PC Components

Noctua NF-D12L in test: 120 mm twin-tower cooler with low profile

Noctua – a big name in the computer field, for a long time people associate this brand with high performance, clean workmanship and high durability of products. On the other hand, one thinks of brown-beige fans that hardly fit any modern PC design concept, and a rather slow renewal of the product range. However, when new products are launched, they are definitely interesting. Noctua’s NH-D15 CPU cooler has been a highly sought-after top model for years, albeit a very large one, and the NF-A12x25 fan has set entirely new standards in terms of volume to performance ratio.

The new Noctua NH-D12L looks like a fusion of these two top sellers. On the one hand, it is designed in a dual-tower design like the NH-D15S, and on the other hand, it comes with an NF-A12x25 in the round-frame version. This design gives it a height of just 145mm, making it a full 2cm lower than the NH-D15 and also 1.3cm lower than the in-house NH-U12S and NH-U12A single-tower coolers, which like the NH-D12L are equipped with 120mm fans. This reduced height means you can get the heatsink into cases where you could forget about other CPU coolers with 120mm fans.

Now two questions in particular remain: How small can cases get and how high is the cooling performance with such a low cooler? To clarify these and other questions, we received this cooler and can put it through its paces.

Cooler specifications

Socket compatibility Intel LGA1700, LGA1200, LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA1151, LGA1150, LGA2011, LGA2066 and AMD AM5, AM4
Height x Width x Depth 145 mm x 125 mm x 113 mm
Weight without fan 700 g
Weight with fan 890 g
Material Copper (base and heat pipes), aluminum (cooling fins), soldered & nickel plated
Fan compatibility NF-A12x25r (incompatible with rectangular 120 mm fans)
Scope of delivery – NF-A12x25r PWM Premium Fan
– NA-RC14 Low-Noise Adapter (L.N.A.)
– NT-H1 high-end thermal compound
– Fan clips for dual fan operation
– SecuFirm2™ mounting kit
– Noctua case metal badge
Warranty 6 years
Maximum fan rotation speed (+/-10%) 2000 RPM
Maximum noise 22.6 dB(A)
Expected fan operating time >150,000 h

Packaging and scope of delivery

In addition to the heatsink including mounting hardware for all currently common sockets: AMD’s AM4 and the upcoming AM5, as well as Intel’s new LGA1700, as well as the previous LGA1200 and the 115x models of the previous Core-i generations. Older sockets are no longer supported, not even AM3, but hardly anyone will buy a new upper-class cooler for an old system. Also included, of course, is a fan, the brackets to mount two fans, thermal paste for multiple uses, and a low-noise adapter to throttle the fan. There is also a long screwdriver included for installation and of course the instructions.

Sustainability is valued at Noctua: the packaging material consists almost entirely of cardboard. Neither foam nor plastic sleeves are used for the cooler. Only in the mounting material are a few parts packed in plastic bags. Unpacking isn’t quite as easy: the packaging material is processed to fit very precisely and well canted, so it’s sometimes a bit difficult to pull apart. A cardboard box, in which the heat sink with the fan is located, is stuck in further cardboard parts, which act as cushioning material. Between the fan and one side of the heatsink is another piece of cardboard. The mounting material including instructions is in another box.

Apart from that, Noctua is known for supporting future sockets. So, if you invest in a Noctua cooler that is not exactly cheap, you can be sure that you will be able to use it in future systems. Those who can provide proof of purchase, as well as the purchase of a new non-natively supported socket, usually get the appropriate mounting hardware delivered free of charge – a nice bonus outside of the actual scope of delivery.

Design and workmanship

Noctua and the looks – you may love the design, you may hate it. The NH-D12L hits the typical Noctua design with nickel-plated aluminum heatsink and beige-brown NF-A12x25r mounted equivalently to the NH-D15S between the two towers. Overall, the cooler has a purposeful design and does without optical subtleties. Thus, the ends of the heatpipes are exposed and there are also no covers or other gimmicks. A bare heatsink with a beige-brown fan. The fan placement seems a bit odd at first glance, as you’re not really used to not seeing a fan front when looking at a cooler.

However, due to the available mounting hardware, you can get a second of these fans and mount it on the front. This way the cooler looks much bigger and a bit more harmonious, but it’s an investment that should be well considered – a performance comparison can be found in this review.

So, visually, the cooler is particularly suitable for systems that are equipped with Noctua fans anyway or closed systems that are not designed for modern looks and RGB design. The workmanship is impressive. The fins of the heatsink are cleanly finished and also look higher quality than highly polished-smooth surfaces due to the finely textured surface with the Noctua logo; they are straight and do not make any attempt to bend, as is the case with some cheaper coolers – such as the Enermax ETS-F40-FS used as a comparison model. Thus, the heatsink of the Noctua NH-D12L looks very massive and high-quality and also has a total of 38 closely spaced fins, which emit a good amount of heat on the fairly small surface due to the pressure-optimized fans. The mounting hardware is also in the highest quality class, as is the fan. The high quality can even be felt on the clips for holding the fans to the heatsink. Where you have to pull and tug to get the fan into position on many cheaper competitor models, the wire here gives slightly when pulled, but falls very pleasantly and securely into the holding position and is held securely on the fan itself by a fine loop, so it doesn’t just pop out again.

The fan, the NF-A12X25r, is a 120mm fan, but it is not compatible with other 120mm fans. The hole spacing is not square at 93×83 mm and so you can’t use it in other places, and conversely, it’s not possible to attach fans other than this one to the heatsink.

