November 18, 2013 3:55 AM
    How about one with the other in brackets? Because frankly I haven't got a clue what an ounce is without using Google.

    E.g. 120mm (4.7").
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , November 18, 2013 2:20 AM
    Quote:
    can we PLEASE have measurements in mm or cm, and weight in kg? please. Can't you see that the imperial system just does not make sense?
    Sure a decimal system isn't optimal either, base-12 would have been the most useful, but at least it's consistent...


    It's the reality of living in the USA. Furniture is measured in inches, so you pick a case to fit it in inches, and that leads to cooler height in inches. Fan frames have been standardized in millimeters, as have system temperatures. And if you give most US citizens a cooler weight in grams, they'll need a slide rule to figure out what that means.
  • 0 Hide
    squirrelboy , November 17, 2013 12:16 PM
    can we PLEASE have measurements in mm or cm, and weight in kg? please. Can't you see that the imperial system just does not make sense?
    Sure a decimal system isn't optimal either, base-12 would have been the most useful, but at least it's consistent...
  • 0 Hide
    balister , November 17, 2013 11:42 AM
    I'm surprised you didn't include Noctua's true gem(s) for SFF cooling, the NH-L9i (intel) and NH-L9a (amd). At 1.5" in height (37mm) for heatsink and fan, you have an extremely small profile while also cooling effectively for only $50.
  • 0 Hide
    rwinches , November 17, 2013 8:18 AM
    Considering the CM GeminII M4 only weighs 7.36 Oz it may not have performed well here.
    That said it too like the Zalman has direct contact heat pipes so it would have been nice to see how it ranked.
    Here is an extensive review of the CM GII M4
    http://www.silentpcreview.com/article1278-page1.html
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , November 15, 2013 1:53 PM
    Quote:
    How about a replacement for my AMD E-350D APU? I imagine none of these heat sinks will work on it.
    When you already have a custom-fit cooler, your best option is usually to find a fan of the same size and figure out how to mount it to the original sink.

  • 0 Hide
    caamsa , November 15, 2013 1:35 PM
    How about a replacement for my AMD E-350D APU? I imagine none of these heat sinks will work on it.
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