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Noctua NH-L12 Low Profile CPU Cooler Review

Noctua drops into the low profile and low power CPU cooling segment with the release of the 95W capable NH-L12 CPU cooler.

@TweakTown
Published Fri, May 4 2012 2:26 AM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:01 PM CST
Rating: 91%Manufacturer: Noctua

Introduction

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In January of last year I was introduced to the original concept of the newest cooler to leave Noctua's design lab when we looked at the NH-C14. There are quite a few changes that were made to that original design concept, but in the most basic form the cooler we are going to see in just a page or two is a die shrink of the NH-C14.

The amount of heat pipes were dropped, along with the coolers overall height and is where this new cooler derives its "L" designation in the naming; it simply means this cooler is low-profile. This time around the design stayed under 100mm in height and that is with both of the accompanying fans attached.

If you were to go to the Noctua product page for this cooler you would see that one of the limitations to this silent solution is that it is rated for processors up to 95 watts only. Now with anything Noctua builds I have an inclination that this is just an under-estimated figure to keep them safe should temperatures get out of control. So even though this cooler is meant for HTPC use, or even to silently cool a web browser and e-mail reading rigs, I am going to test this cooler in the same fashion I do every other cooler I get to abuse. That is to say that I am not removing the 2500K and I will be running it at 4.5GHz and delivering over 125W of heat load to this new arrival. I know it's a bit mean to do, but I can't play favorites. Knowing what I have seen previous to this, I don't think the temperatures will get that out of hand at all, I am going to say that I truly believe this cooler to be underrated and I plan to prove this isn't just for the HTPC lovers out there.

Enough with the explanations and guessing and let me introduce the NH-L12 CPU cooler from Noctua. While this cooler may be low on heat pipes and not the largest cooler to arrive at my door, it may just surprise you how well this cooler can keep up in the real-world, even with its lame rating of being intended for use with only 95W processors.

With the basic concept in your mind, let's jump over to the specifications, so I can get into more detail about what the NH-L12 from Noctua has to offer.

Specifications, Availability and Pricing

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The NH-L12 is a C-type cooler like others we have seen from them, but this time the low-profile design of this cooler takes precedent and thus the cooler is a NH-L rather than an NH-C. The list of socket compatibility means it will work with all of those sockets CPUs, but be wary that overclocking isn't something this cooler is specifically tailored to doing.

The NH-L12 has a relatively small footprint measuring from 128mm on the skinny side and 150mm measuring the side with the heat pipes. The height of this cooler is variable and with both fans installed, it stands 93mm tall and with the top fan off, it measures in at only 66mm tall. This copper and aluminum, along with the fans included with this weight, the NH-L12 won't stress the socket too bad at 680 grams of total mass.

The NH-L12 ships with both fans installed from the factory and it sits in the middle of the inner packaging. Below the cooler is where the hardware box can be located. Since the NF-F12 PWM and NF-B9 PWM fans are on the cooler, that leaves the pair of low noise adapters, the Y-split cable, NT-H1 thermal compound, the SecuFirm2 and Mini-ITX mounting hardware and a Noctua case badge made of metal.

Two things I want to get a bit deeper with are the Y-split cable and the Mini-ITX mounting hardware. The Y-split cable allows both fans to be connected to a single fan header allowing both fans to do their thing via their PWM functionality or allowing manual control to both fans at the same levels. As for Mini-ITX hardware, Noctua found that some boards won't allow for the back plate, so they include extra "pins" to be used in the instances where Mini-ITX boards have resistors or phase chips in the way such as a few Zotac motherboards I have seen.

Getting down to the most important things for most buyers - where can I buy it and how much is it going to set me back? The answer to the first question, as to where to get one, at the moment, that is limited. If you don't want to filter through e-bay sales, I found two locations selling this cooler at the same exact base price. Our new found friends over at FrozenCPU.com list it at $74.99 and so is Xoxide.com. Both offer pretty good shipping prices so it's really just a matter of picking one of the two and going for it. I expect a premium price with a Noctua cooler, but is the near $75 pricing a bit high for a cooler made for HTPCs with a 95W cap imposed on it?

Well, we are going to find out exactly what it holds for us in cooling capabilities as I overpower the designated limits and push this cooler for everything it is worth. Hopefully by the time I am finished you will see that the 95W limit implied on this cooler is a "safe guesstimate" as the NH-L12 is a cooler that can even tame my 2600K and even outpaces a much larger contender already on the new charts.

Packaging

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The outer packaging is much like those delivered from Noctua before this. On the left is the NH-L12 naming of the cooler and above a mobile-tag to get more information on this cooler at the point of purchase. Over in the brown section there is the Noctua name at the bottom and six features listed at the top.

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Spinning the box around we land on this panel next that delivers four charts. These charts cover the full specifications of both fans and the cooler body, but also covers the scope of delivery. On the right side you can even see two renderings of the cooler with dimensions to be sure you are seeing it right.

