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

Eight Low-Profile Heat Sinks For Your Compact PC

Compact enthusiast-oriented PCs are becoming increasingly popular as hardware vendors improve the efficiency of their components alongside raw performance. In the last year, we've covered complete mini-ITX systems, low-profile memory kits, and small enclosures. We even based an entire System Builder Marathon on the mini-ITX form factor.

One thing we found during that exercise was that it's difficult to match the dimensions of boutique-built boxes with high-end hardware, if only because there aren't many enclosures optimized for tiny spaces and big specs. Always eager to make bold statements of frugality, I came upon ASRock’s M8 mini barebones system, to which I added a number fairly potent parts. I then ran smack up against the reason that Chris paid big bucks for his Tiki: ASRock’s M8 wasn’t designed for high-performance CPU cooling. The best I could do was 4 GHz, and that was only after I reconfigured the barebones machine's intake and exhaust fans, upgraded the CPU cooler, and locked the processor's core voltage at a level below Intel's stock ceiling. Clearly there was room for improvement.

We set our upper limit for cooler size at 4” to cover the largest of slim cases, and eight different heat sink vendors responded with samples. Six of them even fit within the approximate 3” limit of ASRock’s M8. One manufacturer said it thought its submission would qualify, but might not fit our test motherboard (even though we were sure it would). Several others asked us for a few additional millimeters of headroom, though that would have resulted in a vicious cycle. It was important to us that we keep this a comparison of truly low-profile coolers to address the growing compact computing market.

Here are today’s contenders:

Low-Profile CPU Cooler Features
Gamer Storm GabrielNoctua NH-L12Scythe Big Shuriken 2 Rev. BSilenX EFZ-100HA2
Base Height1.1"1.6"1.4"0.8-1.5" Tapered
Assy. Offset0.6" x 0.5"0.5"NoneNone
Cooling Fans(1) 120 x15 mm(1) 120 x25 mm, (1) 92 x25 mm(1) 120 x12 mm(1) 92 x15 mm
Connectors(1) PWM(2) PWM(1) PWM(1) Three-Pin
Weight14 Ounces24 Ounces17 OuncesEight Ounces
Intel Sockets115x (1150/1155/1156)115x, 2011, 1366, 775115x, 2011, 1366, 775115x, 775
AMD SocketsFour-bolt RectangularFour-bolt RectangularAll Four/Two-boltAll Clip-On
WarrantyOne YearSix YearsTwo YearsThree Years
Web Price$40$70$48$15

Due to distribution issues, the Gabriel CPU cooler’s price is an estimate based on the company’s other products. That doesn’t leave any room for award recognition, but it still lets us get a look at performance in lieu of its final release. Noctua’s NH-L12 is distinct in that it's the largest cooler to qualify for our story.

Low-Profile CPU Cooler Features
SilverStone Nitrogon NT06-ProThermalright AXP-200RXigmatek JanusZalman CNPS8900 Quiet
Base Height1.2" (w/fan)1.4"1.2"1.3"
Assy. Offset0.8" (x)1.1" (x)0.6"None
Cooling Fans(1) 120 x20 mm(1) 140 x13 mm(1) 120 x15 mm (1) 80 x10 mm(1) 110 x25 mm
Connectors(1) PWM(1) PWM(1) PWM (1) Three-Pin(1) PWM
Weight23 Ounces24 Ounces15 Ounces14 Ounces
Intel Sockets115x, 2011, 1366, 775115x, 2011, 1366, 775115x, 2011, 1366, 775115x, 1366, 775
AMD SocketsFour-bolt RectangularAll Four/Two-boltFour-bolt RectangularFour-bolt Rectangular
WarrantyOne YearOne YearOne YearOne Year
Web Price$58$80$40 $40

Thermalright’s special-edition AXP-200R is similarly estimated to cost slightly more than the AXP-200. Both coolers are identical apart from fan color, though we aren't worried about value judgements on a product that sells for at least $64. On the other hand, exceptional performance could open the door to Tom's Hardware Elite recognition, regardless of price.

Designed to support two fans in a push-pull configuration, SilverStone’s NT06-Pro includes only one. The firm instructs users of low-profile cases to mount the fan below its radiator, so that’s how we're testing it. It might even squeeze into ASRock’s M8 in this configuration, though the side panel would probably block airflow through its fins.