Installation

The mounting system is the universally known and already used by many Noctua coolers SecuFirm2. For AMD, the typical AMD backplate is used and brackets are screwed on from the front with spacers. Afterwards, the heatsink is simply screwed tightly onto the brackets, but for this you have to remove the centrally placed fan. Once the heatsink is tight, the fan is reattached. Very simple, very efficient.

In principle, the installation works almost identically for Intel systems, but here you first have to install the included backplate yourself, for which you should follow the included installation instructions.
Of course, large cases are absolutely no problem when mounting this cooler. It gets interesting when the cases get smaller. Following the modern Enermax StarryKnight SK30, which allows for a 120mm rear case fan, we dug up a very old generic case with an 80mm rear fan. A typical ATX tower from the Windows XP era, barely wider than a 5.25″ slot. This is more or less the final opponent for decent fans; mostly top blowers were used. What is there to say? It got tight, but the case closed. This might be the first top-tower cooler with 120mm fans to fit in such a small case.

One note: The cooler with one fan will keep the RAM slots completely clear, but if a second fan is added, it will need to be placed above the RAM, potentially increasing the overall height. In the small case, mounting with the second fan above the RAM would not have been possible.

Performance

The cooler was tested on two processors. On the one hand, an AMD Ryzen 5 3600X as a typical mid-range CPU, on the other hand, the interest was aroused after looking at Noctua’s compatibility classification, because according to it, even the operation on AMD’s consumer top model Ryzen 9 5950X is no problem, which of course also wants to be tested. In both cases, once in factory configuration with one fan and once with an optional second fan, which, however, increases the costs considerably.

Speaking of fans, apart from the round frame, the NF-A12x25r are identical to the already familiar NF-A12x25. These fans are particularly effective at low noise levels, and the special feature of the fans is the very small distance between the fan blades and the frame.
At speeds up to about 1200 the fan is almost inaudible and only above about 1600 rpm can it be heard out of slowly rotating case fans. At full speed of about 2000 revolutions it is clearly audible, but then it beats most competitor fans in terms of performance.

On the 3600X, the Enermax ETS-F40-FS is used as the reference cooler in the Enermax StarryKnight SK30 case with case fans on 60% power. This is a 140 mm cooler that requires a wide case. The temperature was measured after a 5-minute warm-up under a sustained Cinebench load and the measurement result is a one-minute average measurement result. The Noctua NH-D12L was then tested – first with one fan at the factory, then with an additional fan. Shown here is the temperature delta, the difference between absolute measured temperature and room temperature.

Tested on AMD Ryzen 5 3600X Temperature delta at 50% PWM Temperature delta at 100% PWM
Enermax ETS-F40-FS 43°C 41.3°C
Noctua NH-D12L with one fan 42.5°C 39°C
Noctua NH-D12L with two fans 39.4°C 38°C

So even with one fan, the Noctua already beats Enermax’s big 140mm cooler. With two fans, the gap increases. The difference between one and two fans is measurable, but not too relevant in realistic everyday use.

Since the cooler can even keep a Ryzen 9 5950X under control according to the Noctua website, for which water cooling is already recommended on the packaging, this is also tested. A 280 mm AIO water cooler with two 140 mm high-performance fans is used as a comparison cooler. It is generally not expected that a regular air cooler beats the performance of a large water cooler, but air coolers like the NH-D12L also have advantages, such as higher reliability. Tested here in a Fractal Design Arc XL, which is equipped with a couple of Noctua NF-A14 and NF-A12x25 case fans. These are running at full power.

Tested on the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X Temperature delta at 50% PWM Temperature delta at 100% PWM
be quiet! Silent Loop 2 280 mm 36.2°C 33.6°C
Noctua NH-D12L with one fan 39.3°C 35.8°C
Noctua NH-D12L with two fans 37.6°C 34.7°C

Sure – it doesn’t quite beat the water cooler, but the difference is surprisingly small. Overall, it also keeps this monster processor far enough away from throttling. Once again, we see that the dual-fan setup is consistently stronger than the single-fan version, but the difference is still not really impressive.

Noctua NF-D12L review conclusion

This cooler packs a high level of dual-tower performance into a relatively compact format, yet still manages to keep even powerful processors from protective throttling. On top of that, the workmanship is of the highest quality level. Overall, the cooler can thus be recommended almost without reservation. If it weren’t for the rather high price. If you have the space, you can also find the larger and even slightly stronger Noctua NH-D15 or a bit cheaper the be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4 or the DeepCool AK620 for a similar price. However, none of these coolers will fit into older or small cases as securely as the NH-D12L manages. With this, Noctua closes a gap that was previously occupied by noticeably weaker performing 92mm coolers. A truly impressive performance! The option to install a second fan is nice, but not necessarily useful. This makes the cooler significantly more expensive and while there is a measurable improvement in cooling performance, this difference is not really crucial in everyday use.

Noctua NH-D12L

Workmanship
Design
Mounting
Performance
Value for money

92/100

The Noctua NH-D12L offers high performance in a unique format. However, Noctua's looks take some getting used to and the premium quality also comes at a premium price.

Noctua NH-D12L price comparison


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Simon Lüthje

I am co-founder of this blog and am very interested in everything that has to do with technology, but I also like to play games. I was born in Hamburg, but now I live in Bad Segeberg.

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Noctua – ein großer Name im Computerbereich, seit langer Zeit verbindet man mit dieser Marke eine hohe Leistung, eine saubere Verarbeitung und eine hohe Langlebigkeit der Produkte. Auf der anderen Seite denkt man an braun-beige Lüfter, die zu kaum einem modernen PC-Designkonzept passen, und an eine recht langsame Erneuerung der Produktpalette. Wenn neue Produkte auf … (Weiterlesen...)

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