IntroductionA couple of years ago I came up with the bright idea of making my own quad-core workstation. At the time dual-core processors were just starting to make their way to market and I was still in my balls to the wall stage; power transformers feared me. For years dual-core to me meant dual socket and dual socket workstation boards with just enough overclocking potential to keep me happy. So while everyone else was ready to start getting their first taste of SMP, I was ready to experiment with four processor cores, or dual, dual-core systems. My first attempt at quad-core computing wasn't really anything special, but two foot notes did come out of it. The first was shattering FutureMark's 3DMark06 CPU Score Record while using a pair of passive heatsinks and the second was teaming up with Noctua, then a little known company with just two CPU coolers on their product list. While the CPU record lasted only a couple of months, I still look to Noctua to cool my high performance workstations. The relationship is now on its third generation of high performance Opteron processors.Prior to Noctua's announcement this past week, I'd come to the realization that it was time to build another workstation, this time for testing hard drives and NAS servers here at TweakTown. An article that will go into the details of all of the components used and why they were chosen will follow in the coming weeks, but since I have an exclusive pair of Noctua's first heatsink designed specifically for the Opteron, we might as well take advantage of having the only pair outside of Austria. After reading the press release I figured the new NH-U12DO (D. O. for Dual Opteron) was exactly like the NH-U12P we reviewed back in December with new mounting hardware for the Socket F Opteron; I was wrong. When I contacted Noctua about them supplying a new set of coolers for my latest build, I was worried about a couple of clearance issues with the NH-U12P and NH-C12P and I showed Noctua some photos taken with my digital calipers measuring the problem areas. Jakob quickly replied with firm, "We have something just for you, an Opteron only heatsink we have been working on. I will have it there by next week."At the time specifications were not available and if someone would have told me Noctua would have a workstation heatsink coming so quickly, I would have thought it came from FUD.Let's take a look at the new Noctua NH-U12DO and see what makes this cooler different from the enthusiast NH-U12P.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
Compared to the NH-U12P, the DO version is 3mm shorter and 6mm slimmer. It is almost like they designed the cooler to the size I needed after I broke out the digital calipers and sent over my request, but it would have taken Noctua longer to get everything ready. Or at least, I would think three days is too short of a time to come up with a name, design and then to manufacture a cooler; plus getting it to my door from halfway across the globe. As you can imagine, putting two full sized CPU heatsinks in a system with four PCIe 16x, two PCI-X and a standard PCI slot plus eight DIMMs for memory can be quite a challenge. Not only are workstation motherboards jam packed with components, but the overall size doesn't double with the number of processor sockets. Orientation is the key; if a cooler is not able to be mounted vertically or horizontally then you alienate half of the market since motherboard manufacturers have enough trouble trying to get all of the components situated. CPU coolers are an afterthought; you just take what you get when it comes to mounting coolers on these types of motherboards. The Noctua NH-U12DO comes with an old favorite, the NF-P12 fan. Mounting the fan is the same; Noctua has always used the wire hanger method on their coolers. The NH-C12P was the only exception but used a completely different design. The fan has proven itself many times in our test lab and has even been used on other coolers to test heatsink efficiency, comparing one cooler design against the Noctua coolers based on apples to apples fan performance. Pricing is still up in the air since the coolers were just announced this week. When products make their way through the channel we will know more about the price and Noctua's normal group of e-tail shops should keep a few coolers on hand. I don't expect a price premium like most other workstation parts, but as what usually happens, the market will decide.
I was a bit surprised at the packaging, no red box and the red head is missing. I know she sells her fair share of coolers by just being on the box. Then again, maybe they did whip up a new product just for me. All joking aside, the workstation market doesn't walk into Fry's and grab a cooler off of the shelf, so Noctua made a decision to keep the packaging minimal. Hopefully the savings makes its way to the consumer and OEM partners and we will see the NH-U12DO costing less than their enthusiast class counterparts.
Once inside we get back to a standard affair for Noctua; the cooler is kept separate from the mounting hardware, leaving little room for the cooler to be damaged during shipping.
The Noctua NH-U12DO
The Noctua NH-U12DO
Starting out with the NF-12 fan installed, you can see that the fan still covers the entire width of the cooler. Since only the height and depth changed, there isn't much you can do when needing to fill 120mms of space for a fan. The straight-through adapter places have been installed on the base as well.
Looking at the cooler from the side with the fan installed, we get a good look at the length of the fans power cable; long enough to fit even the farthest power header from the socket. You can also see the fans wire retention clip. The fan can be moved up or down a few centimeters to accommodate other tightly packed components a workstation.
