Noctua NH-L12 Low Profile CPU Cooler

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Product(s): Noctua NH-L12 CPU Cooler
Provided By: Noctua

Price: ~$59.99 USD at time of publishing

Introduction: 

We've taken a look at a bunch of different Noctua products in the past, but today we are going to be looking at the lowest profile Noctua cooler we've ever seen, the Noctua NH-L12 low-profile CPU cooler.

In the past as soon as you say "low-profile" you can probably expect the performance to drop significantly. Noctua however is pretty well known for producing coolers that have a great balance between performance while still remaining nice and quiet so it should be very interesting to see how the NH-L12 does.

Thanks to a removable top fan the NH-L12 can drop down to a very skinny 66mm in height if the job calls for it, making it one of the slimmest coolers we've ever reviewed. If you don't need to go quite the low you can leave the 120mm fan on the top for extra performance while still maintaining a nice low profile.

Let's go ahead and take a look at the NH-L12 and see what it's all about.

 

First Impressions: 

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Noctua NH-L12
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Noctua NH-L12

 

The Noctua NH-L12 features 2 Noctua fans strapped to the top and bottom of the heatsink. On the bottom of this cooler you've got a Noctua 92mm fan, and on the top you've got a Noctua 120mm fan (which we reviewed separately here). 

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Noctua NH-L12
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Noctua NH-L12

 

As you can see in the pictures above and below, the NH-L12 is definitely not very tall, but if you need it to fit into an even tighter space you can always go ahead and remove the top 120mm fan and let the lower 92mm fan do all the work. We'll test this cooler with both configurations in our testing section.

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Noctua NH-L12
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Noctua NH-L12

 

Included with the NH-L12 is everything you need to get your cooler installed on pretty much any recent AMD or Intel CPU. You even get a free screwdriver included with the package which will make the installation a breeze (we will go into more detail in the installation section).

You also get a bunch of fan adapters that when plugged in will let you fan spin at different speeds and will let you customize how fast you want your fans spinning and will let you decide between lower temperatures and less noise.

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Noctua NH-L12
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Noctua NH-L12

 

So there we go, that's the Noctua NH-L12 low profile cooler. In the next section we'll take a closer look at the fine details then move onto some good old testing action.

 


 

Noctua NH-L12 Specifications:

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All specifications taken from Noctua.at

 

Features:

The NH-L12 is a low-profile quiet cooler designed for use in small form factor cases and HTPC environments. With its flexible NF-F12 (120mm) / NF-B9 (92mm) dual PWM fan setup, the NH-L12 can be configured either for full performance in dual fan mode or extra-low profile (66mm) with the top fan removed. Bundled with the award-winning NT-H1 thermal compound and Noctua’s SecuFirm2™ multi-socket mounting system, the NH-L12 packs everything a premium quality quiet cooler needs into a highly compact package.

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.




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.

NH-L12 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 µATX or Mini-ITX enclosures and ideal for whisper-quiet HTPC systems.

NH-L12 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.

NH-L12 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.

NH-L12 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 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:

Socket compatibility Intel LGA2011, LGA1366, LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA775 & AMD AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, FM1 (backplate required)
Height (without fan) 66 mm
Width (without fan) 128 mm
Depth (without fan) 150 mm
Height (with fan) 93 mm
Width (with fan) 128 mm
Depth (with fan) 150 mm
Weight (without fan) 415 g
Weight (with fan) 680 g
Material Copper (base and heat-pipes), aluminium (cooling fins), soldered joints & nickel plating
Fan compatibility 120x120x25mm & 92x92x25mm

 

 

 
Scope of Delivery

  • 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
Warranty 6 Years


Fan specifications
 
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

 
 

 


 

Installation:

 

Installation of the NH-L12 is a pretty simple process. In the end, even if you haven't ever installed a CPU cooler before, you should be able to get this entire cooler installed in under 20 minutes.

Installation will however require you to remove your motherboard in order to install the rear bracket (unless your case is designed with a hole in the back of the motherboard tray). Removing your motherboard will probably take you far more time to do than the entire installation process.

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Mounting Brackets
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Bracket on back of motherboard

 

First step involves installing the bracket to the rear of your motherboard (pictured above) and then installing the bracket onto the top of your motherboard which the cooler will attach to (pictured below, left).

The next step will then be attaching the cooler to the brackets, which thanks to Noctua including a nice long screwdriver with this cooler is actually very simple (pictured below, right).

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Top Mounting Bracket
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Attaching the cooler to the bracket

 

Once you tighten up the two screws that hold the heatsink to the mounting brackets you are completely done the installation part. All you have to do is plug in the fans and you are ready to go.

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Cooler installed
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Cooler installed, top fan removed

 

I've included a few pictures of the NH-L12 with the top fan removed so that you can see just how low profile it really is. With the top fan removed the entire height of this cooler is a mere 66mm's high.

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Noctua NH-L12 - Top fan removed
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Noctua NH-L12 - Side view

 

Now that we've got this cooler all installed and ready to go we will now move onto the fun part, testing!

 

 


 

Noctua NH-L12 - Testing:


Test Setup:

For Intel (LGA1336) testing we will be using the Intel Core i7 920 CPU, which produces 130 Watts of heat. This could be considered a mid-range processor, and while most Dual-Core processors produce ~50-80 Watts of heat, this should give you a pretty accurate estimate of what type of temperatures a cooler will provide you with.

For both AMD and Intel testing, we have taken all temperatures using CoreTemp v.0.99.4. CoreTemp takes a temperature from the CPU core, and allows for much more uniform results across different motherboard and CPU platforms. These temperatures may seem higher than other temperature recordings; because chances are they are taking temperature recordings using the diode underneath the CPU, which isn't able to be as accurate, and can really fluctuate between different brands of motherboards.

