NH-L12 CPU cooler
Noctua came on the scene in 2008 and quickly made a name for themselves with their solid performing coolers that were pretty well silent. The first cooler we looked at from Noctua was the NH-U12P back in 2008. It was large and aimed at enthusiasts, but it performed very well and did so quietly. It was one of the biggest coolers on the market. Later that year Noctua released the NH-C12P, a short top down cooler. Then in 2010 Noctua brought us the massive NH-D14, but like the NH-U12P it was aimed at overclockers and enthusiasts.
Now Noctua is showing the SFF or Small Form Factor users some love with the NH-L12. The NH-L12 sports two fans, a 120mm NF-F12 and 92mm NF-B9. How low is low? With both the fans installed the NH-L12 stands a very short 93mm or 3.7 inches. With only the lower 92mm fan installed for the “Extra Low” configuration the height comes to only 66mm or 2.5 inches, or about the same height as a stock Intel box cooler.
Unlike any of the coolers that we have looked at from Noctua before, the NH-L12 comes with some uh, caveats, provisos, a couple of quid pro quo. Noctua is not hiding this fact and has an entire page dedicated to talking about the suggested CPU TDP restrictions for the NH-L12, as well as ambient room temperature limits for single fan mode. Overclocking is a no go as well. Here is quote from the Noctua product page and link to the TDP guidelines page.
Caution: The NH-L12 is a low-profile quiet cooler designed for use in small form factor cases and HTPC environments. While it provides first rate performance in its class, it is not suitable for overclocking and should be used with care on CPUs with more than 95W TDP (Thermal Design Power). Please consult our TDP guidelines to find out whether the NH-L12 is recommended for your CPU.
So the NH-L12 is aimed squarely at non-overclocking users with small cases. Let’s take a look at the features and specifications of the NH-L12 before we get too far.
Features of the Noctua NH-L12
- 120/92mm dual fan design: Thanks to its exquisite dual fan setup consisting of Noctua’s highly optimised NF-F12 (120mm) and NF-B9 (92mm) premium fans, the NH-L12 pushes the bar in terms of low-profile quiet cooling performance.
- Extra-low profile in 92mm single-fan mode: The NH-L12 can be used with the NF-B9 92mm fan only in order to reduce the overall height to 66mm. This way, the cooler is suitable for many typical mATX or Mini-ITX enclosures and ideal for whisper-quiet HTPC systems.
- PWM support and Low-Noise Adaptors: The NH-L12’s NF-F12 and NF-B9 fans support PWM for convenient automatic speed control. In addition, the maximum fan speed can be reduced to 1200/1300rpm using the supplied Low-Noise Adaptors for even quieter operation.
- SecuFirm2 mounting system: Noctua’s enthusiast grade SecuFirm2 multi-socket mounting provides broad socket compatibility (LGA 2011, LGA1366, LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA775, AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, FM1) and meets the highest demands in safety, performance and ease-of-use.
- Mini-ITX mounting without backplate: Some Intel based Mini-ITX mainboards don’t allow for the installation of backplates. The NH-L12 thus comes with an extra set of Intel mounting bolts which make it possible to install the cooler without using the SecuFirm2 backplate.
- NT-H1 thermal compound: Noctua's much-acclaimed NT-H1 is a well proven pro-grade TIM solution that provides minimum thermal resistance, excellent ease-of-use and outstanding reliability.
Specifications for the Noctua NH-L12
- Socket compatibility:
- Intel LGA2011, LGA1366, LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA775
- AMD AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, FM1 (backplate required)
- 1x NF-F12 PWM premium fan
- 1x NF-B9 PWM premium fan
- 2x Low-Noise Adaptor (L.N.A.)
- Y-Split Cable
- NT-H1 high-grade thermal compound
- SecuFirm2 Mounting Kit
- Mini-ITX Mounting-Kit
- Noctua Metal Case-Badge
- Model: Noctua NF-F12 PWM & Noctua NF-B9 PWM
- Bearing: SSO-Bearing
- Max. Rotational Speed (+/- 10%): 1500 / 1600 RPM
- Max. Rotational Speed with L.N.A. (+/- 10%): 1200 / 1300 RPM
- Min. Rotational Speed (PWM): 300 / 300 RPM
- Max. Airflow: 93,4 / 64,3 m3/h
- Max. Airflow with L.N.A.: 74.3 / 52.6 m3/h
- Max. Acoustical Noise: 22.4 / 17.6 dB(A)
- Max. Acoustical Noise with L.N.A.: 18.6 / 13.1 dB(A)
- Input Power: 0.6 / 0.96 W
- Voltage Range: 12 V
- MTBF: > 150.000 h
Unboxing the NH-L12
The box for the NH-L12 is in normal Noctua styling.
