Four Closed-Loop CPU Coolers Take On Noctua's NH-D14

Test Hardware Configuration

We wanted to use a top-performing case from our recent Quiet Gaming Case Comparison, but also wanted the case’s configuration to be as close to average as possible. That meant we had to look past the Define R4’s unique front-radiator mounting option. The P280’s radiator mount could have made it a good second choice, except that Antec has its own closed-loop liquid cooler. There was another, potentially better candidate...

The Deep Silence 1’s top panel supports dual-fan radiators in both on-center and offset mounting holes, with the offset designed to enhance motherboard clearance. It even resembles a more common gaming tower design after removing its pop-up top panel. So, that’s how we used it.

The top panel was replaced when installing the air cooler, promoting front-to-back airflow. But which air cooler would we compare?

Our decision could have been a toss-up between the CNPS12X and Noctua’s NH-D14. Zalman's a competitor in today's story though, so we went with the Noctua to keep everything as balanced as possible. Both heat sinks are equally suitable as our air-cooled baseline.

Installing and removing CPUs and CPU coolers is a terrible thing to do to Intel’s LGA contacts. We try to stay consistent, though, which means we use the same components over and over. Even though it should have been expected by now, we were still a little disappointed when our much-used P9X79 WS sample finally failed. We passed the torch to Asus’ overclocking-friendly P9X79 while retaining the rest of that test platform’s hardware and software.

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Test System Configuration
CPUIntel Core i7-3960X (Sandy Bridge-E): 3.30 GHz, 6C/12T, Overclocked to 4.25 GHz (34 x 125 MHz) at 1.325 V Core
CPU CoolerNoctua NH-D14
MotherboardAsus P9X79: LGA 2011, Intel X79 Express, Firmware 0906 (12-22-2011) O/C at 125 MHz BCLK
RAMG.Skill F3-17600CL9Q-16GBXLD 16 GB (4 x 4 GB) DDR3-2200 Benchmarked at DDR3-1666 CAS 9 defaults
GraphicsNvidia GeForce GTX 580: 772 MHz GPU, GDDR5-4008 Maximum Fan for Thermal Tests, SLI
Hard DrivesSamsung 470 Series MZ5PA256HMDR, 256 GB SSD
SoundIntegrated HD Audio
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit Networking
PowerSeasonic X760 SS-760KM ATX12V v2.3, EPS12V, 80 PLUS Gold
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64
GraphicsNvidia GeForce 296.10 WHQL
ChipsetIntel INF
Benchmark Configuration
Prime95 v25.864-bit executable, Small FFTs, Eight-threads
RealTemp 3.00Highest core reading at full CPU load (60 minutes) Highest core reading at 30 minutes idle
Galaxy CM-140 SPL MeterTested at 1/2 m, corrected to 1 m (-6 dB), dB(A) weighting
Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • austing
    I'm suprized to see a single 120mm rad can keep up with the h100i, bravo Zalman.
  • EzioAs
    Love the title!

    Nice review as well. Too bad you didn't test NZXT kraken cpu coolers.

    If you ask me, I'd rather stick with the D14
  • mayankleoboy1
    Keeping up and beating with all the Water coolers should earn the NH-D14 a "best of the best" award of its own. And its a ~2-3 year old product!
  • mayankleoboy1
    Small nit : i would have liked to see similar test done with a 3770K and a high OC.
  • sluggercz
    A possibly overlooked benefit of closed loop AIO systems are their ability to fit in SFF cases. While this certainly applies more to the single 120mm radiator designs, some cases (such as the Fractal Design Node 304) can accommodate 240mm radiators)

    (Source: Using a Corsair H60 w/ 2 Noctua NF-F12's in push-pull config in my Lian-Li PC-Q08; such large air-coolers as the Noctua could not fit due to the limited vertical clearance above the CPU)
  • hero1
    Awesome review. Keep it up. I remember commenting about how much better the closed loop CPU coolers have gotten and I got down voted but this just proved my point. I have very sensitive hearing and I can never hear my CoolIt R120(?) spin apart from the initial startup. And this is inside a CM Haf XM. I play games with CPU+GPU OCd to 4.5GHzby 1.2GHz and you can barely hear any noise. First I thought something was wrong then I got my friends and wife to listen whil I played with muted sound and they were impressed. Up next is water cooling my GPU when I add another one in a month in SLI mode. Gaming PCs FTW!
  • tanjo
    No NZXT Kraken and Thermaltake Water 2.0 (which is 3rd gen Asetek iirc)?
  • hero1
    BTW DH-14 still deserves an award alongside the H100i and Zalman. Not many, if any air coolers out there can keep up with top notch closed loop CPU coolers.
  • hero1
    tanjoNo NZXT Kraken and Thermaltake Water 2.0 (which is 3rd gen Asetek iirc)? has a review of Thermaltake water coolers and their top end 240mm took the crown. Better than H100i and the rest shown here.
  • nukemaster
    With MB control the NH D14 can be very quiet :)

    It is HUGE, but I got it for 50$ and to me that was a great value. It was also on for 50$ again at NCIX's boxing day sale.

    Sure fills up an SSF system.
    Not embedding the image because it may mess up the page.