I remember back when CPU cooling didn't have to rely upon a huge mass of fins that overtake the motherboard. There was a time when you could buy very efficient coolers. Ones that were just a single tower design, came with a single fan, wouldn't run over the memory, cause issues with expansion slots, nor did they make it near impossible to get to the motherboard screws and the 8-pin plug. When that was all going on, Noctua was one of the leaders in performance, but as we all know, they were one of the only ones to be able to handle the task at hand, while still being silent.
As many companies went the way of the dual tower design after Noctua brought the idea forth, and as others were making them larger and larger to take on big fans, it seems Noctua is sort of over that concept. Sort of proving that is the fact that they had another dual tower design at Computex last year, but there has been no news on that design, but rather a resurgence to improve on what made Noctua coolers so awesome to begin with.
It seems that with the release of their two newest coolers, the single tower with a single fan is back in action. On top of the basics that I was shown almost six years ago now, what sold me on and impressed me about Noctua in the first place, it seems they have taken some ideas and improved upon them to deliver an even better and more user-friendly product.
Today we are going to be looking at the NH-U12S from Noctua in-depth to see what this 120mm fan cooled tower has to offer. We expect the same high-end, professional grade coolers that Noctua has been pumping out for years. Today though, I would like to show how these coolers not only evolved in efficiency, but also some of the new techniques for mounting, new packaging to protect everything inside, while also covering all the basics like thermal results and the audible levels of the fans.
From what I have seen, these newly released coolers do rather well, and are definitely another notch in the belt for Noctua of silent cooling that just works, and in my opinion, harks back to the days of old, and make me remember why I got into this job in the first place.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
Following the way the chart has delivered the information, we start off with the socket compatibility. Here Noctua has eliminated the LGA1366 and 775 sockets, but does cover all other newer Intel sockets as well as AMD all the way back to AM2. The NH-U12S stands 158mm tall, is 125mm wide, is 45mm tick without a fan on it, and weighs in at 755 grams in total. As for the body of the cooler, it is comprised of a two piece base with five 6mm heat pipes soldered into the base. As these pipes make their U shaped bends out the sides of the base, there are then 50 aluminum fins pressed over them, and they are left protruding through the top fin of the cooler. The base material is copper, and so are the pipes, but to match the aluminum and fight oxidations, both base components as well as the pipes are given a nickel plating.
Cooling this tower is the Noctua NF-F12 PWM fan that is included in the box, although this cooler is designed to allow for push/pull configuration as well. The included fan is capable of spinning at 1500 RPM at its maximum, comes with an L.N.A. connection to drop that to 1200 RPM, and the fan will idle at close to 300 RPM. At its maximum rotational speed, this fan delivers 93.4 m3/h of airflow and delivers 2.61 mmH20 of static pressure. There is also a 150,000 hour life span of these fans and helps Noctua justify the six year warranty that this cooler offers.
Since the release of these coolers was just presented at the beginning of April, and the fact that they have been in my position for only a couple of days at this point, product has yet to arrive on the shelves. I would expect this to change at any moment, as I am sure cases of these are already on their way to your favorite e-tailers. At least with the press releases there was an MSRP included to go along with them. In those releases, you will see that the pricing for the NH-U12S has been set at $64.90 inside of the US, and will sell for 59.90 Euros over the pond. This means, as long as you can get past fan color for performance and silence, this new cooler is within range of the every man, and is refreshing to see manufacturers getting back to what sells, and in all honesty 90% of the buyers reading this will still look for a cheaper solution, even if it performs worse.
For those in the know of what Noctua is and has been all about for many years now, this is an affordable and well thought out design that should warrant your attention.
The top of the packaging for the NH-U12S is the brown and white we are used to seeing from Noctua. You are going to see this panel again on the front, so I will just address the chromed sticker showing the award winning nature of the NH-U12 series.
The front of the box, while the imagery has changed in the brown section, the same features listed on top are here to see as well. They cover the memory compatibility, the classic size, the FocusedFlow fan included, the hardware, socket compatibility, included NT-H1 and the six year warranty.
Spinning things to the right we now run into what I will call the specifications side of the box. Here you get three charts for the specs of the heatsink, the fan, and the scope of delivery. Also in the lower right hand corner you find two dimensional drawings of the cooler to refer to as well.
On the back you will find an explanation of what the design offers and why they chose this sort of cooler to release. This information is displayed in eight various languages to cover their market base.
The last of the panels offers a full list of features. This is covered with images at the left and well written explanations on the right to help to explain in detail, why you should want to buy this over other coolers.
When you open the box, you can see right away the hardware is shipped differently. Instead of a large box with all the hardware inside, Noctua has now broken up the hardware into three separated boxes to make things easier and less likely to lose.
