The Bottom Line
- + Chassis compatibility
- + RAM clearance
- + Low overall height
- + Top-tier build quality
- - Cost
- - Color / No Chromax version
Should you buy it?AvoidConsiderShortlistBuy
Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
Over the years, we have had various forms of "NH-12" coolers. A thick single tower with a pair of fans to cool it, a single tower with a single fan, and even some C-style additions for good measure, but they always seemed to find their niche in the market. Today is another attempt to make a cooler that fits in places others will not, such as the D14 and D15 towers which are Noctuas flagship coolers, still to this day. The idea is to make a much larger cooler as far as surface area goes, accompany it with a single fan with good specifications, yet still be able to fit in places where users would be limited to 92mm fan-based solutions, whether mainstream or in 4U servers.
With all the variations of 120mm fan-based coolers, this is the first time we have seen an NH-D version of one. The D stands for dualing towers, meaning we have a junior-sized D14 or D15, but not exactly. As we mentioned, the new cooler sports a single fan, whereas many other dual-tower models we have seen previously tended to go with two. Doing this also eliminates one major issue of its bigger brothers. Without a front fan, we get complete clearance of the memory, and when adding the front fan to the larger towers, we always had to raise the front fan higher than the tower, increasing overall height past spec. Not this time.
Many know the time and quality put into a Noctua cooler, so we will forego all that talk. However, this is one of the most well-built towers we have seen in a while. While that holds some merit, it comes down to fitment and thermal results, we would mention low noise, but that is something Noctua does anyways, and of course, the cost is a major concern. What you will see is Noctua not only staying relevant in a market full of murdered-out color applications and ARGB, sticking their foot back in the door with a tower meant for specific instances, but in reality, this is a cooler for the everyman out there looking for a beefy solution they know they can trust.
The specifications on the box and the product page are thorough but leave some information out. The NH-D12L we have is left in its natural state, but all copper bits get nickel-plated. The fins, thirty-eight in each stack, are aluminum, left that way, are soldered to the heat pipes, and speaking of them, five 6mm diameter pipes are used in this design. As for the compatibility, while they show current mainstream Intel and AMD options, due to the SecuFirm2 hardware usage, you can contact Noctua for the proper hardware for older or future sockets.
What gives the NH-D12L its "L" in the name is the 145mm height of the tower, making it able to fit in many places that the typical 120 and 140mm fan-based solution cannot. Otherwise, the NH-D12L is 125mm wide, 113mm thick, and with the fan, reads on a scale at 890 grams.
As to the fan, the only one on the tower to give it any hope of decent performance is the NF-A12x25r PWM fan. Noctua boasts this is widely considered the best fan on the market, and such a tower will need this type of a workhorse to keep up with what it needs to do. This fan is shown to top out at 2000 RPM delivering roughly 60 CFM of airflow. These fans use an SSO bearing for support and are housed in a round frame to help limit the tower's overall height.
The last thing you will want to know is how much money the NH-D12L will set you back. Well, in typical Noctua tradition, it will not be cheap. For those limited by space, where the NH-D12L will fit the need better than lesser coolers, you will pay a premium for that privilege. At Amazon, we currently find the NH-D12L at $89.95, essentially what the D14 and D15 cost when released many moons ago. However, if you shop Newegg, be aware that all listings are from third parties, and the price reflects it. You can spend either $114.21 or $124.74 from random sellers, or you could make the better call and look elsewhere at the moment.
Either way that is a premium price. We know the cooler is built like a brick sh*thouse, and as long as performance is good, we can see feasibly pondering this for the masses, but we will be looking at the NH-D12L for what it is first and see if it is worthy going anywhere else.
Everything about the packaging screams Noctua. From the choice of colors to how they give you just a hint of what the cooler looks like. With the NH-D12L, we see the heat pipe count and dual tower design mentioned, the round framed NF-A12 PWM fan, RAM compatibility, the inclusion of the LNA, SecuFirm2 hardware, NT-H1 thermal paste, and the six-year warranty are pasted on the front.
On the right, we see the cooler's name and what its intended design is for. Below that, we get three charts. The first is a set of specifications for the tower, with the scope of delivery below it. To the right, we get another chart for the NF-A12 fan.
The back of the box explains why this cooler came about, its strengths and compatibility, and is essentially a carbon copy of their introduction on the product page. It all gets repeated eight other times, but if you look closely at the bottom left, you will find two tiny dimensional renderings of the cooler inside.
On the remaining panel, we again see the name at the top, but this side is used to cover all of the features we mentioned earlier, but this time in full detail. There are ten bullet points, everything from the height, to the fan, to the warranty; it's all there.
