Introduction In late 2005 I heard about Noctua and their first two heatsinks, the NH-U9 and NH-U12. Both of these products have been discontinued but I still use them today. Two NH-U12s sit on a pair of AMD FX-74 processors and the NH-U9 bounces around my test bed area when I need a CPU cooler for mild overclocking without using a loud fan. Both heatsinks looked as they did when I first opened them from the package, even though the NH-U12s were involved in a shipping accident that destroyed an $8,000 USD system I put together for Corsair to show at the 2006 CES show. When the shipping container was dropped it hit with so much force that the PSU was ripped away from the case with the screws still attached. This led to a new XFX 7900GTX 512 being shattered like glass and the dual Opteron motherboard being split into three pieces. The entire system was destroyed except for the two Noctua coolers and the $3000 USD CPUs they protected under them.If you've never seen a Noctua heatsink, the first thing you will notice is the quality of the material used. Many heatsinks are now designed after the NH-U12 with a copper base attached to heatpipes that lead to aluminum fins, but when comparing them side-by-side it is clear that the Noctua fins are stronger, thicker and very difficult to bend. I have never taken the time to purchase a micrometer but the Noctua fins appear to be twice as thick as most, and in some cases up to four times the thickness. Today we will be looking at the Noctua NH-U12P, a revised version of the original NH-U12. The 12P has several improvements over its older sibling, some lead to better performance and some to making the installation easier and more diverse.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
The Noctua NH-U12P is a diverse heatsink that can be mounted horizontally or vertically on all current CPU sockets. Support for Intel's Xeon is now available as is support for AMD's Socket F. The heatsink comes with one 120mm fan that is very quiet and is of the same quality as the heatsink. The NH-U12P can also hold a second 120mm fan as an option. For our testing today we will test the cooler in single and dual configurations.As you will soon see in the product images section the NH-U12P is a large heatsink capable of dissipating high TDP processors to water cooling temperatures. This makes it ideal for today's quad-core processors from Intel and AMD.Noctua is an Austrian company, not a place you think of for leading the charge in PC cooling. The downside of that is product availability and Noctua's limited but growing number of distributers. A scan of Pricegrabber in the US doesn't show any NH-U12P heatsinks, rather just one listing for the NC-U6 chipset cooler at Xoxide.com. After a quick scan of that e-tail shop I found that they did in fact have the NH-U12P in stock for $64.99, not exactly a low cost cooling solution but we will reserve the right to tackle price vs. performance after we see how the NH-U12P performs.
The front of the package is pretty tame compared to some of the other heatsinks we have looked at recently. Some of the features are listed as is the Noctua web address. There is a small window that allows you to see the fan that is included.
The side shows a list of what is included in the package and also an image on how the heatsink mounts to both Intel 775 and AMD AM2 socket systems.
The rear of the package shows more of the features of the product.
The other side has a description of the NH-U12P in six different languages, and along the bottom are several awards that Noctua has received.
Our first image of the heatsink looks like many other products on the market today. A nickel coated copper base with four heatpipes going to an aluminium fin area that houses a 120mm fan.
The side of the heatsink is also similar to other products on the market. On each edge the fins stick out a little bit further than they do in the middle, this is for a fan mounting system that is made of solid wire.
The base is not exactly a mirror image; in the full screen image (click to view) you can see the machine marks where the base was cut. Most of the nickel plated heatsinks we see have a very refractive surface. It is almost as if the base was plated and then machined down.
Before mounting the fan you should install the rubber isolation strips that are included with the accessory package. The original Noctua coolers did not come with these and I never had a problem with noise by not using them, but since they are included go ahead and install them.
When you see the Noctua fan you will notice two things, the first is the thickness of the blades; many coolers come with fans that have blades that look paper thin and can bend easily. The fan also has two V-shaped cuts along its edges. Noctua calls these Vortex Control Notches and a description of their function can be found here.
Here you can see the fan mounted to the heatsink with the solid wire running along the height of the heatsink. Installing the fan is very easy outside and inside of the computer chassis.
A front view of the fan installed on the heatsink.
Here you can see two Noctua NF-P12 fans installed and also the length of the cable. The 3-pin fan connector is long enough to attach to a fan header at the bottom of a motherboard if you need to send the second one on that far of a run.
Accessories and Documentation
Accessories and Documentation
Here we see the overall accessories package and how they are grouped together in bags per application.
The Intel mounting hardware is seen here along with the metal brackets that hold the fans and power extensions if you need them.
In this picture we have the AMD Socket AM2 hardware along with the special screw driver that makes installing the heatsink easier in some situations. This depends on if you are mounting the heatsink with the fan on top or on the side.
Noctua included two guides for installing the NH-U12P. They come inside of a booklet that when opened will allow each guide to be opened. This offers added protection so you don't end up with a crumpled up sheet of paper when your install is finished.
Test ResultsTweakTown uses a different method for testing CPU heatsinks which allows for an even playing field across all product tests. We feel that by using the same ambient temperature and strict lab-like testing procedures we are able to accurately compare one product to another. More information on our testing procedure can be found in the T.E.C.C. article here.
The tests are completed and we have a new performance leader. As stated previously, we tested in both single and dual fan configurations. The Noctua NH-U12P performed better than any of our previously tested products in two setups. Anyone can stick a massive high volume fan on a heatsink and get great performance though, so let's see how it did in our acoustic tests.
The NF-P12 fans work as advertised, and again we have a new leader in this test. Noctua uses SSO bearings with these fans that rotate at 1300 RPM with 12 volts. The result is a very quiet fan that can push up to 92.3 cubic meters per hour.
Final ThoughtsIt is pretty easy to see from our test results why I use a pair of Noctua heatsinks on my own computer. I have always been impressed by their build quality and the performance is second to none with all of their heatsinks that I have tested over the last ten years. Noctua's flagship NH-U12P is a solid performer in cooling performance and does it with low noise. The fact that it does it with the lowest acoustics that we have measured make it by far the best heatsink we have tested since moving to the TECC testing method. High-end performance does come at a high-end price. As previously stated the NH-U12P will set you back around $65 Dollars and finding one can also be difficult. The good thing is that as more people become aware of Noctua their products will be carried in more locations. In 2005 Noctua didn't have a US distributer and obtaining their products meant paying for international shipping. Now we are starting to see these parts in e-tail and it can't be long before a major retail outfit picks up the brand.
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Chris Ramseyer started his career as a LAN Party organizer in Midwest USA. After working with several computer companies he was asked to join the team at The Adrenaline Vault by fellow Midwest LAN Party legend Sean Aikins. After a series of shake ups at AVault, Chris eventually took over as Editor-in-Chief before leaving to start Real World Entertainment. Look for Chris to bring his unique methods of testing Hard Disk Drives, Solid State Drives as well as RAID controller and NAS boxes to TweakTown as he looks to provide an accurate test bed to make your purchasing decisions easier.
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