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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 all 52 comments.
  • 4 Hide
    CommentariesAnd More , November 13, 2013 9:18 PM
    Good article.
  • 4 Hide
    laststop311 , November 13, 2013 10:00 PM
    I knew the noctua was going to win before I even looked at the results.
  • 2 Hide
    lowguppy , November 13, 2013 10:28 PM
    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.
  • 6 Hide
    Someone Somewhere , November 13, 2013 11:48 PM
    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.
  • 1 Hide
    slomo4sho , November 13, 2013 11:50 PM
    I am surprised that the Cooler Master GeminII didn't make this list.
  • 2 Hide
    GoliathPtXs , November 14, 2013 2:13 AM
    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...
  • 0 Hide
    cheesyboy , November 14, 2013 2:27 AM
    Inches/Millimeters/Inches/Millimeters/Inches/Millimeters....

    It's good to see consistency ;) 
  • 1 Hide
    AJSB , November 14, 2013 2:52 AM
    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.
  • 0 Hide
    Amdlova , November 14, 2013 5:13 AM
    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 Hide
    Yuka , November 14, 2013 6:16 AM
    Quote:
    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!
  • 3 Hide
    expl0itfinder , November 14, 2013 6:31 AM
    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.
  • 0 Hide
    rolli59 , November 14, 2013 6:39 AM
    Nice article, I would have liked to see a Cooler Master offering in there as well.
  • 0 Hide
    jerreddredd , November 14, 2013 7:08 AM
    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 Hide
    de5_Roy , November 14, 2013 7:10 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    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 Hide
    RedJaron , November 14, 2013 12:38 PM
    Quote:
    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 Hide
    noob2222 , November 14, 2013 2:38 PM
    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.
  • 1 Hide
    10tacle , November 14, 2013 3:00 PM
    Quote:
    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 Hide
    16bit , November 14, 2013 5:42 PM
    The Zalman surprised me.
  • 0 Hide
    buzznut , November 14, 2013 7:10 PM
    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 Hide
    palibaya , November 14, 2013 7:23 PM
    Why Prolimatech Samuel is not added?
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