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

The Best Cooler For Compact Systems?

Noctua’s NH-L12 is the top performer in all of today’s tests, though attaining that status in our noise measurements requires installing resistor wires that also raises its temperature to third place. It's also the largest cooler in today’s tests, and fits only the most spacious of small enclosures, such as SilverStone's SG08. And we’re sure SilverStone would have something to say about that, following closely behind with its own NT06-Pro.

The rest of the field fits most compact enclosures with heights of less than 3”. The best cooling-to-price ratio among these comes from the SilenX EFZ-100HA2. If this were a comparison of basic replacement parts, SilenX’s low price would make it a top contender. But hot and cheap don't win any favors in the high-end cooling market.

Second in the value charts, Zalman’s CNPS8900 Quiet is best among the sub-3” coolers in our Acoustic Efficiency chart. It also takes second place behind the SilenX EFZ-100HA2 in our cost to benefit analysis. It's barely warmer and barely noisier than Noctua’s much larger NH-L12 in its top-performing low-speed mode, and has the added advantage of fitting most compact enclosures.

Two candidates emerge for our top-honor Elite award, the Zalman CNPS8900 Quiet that fits most "slim" enclosures and Noctua NH-L12 that fits only a few. But there can only be one best. And since one of the two products also qualifies for a value award, I’m bypassing the debate between performance superiority and enclosure compatibility.

The CNPS8900 Quiet combines good cooling performance, low noise, broad case compatibility, and a moderate price to make it the smartest choice for the majority of compact system builders.

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