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Noctua NH-U12A Cooler Review: Expensive Excellence

Editor's Choice

Testing Results and Conclusion

Comparison Products

Using our overclocked Core i7-5930k at 4.20 Ghz @ 1.20v, we will be comparing the Noctua NH-U12A to a few coolers of similar price and size, the Arctic Freezer 34 eSports DUO, Cooler Master MasterAir MA410M TUF, and the Dark Rock 4.

Benchmark Results

The Noctua NH-U12A provided solid thermal test results in a testing group of some of our best-performing mid-size heatpipe coolers. With the thermal performance of all coolers maintaining such a tight grouping, it’ll be interesting to see how the remainder of our charts stack up.

The Noctua’s 2000 RPM fans look to provide some indication as to where the NH-U12A gets its cooling muscle in comparison to the other solutions in the group. The only cooler of the quartet utilizing a single-fan setup is the be quiet! Dark Rock 4, which consequently also delivered the best thermal performance.

Normally, the highest fan RPM results in the highest registered decibel levels, but this is not a hard rule, as we see the fans on the Noctua NH-U12A aligning as one of the quieter coolers of the group.  This often indicates that fans are matched well for the cooling solution they are bundled with, not only for thermal performance but also to achieve lower noise levels. 

Acoustic efficiency evaluates thermal load temperatures and measured decibel levels to provide an indication as to how well a thermal solution performs and how quietly it runs in the process. 

Performance value takes our acoustic efficiency comparison one step further and includes unit pricing as part of the equation.  Priced right at $100, the Noctua NH-U12A takes a hit for its high price, skewing our final chart in a way that doesn’t make the Noctua look great..

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Thermal imaging from our FLIR ONE Pro shows even dissipation of heat within the Noctua NH-U12A’s cooling tower at 50%, and even shows a significant low temperature region with the fans at 100% speed.  Even with the terminal ends of the heatpipes protruding at the top of the cooling fins, they do not show signs of focused heat spikes, which would indicate proper dissipation of thermal loads from the heatpipes to the cooling fins, exhausted by the twin 120mm fans.

Conclusion

The NH-U12A provides solid thermal performance with low noise levels in a very Noctua-like package -- a plated heatpipe cooling tower, armed with a pair of the company’s signature brown-and-tan fans.  Premium thermal solutions are designed and engineered to perform and present well. And Noctua’s products are often mentioned with reverence surrounding each of those traits.

At $100, the Noctua NU-U12A certainly commands a price premium over other solutions, while delivering the quality and results consumers have come to expect and rely upon from the company.  A higher price doesn’t always afford guarantee of better performance. But with the Noctua NH-U12A the extra dollars spent (if you so choose) are an investment in engineering, effectiveness and character.

Image Credits: Tom's Hardware

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  • hannibal
    The Ferrari of air coolers!
    Reply
  • JQB45
    hannibal said:
    The Ferrari of air coolers!

    Perhaps but not the best. The Be Quiet! seemed to win this competition.
    Reply
  • drivinfast247
    hannibal said:
    The Ferrari of air coolers!
    If they produced Ferraris in hideous colors.
    Reply
  • RodroX
    Having identical performance (almost between the marging of error) and similar noise levels, the great winner heres is the Artctic Freezer 34 Sport Duo, with at cost of almost 1/3 of Noctuas and 1/2 of Be Quiet! one.
    Reply
  • JQB45
    RodroX said:
    Having identical performance (almost between the marging of error) and similar noise levels, the great winner heres is the Artctic Freezer 34 Sport Duo, with at cost of almost 1/3 of Noctuas and 1/2 of Be Quiet! one.

    While I see your point I have both Arctic and Noctua products and I can say 100% hands down the quality difference is staggering. Noctua is in a class of its own in build quality, reliability and noise output. You pay more for Noctua but Noctua makes better products. In this case my comparison is limited to 120mm fans.

    I would still pay the Noctua tax because I would end up with a better product. In fact I am seriously considering the Noctua NH-C14S as my next CPU cooler. I would get a larger unit but my Corsair 100r is a little to thin to handle the larger tower coolers discussed in this article.
    Reply
  • RodroX
    JQB45 said:
    While I see your point I have both Arctic and Noctua products and I can say 100% hands down the quality difference is staggering. Noctua is in a class of its own in build quality, reliability and noise output. You pay more for Noctua but Noctua makes better products. In this case my comparison is limited to 120mm fans.

    I would still pay the Noctua tax because I would end up with a better product. In fact I am seriously considering the Noctua NH-C14S as my next CPU cooler. I would get a larger unit but my Corsair 100r is a little to thin to handle the larger tower coolers discussed in this article.

    Got your point, and if I could spend any money on a CPU cooler of course I would go with Noctua and on second place Be Quiet! (Well also if I could get those cooler where I live, which is not the case /sob).

    Then again yeah, if budget is low or tight I think is great that there are others options that, despite the somehow "simple" craftmanship can deliver almost identical performance for 1/3 of the money.

    But yeah for someone with no budget limits, considering the beautiful craftmanship and the big warranty Noctua gives to their cooler, is basically an amazing product to get. (Some of those coolers can have better performance than all 120mm AIO and even some 240mm and 360mm AIO).
    Reply
  • DaveTea
    JQB45 said:
    Perhaps but not the best. The Be Quiet! seemed to win this competition.
    'The BeQuiet seemed to win'??? You need to go to the optician - The BeQuiet was the worst in this group, apart from noise, due only to it using a single fan!
    Reply
  • Darkbreeze
    Much respect to Garret, because I know he does thorough testing and I have great respect for him as a very knowledgeable cooling enthusiast, but some other reviews show the NH-U12A being within one degree of the Cryorig R1 and the same temperature as the Noctua NH-D15S so I feel like something is skewed in the test results or playing field. No way those other three coolers should even be in the same conversation with this cooler or the other two I mentioned.
    Reply
  • JQB45
    DaveTea said:
    'The BeQuiet seemed to win'??? You need to go to the optician - The BeQuiet was the worst in this group, apart from noise, due only to it using a single fan!

    Can you point to the chart you are referencing with your statement? I maybe looking at a different chart then you are...
    Reply
  • JoBalz
    drivinfast247 said:
    If they produced Ferraris in hideous colors.

    Depending on the Noctua model, this is not necessarily the case, since Noctua is now producing black coolers and fans (Chromax). I imagine if they sell well, Noctua will extend black to more of their cooler line as well as the individual fans.
    Reply