To keep our NH-D12L in perfect condition, it is fully enclosed with multiple layers of thick cardboard. Along with the cooler and fan is another, much thinner box. It contains all of the bits for the SecuFirm2 mounting hardware and all the extras and accessories.
Noctua NH-D12L CPU Cooler
Staring at the front of the No9ctua NH-D12L, you will immediately notice the lack of an intake fan; we see the thirty-eight aluminum fins and the five heat pipes staring back at us. We also noticed the fan is lower than the pipe tips, which is where Noctua measures, getting the 145mm height from the bottom of the base to the top of those tips.
The side view shows us a few things. First, the front tower is much thinner than the back one, helping with RAM clearance while not offsetting the pipes. We also see that the sides are enclosed, which traps air and keeps it flowing through the tower, and lastly, the fan cannot go much lower, as it will eventually meet the mounting hardware.
While this is a view of the fins at the back of the tower, it is the same design you will find on all sides of the towers. The sides are at the tallest point, allowing the fan to rest while disturbing airflow with the sawteeth and using the valley in the center to enable the fan to build pressure before entering the array.
Not only does Noctua capture air with the tabs on the sides, but they all interlock to ensure fin spacing is always correct. We also see the groove at the leading and trailing edges of each array, which means you could use three fans, although you would need one extra set of clips, as the cooler ships with two sets of fan clips.
Sticking to tradition, we get towers with the Noctua name embossed in the fins in the left portion, and the right part offers an embossed Noctua logo on them. Between them is the brown and peach-colored fan many love to hate, but we are in the camp of product recognition, and there is no denying the manufacturer once you see that fan.
The base is at the other end of the tower, where we see a low-profile top portion, which exposes quite a bit of the heat pipes. There is a smaller aluminum chunk there, just enough for Noctua to mount the SecuFirm2 cross-bar to the top of the base.
Unlike just about any other manufacturer of coolers out there, you will find small holes next to the opening for the heat pipes to pass through each fin. The hole is due to needing access for the soldering process, while others simply press the fins on and hope for good thermal transfer.
The base, which is nickel-plated copper, is also unique. While many companies attempt to eliminate the machining marks, Noctua employs them as more surface area. The deep grooves are semi-circular in their cuts, while the center of the surface is slightly higher than the edges for added mounting pressure.
Accessories and Documentation
The majority of the Intel mounting hardware is what we have here. On either side is a top bracket, which fits all current mainstream sockets. Across the top are the LGA115X/1200 plastic spacers, with the backplate just below it. To the left of the plate are what appear to be LGA20xx standoffs, and to the right are knurled nuts to secure the rest of the hardware.
Continuing with more Intel goodies, we get the blue LGA1700 spacers on the left and a set of clip-on spacers, which work with the studs on the right to give the Intel backplate threads to secure to.
We can now move on to the AMD gear, which we have in this image. On either side are the gray plastic spacers, while above and below are the AMD mounting brackets. To secure this to the motherboard, you will need the factory backplate and swap to the screws provided in the center of this image.
In a smaller portion of the hardware box, we get a screwdriver tucked down the side and other accessories to go over. An LNA is provided to lessen the noise and performance, a tube of NT-H1 thermal paste, an extra set of wire fan clips, and a Noctua case badge.
As we mentioned earlier, The fan of choice is the NF-A12x25r PWM fan shown here. Removing it from the center of the cooler allows us to see the sticker with its specifications and shows how the rounded frame offers more clearance than a typical square-framed model, and we see that the cable is sleeved.
The instructions are broken down by camp and are some of the best instructions we see. Not only are the renderings color coded to ease installation visually, but there are also text descriptions that help guide you through. Either camp, there is no reason you should have issues, as Noctua ensures you have everything needed to get underway with as little effort as possible.
Installation and Finished Product
We removed the top portion of the factory AMD mounting hardware as we were meant to but left the backplate in place. Once that was done, we set the gray spacers in place, put the brackets on top of them above and below the socket, and carefully screwed them into place, tightening until we ran out of threads.
We took the plastic protector off the base, applied some MX-4 to the CPU, and set the cooler over its brackets. Alternating side to side, we screwed down the spring tensioned screws again until no threads were left.
Once installed, there are no changes visually from when we removed it from the packaging. However, the RAM is blocking the view of the heat pipes, but let's see how well the NH-D12L clears the RAM.
Perfectly. While many will offset the design to allow for RAM clearance, Nopctua said how about no, we use a single fan, and here we have it. You can add a fan on the front if you wish, but RAM height and overall height of the fan compared to the cooler may negate the reason for it, in the first place, to stay at 145mm in size.
In most instances, if adding another fan, we would suggest putting it on the back, but we can see that access to the 8-pin is somewhat limited now. Otherwise, this compact tower is almost ready for testing.
