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Noctua NH-U12S Slim Tower Heatsink

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The NH-U12S is an attempt by Noctua to take everything we like about the larger NH-U12P and cram it into a slimmed down form factor for improve compatibility.

Noctua NH-U12S Slim Tower Heatsink

May 7, 2013 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Noctua NH-U12S
CPU Cooler
Manufacturer
Noctua
Street Price
US$60

Noctua is not the most innovative player in the PC cooling market but their brand has withstood the rigors of time better than most. Their strategy of offering a small selection of premium CPU coolers and fans, has for the most part, paid off. Today, the competition is fiercer than ever and we’ve noticed Noctua starting to react to the market more quickly than in years past. The last two of their products we reviewed, the NH-L12 and NH-L9i, were new low profile heatsinks, a response to the increasing popularity of SFF systems.


U12S on the left, U12P on the right.

Their latest, the NH-U12S, is based on the NH-U12P, a former flagship tower cooler that debuted five years ago. As a testament to its design, a variant is still being sold to this day. The U12S isn’t a replacement however, rather an attempt to take everything we like about the U12P and stuff it into a smaller form factor. The older, bigger U12P measures 71 mm across, making it one of the widest single tower heatsinks we’ve encountered, so wide that it extends over a DIMM slot on most motherboards. If you have standard sized memory, this is a minor inconvenience but over the past few years we’ve noticed a proliferation of desktop memory with large fanciful heatspreaders which pose a more serious problem.

At 158 mm, the U12S is the same height but it’s only 46 mm wide, almost a full inch narrower. While it is more compact, it surprisingly weighs almost the same as the U12P. Noctua equipped the U12S with an additional heatpipe and extra fins packed in a tighter formation, so despite its lack of size, the heat dissipation area remains high. As a result, the heatsink body is fairly dense.


NH-U12S box contents.


Accessories.

Once again we applaud Noctua for a fastidiously organized package. The heatsink and accessories are split up into four separate well-organized boxes. The smaller containers hold the mounting gear for AMD and Intel installations, while the longer box houses a screw driver, case badge, thermal compound, 4-pin PWM low noise adapter, fan isolation strips, and dampeners and extra clips for a second fan.

Noctua NH-U12S: Specifications
(from the product
web page
)
Socket compatibility
Intel LGA2011 (Square ILM), LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA1150 & AMD AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, FM1, FM2 (backplate required)
Dimensions (without fan)
158 x 125 x 45 mm (H x W x D)
Dimensions (with fan)
158 x 125 x 71 mm (H x W x D)
Weight (without fan)
580 g
Weight (with fan)
755 g
Material
Copper (base and heat-pipes), aluminum (cooling fins), soldered joints & nickel plating
Fan compatibility
120x120x25
Scope of Delivery
NF-F12 PWM premium fan
Low-Noise Adaptor (L.N.A.)
NT-H1 high-grade thermal compound
SecuFirm2™ Mounting Kit
Anti-vibration pads and fan-clips for second NF-F12
Noctua Metal Case-Badge
Warranty
6 Years
Fan Specifications
Model
Noctua NF-F12 PWM
Bearing
SSO2
Max. Rotational Speed (+/- 10%)
1500 RPM
Max. Rotational Speed with L.N.A. (+/- 10%)
1200 RPM
Min. Rotational Speed (PWM)
300 RPM
Max. Airflow
93,4 m³/h
Max. Airflow with L.N.A.
74,3 m³/h
Max. Acoustical Noise
22,4 dB(A)
Max. Acoustical Noise with L.N.A.
18,6 dB(A)
Input Power
0.6 W
Voltage Range
12 V
MTBF
> 150,000 h

PHYSICAL DETAILS & INSTALLATION

The NH-U12S is composed of a copper base, five copper heatpipes, and 50 aluminum fins, all nickel-plated. With the fan installed, it measures 158 x 125 x 71 mm or 6.2 x 4.9 x 2.8 inches (H x W x D) and weighs 750 grams according to our digital scale.


The stock fan is equipped with dampening pads on both sides to limit vibration from interaction with both the heatsink and the fan clips. By default, the fan is positioned a bit high on the heatsink; lowering it would improve board cooling.


Compared to the U12P, the U12S’ heatpipes are spread further apart from one another. Each pipe gets more air blowing around them but airflow through the fins faces increased impedance.


The heatsink’s fins are packed much tighter than Noctua’s previous towers. The fins are 0.45 mm thick and spaced 1.72 mm apart on average.


Like most Noctua heatsinks, the surface is convex though the bump at the center is less pronounced than previous models. To the naked eye, it looks almost flat.


The base has a fine but not quite mirror finish. Oddly, the holes for their previous revision of mounting clips remain, a relic of the olden days.

