This year, the product portfolio of the Austrian company Noctua was replenished with a very unusual solution – the Noctua NH-D12L. Owners of non-standard and rather narrow cases that do not allow the installation of a processor cooler with a usual height of about 162 mm, previously had to look either towards cooling systems with a Top-Flow design, which are generally less effective than a classic tower, or towards a classic tower, but with a 92-mm fan. A dedicated low-height tower cooler for a 120 mm fan can be called a rarity. They do exist, but not every cooler manufacturer has them, and their global availability is questionable.
Noctua NH-D12L is notable for its small height, only 145 mm in total while supporting standard 120 mm fans. At the same time, the cooler does not block the RAM slots and does not cause any compatibility conflicts at all.
Spoiler alert, I will note that the NH-D12L is not “one that suits all” kind of cooler. Basically, its audience is fans of compact (but not too compact) systems who are neither like water cooling, nor a Top-Flow cooler. Is this an interesting solution? – We will figure it out.
What has already become traditional in my reviews, the Noctua NH-D12L cannot be bought in Ukraine. At the moment, it is not available at all in any store, and even on the black market. Absolutely all of the NH-D12Ls that were tested in Ukraine were sent there directly by Noctua for review.
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But this does not prevent us from talking about the price policy. There are serious questions about the price tag of the Noctua NH-D12L. The recommended price of this cooler is $90. The black (chromax) version of the NH-U12S is only $10 cheaper.
So, in the ~$90 segment, the competition is fiercest. Even if you do not look at the products of other companies, and only consider Noctua, for this money there is a more advanced model NH-U12A. You can also buy the legend of the cooler making – NH-D15. These models boast a huge scattering area of about 12,000 cm², 6-7 heat pipes, and a pair of fans. The NH-D12L has much less “meat”, and only has one fan included.
Frankly speaking, it’s expensive. Expensive even by Noctua standards. I don’t mind the price premium for uniqueness (although there is nothing directly unique, the Noctua NH-D12L is very similar to the SilverStone Heligon HE-01 in scale), but the NH-D12L stands out sharply both in absolute numbers and in the Noctua product line. After all, this is the most expensive processor cooler in history with one fan included.
But let’s not “bury it alive”, we will summarize the results of the Noctua NH-D12L in the appropriate section.
What’s in the box?
The Noctua NH-D12L comes in a fairly large box. In our case, there is an additional NF-A12x25r fan. This allows you to test the cooler both with one and two fans. Of course, we’ll test it in both configurations, but everything has its time.
The box is full of curiosities (think “features”) and technical specs. The in-box set and compatible sockets are also listed. Nothing to complain about the design.
There’s also nothing to complain about the content protection. Inside, the kit is enclosed in a separate box, and the radiator and fan are protected by thick cardboard spacers.
The Noctua NH-D12L kit includes the following set of necessary and not so necessary items:
- Installation manual for Intel and AMD sockets
- Low-Noise Adapter (resistor reducing the fan speed)
- A tube of proprietary thermal paste Noctua NT-H1
- Brackets for mounting an additional fan
- L-shaped elongated Phillips screwdriver
- Metal Noctua logo
The 3.5-gram tube of excellent proprietary thermal paste is really pleasing, which is enough for about 10 applications. By the way, Noctua NT-H1 thermal paste is one of the best on the market in terms of thermals.
A screwdriver will also come in handy. Although the cooler is not very tall, only ~120mm from the mounting screw to the top edge, there is a gap of ~28mm between the radiator sections. Not everyone has a suitable screwdriver, especially at hand.
One could complain about the lack of a Y-splitter for the fan cables. Still, the cooler supports the installation of a second fan, even the brackets are included. However, a number of additional accessories are included with the NF-A12x25r fan.
Design and fans
At first glance, the design of the Noctua NH-D12L has a familiar appearance. It is a two-section heat pipe tower with one smaller and one larger stack. As mentioned, the NH-D12L resembles a scaled-down SilverStone Heligon HE-01. Only the HE-01 is a huge supercooler, and the NH-D12L is an attempt to squeeze the most out of a compact format.
In “raw” numbers, the cooler measures 113×145×113 mm (L×W×H) and weighs 890 g. The radiator separately weighs only 700 g. “Total” is a valid word for weight, because $90 for a 700-gram radiator looks like a bad piece of equipment. Truth is, this is 700 g of a very technological radiator, which somewhat compensates.
The Noctua NH-D12L radiator is not made of “bare” aluminum. To prevent corrosion and to give a more interesting appearance, the radiator is completely nickel-plated, including the base, tubes, fins, and even the mounting screws. Unlike colored coatings, nickel has an extremely weak effect on the heat transfer coefficient.
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Radiator sections are very different. The front is made less deep to avoid conflicts with high-profile RAM. It consists of 38 sheets with a gap of 1.9 mm. The rear section is much more massive, has 40 plates with a gap of 2 mm. The total estimated scattering area is ∼ 8150 cm².
The distribution of heat pipes in the body of the radiator does not cause complaints. They are placed evenly, and therefore the radiator will also warm up evenly. As always with Noctua, the sheets are not just strung on the tubes, but soldered to them. This is a significant plus, especially on a span of several years. Solderless radiators lose efficiency over the years due to the different coefficient of thermal expansion of aluminum sheets and copper heat pipes.