For all tests we are using the Highspeed PC Top Deck Tech Station , and we are using no additional cooling in our testing. All temperatures are recorded in a controlled environment that is set to 23 degrees Celsius (73.4 Fahrenheit) to provide fair results between coolers.

For all tests we use Arctic Cooling MX-2 High-Performance Thermal Compound (Paste), We use the same thermal paste in all our testing so that we can keep our results consistent. If a cooler is shipped with thermal paste pre-applied, it will be removed and we will re-apply it with Arctic Cooling MX-2 to provide fair results.

 

Intel Test System:

 

Test #1 - Fans on low speed setting

To start things off we will give the NH-L12 a run with the fans turned down low (~700 RPM)

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Click on chart for larger view

 

Ok, so after testing the fans on low we can see that the performance isn't going to set any records when compared to some of the much larger coolers we've tested in the past. Overall though for a cooler as small as the NH-L12 is, and with the fans turned down that low, I must say the results are quite decent. While running the fans at this low of a level you would probably be unable to detect any noise from them over other system noise.

Let's turn the fans up a bit and see what happens in the next section.

 

Test #2 - Fans on high speed setting

For this test we are going to run the fans at their highest speeds (~1500 RPM)

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Click on chart for larger view

 

Once the fans are turned up to their highest settings we see a pretty good performance increase. When compared to other coolers we've tested in the past these results are actually pretty good (you can see the full chart at the bottom of this page). While they didn't set any records they did reduce our stock temperatures by 11 degrees and was able to keep up with some coolers we've tested that are much larger.

The end results of this test actually left me pleasantly surprised. Normally when a cooler claims to be "low-profile" that is a pretty good sign that the performance is going to be terrible, but in the NH-L12's case that was not true at all.

 

Test #3 - Only one fan (92mm Bottom Fan) Installed

For this test we have removed the 120mm fan off the top and let the lower 92mm fan do all the work.

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Click on chart for larger view

 

Ok, so for this test we really weren't expecting much, and as you can see in the chart above, the performance wasn't great. To be fair trying to have a 92mm fan cool a 130 Watt CPU is a pretty tough task and the fact that it was able to do it at all was a nice surprise. If you need to remove the top fan and run it using only the lower fan we would definitely recommend using a lower wattage CPU.

We didn't include these results in the next chart that puts this cooler up against all the others we've tested over the last couple years.

 

Test #4 - Comparison Chart

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Click on chart for larger view

 

So there we go, we've seen what the NH-L12 can do performance-wise, let's move onto the final section of this review where we provide our final thoughts and award a final score.

 

 


 

Noctua NH-L12 Final Thoughts:

Over the past few years I've reviewed pretty much every product that Noctua has produced, and even after years I am still left pleased at the end of each of my reviews with the latest and greatest from Noctua. Today I took a look at the Noctua NH-L12 low-profile cooler which we found to offer a very nice low-profile design without the traditional low-profile performance.

The performance of the NH-L12 is really quite good for a low profile cooler, which is what we've come to expect from Noctua. Obviously if you compare it up against some of Noctua's huge "heatpipe tower" coolers the performance is a bit lower, but when compared to every other low-profile cooler we've reviewed in the past the NH-L12 is undoubtedly the winner.

 

In our testing we used one of the hottest CPU's available and this low-profile cooler was able to handle it without too much trouble. We did however run into some pretty high numbers when we removed the top fan and were running with only a 92mm fan on the bottom of the heatsink and were actually unable to complete our full load testing before the CPU started throttling itself back to reduce temperatures. We can't really be too hard on this cooler for low performance while running only one small 92mm fan on a 140 Watt CPU, obviously the fan was just unable to keep. Using a high wattage CPU in an application where you needed to remove the top fan would be a bad choice, but if you went with a lower wattage CPU you would probably be able to run with only the 92mm fan quite easily. While the NH-L12 didn't set any records on our charts overall, we were extremely happy with the performance when compared to any other low-profile cooler that we've ever tested.

As far as quality goes, well, it's Noctua quality. I really have no concerns whatsoever with the build of this cooler and it should have no problems taking a little bit of abuse if need be.

Installation at first glance appears like it might be a bit tricky, however, thanks to a nice and long screwdriver that Noctua includes with the NH-L12, installation is very simple and you most definitely won't need an engineering degree to get this cooler strapped to your CPU. In the past I've always found that low-profile coolers are always the worst to install due to the lack of space they use, but the NH-L12 is completely the opposite, it's just as easy to install as every other Noctua cooler I've ever tested.

At the end of the day I can quite easily declare the Noctua NH-L12 low-profile cooler a winner. For a cooler that sports a low profile even with both fans installed (and an even lower profile if you remove the top fan), the NH-L12 doesn't sacrifice performance like most other low-profile coolers we've tested in the past have. Thanks to great performance, a low profile, and quiet operation, the Noctua NH-L12 has easily earned our "Editor's Choice - Gold" award. If lack of space is an issue for you and you need a cooler that can fit into small spaces but still cool like a champ, you'll definitely want to check out the NH-L12 low-profile cooler from Noctua.

 

Pros:

  • Good Performance
  • Low-Profile design
  • Super Easy Installation
  • Extremely High Quality Construction

 

Cons:

  • Nothing Major

 

BCCRating

 
Gold 

 

I'd like to thank Noctua for sending us the NH-L12 to test. If you have any questions, comments, or general feedback, please leave it at the "Comments" link below.