This front has some of the features listed.
Back side has the fan specifications, and a small dimensional drawing of the cooler.
Right side has Listing of all the features.
Left side has a small blurb is many languages about how the NH-L12 is for small enclosures.
First opening the box you find the accessories box.
Under that is a well packed and fully assembled NH-L12
To prevent the heatpipes from being bent there is a dense foam rubber spacer between the cooler base and the 92mm fan.
All the accessories come in clearly labeled bags: Intel, AMD, Common Parts. Noctua also provides a long handle screw driver.
Looking closer at the NH-L12
Out of the box the NH-L12 comes assembled with the NF-F12 120mm fan on top and the NF-B9 92mm fan on the bottom. With both fans installed the NH-L12 stands a very short 93mm or 3.7 inches, which is 25.4mm or 1 inch taller than stock Intel coolers shipped with LGA1555 i5 processors. The Nh-L12 is 67mm or 2.6 inches shorter than the NH-D14 and 61mm or 2.4 inches shorter than the Zalman CNPS11X Performa. It is the shortest air cooler we have in the charts.
Pulling the fans off we can get a good look at the NH-L12. The overall height without the top 120mm fan is 66mm or 2.5 inches, roughly the same height as a stock Intel box cooler shipped with retail CPUs. The cooler is a lay down style, so the fans blow down on the CPU socket rather than front to back.
At the widest point the NH-L12 has 43mm or 1.7 inches of clearance to the bottom of the cooling fins. This is only in the area where the 92mm fan is not residing. There is room for RAM slots to be cleared as I will show in the installation section later.
Since the base and mounting screws are under the cooling fins there are small sections of the fins removed above the mounting screws. This allows for access to the mounting screws with the provided screw driver.
The NF-F12 120mm fan has its own vibration absorption pads. The lower NF-B9 92mm, however, does not. So Noctua put strips of white silicon rubber on the cooling fins for the vibration absorption duties.
One of the things I noticed is that the pre-installed mounting tabs did not have pressure springs on the mounting bolts. This is different from past Noctua coolers I have reviewed.
Here is the NF-B9 92mm PWM fan. This is the lower fan on the NH-L12. It operates at 300-1600RPM pushing a max of 37.8CMF at 17.6dBA. With the Low Noise Adaptor installed it runs at 300-1300 RPM pushing a max of 30.9CFM at 13.1dBA.
Along with the color scheme that is none other than Noctua’s, the NH-B9 fan has the unique fan blade profiles that make the fans run as quietly as they do.
The top fan is the NF-F12 120mm PWM fan. It operates at 300-1600RPM pushing a max of 64.9CMF at 22.4dBA. With the Low Noise Adaptor installed it runs at 300-1300 RPM pushing a max of 43.7CFM at 18.6 dBA. You can read more about the Nf-F12 in our review.
Installing the Noctua NH-L12
Noctua provides everything to install the NH-L12, even the screwdriver.
In the common parts bag is thermal paste, L.N.A. adaptors, Y power cable, power cable extension, rubber mounts and fan screws for attaching to a case, and the Noctua Owl badge.
In the Intel bag are all the parts needed to mount up to all the Intel LGA sockets.
Also included in the Intel bag is a set of mounting studs for ITX motherboards that may have components on the back side of the socket that would prevent the standard backing plate from installing properly. In the image is the standard stud (left) for use with the backing plate. The stud on the right is the optional use stud for ITX motherboards.
The AMD parts bag has all that is needed to mount up to AM2/3 and FM1 sockets.
I will be installing the NH-L12 on our Intel LGA2011 test system. The first step is to install the mount posts to the socket and then the cross bars.
The included driver was more than long enough to reach the mounting screws. The clearance holes in the cooling fins allowed more than enough room.
I first installed the cooler so the heatpipes would run front to back. The cooler covered all the RAM slots on the front side of the board.
It also covered two on the backside, preventing any RAM (except for low profile) to be installed.
So I turned the NH-L12 to where the heatpipes run up/down. This orientation allowed for all RAM slots to be used.
I then installed the lower 92mm fan; I had to remove my RAM first to slide the fan in from the side. This will definitely be an out of case cooler installation. On the top side there was very little room between the fan body and the heatsink on the Intel DX79SI motherboard.
On the bottom side of the socket the heatpipes cleared. If you have large heatsinks around the socket you will want to do some measuring to see where they fall.
With the top 120mm fan installed, it is time to put it all back in the case and do some testing.
