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

Results: Noise And Acoustic Efficiency

Decibels are on a logarithmic scale, so every ten decibels has twice the apparent audio volume. But air is compressible, so sound sources don’t stack up as neatly. Ten times the source energy is needed to double sound pressure, and a drop of 3 dB is similar to reducing the source energy by half. With that understanding, we were pleased to see a 5 dB drop in the NH-L12’s noise level accompany the installation of its included resistor wires.

Zalman’s CNPS8900 Quiet similarly impresses us by making very little noise at full speed, and a look back at the thermal charts shows that its 51° over ambient result is very close to the low-speed NH-L12’s 49° over ambient.

A temperature reduction of 50% is a cooling improvement of 100%. To rate improved cooling with a higher percentage score, we divided the stock Intel baseline cooler’s temperature by the actual temperature of each competing solution. We then divided each cooler’s actual noise level by the reference cooler’s noise level to put noise on a direct scale, since the higher denominator produces a lower dividend.

The SilenX EFZ-100HA2 had a 10° advantage over the bundled Intel cooler, yet it's noisy enough to finish worse than the stock solution in a cooling-to-noise comparison. Zalman’s CNPS8900 Quiet takes top honors at full speed, while Noctua’s NH-L12 edges it out with the included speed-reducing resistor wires installed.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • CommentariesAnd More
    Good article.
  • laststop311
    I knew the noctua was going to win before I even looked at the results.
  • 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.
  • Someone Somewhere
    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.
  • slomo4sho
    I am surprised that the Cooler Master GeminII didn't make this list.
  • 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...
  • cheesyboy

    It's good to see consistency ;)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • -Fran-
    11933622 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