Introduction, Specifications and Pricing
Back in 2009, Noctua stunned the world by being the first to introduce a monstrous dual-tower heat sink cooled by a pair of fans. Of course, since then, everyone and their donkey has come up with some version of that design whether it be a direct copy from the same OEM with some color added in, or if it was a similar design all its own. The NH-D14 was no doubt a trend setter, and the OG to the dual-tower cooling game. Sadly, while they were definitely the ground breakers with this sort of cooler, as the years went on, these Noctua coolers dropped lower down the list from the other, better performing models.
This is the main reason we are here today: to look at the latest design from Noctua in dual-tower cooling that is released upon the masses to reclaim the crown that is rightfully theirs to begin with. There were some issues that plagued the original NH-D14 users, things like no clearance for taller memory or having to remove the cooler to remove to replace memory. From what we recall, that was about it though, as the mounting which was then still pretty fresh is kept the same, and it is still one of the best mounting kits on the market. The D-14 was also a good performer, and it still is, but with any redesign, there is always room for improvement, and Noctua left very little to chance with the release of their latest dual-tower cooler design.
Noctua has brought us here today to give our impressions of the new NH-D15 dual-tower CPU cooler. They have listened to their customers, and kept all the things that worked well, and added a few new changes to not only take care of the issues we mentioned earlier, but with the advent of socket 2011, the cooler is also fully ready to accommodate those memory configurations as well.
We also have larger diameter fans being used on this model, which is why we are now using the designation of D15. This model is designated as D15 because rather than 140mm fans, we are now getting 150mm fans on this cooler. Knowing Noctua for their noise levels, or rather the lack there of, and the very good to excellent performance across all models of their coolers, we are really eager to get right to the brass tacks and show just what the NH-D15 from Noctua is all about.
The chart provided from Noctua on the NH-D15 is long, thorough, and should answer most of the fitment questions that would arise with a cooler such as this. Things start off with the socket compatibility for Intel as well as AMD, and it covers all of the current socket types. The NH-D15 stands 165mm tall without a fan, is 150mm wide, and sits 135mm deep. The next sets of numbers are including the fan, but are only partially true. If you plan to use two fans on this cooler, height will drastically increase. The last bit to think about is that with both fans strapped to the NH-D15, you will have 1320 grams hanging from the motherboard.
As with all Noctua coolers, we find a copper base plate that has been nickel plated, as are the six copper heat pipes that are soldered to the base. Another thing that help with the efficiency level of Noctua coolers, and allows for the low CFM fans to work so well, is that each and every fin in both stacks of this cooler have been directly soldered to each of the heat pipes. We also find all of the same hardware, which includes things like the screwdriver, metal case badge, thermal paste, and of course, those funky colored Noctua fans.
As we mentioned earlier, the NH-D15 steps up to 150mm fans; it includes a pair of NF-A15 PWM fans to cool the towers. For maximum clearance, it is recommended that you run it with just one of the fans in the middle, but for testing we will be using both since that is how it is designed to be run. These fans top out at 1500 RPM, deliver 140.2 cubic meters per hour of air flow, and are rated at a noise level of 24.6 dB(A). Considering these new fans have a twenty-five to thirty percent advantage in airflow from what the NH-D145 offered, it may just be exactly what it takes for Noctua to climb back to the top of our charts.
As we write this, we should actually see stock out in the wild, but we still do not see any availability. We do know that the press release said the NH-D15 will have a mid-April release, and here we are past that time, and there is literally nothing but news to be found. Part of that press release did offer an idea of what to expect in the lines of pricing, and from what we saw, Noctua has set the MSRP at $99.90 inside of the U.S. This is very similar to the release price of the NH-D14, and Noctua had no issues selling those; so as long as the NH-D15 we are looking at today can contend with our test system with good results, we don't see any issues with this pricing, as history has proven people are willing to spend it.
The Noctua NH-D15 is in the typical Noctua packaging, with white trim surrounding brown panels. Here, the cooler name is found at the left, as well as in the brown panel where this cooler is typed as a D-type premium cooler. It also shows this design is based off of the award winning NH-D14, and lists eight key features in the larger panel.
Spinning the box around to its left, we can now see that Noctua has used this side to display the specifications of the cooler, and also to offer two dimensional renderings at the right side, just under the coolers name.
The back of the box offers eleven features or inclusions found with this cooler. Things like the amount of heat pipes, memory compatibility, PWM functionality, the hardware, and the supplied thermal paste only touch on half of it.
The last panel offers nine translations of a brief summary of what goes into a design like this, and it also states that this is the new flagship cooler that should suit any of your cooling needs.
