For the past several years I’ve had the chance to test and review almost all Noctua CPU coolers and fans and all of them offered a wide range of technologies combined in a way to deliver amazing cooling performance. That also includes the low profile model Noctua NH-L12 designed for HTPC and small form factor PCs, which I was able to test and review about 5 years ago. Now I have in my hands its successor bearing the name Noctua NH-L12S, which promises a lot of improvements and definitely better performance. The cooler itself is a pretty small, very sleek and stylish looking product.
So let’s proceed with the article by digging inside the carton package and checking its contents. After that I am going to check all of the features of the product and of course at the end of the article I will give the cooler some stress by letting it cool my AMD FX8350 processor.
|The back side of the package||First look inside the box|
The cooler itself arrived in the typical for the company pretty big and very rigid carton box in the standard white, black and dark brown colours forming the Noctua’s very distinctive colour scheme. On the front and top sides of the package there are the model name, a QR code, a basic description of the model and a glimpse of the full technical specification. While all other details regarding the product are described on all of the other sides of the carton package.
A package which looks pretty nice but it is not the main focus in this review. So, let’s leave it aside for now and proceed the article with checking the contents placed inside.
Typically for Noctua, by opening the package the first to notice was a big brown box made of recycled carton, holding all of the additional accessories needed for both Intel and AMD sockets plus several additions such as screwdriver and a Noctua badge.
By removing the accessories package I reached to the cooler itself placed inside additional carton formed as a bed and protecting the heat sink and the fan from every side.
I have no doubt that everything inside is absolutely flawless, so let’s proceed the article by checking the additional accessories provided with the cooler.
Noctua NH-L12S ADDITIONAL ACCESSORIES
Since this product is part of Noctua’s portfolio we can expect only high quality, a lot of attention to detail and nothing less. And indeed all of the accessories were packed in labeled separate nylon bags according to their purpose and also described with text and pictures on the top of the brown accessories box.
You see, I spent some time taking all of the accessories out of their packages, arranging them and taking some pictures but it was definitely time well spent.
The standard Noctua NH-L12S accessories pack features:
- Very solid black metal back plate required for all of the Intel 115X sockets
- A set of 4 black plastic spacers to stay between the motherboard and the front plates for LGA 115x sockets
- A set of 4 silver metal screw pillars required for all LGA 20xx sockets.
- A set of 4 metal thumb screws required for all Intel and AMD sockets
- 2 x front silver metal plates for all Intel sockets
- 2 x front long silver mounting bars required for AMD vertical installation
- 2 x front short silver mounting bars required for AMD horizontal installation
- A set of 4 grey plastic spacers to stay between the motherboard and the front mounting bars for AM4 socket
- A set of 4 white plastic spacers to stay between the motherboard and the front mounting bars for AM2(+) / AM3(+) / FM1/FM2(+) sockets
- A set of 4 long bolts to support the whole mounting kit
- 1 x Noctua NF-A12x15 PWM premium fan
- Two metal clips for attaching one fan to the heat sink
- A screwdriver to install the cooler on every socket
- Low-Noise Adaptor (L.N.A.)
- NT-H1 high-grade thermal compound
- Noctua metal case-badge
- Intel and AMD installation manuals
There isn’t really much to comment. This is a product part of Noctua’s portfolio and this means… mounting kit made of high quality and solid materials, very good thermal compound and lots of possibilities. Noctua always include everything that might be needed for future installations and overall compatibility with all current sockets and processors.
Enough about the additional accessories, so let’s leave them aside until they are required and pay some attention to the cooler’s structure.
Noctua NH-L12S HEAT SINK STRUCTURE
To keep the tradition and most of all to provide the most accurate review I spent some time exploring the cooler’s structure which includes a pretty slim single tower low-profile heat sink, a single Noctua NF-A12x15 PWM cooling unit and very reliable and versatile mounting system.
The heat sink itself is with dimensions of 146 x 128 x 70 mm and weight of 390 grams without the fan. When the NF-A12x15 PWM is added to the structure, the overall dimensions of the cooler remains almost the same and are 146 x 128 x 87 mm and weight of 520 grams.
So, first let’s start with checking the contact plate and the heat-pipes.
|The contact plate||The heat-pipes|
Noctua NH-L12S is designed and manufactured with a perfectly milled contact plate with dimensions of 38 x 40 mm holding in line the 4 x Ø6mm heat pipes and connecting the CPU with the aluminum fins stack for heat dispersion. Of course, by being part of Noctua’s portfolio, the product follows designated high standards and for that reason all of the heat sink parts are soldiered together and nicely nickel coated to improve the overall durability and the appearance of the product.