Under the hardware and additional layer of cardboard, you will find the NH-U12S and the fan connected to it, set in another cardboard box to protect it from any damage like the crushed corner the outer packaging had shown.
Noctua NH-U12S CPU Cooler
The NF-F12 PWM fan is a great match for this cooler as it is larger than the fins are tall, and allows this fan to cover most of that fin area. You will also notice that there is a 4-pin connection for this fan and the curve of the pipes as they are staggered into the fins.
From the side you can see that the fan is held in place with wire fan clips that lock into grooves in the cooler. In between where one can clip on the front or the back, the fins have been closed off to better utilize the airflow from the fan or fans.
Without a fan on this side you can get some idea of the grooves and teeth in the leading edges of the fins to break up the air flow. You can also see if you look closely that the pipes are spaced very evenly on both sides with two on the outside, one in the middle, and then two again closest to the middle of the fin stack.
From side to side there are no differences to describe. There is still the wire clip holding this side of the fan on, and this side is closed off just as the other side is.
Each fin in the stack has the Noctua Name on logo on them, not only for show, but as something to break up the air flow too. You can also get a much better idea of the thinner center section and the teeth that allows the fan to maximize its air flow and pressure.
Looking at the fins from this angle you lose a bit of perspective on the curve across the entire fin, but rather here you see more of the grooves and how they play their part under where 75% of the fans air flow will pass over them.
The top mounting bracket is screwed to the top half of the base assembly, and this time instead of chrome springs, the NH-U12S is using black ones that seem a bit stronger than those before it.
This image was taken for two reasons. The first was to try to show the stagger of the pipes as they enter the fins, and the second was simply to show that these fins are all pressed onto the pipes.
The heat pipes are soldered between the two copper plates making up the base. You don't see it on the edges so much since this design requires the pipes to make some pretty tight bends, and they lift away from the base as they exit.
The base of the NH-U12S is milled and left with arched grooves across the entire surface. This base is very true in flatness when a razor is placed on it with little to no deformation near the edges.
I am skipping ahead just a bit, but since the fan does allow for a dual fan approach to cooling, I wanted to show that as well. We will be testing in both configurations.
While the cooler does stretch its depth from 71mm to now 96mm, you will still have room for memory on both sides of this design if you are using LGA2011, and you can populate all four slots on everything else.
Accessories and Documentation
The universal accessories that are packed in the long thin box are what we are looking at now. There is the handy L shaped Phillips screwdriver, the case badge, new wire fan clips without the plastic fan inserts, thermal paste, fan isolation strips, an L.N.A. adapter, and four corner pads for the NF-F12 PWM fan, should you need them.
The SecuFirm2 for Intel kit has everything you will need for all active Intel sockets. There are two sets of instructions for various sockets to go along with some new hardware. There are four black risers, and four knurled nuts to mount the pair of top brackets on either side of the new back plate. For LGA2011 users, you get the four screws for the motherboard bracket and are placed to the right of the instructions.
The SecuFirm2 for AMD is much simpler. Here you get four longer screws to pass through the motherboard, four white plastic risers, the top brackets, and the instructions for AMD installations. You will also need those four knurled nuts from the Intel kit to finish securing the top brackets to the motherboard.
Noctua also sent along a second NF-F12 PWM in the retail box for me to do push/pull testing. With packaging exactly like that of the cooler it is tough to confuse them in the store.
If you flip open the front of the packaging you can see how the fan is designed and built on the left, above images of the air flow and the fins from a thermal cameras perspective. On the right you not only get a peek at the fan inside, but there are included parts shown and labeled at the top, too.
With the fan from the cooler on the left, and the retail fan on the right, you can see they both carry the same exact model number and power rating, as well as giving you a look at some of the design features employed in these fans to not only improve air flow and pressure, but to help keep these fans silent as well.
Installation and Finished Product
Since the threaded screws are now part of the back plate, you don't have to worry about picking the right holes any more. Just slide it on the board and be sure to align the three holes in the plate with the socket screws to clear things correctly.
I just flipped the board, installed the black plastic risers, and was sure to install the top brackets with the curves pointing away from the CPU. Then all there is left is to use the nuts to secure all of these bits into one strong component to mount the cooler to.
You will need to be sure that the fan is off the cooler to mount it to the motherboard. As you can see, the provided screw driver works great, and will spin over the top of the cooler. To be sure this is mounted correctly, spin the screw until it stops, which is when you know you have the proper pressure on the CPU.
Looking down upon the NH-U12S when it has both fans in place, it does seem to take up a bit of room, but that is just the angle of the image. You will see soon enough that there is plenty of room around this cooler to access everything.
Even with a cooler that stands 158mm tall, you can see that the fan on the cooler is just so slightly blocked by the taller memory I used.