Inside of the box, along with bits of dense foam to surround the cooler and fan at the bottom, we find that all of the components are also shipped inside of individual boxes. Yes, it is more time consuming and maybe costs a little more, but it ensures that all of the components stay put when traveling, and it protects the parts better than any other packaging we have seen thus far.
Noctua NH-D15 CPU Cooler
Fresh out of the box, and with a few layers of cardboard removed from the middle (to keep the towers square), we now have a view of the exhaust, or the back of the cooler. This is just to get a perspective on things as we start to discuss them in depth.
The cooler comes with the fan installed in the middle, but as for the front of the NH-D15, this fan is included, but entirely optional. As the six heat pipes stretch outward and up into the fins, they first pass through a stack of seven shorter fins before they continue through the larger thirty-eight fins on top of them.
Looking at the profile of the NH-D15, we see two big changes from the D-14. The most obvious is the notches cut from the lower fins to allow for installation and removal of memory. The other big change is that there is now a gap between the first set of fins and the middle fan.
The exhaust of the NH-D15 is exactly the same as the leading edge of the cooler, and this is due to socket 2011. Since there is memory on both sides of the socket, the shorter fins were needed here as well, and there is always an option to run a third fan.
Since this side mimics what we saw in the other image, we will cover the fan mounting now. The fans are clipped into place with wire fan clips, but the fans themselves have the rubber isolation on the corners to help keep the room silent while they cool the CPU under them.
If not for the larger gap in the center of the towers in the Nh-D15, when looked at from the top of the cooler, it will easily be mistaken for a D-14 by those who are not aware of the release of this cooler. However, we like the classic look, and showing its heritage is something we can appreciate too.
We snapped this image to show a bit of the fin design and how it dips in the middle and has "teeth" at the edges, as well as the offset for the memory. We also want to point out the little holes next to the pipes in the fins, as that is how each fin gets soldered to the heat pipes.
There is very little residue from the soldering process where the heat pipes meet the base, but rest assured, it is done that way. Once the pipes and the base plates are assembled, those copper components are Nickel plated, and, as we can see, the base has the typical curved milling marks and is slightly convex in shape.
Jumping ahead and grabbing the second included fan, as well as the include fan mounts; we can now get some idea of this behemoth's size. We can also see an issue that is going to rear its ugly head here in a bit, once the fan needs to make room for memory.
To put some perspective on this now 1320 gram cooler as it is seen here, we are looking at a six and a half inch deep NH-D15 from the left to the right in this image. Keeping the fans even at the top will offer great cooling for the power delivery system around the CPU socket, but only the middle fan can ride this low when installed.
Accessories and Documentation
The first of the hardware boxes that we opened up was for the AMD mounting. In this kit you are to use the stock AMD back plate, and change the screws and top bracket out for the new screws and nylon spacers provided as you add in the mounting brackets to secure the cooler to the motherboard.
The Intel kit offers a back plate with studs already in it, and holes to align with the socket retention screws. In the bag are black spacers, thumbscrews, and LGA2011 socket screws. At the top are the brackets that get added in to lock the cooler down. There are also two sets of instructions; one for LGA2011, and one for all other Intel sockets.
Inside of the box of universal goods, we find some rubber case fan mounts, a set of case screws, and the metal case badge on the left side. We also found the screwdriver, a tube of NT-H1, a Y-splitter cable, two LNA adapters, and the wire mounts for the second fan.
We also had a look at the back of the second 150mm fan in the box. Both fans require a four-pin fan header for power and PWM functionality, and it is easy to verify that these are the NF-A15 PWM fans described in the specifications.
Installation and Finished Product
The back plate has been installed; the black spacers dropped on the studs, we added in the brackets to secure the NH-D15, and tightened it all in place with the thumbscrews to make it solid to the motherboard.
Behind the motherboard we have the main components of the SecuFirm mounting hardware, the Intel back plate. We have it oriented to allow the socket screws to poke through, and it is isolated from the motherboard with a plastic sheet on the flip side and washers at the studs.
For testing purposes, we had absolutely no issues with the installation or removal of the GSkill Trident X we use for testing. It is easy to see that even taller heat spreaders will have room, and for ones like these, there is plenty of room for removal without needing to pull the cooler.
Looking at things much closer, we can see that even the closest slot won't be interfered with by the cooler, and this is true for both sides, so that LGA2011 users reap the same benefits.
When we went to reinstall the front fan to the cooler we now plainly see the issue we eluded to earlier, and that is that the fan has to sit much higher than most cases will allow for. Even with the tops of ours removed; the fan still is left sitting 20mm taller than the tips of the pipes, making the NH-D15 now stand 185mm in height.
