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

Noctua NH-L12

Designed for semi-slim cases, Noctua’s NH-L12 could become a truly slim cooler by removing its 120 mm top fan. A second option for reduced profile would be to replace its 92 mm bottom fan with the top fan, though doing so would significantly diminish motherboard component and DRAM clearance. Noctua only recommends the first two options (both fans or one 92 mm fan).

In addition to mounting hardware, the NH-L12 includes a fan splitter and two speed-reducing resistor wires. While we prefer to let our motherboards manage fan speed, we’ll entertain ourselves with both high-speed and low-speed mode tests.

Noctua machines its copper base plate to an ultra-fine surface before plating the entire NH-L12 in corrosion-resistant nickel. Spring-loaded cap nuts with Phillips-head tops are also factory installed.

Some processor interfaces have built-in support plates; others don’t. Noctua still supports LGA 775-based motherboards by extending foam support material across most of its cross bracket, and it supports newer Intel platforms by making that center section removable. AMD and LGA 2011 owners have the benefit of direct-mounting Noctua’s brackets to the motherboard's original support mechanisms.

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