It does also clear the closest slot for memory to the CPU. The rubber padding on the corners does touch the stick and just so slightly presses against it, but there is no reason to worry if populating all four slots. For those on LGA2011, it may be tight, but you should have access to slots on both sides, even in a dual fan configuration.
With the Noctua NH-U12S now in the test chassis, all we have left to do is run a bunch of tests, mount it a few more times, and see what the NH-U12S is capable of in both single and dual fan setups.
The Test System and Thermal Results
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. All of the testing is done with an ambient temperature of 24.5-25C and humidity is maintained to 35% sometimes less.
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. Speed Step is active and the processor idles at 1600 MHz and loads at 3500 MHz for the stock settings. I also set the memory to run at 1600 MHz for stock. As for the overclocked runs, I load the CPU at 4.5 GHz and idle results are obtained with 7.5V to the fans while the load run is set to deliver 12V to the fans. This allows me to gauge the lowest and highest fan ratings for my charts.
You will also see that the charts have been slightly adjusted. From now on I will mention the idle temperatures if there is something worth noting other than an average of twenty-five to twenty-seven degrees as the PWM controls and SpeedStep allow for almost ambient results in most instances. What you are now getting is a stock speed loaded temperature chart and an overclocked loaded temperature chart. To clean up the audio results, I also removed all of the fans that aren't on the thermal charts. If you want to compare those results to new coolers, the old chart is still available in the older reviews.
With a single fan cooling the tower, at stock clocks, the NH-U12S delivered a temperature average of 51 degrees, which is only four degrees warmer than the best air cooler in this chart. With dual fans on the tower, I was able to lessen the heat by only one degree at this level of testing, delivering the 50 degree result.
Once we turned the overclock on and allowed things to stew in their own juices for a while, you can see that the NH-U12S falls to seven degrees behind the best air cooler showing 75 degrees with just one fan. If you wish to spend the extra $20 - $25 dollars for a second NF-F12 PWM fan, you can see you get two degrees of improvement over the single fan configuration.
Noise Level Results
With one fan on the tower, and the PC at idle, the fan will spin near 400 RPM, and is dead silent unless you can get your ear into the flow, and you can hear the wind pass your ear - that's it.
In the middle of testing is where I took this reading from the cooler, and the fan was much closer to 800 RPM to get the 26dB rating.
What sort of shocked me is that I either got special fans with this cooler, or there may have been an issue with my original NF-F12 PWM fans. While testing the NH-U12S with one of the NF-F12 PWM fans I was sent this time, I only got to a reading of 40dB with these tests.
The NH-U12S from Noctua brought me back to the days of my past. It just goes to show that you don't have to go and spend $80 to $100 to get something that can hold its own in our charts, and still be dead silent while doing it. I am sort of at a tossup at this moment thinking back to the Thermaltake NiC C5 that proved that a single tower cooled with 120mm fans can hang up there with the best of them, and may be slightly better, but the noise levels of that cooler are not something I am prepared to deal with every day. The NH-U12S offers similar features to what Thermaltake was showing with allowing users to have room to actually access everything without having to remove the cooler, but the Tt cooler had those ingenious fan shrouds. In defense of Noctua, they have never had to use a shroud, and with the line they have taken this far, I doubt they ever will.
I like all of the new features found here as well. The hardware is easier to install for Intel users now that the screws are mounted into the back plate, where before you had to insert them all into the proper holes, and keep the heads from spinning. Since they dropped LGA775 and LGA1366 support, it allowed them to simplify and improve it. Another thing I liked was that the top bracket seemed much tougher to screw in because of the resistance from the springs, and I do believe this also increased the socket pressure being applied. Also something as simple as allowing the wire fan clips to just clip onto the fans without the use of the plastic inserts makes life easier, as well.
I know it is sort of cheesy, but I even liked the way all of the hardware is in separated boxes now. It used to be that the cellophane bags would break in the larger box and sometimes spill their contents. Packaged as it is, there was none of that, and it keeps parts from rubbing against each other, and makes it easier to find later, if you keep the box.
What I really like about this improved trip down memory lane is that the pricing seems to be a throwback as well. We have seen some really great air coolers over the last year, but in reality, most of the better performers, even some of the not so great ones, will cost you in excess of $100, and that doesn't sit well with the average buyer. Noctua delivering the NH-U12S with an MSRP of $64.90 puts this cooler in reach of most looking for better than average performance, and excellence in the limitation of noise level. A simpler look of yesteryear, and a cooler that allows you to have complete access to screws, memory, and connectivity for wiring, the NH-U12S is definitely a cooler you should spend some time pondering.
I for one really like it and Noctua has shown you don't need a huge cooler, fancy shrouds, or anything "outside of the box" to contend. You just design and build a great cooler, and hopefully more people can get past the colors to enjoy what Noctua has offered for years, and I am glad to say, continues to do today.
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