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Noctua NH-L12S CPU Cooler Review

A low-profile, silent cooler for small systems

Noctua’s low-profile cooler NH-L12S is now in our labs for quite some time now, and as I’m using it for some time already with my personal rig, here are my thoughts as well as some raw data on how it performs.

A few words that we’ll focus on: Silent, size, and performance


What’s in the box?

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The NH-L12S’s packaging is quite simple, yet bears the distinctive Noctua cooler packaging. Inside the box are the accessory box and the cooler itself.

Accessory box:

  • 1x NF-A12x15 PWM premium fan
  • Low-Noise Adaptor (L.N.A.)
  • NT-H1 high-grade thermal compound
  • SecuFirm2™ mounting kit
  • Noctua metal case-badge

It also includes a 6-year full manufacturer warranty, in case you get trouble with the fan.


Design and Build Impressions

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While we don’t have a small-factor system yet to test this out on its natural habitat, the NH-L12S looks promising already as I unboxed it, preferably due to its small size yet impressive performance than most coolers at its price point. Being a low profile-cooler, space shouldn’t be an issue on using this cooler in most cases.

The system I used for this testing isn’t really the usual system you’d found on most homes, although it’s my personal rig. A Dell Precision T5500 motherboard with an Intel Xeon X5675 (3.06GHz, 95W TDP) on the LGA1366 socket (provided that you’ll use the separate NM-i3 mounting kit that Noctua graciously provided us as well for the purpose of this review) proved to me that despite the irregular layout of its motherboard, this cooler will function and fit your system really well, compared to its passively-cooled stock heatsink.

Mounting the cooler is very easy. After putting the appropriate backplate to your motherboard as well as mounting brackets and screws, the only thing you’ll have to do next is to mount the cooler and screw it using the supplied special screwdriver to tighten it down on its place. After that, I started enjoying low temps and a silent environment. Again, their SecuFirm mounting standard is the best so far when it comes to mounting these types of coolers. I just really love it.

The cooler’s base plate is composed of four copper-based, nickel-plated heat pipes that directly connects to the heatsink’s aluminum fins, which in result, effectively dissipates heat away from your CPU. The included NF-A12x15 PWM fan is notoriously silent and miraculously cools the heatsink despite tantamount heat generated by the CPU.

While the heatsink’s fins might bend easily when force is applied (it’s the case even with many air coolers), overall, the build seemed sturdy.

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Our sample here might look old due to prolonged use on an open-air environment.


Specifications

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Cooler Specifications

Socket compatibility: Intel LGA2066, LGA2011-0 & LGA2011-3 (Square ILM), LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA1151, LGA1150 & AMD AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, FM1, FM2, FM2+ (backplate required), AM4 (NM-AM4 mounting kit)
Height (with/without fan): 70 mm
Width (with/without fan): 128 mm
Depth (with/without fan): 146 mm
Weight (without fan): 390 g
Weight (with fan): 520 g
Material: Copper (base and heat-pipes), aluminum (cooling fins), soldered joints & nickel plating
Max. TDP: see CPU compatibility list
Fan compatibility: 120x120x15 & 120x120x25

The included NF-A12x15 PWM fan.

Cooling Fan Specifications

Model: Noctua NF-A12x15 PWM
Bearing: SSO2
Max. rotational speed (+/- 10%): 1850 RPM
Max. rotational speed with L.N.A. (+/- 10%): 1400 RPM
Min. rotational speed (PWM, +/-20%): 450 RPM
Max. airflow: 94,2 m³/h
Max. airflow with L.N.A.: 70,8 m³/h
Max. acoustical noise: 23,9 dB(A)
Max. acoustical noise with L.N.A.: 16,8 dB(A)
Input power: 1,56 W
Voltage range: 12 V
MTTF>: 150.000 h


Performance Test

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Our test system for this is my current system which uses a non-standard motherboard (using an old Dell Precision T5500 motherboard) into a standard ATX case from Trendsonic, equipped with Intel Xeon X5675 six-core processor @3.06GHz with a TDP of 95W. This is in order for us to get an idea of how this cooler will perform on a more heat-generating CPU, such as an Intel Xeon (although this cooler will surely perform best on lower-TDP systems).

We also used the ID-Cooling AuraFlow X 360 and Cooler Master ML120 RGB AIO liquid coolers, as well as the larger, beefier NH-D15S to compare it against.

Our tests are conducted in an air-conditioned room with around 25°C room temperature. All the coolers are tested repeatedly using the NT-H1 thermal compound and are averaged after some 15-min stress test runs, in order to properly get the results.

Intel Xeon X5675 @ 3.06GHz, 95W TDP | AIDA64, HWMonitor 1.4

Based on our test runs, the Noctua NH-L12S is comparatively performing with the 360mm AIO that is also in our labs for review. Even at full load, noise levels are really low and aren’t audible at all, leaving you with a very silent environment to play with. It’s silent AF, as the S on its model name refers to being ‘SILENT’, after all. I really wanted to measure the sound levels for our tests, but we haven’t got our hands on a new sound pressure tester yet.

The test data are gathered using HWMonitor 1.4, and the peak / idle data are both averaged from 3 successful 15-min stress tests from AIDA64.


Conclusion

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The NH-L12S, ideally suited for the small form factor setups, can easily join the leagues of best air coolers out there. With its size, silent yet strong performance, your $50 dollars surely won’t go to waste with this one.

Compatibility-wise, I’m glad that Noctua had it supported even with older processors out there, making it an appeal, even to the old system’s owner who doesn’t want to upgrade. Noctua will even send you an upgrade kit for free in the future in case you need it and the cooler still supports the new processor/socket. Also, that 6-year warranty is something that Noctua is really proud of.

In fact, before I switched to the NH-D15S as my main cooler recently, I am using it as the main cooler on the aforementioned Intel system for some time, and the editor is more than delighted to recommend it to everyone else. With that said, we’re really impressed that we’re giving the Noctua NH-L12S our ‘Gold Award’.

GOLD AWARD | Revealed

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