Legit Reviews Intel Core i7-3960X Test System
Here is a short list of the parts that make up the Legit Reviews Core i7-930 test system:
|Intel Test Platform|
|Processor||Intel Core i7 3960X||Click Here|
|Memory||Corsair Vengeance LP 16GB DDR3 1600MHz||Click Here|
|Video Card||MSI N560GTX-Ti Twin Frozr II/OC||Click Here|
|Hard Drive||Corsair Force GT 90GB SSD||Click Here|
|Power Supply||NZXT HALE90 750W||Click Here|
|Chassis||Thermaltake Chaser Mk-1||Click Here|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Professional (64bit)||Click Here|
Test System Detail
The CPU we are using is the Intel Core i7-3960X LGA2011 processor. We will test with two configurations: Stock and Overclocked. Both will have Hyper Threading and Turbo modes enabled. For the backbone of the system we have the Intel DX79SI motherboard. We have also outfitted it with a 16GB (4x4gb) kit of Corsair Vengeance LP DDR3 1600MHz RAM. Drivers used for the motherboard are as follows:
- LAN: Intel PRO Network Connections LAN Driver version 16.7
- Audio: Realtek ALC Audio Driver version 6482
- Chipset: Intel Chipset Device Software version 126.96.36.1992
- USB3: Renesas Electronics USB 3.0 Driver 188.8.131.52
- BIOS Version: 0380
The video card we are using is an MSI N560GTX-Ti Twin Frozr II/OC and is running ForceWare 290.53.
For the main drive we have a 90GB Corsair Force GT SATA3 SSD running firmware 1.3.3.
To test the coolers the system will be left idle at the desktop for 30 minutes and the temperature will be recorded. Then it will run at full load with Prime95 Blended test for 30 minutes and the temperature will be recorded. There will be 2 levels tested with our Core i7-3960X clocked at stock settings with Turbo and Hyper Threading on, and a high OC of 4.5 GHz also with Hyper Threading and Turbo enabled. All temps will be recorded with CoreTemp, and the temp reading from all 6 cores will be averaged. The thermal paste used on all coolers will be Gelid GC Extreme.
- Akasa Venom Voodoo
- Intel RTS2011LC Water Cooler
- Cooler Master TPC 812
- Corsair H80
- Corsair H100
- Noctua NH-D14
- NZXT Havik 120
- Swiftech H20-220 Edge HD
- Zalman CNPS11X Performa
- Zalman CNPS12X
Thermal Testing Results
Since Noctua was pretty straight forward about the NH-L12 not being for overclocking, and suggested not to go over 95w TDP, I ran our Intel LGA2011 test system at stock settings. I will be honest, before I even started the system I didn’t hold high hopes for the NH-L12 coping with the heat from the 130w TDP LGA2011 Core i7-3960, but it did. The little guy soaked up the heat and did it VERY quietly with the Low Noise Adaptors.
With the fans at full speed the NH-L12 came in at 60.17*C; that’s 10 degrees behind its bigger sibling, the NH-D14. The NH-L12 was only slightly behind the Cooler Master TPC 812 on low, and the Noctua was quieter. With the Low Noise Adaptors installed the NH-L12 was only slightly behind itself by 1.33 degrees.
Final Thoughts of the NH-L12
The NH-L12 from Noctua was a little surprise for me. With all the caveats, provisos, and a couple of quid pro quo, I felt the little guy wouldn’t hold up to the heat. It did, and for users that have a smaller/narrower case and not interested in the least to overclock then the NH-L12 would be rather perfect. Top it off with Noctua’s 6 year warranty and awesome build quality, the NH-L12 has win all over it.
Despite the “no overclocking” restriction there is something the NH-L12 has that most coolers I have recently looked at don’t have: the head room for RAM that is slightly higher than standard. Kingston Hyper-X T1’s still will not fit, but something like G.Skill Ripjaws should be just fine. Even the added head room to standard RAM is nice if you have to pull a stick.
The HTPC and SFF crowd stands to benefit the most from the NH-L12. The overall height is rather low at 3.7 inches with both fans installed. Removing the upper 120mm fan lowers that to 2.5 inches. Couple the small overall size with the quiet operation of the Noctua fans, makes it perfect for HTPCs or Small Form Factor builds where low noise is a goal.
The Noctua NH-L12 has a high end air price, coming in at $69.99 plus shipping on Newegg. That puts the NH-L12 square in high end air territory. This may seem a little high for the performance, but the cooler is more aimed HTPC and SFF crowd where overclocking usually is not a requirement, but a rather quiet operation. That is where the Noctua coolers excel. With the performance for the size and how quiet it is, one could justify paying the asking price.
Legit Bottom Line: If you are in the market for a quality quiet low profile CPU cooler, then Noctua has you covered with the NH-L12.