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The back shows the name of the cooler on the left along with the compliance to ISO9001 and ISO14001 standards and the six year warranty. On the right it shows the features that were listed on the front, but this time with images and a description of what it is.

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The remaining side of the NH-L12 box has a very brief statement about the cooler, what it should be used for and mentions a few features. This is repeated in seven other languages to cover all of their potential buyers.

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The top of the packaging looks much like the front did with one major difference. This time a chrome sticker has been applied denoting the 66mm low-profile option of the NH-L12, if run in single fan mode.

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Once the top of the box is open you are left staring at the base and its plastic protector. The NH-L12 is surrounded with thick cardboard folded around to make sure that the cooler never reaches the outer packaging. Under the cooler there is another thin box containing the hardware that isn't already on the NH-L12.

Noctua NH-L12 95W CPU Cooler

Noctua NH-L12 95W CPU Cooler

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Have you ever ordered a sandwich and got a whole lot of bread and not all that much meat? Well here is a similar scenario. With a limited amount of fin height and the pair of fans strapped to the top and bottom, it leaves me feeling this cooler is all fans.

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At last count, I believe Noctua was able to pack sixty aluminum fins onto the four 6mm heat pipes that run through them. As with all Noctua coolers, these pipes are soldered both in the base as well as to each fin.

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The side with the heat pipes coming from the base and bending around into the fins shows they are spaced far apart to allow them each a good source of air flow to them and the pipes are nickel plated over the copper.

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The cooler ships with a thick black foam spacer under the 92mm fan under the NH-L12. This should be removed prior to installation and as you can see, there is plenty of room to move the 92mm fan away from the pipes, if you desire to do so.

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I thought I should step back and get an image of how well the NF-F12 PWM fan covers the bulk of the fins.

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Removing the fan shows two things. One, there are removed sections of fins to allow for an easier installation and the second is the 92mm fan you can see behind them. While it doesn't cover all the fins, it adds a bit of boost to the air flow and delivers air flow right on top of the socket and that flows over the PWM to keep everything in the area cool.

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Since the NF-B9 PWM fan doesn't have the corner pads of the NF-F12 PWM, Noctua adds a strip of isolation material under the cooler to isolate any vibrations from the 92mm fan.

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The base and attached mounting hardware is just like all the rest. A pair of screws held in with e-clips on both sides of the base mount this cooler to the motherboard hardware. As for the base, it is intentionally milled with grooves, as with the NT-H1 compound, it works the best for these coolers.

Accessories and Documentation

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I thought I heard something rattling around inside of the hardware box. Due to the nature of the more fragile cellophane bags used, the sides tend to blow out and a bit of hardware escapes the bags every time. No real issue though, it was all still inside the box after all.

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The AMD specific hardware is shown here. There are four screws that go through the metal top plates and through a white spacer and then screw into the stock AMD back plate for mounting.

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For LGA775 through LGA1366, these sockets will use the hardware kit on the left, still in the bag, in conjunction with the pair of top plates and the SecuFirm2 back plate. For LGA2011 and Mini-ITX boards with clearance issues, you need to dig in the bag on the right for the appropriate hardware.

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Covering the more universal included components from Noctua is what we see here. You get a set of rubber fan mounts to install one of these in a case, if you wish. In the middle you get a Phillips screw driver, a Y-split cable and extension cable and two LNA adapters. You also get a metal case badge and a healthy sample of NT-H1.

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While the NF-B9 PWM is in fact a PWM fan, it doesn't share all of the attributes of the larger fan included in the NH-L12 package. None the less, this fan is capable of adding another 35 CFM of air flow to the cooling potential of the NH-L12.

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The NF-F12 PWM is the same fan we tested not too long ago. It has the anti-vibration pads built in, the microstructures, the steeped inlet on the frame, the works. We already seen how well these fans can do on a radiator, so I can only assume it will do well with this dense fin arrangement of the NH-L12.

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Three sets of instructions come in this folder of sorts. This can be found in amongst the hardware in the white cardboard box.

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When you open it, you will see that there are two sets of instructions on the left for Intel mounting, while there is one on the right specific to AMD installations.

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All three sets of instructions have fully detailed instructions with images with what is being described highlighted in them.

Installation and Finished Product

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To get this far we had to grab the studs that lock into the back plate, use the black risers and the Intel top plates with the thumb screws securing this section of the hardware to the motherboard.

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The back plate fits nice and snug and gets isolated from the motherboard with dense foam that covers the entire underside of this plate. Notice it is also cut to accept the two screws on the socket with a specific side of the plate.

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With a cooler that only stands 66mm high right now, I am very impressed with the memory clearance of the NH-L12 cooler. There is just enough room between these very tall heat spreaders and the cooler to even be able to slide in the fan clips to secure it with the RAM still in place.