BASE & INSTALLATION

The most critical aspect of installation is that the heatsink be securely
mounted. A firm mating results in good contact between the heatsink’s base and
the CPU heatspreader and more efficient heat conduction. Ideally it should
also be a simple procedure with the user having to handle as few pieces of
hardware as possible.


The U12S uses a slightly updated version of their SecuFirm2 mounting kit. It’s put together the same way except LGA775 and LGA1366 support have been dropped. It’s understandable given how both platforms are now fairly dated, but punching a few extra mounting holes into their gear couldn’t have been that much bother.


The new mounting bar isn’t as forgiving as previous variants. The second spring-loaded bolt had to be driven down with some force just to catch the thread on the mounting clip.


Fully mounted on our LGA1155 test board.


Memory can be added and removed without any interference.


The thermal compound footprint indicates strong contact at the center of the heatspreader not as good as past Noctuas. Typically we’re used to seeing an even fainter imprint at the center.

TESTING

Before thermal testing, we took some basic physical measurements.

Approximate Physical Measurements
Weight
580 g
750 g with stock fan
Height158 mm
Fin count50
Fin thickness
0.45 mm
Fin spacing
1.72 mm
Vertical Clearance*
43 mm
* measured from the motherboard PCB to
the bottom fin of the heatsink.
Small Heatsink Comparison:
Average Fin Thickness & Spacing
Heatsink
Fin Thickness
Fin Spacing
Scythe Big Shuriken 2 Rev.B
0.29 mm
1.13 mm
Noctua NH-L9i
0.44 mm
1.16 mm
Scythe Big Shuriken
0.33 mm
1.19 mm
Reeven Vanxie
0.28 mm
1.39 mm
Reeven Arcziel
0.28 mm
1.41 mm
Cooler Master GeminII M4
0.29 mm
1.46 mm
Noctua NH-L12
0.49 mm
1.51 mm
Scythe Kozuti
0.12 mm
1.69 mm
Noctua NH-U12S
0.45 mm
1.72 mm
Scythe Samurai ZZ
0.33 mm
1.74 mm
Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120M
0.43 mm
1.78 mm
Prolimatech Panther
0.53 mm
1.80 mm
Phanteks PH-TC90LS
0.47 mm
1.90 mm

Testing on larger heatsinks are done on our
LGA1366 heatsink testing platform
, while smaller coolers tackle our LGA1155 heatsink testing platform. A summary of the test system
and procedure follows.

Key Components in LGA1366 Heatsink Test Platform:

Key Components in LGA1155 Heatsink Test Platform:

The systems are silent under the test conditions, except for the CPU cooling
fan(s).

Normally, our reference fans are used whenever possible, the measured details
of which are shown below.

Reference Noctua 140mm fan
Anechoic chamber measurements
Voltage
SPL@1m
Speed
12V
28~29 dBA
1250 RPM
9V
21 dBA
990 RPM
8V
18 dBA
880 RPM
7V
15~16 dBA
770 RPM
6V
13 dBA
660 RPM
Reference Nexus 120 mm fan
Anechoic chamber measurements
Voltage
SPL@1m
Speed
12V
16 dBA
1080 RPM
9V
13 dBA
880 RPM
7V
12 dBA
720 RPM
Reference Nexus 92 mm fan
Anechoic chamber measurements
Voltage
SPL@1m
Speed
12V
16 dBA
1470 RPM
9V
12 dBA
1150 RPM

Measurement and Analysis Tools

  • Extech 380803 AC power analyzer / data logger for measuring AC system
    power.
  • Custom-built, four-channel variable DC power supply, used to regulate
    the fan speed during the test.
  • PC-based spectrum analyzer:
    SpectraPlus with ACO Pacific mic and M-Audio digital
    audio interfaces.
  • Anechoic chamber
    with ambient level of 11 dBA or lower
  • Various other tools for testing fans, as documented in our
    standard fan testing methodology
    .
  • SpeedFan,
    used to monitor the on-chip thermal sensors. The sensors are not calibrated,
    so results are not universally applicable. The hottest core reading is used.
  • Prime95,
    used to stress the LGA1366 CPU heavily, generating more heat than most real applications.
    8 instances are used to ensure that all 4 cores (with Hyper-threading) are
    stressed.
  • CPU-Z,

    used to monitor the CPU speed to determine when overheating occurs.

  • Thermometers to measure the air temperature around the test platform
    and near the intake of the heatsink fan.

Noise measurements are made with the fans powered from the lab’s variable DC
power supply while the rest of the system was off to ensure that system noise
did not skew the measurements.