There is an aerodynamic optimization of the radiator profile. It is quite complex, fitted for a one-fan operation.
The build quality of the base is typical for Noctua. On one axis there is a noticeable hump, on the other the flatness is perfect.
Polishing is very good, but there are visible radial stripes from the cutter, which are not felt by the nail. In general, it is said that both the stripes and the hump are for the optimal distribution of the thermal paste. In my opinion, the base is good, for 4+, but for such money I would like to see a perfect flat mirror finish and not think about myths and legends in the segment of processor coolers.
By default, the Noctua NH-D12L radiator is blown by one NF-A12x25r fan. This is a modification of the well-known NF-A12x25 where a round frame is used instead of a typical square frame. The specifications of these models are identical: rotation speed 450-2000 rpm, productivity up to 102.1 m³/h and noise level up to 22.6 dBa. When connecting the LNA adapter, they decrease to 1700 rpm, 84.5 m³/h and 18.8 dBA.
To be honest, the NF-A12x25/A12x25r are my favorite fans. Their unique feature is an impeller made of a tricky proprietary material called Sterrox, as well as a gap of only 0.5 mm between the impeller and the frame (vs. ~1.5 mm usually). There are anti-vibration spacers on the corners. If the delay of the PWM signal is low, the impeller can stop completely. In fact, one page is not enough to list the features of the Noctua NF-A12x25. You can get acquainted with them here.
When installing a second NF-A12x25r, for which additional brackets are included in the kit, 3 RAM slots close to the socket will be blocked. Sticks up to 29 mm high will fit, which is a rarity. RAM modules with a height of 32 mm are not uncommon. They will fit if you install the second propeller slightly higher, but in this case the total height increases to 148 mm.
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However, taking into account the design, already at this stage it is possible to “assume” that the additional fan, will add very little, if any. We’ll talk more about it in the next section!
The Noctua NH-D12L cooler is compatible with all current and not so current AMD and Intel sockets. Including the new LGA1700 and HEDT platform of the “blue” chipmaker, but not the “red” one. For AMD Threadripper chips, the power is enough, but the base is too small.
The installation process for different sockets is well illustrated in the paper manual, in the electronic manual, and you can also watch the video here. I would like to note that the fastening is convenient, the pressure is strong, no metal elements scratch the board. In the case of Intel platforms, an in-box backplate is used for the rear side of the board, in the case of AMD – you should use “native” motherboard backplate.
Unlike other cooler manufacturers, Noctua does not directly indicate in watts how powerful a processor the cooler can handle. Instead, the Noctua Standardized Performance Rating (NSPR) classification and compatibility tables with processors (Intel, AMD) have been introduced. NH-D12L received 148 points. Only D15(S) and NH-U12A have a higher score – 183(167) and 169 NSPR-points, respectively.
According to the manufacturer, the cooler is enough for any Intel and AMD processor, including the top Core i9-12900K and Ryzen 9 5950X, and even with overclocking. Still, Noctua is a little tricky here, because there’s a little to none overclocking potential for this chips.
Testing was conducted both with one fan installed between the radiator sections, which ensures good compatibility with RAM modules, and with two fans.
The temperature of the hottest core is in the graphs. During the tests, the ambient temperature was 22 degrees.
At low speeds, the NH-D12L with one fan struggles with the Core i5-12600K in heavy tests. But proved to be capable, when adding a second fan. In general, this is the only mode in which there is a visible benefit from it. In other cases, the difference between one-fan and two-fans configuration is negligible.
The results are very good, even better than I expected. As a rule, coolers with one show show much worse results. It is difficult for NH-D12L to compete with the full-size models, nevertheless, its key advantage is compactness.
But it is accompanied by a considerable level of noise. The fan blows the radiator well only at 1200 RPM and above. In the max RPM mode, the temperatures are good, of course, but 2000 RPM generates a lot of noise.
Conclusion about Noctua NH-D12L
Like the recently reviewed 2kW FSP Cannon Pro PSU, the Noctua NH-D12L is not a cooler for everyone. In the majority of cases, a potential buyer is better off looking towards heavier models, such as the flagship NH-D15(S) or the sub-flagship NH-U12A. They are bigger, have more tubes, a much larger dissipation area, and come with a pair of fans in the box, after all. And in terms of price, the difference is either completely absent or insignificant.
But the thing is that NH-D15(S) and NH-U12A are much larger. The NH-D12L hits an unusual segment of the market of narrow cases, where previously you had a choice of either 92-mm fan or top-flow design coolers, which are inferior to the Noctua. Maybe not by the actual temperatures in Max mode, but definitely by the temperature/noise ratio.
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And here you can ask a reasonable question: what kind of cases are these for a cooler “south” of 150 mm? “I went to the Internet with this question.” What I’ve found were only Chinese “trashcans”, a couple of cuboids from Corsair, a couple of unremarkable Thermaltake cases. Undoubtedly, there are exotic models that are not so easy to find, but this segment is definitely not mass-market.
There are no complaints about the design and build quality of the Noctua NH-D12L. Actually, as always, for Noctua. But recommending this cooler for purchase to an ordinary user is difficult. A very specific thing. And the price tag, which is not too different from really top air cooling systems, is seriously intimidating.
Short summary: only for lovers of the exotic.
Where to buy
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