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I once again left the top fan off so you can see who the screwdriver passes through the cooler to gain access to the pair of mounting screws. Both fans can be in place for this, you just have to adjust the fan blades to allow it to go through them.

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I do like that the fans and adapter cables are all covered in that tight black braided covering. Once you add a zip strip to tidy the wiring up, it practically disappears after I tucked it under the cooler.

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With its small foot print, even with the heat pipes installed facing down, there is plenty of room around the cooler to get everything done. I can plainly see the 8-pin EPS plug and the memory. Most importantly, even with the pipes on the bottom, there is plenty of room to get a card in the top PCI-E x16 slot of the motherboard, too.

Test System and Thermal Results

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I would like to thank HIS for supplying the video card in the test system.

Testing for the CPU coolers is done with the use of RealTemp to ascertain temperatures, Intel Burn Test to deliver the load to the CPU and CPU-Z to verify the CPU speed and the voltage being used in Windows.

For the "stock" runs, it's more of a plug and play setup where the PWM of the motherboard is in control of the fans speeds for both the idle and load results. For the overclocked runs, I load the CPU at 4.5GHz and idle results are obtained with 7.5V to the fans while the load run is set to deliver 12V to the fans.

For the sound testing results, I obtain those while I am controlling the voltage at 7.5V and 12V as well. Sorry for the change in the charts again, but I got the full effect of AVX support and 104 Gflops now, so the older results don't directly apply to the results I get now.

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On the stock run the fans PWM was in control of the curve and it resulted in a reading of 29 degrees, this is where the fans sacrifices a bit of its speed in the silence it leaves behind. With the voltage manually set to 7.5V on the overclocked run, the results are right where I would expect it to be for this CPU.

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The stock run delivered a terrific result for a cooler of this size and design. 57 degrees might be a bit higher than normal, but look at how little of a cooler is doing this job. As for the overclocked run, I think the NH-L12 did a really admirable job handling over 125 watts of power being delivered to this 95 watt cooler. Yes, 80 degrees is warm, but considering the abuse level, I am pleased with these results.

Noise Level Results

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At idle with the PWM controlling the fans speed and running just over 6.0V to the fans at this time, I got a reading of 27 dB. I do think that part of the low results seen in the sound testing is due to the fans blowing at the motherboard and a lot of the chop associated with coolers isn't getting to the MIC on my sound meter.

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Even with 12V going through both the NF-B9 and Nf-F12 PWM fans, all I could get the meter to read was 48 dB at a foot away from this cooler. Once in a build, especially in an HTPC build, you aren't going to have to listen to the NH-L12 cooling the CPU.

Final Thoughts

As much as I sit here and try to find fault with the NH-L12, I really can't come up with anything. All I could remember were all the good things the cooler offers. While it is designed for 95W TDP processors, my testing shows, while on the warm side, it was capable of handling my 2600K overclocked pretty well.

What was the best part is that this cooler that can be as short as 66mm tall and still leaves room for the memory. I did have issues with the pipes hitting the PWM coolers, but testing with the board laying flat on the test bench, I have the liberty of positioning the pipes in any direction. Even with the pipes on the bottom of the cooler, I was left with ample room to get the video card in and out easily.

I have to agree with Noctua that out of the box and allowing the PWM on the fans to have the control, the NH-L12 is better suited to HTPC installations or any lower powered rig that deserves a small, effective and silent cooling solution. What I liked most about the Nh-L12 is that if you are willing to up the fan voltage and can handle a bit of heat, you seen it took all my 2600K had to give and left me some room to not have to worry about a thermal shut down.

For a cooler so small, the NH-L12 just seems to be able to not only convert and shape shift to accommodate smaller spaces, but it also allows me to have a small cooler that can take my overclock. Noctua even thinks about the guys using Mini-ITX motherboards where limited space on the top of boards lead the manufacturer to place components on the back of the socket. Noctua has you covered as well with a set of studs just for that purpose.

Silence and performance are what we expect from anything Noctua and they prove that you don't need a humongous cooler in the build to get either of them. With a trend from most manufacturers showing that bigger is usually more quiet and usually performs better, the NH-L12 outdid the Enermax solution and the Enermax solution is a much larger cooler and isn't as easy to install as this is.

So, it all comes down to the pricing and for what you get in the NH-L12. I think the $75 price point is a touch high, but still worth it in the end. I can take this cooler off the test bench and slam it into some of the tiniest HTPC solutions, it doesn't interfere with the memory and even when abused well beyond its specified limits, it takes it well. Even if you don't need a cooler that can get under a 66mm height clearance issue, the NH-L12 has its place in almost any build, so it is well worth considering this for its silence and its ability to handle almost any CPU cooling situation.

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After a year of gaming, Chad caught the OC bug. With overclocking comes the need for better cooling, and Chad has had many air and water setups. With a few years of abusing computer parts, he decided to take his chances and try to get a review job. As an avid overclocker, Chad is always looking for the next leg up in RAM, cooling, as well as peripherals.

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