Load testing was accomplished using Prime95 to stress the processor and the
graph function in SpeedFan was used to ensure that the load temperature is stable
for at least ten minutes. The temperature recorded is the highest single core
reading. The stock fans were tested at various voltages to represent a good
cross-section of airflow and noise performance.

The ambient conditions during testing were 10~11 dBA and 21~23°C.

Stock Fan Measurements

Specifications: Noctua NH-U12S Stock Fan
ManufacturerNoctuaPower Rating0.6 W
Model NumberNF-F12 PWMAirflow Rating93,4 m³/h
74,3 m³/h with LNA
Bearing TypeSSO2Speed Rating1,500 RPM
1,200 RPM with LNA
Frame Size120 x 120 x 25 mmNoise Rating22.4 dBA
18.6 dBA with LNA
Hub Size41 mmHeader Type4-pin
Blade Diameter113 mmCorner TypeOpen
Cable Length20 cmWeight170 g
Starting Voltage5.5 VRetail AvailabilityYes

Additional notes: 4-pin LNA (low noise adapter) included

We’ve encountered the NF-F12 PWM previously on the NH-L12. It’s one of the more radical designs we’ve seen in recent years featuring a series of thin, straight struts arranged like a clock around the hub with a few notches cut into each. The blades have very little curvature with the edges almost lining up perpendicular with the struts. This is the worst possible structure for limiting tonality. Interestingly, Noctua’s latest line of fans, the A series, has a design that goes completely against this, with struts and blades curved in opposite directions.

Above 1,000 RPM, the acoustic profile was buzzy with a prominent high pitched tone. At ~900 RPM, it smoothed out considerably, though up close we could hear some bearing chatter. At ~800 RPM and below the fan became very quiet though it was plagued with a dull drone.

Compared to the sample from the NH-L12, this fan had a slightly poorer sound quality, a bit more tonal at high speeds. We far prefer the old trusty NF-P12 to either. Interestingly, the F12 is not equipped on any of Noctua’s other coolers, nor has its design been carried over to any of their larger fan models. The F series may simply have been a short-lived experiment that has reached its conclusion.

Stock Fan Measurements
Voltage
Speed
SPL@1m
12V
1400 RPM
27 dBA
9V
1080 RPM
19 dBA
8V
970 RPM
17 dBA
7V
850 RPM
13~14 dBA
6V
730 RPM
12 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle from
the center of the heatsink.
Ambient noise level: 10~11 dBA.

The fan had a range that should satisfy both casual and hardcore silencers. The top speed of 1,400 RPM generated a noise level of 27 dBA@1m, which is quieter than the vast majority of stock heatsink fans. It became quiet at about ~1,100 RPM and was practically inaudible at ~700 RPM.

Test Results

Noctua NH-U12S
Fan Voltage
Fan Speed
SPL@1m
°C Rise above Ambient
CPU
VRM
Stock Fan
12V
1400 RPM
27 dBA
31
26
9V
1080 RPM
19 dBA
33
29
8V
970 RPM
17 dBA
34
30
7V
850 RPM
13~14 dBA
35
31
6V
730 RPM
12 dBA
38
33
Reference Nexus 120 mm Fan
12V
1070 RPM
17 dBA
34
32
9V
880 RPM
14 dBA
35
34
7V
740 RPM
11~12 dBA
36
34

Tested on our mildly overclocked/overvolted Core i5-2400, the CPU temperature stabilized at 31°C and 38°C above ambient at 12V and 6V respectively, a low and tight range befitting a good performance cooler. As the speed was lowered there was no sudden significant drop off in efficiency, except going from 7V to 6V, at which point the cooler was already quieter than the background noise generated in a most working environments.

Our reference Nexus 120 mm fan performed similarly to the stock fan, matching it decibel for decibel, degree for degree, only taking a slight lead at inaudible levels. The stock fan was actually better by a couple of degrees when it came to VRM cooling but all and in, there was no real benefit or detriment to swapping fans. We’re pleased the NF-F12 was able to keep up as the Nexus is one of our better performing models.

Heatsink Comparison Table

°C Rise Comparison: Reference 120 mm Fan (CPU Temperature)
SPL (dBA@1m)
18
17
16
15
14
13
12
Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120M
31
32
34
Prolimatech Panther
31
33
36
Noctua NH-U12S
34
35
36
Noctua NH-L12
34
37
Scythe Big Shuriken 2 Rev.B
36
39
Scythe Big Shuriken
41
43

The results using our Nexus 120 mm as a reference point shows the U12S slightly lagging behind the Prolimatech Panther and the TRUE Spirit 120M, both of which are also modestly sized tower coolers, though the U12S is narrower than both.

