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Four Closed-Loop CPU Coolers Take On Noctua's NH-D14

Test Hardware Configuration

We wanted to use a top-performing case from our recent Quiet Gaming Case Comparison, but also wanted the case’s configuration to be as close to average as possible. That meant we had to look past the Define R4’s unique front-radiator mounting option. The P280’s radiator mount could have made it a good second choice, except that Antec has its own closed-loop liquid cooler. There was another, potentially better candidate...

The Deep Silence 1’s top panel supports dual-fan radiators in both on-center and offset mounting holes, with the offset designed to enhance motherboard clearance. It even resembles a more common gaming tower design after removing its pop-up top panel. So, that’s how we used it.

The top panel was replaced when installing the air cooler, promoting front-to-back airflow. But which air cooler would we compare?

Our decision could have been a toss-up between the CNPS12X and Noctua’s NH-D14. Zalman's a competitor in today's story though, so we went with the Noctua to keep everything as balanced as possible. Both heat sinks are equally suitable as our air-cooled baseline.

Installing and removing CPUs and CPU coolers is a terrible thing to do to Intel’s LGA contacts. We try to stay consistent, though, which means we use the same components over and over. Even though it should have been expected by now, we were still a little disappointed when our much-used P9X79 WS sample finally failed. We passed the torch to Asus’ overclocking-friendly P9X79 while retaining the rest of that test platform’s hardware and software.

Test System Configuration
CPUIntel Core i7-3960X (Sandy Bridge-E): 3.30 GHz, 6C/12T, Overclocked to 4.25 GHz (34 x 125 MHz) at 1.325 V Core
CPU CoolerNoctua NH-D14
MotherboardAsus P9X79: LGA 2011, Intel X79 Express, Firmware 0906 (12-22-2011) O/C at 125 MHz BCLK
RAMG.Skill F3-17600CL9Q-16GBXLD 16 GB (4 x 4 GB) DDR3-2200 Benchmarked at DDR3-1666 CAS 9 defaults
GraphicsNvidia GeForce GTX 580: 772 MHz GPU, GDDR5-4008 Maximum Fan for Thermal Tests, SLI
Hard DrivesSamsung 470 Series MZ5PA256HMDR, 256 GB SSD
SoundIntegrated HD Audio
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit Networking
PowerSeasonic X760 SS-760KM ATX12V v2.3, EPS12V, 80 PLUS Gold
Software
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64
GraphicsNvidia GeForce 296.10 WHQL
ChipsetIntel INF 9.2.3.1020
Benchmark Configuration
Prime95 v25.864-bit executable, Small FFTs, Eight-threads
RealTemp 3.00Highest core reading at full CPU load (60 minutes) Highest core reading at 30 minutes idle
Galaxy CM-140 SPL MeterTested at 1/2 m, corrected to 1 m (-6 dB), dB(A) weighting
Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.