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Noctua NH-U12S CPU Cooler Review

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Detailed Features: Noctua NH-U12S

While the shape is pretty typical of tower coolers, there are some detailed features that remain unique to Noctua – so let’s take a look.

Noctua_NH_Polish

This has got to be one of the finest mirror polishes I’ve seen on a factory CPU cooler. A little of the machining marks are visible, but the surface itself is highly polished. I tried to capture the very slight convex surface of the contact plate, which should result in a superior application of thermal interface material (as well as greater contact pressure right over the hottest part of most CPUs).

If you look closely, you can see some of the wavy machining marks in the mounting surface. The photo above is from the NH-U14S, but the two bases are almost exactly the same (the NH-U12S has five heatpipes instead of six). I really should have flipped the tube of included Noctua NT-H1 thermal paste so you could see the letters reflected in the cooler’s surface – Noctua really cements their reputation as a premium distributer of CPU cooling products with details like this. It’s rare that manufacturers will take the time to polish the mating surface of their coolers to this extent; maybe it’s only good for a degree of performance but as we’ll see later these small details add up.

Noctua_AMDInstall1

The NH-U14S uses Noctua’s SecuFirm2 Mounting System. Containing a different set of brackets depending on the socket you’re installing the cooler on, all of the pieces you’ll need are in a nicely labeled box (with common components in a third box). For the AM3+ socket on the testbed, this consists of four standoffs and two brackets (with four screws to attach them all). It’s a little unfortunate that you won’t be able to choose the orientation of the cooler (at least on AMD sockets), but for many systems this won’t be a problem and is a common approach with tower coolers anyway.

Noctua_AMDInstall2

The mounting brackets follow the same guidelines as the stock AMD mounting bracket, but as always some motherboards may differ (if they don’t follow the “exclusion zone” dimensions for the socket). Noctua has a compatibility list on their website if you want to find out for sure – otherwise, this mounting system should fit on most motherboards that can fit a stock cooler.

Noctua_NH12US_1Fan

Installing the heatsink is easy, but you’ll still need to remove the fan to reach the two screws on the base of the NH-U12S. It was here I found myself drifting back to the SilverStone Argon coolers I had tested a few months ago – the fan mounting system they had developed made this process much easier. Yes, it’s splitting hairs (metal clips aren’t that hard to work with either) but it shows there’s still room for innovation.

Noctua_NH12US_2Fan

Adding a second fan involves swapping out the brown vibration-dampening corners with the thicker set included in the NH-U12S accessory box. Seen in the picture above, these will add a bit of space (5mm) in front of the fan blades which I’m sure helps to cut down on noise (moving blades placed against stationary fins/mesh/filters tend to emit all sorts of sounds). I did test the NH-U12S in a push/pull configuration, and it resulted in a 2C change (for the better). This is pretty typical of most of the heatsinks I test (while I don’t normally include the results of push/pull setups I’ll commonly throw an extra fan on tower heatsinks out of curiosity), although the Noctua performed better than most with an additional NF-F12 fan. Smaller heatsinks do tend to benefit more from adding another fan, as the smaller surface area usually needs the extra help to remove the heat from the heatsink.

Usually I don’t include these results as the extra noise and cost are rarely worth the small performance gain. In the Noctua’s case though, adding a premium fan like the NF-F12 didn’t add much noise at all – while still an expensive improvement, at least it remains a quiet one. This makes it an easier option to consider if you really need an extra bump in performance, and the smaller NH-U12S gets a little more mileage out of a second fan than some larger heatsinks.


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