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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.