Here, we get a view of a lot of natural aluminum from the top of the NH-D12L and, of course, a look at the fan in its Noctua coloration. We love that we can still see our RAM and that there is plenty of room above the GPU not to cause problems.
Test System Setup, Thermal Tests, and Noise Results
Chad's CPU Cooler Test System Specifications
- Motherboard: ASUS ROG Crosshair VIII HERO [Wi-Fi] (AMD X570) - Buy from Amazon
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X - Buy from Amazon
- Memory: Corsair Vengeance LPX 4000MHz 4X8GB
- Graphics Card: ASUS GeForce RTX 2060 6GB OC - Buy from Amazon
- Storage: Galax HOF Pro M.2 1TB SSD
- Case: Hydra Bench Standard
- Power Supply: ASUS ROG Thor 850W - Buy from Amazon
- OS: Microsoft Windows 10 Home 64-bit - Buy from Amazon
- Software: AMD Ryzen Master, AIDA64 Engineer 6.25.5400, and CPU-z 1.92.0 x64
To see our testing methodology and to find out what goes into making our charts, please refer to our 2020 CPU Cooler Testing and Methodology article for more information.
Out of the gate with our stock profile, you may feel that the 60.6°C result shown in the chart is mediocre, and we would tend to agree on a level playing field. However, when we look at the charts, few can fit where the NH-D12L will, and we can see it does much better than the stock solutions you would typically be left using.
Adding in the overclock increased the thermal results, but we can see that the NH-D12L stood its ground and came in at 67.3°C in this chart. Many of the coolers in, say, ten spots ahead of these results, we raved about and said you should buy them, but think about how much smaller the D12L is compared to the likes of the A500, D15S, or that CNPS20X, all huge, and within a degree or two of this Noctua solution.
Between PWM control and running the fans at full speed, we find that Noctua left 2.9°C in the tank. To get the 64.4°C result, we increased the fan speed by nearly 700 RPM, and the noise jumps, but not to an absurd level as many others tend to.
Noise Level Results
With PWM in control of the stock settings in this test, we saw the fan turning at 1172 RPM at the peak. While at this speed, the cooler is hard to hear at a foot away, where it registers at 24 dB.
PWM is still in control at this time, but now the overclock is active. We saw the fan top out at 1317 RPM in the run, delivering only 29 dB into the room.
We told the BIOS to supply 12V and see what shakes to get the best from this single fan. While doing so, the fan got to 1998 RPM, delivering 44 dB into the office. While 44 is certainly audible to many, looking at the chart, it could be much worse.
You will need to see the NH-D12L for what it is at the end of it all. What follows is the mindset of this being a much more compact entry, especially concerning height, than most, if not all, of Noctua's direct competition with the introduction of this solution. It is a niche problem, as many would likely opt to buy a bigger tower and move forward. However, we realize there are server uses where you cannot change the chassis, and there are those that love to keep a mid-tower for space-saving reasons, which is a solution many of the big boys won't solve. With these ideas in mind, we continue with the rest of our opinions.
In build quality, you will be hard-pressed to find a cooler with the heft, thoughtfulness, eye for the finest details, and all of the tricks of the trade applied. This is what you get from Noctua. It is a premium product, although with a premium price, the tower's or the fan's quality should never come into question, and that is why Noctua offers a six-year warranty. In contrast, many will go with two or three years instead. You also will not be dealing with the noise levels you typically see in our charts. All things considered, in the realm of performance, Noctua held its own, and for a one-fan, dual-tower CPU cooler, we admire what Noctua could do with the limitations they imposed.
We are not completely blinded, nor are we ignoring the facts. You can get better performance for less money, sometimes nearly half the cost of the NH-D12L. We are not denying anything obvious here, but we do have to keep a myopic view. For those with huge cases, buy what suits you best, another air cooler, and AIO, this, whatever you feel fits the bill. However, if you are space limited, where the NH-D12L shines, you will be hard-pressed to find comparable performance from other 145mm tall CPU coolers, and surely better than what you would see with a 92mm fan-based solution.
In our opinion, the biggest thorn in the side of the NH-D12L is the cost. Do not get us twisted, you are getting a Noctua cooler here, and they are simply built differently. You can buy any cooler that performs better, but you will not get the quality or attention to detail that came along with the NH-D12L. However, that will cost you $89.95 for these pleasures. If the choice is a stock cooler versus this, the money involved seems less trivial. However, without testing many of the 92 mm-based cooling solutions over the years, all we know is they cooled alright, but the noise was atrocious. You will find none of that with this investment, but all the same, that $90 price point is tough to swallow.