Three Down-Draft Heat Sinks: The Last Of A Dying Breed?

Noctua NH-L12: Cooling Performance And Noise

Noctua's NH-L12 is the smallest, and, at 415 grams, the lightest cooler in our round-up. We think this is appropriate, given the heat sink's intended role in HTPCs and compact enclosures.

The bottom of the cooler and its four 6 mm heat pipes are made of copper, and the heat sink’s 60 fins are made of aluminum. Performance-wise, the smaller cooler has a more difficult time coping with the Phenom II X6 1090T's six overclocked cores, causing it to drop into last place in our story. Under full load, we record a CPU temperature 45.7 degrees Celsius higher than the ambient temperature. It doesn’t matter if we run the fan at its maximum 1460 RPM or at a slower 1000 RPM. Less overall surface area simply limits maximum cooling performance. At idle, CPU temperatures look better, and are still competitive at 6.6 and 7.6 degrees Celsius above ambient temperature with the fan spinning at 1000 and 1460 RPM, respectively.

Let's look at this with a bit of context: given that we know Noctua's NH-L12 is designed for HTPCs and smaller PCs, its cooling performance should be ample for those applications. If you're instead shopping for a more overclocking-oriented cooling solution, look elsewhere. Then again, you might not have to go very far. After all, Noctua has another down-draft cooler, the NH-C14, designed with more aggressive thermal performance in mind. It’s larger, heavier, and comes with two 140 mm fans.

Although we gave each vendor one spot in today's story, we did go ahead and include the NH-C14's benchmark numbers in our cooler charts. Under full load, Noctua's NH-C14 keeps the CPU temperature at 24.4 degrees Celsius above ambient temperature, and 25.4 degrees Celsius with the fan speed down to 1000 RPM. This is a strong showing for a down-draft cooler.

The NH-C14 is not exactly quiet, though. It registered 44 dB(A) with its fan spinning at 1240 RPM, and 37.7 dB(A) at 1000 RPM.

On the other hand, the NH-L12's 120 and 92 mm fans yield better acoustic results. At a fan speed of 1000 RPM, the cooler produces a nice 32.9 dB(A), which is slightly higher than the two competitors’ noise levels. At maximum RPM, the Noctua NH-L12 is between the other two coolers with 42.5 dB(A).

  • boulbox
    My h100 is horrible compared to this :(
  • JohnnyLucky
    WOW! Sound levels are way above advertised levels.
  • killerclick
    Scythe coolers are the best overall, but 1000+ RPM is just too high.
  • Darkerson
    I used to have a Thermaltake Dualorb, and it was really nice because both fans would also blow over the ram and and chipset heatsink. I am currently using a 2500k running at 5GHz with a CM Hyper 212+, and my ambient on the cores is around 28-30, and peak is on average about 67-68c. At any rate, interesting article.
  • luciferano
    JohnnyLuckyWOW! Sound levels are way above advertised levels.
    Don't forget to account for ambient noise, which is already often higher than the rated loudness of many coolers.
  • with the enermax and noctua both @ $68 the scythe is a steal @ $40 on amazon.
  • antemon
    coolermaster didn't send in their vortex (which is what i have)
  • merikafyeah
    It has been my life-long dream to pair a Cooler Master GeminII S524:
    with the greatest 140mm desktop PC fan in existence, the Sanyo Denki 9LB1412M501:
    Specs: 140x140 51mm 138CFM 2000rpm 39dBA 12V 0.5A
    Essentially the most perfect balance of airflow to noise I have ever seen.

    I can only imagine how well this fan can cool not only the CPU but virtually the entire upper half of the motherboard as well. Alas, my dream will remain a dream since although I know where to buy the fan, the min. order quantity is 10, pushing the total price to at least $500; way out of my reach.

    But speaking of which, Tom's, why not compare motherboard voltage regulator and RAM module temps with these top-down coolers vs tower coolers? Myself and many overclockers will be extremely interested in these temps.
  • doive1231
    You could just get an Ivy Bridge CPU and sleep tight.
  • rantoc
    Top->Down coolers are my favourite choice for building normal non-oc rigs since they cool so much more than just the cpu, as for overclocking "real water" cooling with extra spot on fan for the voltage regulators + ram is my favourite. Seem some forget that with water/air tower designs the MB don't get much often needed airflow around the upper part of the MB.