Our point is only exaggerated from this angle as it is easier to see just how much higher the fan at the front sits than the one in the middle does. Of course, we could just try the back of the cooler too for the second fan, but sure to the shield on our motherboard, we couldn't lower the height much there either.
This last image is just to give normal chassis users an idea of what the Noctua NH-D15 might look like through the window of your chassis. Inside of a normal chassis, the cooler will overtake the majority of the top half of the motherboard. Planning out the wiring before mounting the cooler is also a good idea.
Test System Setup, Thermal Tests and Noise Results
Test System Setup
To see our testing methodology, and to find out what goes into making our charts, please refer to our CPU Cooler Testing and Methodology article.
While we had the computer in readiness for the stock level of testing, we saw the fans were spinning at 1100 RPM, and sat idle at a chilly 26.5 degrees. Once we kicked AIDA64 into action, we found that the NH-D15 comes in to the top five on our chart, ahead of all other air coolers we tested on this system, and even in the range of top tier AIOs with its 49.5 degree result.
Just sliding out of the top five once we applied the overclock, the NH-D15 placed sixth overall, but again, look at what it is competing with at this level. The 69.33 degree average of all of the testing beats out the next best air cooler by almost two degrees, and most others by a fair bit more.
Considering how the noise level charts play out along with these thermal results, we have to say: Noctua is definitely worthy of that crown they once had.
Noise Level Results
As we mentioned, the fans were set to receive only 7.5V for this level of testing, and while spinning at 1100 RPM, they delivered only 24 dB of noise. Most of that is in the fan hub, as there is a slight hum that can be heard up close, but from a foot away, or with a case door in the way, you will be hard pressed to hear this over a PSU or video card idling.
Even once we pushed 12V through the 150mm fans, we found the noise level to be just audible from a foot away, and again it is more of a mechanical hum that is audible rather than fan blade "whoosh" that most fans deliver. So, while it beats all other coolers thermally, it also offers less noise than be quiet. solutions, and even some five dB less than other Noctua models in the list. Well done Noctua, well done.
We were huge fans of the original NH-D14 (no pun intended there), but it was once a huge stepping stone in air cooling for the masses of users looking to take an overclock to the next level; without the intrusion of noise that a Sans Ace or Delta fan is known for to break out of that thermal saturation of smaller coolers at the time. Many of our readers are not quite ready to let the D-14 go into the halls of history as an innovator that had been passed up by designs that others simply built upon Noctua's original design. However, and I'm sorry to say it, as the D-14 still has a soft spot in a lot of hearts, but that ship has sailed, and the NH-D15 steps in to take the new air cooling crown.
We did run into one obvious issue with this design, and that is the increased fan size that may limit where this cooler can be installed. Even with low-profile memory in the motherboard, the fan will still stand proud of that 165mm height that most cases are designed to allow. While this could be remedied by grabbing a 120mm fan, or even a 140mm fan, for the front of the cooler, thermal results may not be as good as what we have seen here. Of course, there is the suggested option of running only the middle fan, but when we did our runs without the additional fan we lost four degrees of cooling potential.
Outside of that basic issue, we loved the notching provided for the memory, and it will allow for a lot of the various heat spreaders that are out there today, and even for the removal without the need to pull the cooler. So, while we do make a couple of steps forward, the front fan could be a deal breaker for a lot of installations.
Overall, there is little to complain about. Noctua offers some of the simplest to use, but structurally some of the best mounting hardware in the cooling game. Noctua offers a cooler that feels like a tank, but there is that certain feeling of "yeah, this is a monster capable of handling what I am about to put this CPU through."
When considering it competes with dual radiator AIOs, even some of the custom cooling isn't that far away, and it can do all of this with some of the best audio results of any manufacturer. As long as your case is wide, or you run some form of an open air system, there is no reason to deny your desire to want one of the NH-D15s for your very own. For those in mid-tower cases, even those in smaller full-tower cases, plan ahead and measure with sure diligence, otherwise you may end up spending near $100 and having to deal with some disappointment, or at the very least, the need to buy a smaller front fan to make this cooler fit your needs.
Noctua sort of comes out of nowhere after almost five years, and delivers such a knockout blow that is hard not to gasp when you see it coming. Building from what was the world's first of its kind, surpassing all of the mimics on the market, and doing it with much needed improvements in clearance and performance, is yet another reason why we always recommend Noctua coolers. It's also why most of the staff here currently have them or have had them in the past. They are just that good, and the NH-D15 proves that Noctua is still on top of the game, even if they have been pretty quiet lately!
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