With the fan removed we see the fins use a straight-through design, allowing air to pass freely through the cooler. In many cases the heatsinks are going to sit very closely together and while bending the fins would give a larger amount of surface area, it will disrupt the flow to the second cooler.
A quick image from the side; you can see that the four heatpipes are nickel plated so there isn't an issue with tarnish building up on the copper.
This is where things get interesting with the NH-U12DO. As you can see, the mounting hardware for 0 degree placement is installed. If your installation requires one or both coolers to fit at 90 degrees, the top two screws are used with different brackets allowing you to rotate the fan at a right angle.The surface finish is typical Noctua quality. There are some light machine marks that are visible to the naked eye, but using the touch test you would never know they were there.
The cooler uses the thicker fins that were updated after the NH-U12 that I had mounted on my Opteron 880 and 2220 HE systems. The newer design allows for easier 90 degree mounting since there are holes all the way through the cooler for a special, supplied screw driver to pass through.
Accessories and Documentation
Accessories and Documentation
Noctua includes a tube of their premium NT-H1 thermal paste with each cooler. In the accessory bag you will also find the special service tool screw driver, 0 and 90 degree base adapters for Socket F Opterons (88.9mm only) and two sets of fan retention wires. Extras include double the amount of small screws needed for installation and two fan speed adapters that force the fan to run at 900 and 1100 RPM.
The manual is well written and typical of what we have come to expect from Noctua. The cooler has a sophisticated mounting system compared to typical, lower performing workstation and server coolers, but the installation process is painless.
Now that the cat is out of the bag on my new hard drive and Network Attached Server test bed, I can show you the mounting of the Noctua NH-U12DO coolers in 0 and 90 degree modes. In the final stages of the build the right side cooler will be changed back to 0 degree so air will pass freely from one cooler to the other and be shot out the back of the Cooler Master Stacker 830. The lower profile coolers make it possible to utilize the cases removable motherboard tray, something that the NH-U12P made impossible when installed. I have to say that I am pretty excited about having the opportunity to test workstation and server disk arrangements on an 8-way platform. There are just a couple of pieces left to arrive as you can see in the picture.
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.
We already know that the NH-U12DO loses a small amount of surface area at the fins and the loss is visible in our testing when compared to the NH-U12P. A couple of millimetres here, a couple there, they all add up when multiplied by the thirty five fins. Still, we will not let four tenths of a degree hold us back from taking advantage of the gains associated with reducing the overall size.When compared to the latest coolers we tested, the Noctua NH-U12DO fairs very well. Noctua has yet to enter the H.D.T. market but still fairs very well with these types of coolers.
One area that Noctua has always excelled in is their fan technology. The NH-U12DO completely blows away the other coolers we looked at this past month. The reading at idle and load are exactly the same as the NH-U12P enthusiast cooler, showing that the heatsink produces little turbulence that is audible.
Final ThoughtsIt took a little time but Noctua has now entered the workstation and server market with their new NH-U12DO (Dual Opteron) and NH-U12DX (Dual Xeon) coolers. Since most of the coolers found in this market are very loud and set the performance bar just above the required minimum, I think Noctua will do well with the new workstation coolers. When it comes to Opterons specifically, most enthusiast coolers coming out as of late do not include hardware to mount to 939 processors; the base that Socket F is designed after, so the possibility of using most other enthusiast coolers is shrinking quickly for Socket F. Noctua is capitalizing on the short comings of others and making a real play for workstation superiority with their new coolers. I have yet to find another high quality, low noise cooler made specifically for the Opteron or Xeon.As for uses, the workstation market is comprised of heavy Photoshop users and CAD/CAM professionals. I am sure these guys would like to have a silent workstation and that is now possible. On the other side of the fence, audio/video professionals require truly silent workstations and these are the users that will really benefit from Noctua's latest workstation line of coolers. Mixing down a sixteen track recording can be difficult when a pair of fans is raising the acoustics of a room. I have seen several studios that spend large sums of money to have the workstations wired from a different room for this reason. As for me, I am just getting old and enjoy the tranquility that comes from silent computing, even while using a full on workstation. Another, much younger editor from another site was over visiting for the weekend not too long ago and was amazed at how quiet my office was. After he turned on his system I tossed him a couple of low noise fans and a Noctua NH-U12P and said to put those in or shut that damn thing off. Ten minutes later we were both gaming and able to talk to each other without yelling across the room. I am sure there are others getting past the days of Tornado fans and the hum of phase change condensers 24/7.Hopefully Noctua's expansion into the workstation market is just one of the firsts coming from the company. Many people have asked why Noctua hasn't made a move in VGA coolers and I really can't answer that question. This may just be the confidence builder the company needs to take a long look at other markets.
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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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