On the top side of the contact plate there is the typical for almost all of the Noctua coolers cross mounting bar with bolts and springs, which will be used for fastening the heat sink to the motherboard. And since this is a low profile heat-sink there are cuts in the fins stack through which a screwdriver should pass to fasten these bolts.
And by mentioning the fins stack let’s proceed the article with checking the heat dissipation part of the cooler, which is actually the aluminum fins stack.
|Top view||Side view|
The cooler itself is designed with one purpose in mind and that is to deliver the best possible size/cooling performance/noise level/compatibility balance so it can fit and perform great in HTPC or small form factor environments in which the size/performance factor is all that matters. For that reason the aluminum fins stack is manufactured with pretty tight dimensions which are: 116 x 128 x 25 mm and is featuring 58 fins separated in 3 sections:
- 34 identical 1mm thick with 2mm gap performance fins. Also the front fin holds the company logo for better appearance.
- 5 identical 1mm thick with 2mm gap performance fins which are formed in a way to provide 3 cuts so a screwdriver can be used to fasten the bolts below the fins stack.
- 19 identical 1mm thick with 2mm gap performance fins on the back side closer to the heat-pipes.
When all of the fins are assembled and soldiered to the heat-pipes they are able to work with up to 1 fan with maximum thickness of 25mm in two operational modes:
- Low-profile mode – the fan is installed on the bottom of the heat-sink and can be positioned to blow towards the motherboard or through the fins stack. This mode delivers low cooler height of only 70mm.
- High-clearance mode – the fan is installed on the top of the heat-sink and can be positioned to blow through or to suck the air from the fins stack. This mode provides extended clearance underneath the fin stack. This way, it is fully compatible with chipset coolers and RAM modules with heat-spreaders of up to 48mm in height (vs. 35mm in low-profile mode).
In both cases, the fan should be installed on the heat-sink by using the two metal clips providing in the package.
Actually the heat-sink itself can be a host for a second fan in push-pull mode but some modifications will be required since the two metal clips should be removed. But whether this would provide any real performance improvement, I cannot really say. Usually, Noctua design their products to provide the best possible performance out of the box.
By mentioning the fan, let’s proceed with the article by checking the cooling unit added in the package.
Noctua NH-L12S is optimized to operate with just one Noctua NF-A12x15 PWM fan with dimensions of 120 x 120 x 15 mm, which should be installed on the bottom or on the top of the heat-sink via the two metal clips provided in the package. The fan itself features a pretty solid square frame including the typical AAO (Advanced Acoustic Optimization), Stepped Inlet Design and Integrated Anti-Vibration Pads technologies combined with a 7 pretty narrow and at the same time very sharply angled blades forming the propeller working at 450(+/-20%) – 1850(+/- 10%) revolutions per minute range, with maximum airflow level of 94,2 m³/h at maximum noise level of 23,9 dB(A).
The cooler is also supplied with L.N.A. and when it is used with the fan the maximum airflow level that NF-A12x15 PWM can achieve is 70,8 m³/h with noise level of 16,8 dB(A).
The connection between the propeller and the frame is done by а 4-pin PWM powered and regulated SSO2 Bearing to deliver stable, long life operation and low noise operation. With this bearing the fan is capable to last of up to 150.000 hours.
To perform its cooling duties the fan should be attached on the bottom or on the top of the heat-sink via the 2 metal brackets provided in the package.
|The fan brackets||The low-profile installation|
And to do the actual fan installation I just had to press the fan towards the heat-sink and clip the two metal brackets to the aluminum fins stack.
With the fully assembled cooler, let’s pay attention to the mounting kit and proceed with the tests.
Based on the official technical details, the cooler is capable to operate with processors working on:
- Intel sockets: Intel LGA2066, LGA2011-0 & LGA2011-3 (Square ILM), LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA1151, LGA1150 sockets
- AMD sockets: AMD AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, AM4, FM1, FM2, FM2+ (backplate required)
In addition, the cooler is equipped with mounting kit for the new AMD AM4 Ryzen processors and can be mounted on the new Intel LGA 2066 processors.
For additional details regarding the cooler’s cooling capabilities please pay a lot of attention to the official TDP guide.
In my case, for doing the tests with my AMD FX8350 rig, which is AM3+ socket I will use the longer AMD front bars provided in the package, which will allow me to mount the cooler in vertical position. Not that it really matters since the heat-sink is square but this will allow me to position the heat-pipes on the top side, which will provide more clearance towards the RAM modules and the VRM heat-spreaders.
In this case there is nothing much to prepare, since the back plate is the original provided with the motherboard and all I had to do is to install it, place the plastic spacers on the motherboard. After that add the front metal brackets and secure them with the long bolts. That was pure child’s play.