°C rise Comparison (CPU Temperature)
SPL (dBA@1m)
20
19
18
17
16
15
14
13
12
Noctua NH-U12S
(ref. 120 mm fan)
34
35
36
Noctua NH-L12
(120 & 92 mm fans)
33
34
35
36
Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120M
32
34
36
38
Noctua NH-U12S
33
34
35
38
Noctua NH-L12
(120 mm fan)
37
38
39
42
Prolimatech Panther
35
42
Scythe Big Shuriken 2 Rev.B
39
43
48
Reeven Arcziel
42
47
Scythe Samurai ZZ
45
46
52
Noctua NH-L12
(92 mm fan)
42
44
47
51
57
Scythe Big Shuriken
43
46
61
Cooler Master GeminII M4
53
56
64
Noctua NH-L9i
56
61
Scythe Kozuti
57
62
65
Phanteks PH-TC90LS
67
69
Reeven Vanxie
66
77
F

The U12S fares a bit better when stock fans are used, just a single degree off the TRUE Spirit 120M’s mark, while also having a better sounding fan. The Panther’s fan has the best acoustic profile of the three, but its cooling performance is noticeably worse at very low noise levels.

°C rise Comparison (VRM Temperature)
SPL (dBA@1m)
20
19
18
17
16
15
14
13
12
Noctua NH-L12
(120 & 92 mm fans)
17
19
21
23
Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120M
21
24
26
27
Prolimatech Panther
24
30
Noctua NH-L12
(120 mm fan)
24
26
27
32
Noctua NH-U12S
29
30
31
33
Noctua NH-U12S
(ref. 120 mm fan)
32
34
34
Scythe Big Shuriken 2 Rev.B
29
34
39
Noctua NH-L12
(92 mm fan)
28
31
33
38
43
Reeven Arcziel
38
41
Scythe Big Shuriken
28
30
47
Cooler Master GeminII M4
34
38
49
Scythe Kozuti
36
40
45
Scythe Samurai ZZ
38
39
47
Noctua NH-L9i
40
46
Phanteks PH-TC90LS
46
48
Reeven Vanxie
45
56
F

The U12S is not nearly as efficient cooling the area around the processor, losing to the TRUE Spirit by a whopping six degrees in VRM temperature at noise levels of 14 dBA@1m and below, but it’s still superior to most of the smaller downblowing models.

MP3 SOUND RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high
resolution, lab quality, digital recording system
inside SPCR’s
own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber
, then converted to LAME 128kbps
encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation
from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of
what we heard during the review.

These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds
in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer
or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient
noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. Be aware
that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn’t hear it from
one meter, chances are we couldn’t record it either!

The recording starts with 5~10 second segments of room ambiance, then the fan
at various levels. For the most realistic results, set the volume so that
the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then don’t change the volume
setting again.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The NH-U12S follows a long line of high performance heatsinks that have kept Noctua a premium brand over the years. As slimmer tower coolers go, the U12S is certainly the best choice we’ve encountered. It offers strong performance, a nice set of accessories focused on noise and vibration reduction, and a solid mounting system. It’s yet another complete package from Noctua that’s worthy of your attention.

The U12S currently carries a street price of about US$60, a bit costly considering its size. However, if you’re looking for a very thin 120 mm tower, the next closest competitor is the slightly thicker Prolimatech Panther, a US$50 cooler that isn’t widely available and is hampered by an underperforming stock fan. There are also few HDT models to consider like the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus, an old favorite of ours and an excellent value at US$30, and the US$40 TRUE Spirit 120M, but both are about a full centimeter thicker than the U12S.

Whether or not the U12S is the right choice for you boils down to how thin a heatsink you truly need. The problem heatsinks like the U12S solve is memory interference — for which desktop memory with tall heatspreaders seem to be the root cause; Perhaps the best advice we can give is to avoid them altogether seeing as they offer no benefit outside of aesthetics. If you use a set of standard height DIMMs, you’ll have infinitely more choices for a cooling solution, and if it hangs over a stick of memory, it’s at worst, a minor inconvenience.

A final factor that hangs over every consumer product is distribution and availability. We seen many reader references in the forums recently that specialist brands Thermalright and Scythe are suffering in both categories. In contrast, Noctua remains one of the best distributed, widely available heatsink brands. Easy availability trumps price and even performance: If you can’t find the others, there’s simply no choice.

Our thanks to Noctua for the NH-U12S CPU cooler sample.


Noctua NH-U12S is Recommended by SPCR

* * *

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:

Cooler Master Seidon 240M: Dual Fan Liquid CPU Cooler
Phanteks PH-TC12DX CPU Cooler
Phanteks PH-TC90LS Mini Cooler
Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120M CPU Heatsink
Noctua NH-L9i Low Profile CPU Cooler
Prolimatech Panther CPU Cooler

* * *

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