I've been using Noctua coolers since I was a teenager and I've always liked them, so I'm really happy that Noctua has decided to send me a cooler to review; this could be the beginning of a long series of (hopefully positive) reviews and I'm really excited about it.
Before we get started: no, I'm not getting paid, and no, I'm not keeping the cooler.
The Noctua NH-L12S is a low profile CPU cooler suitable for HTPCs and small form factor gaming PCs.
This cooler is only 70mm in height, but is a bit large at 128mm of width and 146mm of depth; for this reason, some of your RAM slots may be obstructed. Low profile RAM up to 48mm can fit under it, but you should keep this in mind if you're considering this cooler. If you have enough room in your case, you can move the fan to the top of the cooler and gain an extra 15mm for RAM; this brings the cooler to 85mm of height.
The NH-L12S is compatible with all current CPU sockets and many older ones. See the specifications for a full list.
Noctua recommends this cooler for CPUs up to 95W TDP, but for more comfortable temps and lower noise levels I wouldn't recommend going above 65W. This is plenty enough for an HTPC and even for gaming with something like a Ryzen 7 3700X.
The cooler comes in a typical Noctua box.
Inside there are 2 boxes, one with the accessories and one with the cooler itself.
In the accessories we have:
And here's the cooler itself:
The base and the heatpipes are made of nickel-plated copper, and the fins are aluminium.
Pre-mounted on the cooler is an NF-A12x15 fan, which is incredibly thin and silent even at max speed (1850 RPM). It's a 4-pin PWM fan. No RGB here, just good old beige and brown, something that anyone older than 14 will appreciate.
Mounting the cooler is really easy with Noctua's SecuFirm system, but instructions are included if you can't figure it out. Two small holes in the fins allow installation with the included screwdriver without having to remove the fan, which is a nice touch.
We will first test the cooler on a compact HTPC with a 65W Ryzen CPU, comparing it against the AMD stock cooler, and then we'll put it on a 95W Intel CPU. The idea is to test the cooler in both its intended use case, and in something more extreme, and see how it performs.
The HTPC I have in my living room seems is a great candidate for this cooler. It's a Mini ITX system with a Ryzen 5 3400G, 8GB DDR4 and a SATA SSD. The case is a cheap Mini ITX case from Aliexpress with no fans that I can't find anymore.
I mostly use this system to watch movies from external hard drives and some web browsing, but today we'll be running a Prime 95 torture test, wait for the temperature to stabilize and see how high we reach.
Mounting the cooler wasn't complicated, but as I mentioned, it does partially obstruct one of the RAM slots on this motherboard. Thankfully, I was using the cheaper kind of RAM that doesn't have a cooler on it so it wasn't a problem, but this can be a problem if you're upgrading a system from a stock cooler.
We tested the system in a room with an ambient temperature of 28°C and measured the difference between the CPU temperature and the room temperature. This measure is called delta T over ambient.
The system idled at about 12 degrees over ambient, and here's the Prime 95 results:
With the AMD stock cooler, we reached 44 degrees over ambient, at 72 degrees; with the NH-L12S, that temperature dropped by almost 10 degrees to 35 degrees over ambient, at 63 degrees. The system was also much, much quieter and pretty much inaudible with the Noctua cooler.
Now we move to one of my gaming setups, a regular ATX system with an Intel Core i7 6700k (delidded), 32GB DDR4, a GTX 1080 and an NVMe SSD. This is a 95W CPU from back when Intel TDPs weren't complete lies so it's a good test to see how it performs at its maximum recommended TDP. This system normally has a Noctua NH-D15S on it (which is completely overkill, but I like quiet PCs). The case is a Fractal Design Meshify C so there is good airflow.
Mounting the NH-L12S here was problematic because the Trident Z memories I have on this system are too tall. I had to move the 2 sticks of RAM to the right to get the cooler to fit.
The system idled at about 10 degrees over ambient, and here's the Prime 95 results, both stock and overclocked to 4.7GHz on all cores:
Again, the tests were run with an ambient temperature of 28°C, measuring the delta T over ambient.
Unsurprisingly, the gigantic NH-D15S performed better, but the NH-L12S also performed surprisingly well, reaching only 44 degrees over ambient, at 72 degrees. This means that you can definitely use the NH-L12S in a gaming PC if you have decent a airflow.
Unfortunately, the overclocking test failed on the NH-L12S, and this is the reason:
Because the CPU cooler is in contact with one of the RAM modules, some of the heat is transferred to it, and this memory is quite sensitive to it so the system was unstable.
At its current price of about 50€, the NH-L12S is definitely recommended if you're building a silent small form factor PC and don't want the hassle (and risks) of watercooling. Be careful with the RAM you buy though.
If you're interested, you can buy the NH-L12S here: https://noctua.at/en/nh-l12s/buy