Noctua CPU Cooler Final Thoughts
Noctua does it again. I received the NH-U12S alongside its bigger brother, the 140mm NH-U14S. While the larger fans of the NH-U14S were obviously quieter due to their larger diameter (and lower RPMs), the 120mm NH-U12S wasn’t too far behind. Designed to fit in most computer cases, the standard-sized NH-U12S is a premium answer to one of the most popular form factors for CPU cooling heatsinks (the 120mm tower).
While I was aware of Noctua’s reputation previously, this is the first opportunity that I’ve personally had to test one of their coolers. It’s obvious why they’ve garnered the reputation that they have as barely any surface was untouched by Noctua’s engineering and pursuit of performance. I can see why they can continually “get away” with a beige color scheme: with this type of performance and quality you’ll start to like beige too.
Noctua NH-U12S Conclusion
I just can’t get over the appearance of their coolers though. It’s telling that such an…interesting…choice of colors has gained almost instant recognition, as I’m not sure if you can find anyone familiar with enthusiast hardware that doesn’t immediately spot a Noctua cooler by their horrible (in my opinion) brown and tan color scheme. The thing is, everyone recognizes it and wants it anyway! When you get a chance to install one yourself, you can see why. This cooler’s reputation makes it attractive, and that’s pretty impressive. I’m still wishing for an updated color scheme; surely there’s got to be a unique combination left that doesn’t involve brown. At this point Noctua’s color choice is almost a trademark by itself – even if they did offer different colors, somehow it wouldn’t be the same… Everything else about the cooler is attractive though, and their fine level of polish everywhere and general attention to detail is what you would expect from a premium product.
I don’t think it is any accident why Noctua’s brand name gets continually thrown around as a top-tier CPU cooler manufacturer. The NH-U12S is constructed to an extent beyond that of almost every cooler I’ve tested – the very finely machined and polished contact surface, nickel-plated heatpipes (that are soldered to the fins – no rattling aluminum here) and base, and the included NF-F12 PWM fan is an engineering marvel. With a manufacturer warranty of six years, it’s a safe bet there’s a level of construction at work here that you just don’t find in every product.
The 120mm NH-U12S provides the amount of functionality that anyone would expect from a standard tower CPU cooler. While it was pretty simple to install, I still like the ability to change orientations of heatsinks – something that the SecuFirm2™ mounting system was unable to do on the AM3+ socket (of course, if I really cared about cooler orientation, I’d probably be using an Intel 1155/1150 socket on the testbed instead…). This isn’t out of line with most other coolers though (with the Hyper212 EVO being a notable exception), so I can’t complain too much about it. I will complain a bit about the metal fan mounting clips – although they are adequate, SilverStone really made an impression on me with their fan mounting system for the Argon coolers. There’s still room to innovate here…overall, this is a pretty minor complaint, it just sticks out because every other surface of the NH-U12S is so precisely engineered.
At the end of November 2013, the NH-U12S was listed online for $66.07 (Amazon | NewEgg). While it’s hard to argue against the price/performance ratio of coolers like Cooler Master’s Hyper212 series, the Noctua is worth every bit of its asking price if noise is a concern (and it still outperforms most other 120mm tower coolers to boot!). Perhaps the biggest threat to the NH-U12S’s value is the other Noctua: the larger NH-U14S. On my test platform the bigger NH-U14S provides an even greater jump in performance for less than the price of adding a second fan, making the smaller Noctua a harder sell if you have the space to accommodate something bigger. Still, the NH-U12S adequately serves its intended market segment and is well worth the asking price.
At the end of it all, what can I say? It’s Noctua. It’s everything you’ve heard. You can get similar performing CPU coolers for less, but you pay for it with much more noise. If you require premium cooling components for your computer and clearance is a concern, Noctua has a great option with the NH-U12S.
+ Noctua engineering.
+ High-level engineering
+ Noise/Performance ratio beats anything out there
+ Premium technologies incrementally add up to great performance
+ Great performance in a standard 120mm cooler package
- Other manufacturers have developed better fan mounting systems
- Lives in the shadow of the larger NH-U14S…
- …I still can’t get over the color scheme…