The last step was to add thermal compound and secure the heat sink to the processor
And this is what this CPU cooler looks like installed on the motherboard:
|Heat sink seen from the front||Heat sink seen from the side|
As you can see from the pictures above, with the heat sink installed on the motherboard with low-profile mode (the fan is on the bottom) it is blocking completely the first RAM slot, while the second is barely free. In this case only RAM modules without or with very short heat-spreaders can be used. When the cooler is assembled in high-clearance mode (the fan is on the top) there is much more space and less issues with RAM modules.
As a next step of this article I believe it is time to check the actual cooling capabilities of this product but first, let’s check my testing rig and continue the article.
Noctua NH-L12S TESTS
CPU: AMD Vishera FX-8350
- At standard frequency 4.020 MHz (at 1.368V)
Motherboard: GigaByte 990FXA-UD3
Video card: 2 x Gigabyte GV-R927XOC-2GD
Memory: 2 x 4GB Geil Black Dragon 1866 MHz
Hard drive: Kingston SSD SV100S264G
Hard drive: WD Server Edition WD1002F9YZ 1TB
Case: SilverStone Raven RV-03
Power supply: Antec HCP-750W
Cooler: Noctua NH-L12S
Thermal paste: Noctua NT-H1 thermal compound
The tests will be conducted in a closed system with:
- 2 x SilverStone AP181 – 180mm fans on the bottom panel of the case putting fresh air in and spinning at about 1200 rpm
- 120mm fan behind the motherboard cooling the socket and spinning at about 1000 rpm.
- Room temperature of about 20 degrees.
Both SilverStone AP181 – 180mm fans were connected together to the chassis 1 connector and were rotating at maximum speed.
And here I want to describe my testing method.
I will install Noctua NH-L12S and do stress tests using Prime95 AVX software with constant load on the AIO for 14:30 minutes with custom settings of minimum FFT size (in K of 128), max FFT size (in K of 128) and Run FFTs in place at standard frequency of 4.020 GHz (at 1.368V) using the NF-A12x15 PWM fan installed on the top of the heat sink, rotating at maximum speed of 1850 revolutions per minute.
And since this is a cooler with pretty tight dimensions focused for HTPC systems and my CPU is not a exactly such type and most of all energy saver I will perform a test just on the default frequency.
Now let’s check out the test results:
|Noctua NH-L12S @4020MHz 1.368V|
All of the test results have been summed up in the following charts:
And the fan speed during the tests:
I believe it is about time to express my conclusions.
Noctua NH-L12S CONCLUSIONS
1. Noctua NH-L12S performance:
Noctua NH-L12S is a CPU cooler which I was really eager to test and review since I was very impressed by the cooling capabilities of its ancestor NH-L12 tested and reviewed back in the days. The new model offers a lot of improvements and that includes tighter dimensions, better cooling fan and most of all wider range of supported sockets and processors. You see, in low profile or HTPC systems everything really counts since the smaller rigs lack of space, so offering same or better performance, better compatibility or lower noise level and at the same time with smaller dimensions means really a lot.
The cooler itself is with really tiny dimensions and still it is capable to provide very, very good cooling result and maintain my processor running stable and pretty quiet through the test, which I was able to perform. According to what I saw, I believe this cooler is a very good choice to work with low and average grade processors working at normal frequencies with some serious load for a lot of time even inside small form factor or HTPC systems. For overclocking it might not be the best option especially with processors of about 125W by default. For these scenarios there are other products.
Anyway through the tests the fan was working at full speed and was pretty noisy, but after I was done with the test and when I set it to be PWM powered and regulated it was running at low to average speed range and was pretty quiet. Also when there is load on the CPU there are constant fluctuations in the revolutions of the fan but they are pretty smooth. Still let’s not forget that my processor is pretty power hungry and could be very hot.
And to complete the performance conclusions, I would like to mention that I was expecting a bit worse temperature results bearing in mind the TPD capabilities of the cooler and the TPD performance of my processor. The cooler had a really hard time but it didn’t give up. Here I would like to say: Great job, Noctua!
2. Noctua NH-L12S appearance:
Regarding the appearance, there isn’t anything new. This cooler features the typical for the company silver/brown/pink colour scheme which when placed inside entirely black case, doesn’t really fit well but this is just my point of view. On the other hand, the pretty compact dimensions make the cooler fit pretty well on the motherboard and doesn’t interfere with the other components. Of course, when the cooler is installed in smaller cases it will definitely reveal its benefits and full potential..
According to my review, I think that Noctua NH-L12S deserves the following award:
Official price (MSRP) for Noctua NH-L12S: 49.90 euro
Official warranty: 72 months
Special thanks, Noctua, for the test sample.