Noctua NH-U12S 120mm Air Cooler Review — Size does matter

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Some mATX or mITX cases may have clearance issues with taller heatsinks measuring around 165mm like the Noctua NH-U14S and Noctua NH-D15 we have recently reviewed. This is confirmed by our friend over at NLT, where his SilverStone RL05 has just enough clearance for the Noctua NH-D15. The Noctua NH-U12S, is Noctua’s classic 120mm cooler, measuring just 158mm which should fit in most PC cases. With a smaller heatsink size and fan diameter, let check out the cooling performance of the Noctua NH-U12S.

Unboxing

The box is even smaller and lighter compared to the Noctua NH-U14S. The print at the top and front of the box is similar, highlighting key features of the Noctua NH-U12S.

At the back of the box we have Noctua’s company introduction for the cooler in multiple languages.

On both side of the box we have the detailed information about the Noctua NH-U12S and specifications tables for the cooler and the included fan. Unlike the Noctua NH-U14S that uses a Noctua NF-A15 PWM fan, Noctua NH-U12S comes with a smaller 120mm Noctua NF-F12 PWM fan.

Tidy like the rest of Noctua’s coolers, we have two separated box, one for the cooler’s accessories and the other one for the cooler and cooling fan itself.

Inside the accessories box, we have the necessary mounting kit screws, Noctua NT-H1 thermal paste, Noctua metal badge, low noise fan adapter, fan mouting wires, Anti-vibration pads and user guide. If you planning to use Noctua NH-U12S with your new AMD AM4 setup, you can request the AMD AM4 socket directly from Noctua.

Inside the other box, we have the Noctua NH-U12S sitting securely in the box with its pre-installed Noctua NF-F12 PWM fan.

Appearance

With its small and compact heatsink design and 120mm cooling fan, the Noctua NH-U12S absolutely has no compatibility issue regarding its height or with the PCIe slot and memory modules clearances. If you are doubtful about this cooler’s TDP capability, you can refer to the Noctua TDP Guide.

Without any fan mounted on the heatsink we can clearly see the how the heatpipes is nicely arranged in symmetry. On the side view, Noctua NH-U12S is way slimmer compare to the Noctua NH-U14S, with only at 45mm thickness, there’s no way this cooler has memory clearance issue even with dual fan configuration.

To make it more suitable for mainstream processors, Noctua NH-U12S only comes with five heatpipes. This make me wonder its cooling performance with our 140W CPU.

The baseplate finishing on the Noctua NH-U12S is smoother compare to the rest Noctua’s coolers I reviewed before. The baseplate and heatpipes is actually copper but coated with nickel for corrosion resistance. This might be one of the reason why Noctua provide 6-year warranty policy.

Just like what we did in our review of the Noctua NH-U14S, we will run the Noctua NH-U12S with two different fan setups. We got an extra Noctua NF-F12 PWM fan, which we will put to use for this test.

Inside the retail packaging for the fan, we get the Noctua NF-F12 fan along with a Y-splitter, extender cable, low fan noise adapter, vibration compensators, screws and some documentation for the fan.

This fan has its own unique features. It’s specially designed for static pressure-demanding applications such as heatsinks and radiators. The Focused Flow™ frame features eleven stator guide vanes that straighten, channel and focus the airflow, which allows the NF-F12 to rival the performance of conventional fans running at much faster speeds.

With one fan mount, the total cooler thickness is at 71mm while on push pull configuration the thickness is at 97mm. Technically, you still will not have any memory clearance issues even with the thicker push pull setup.

Installation

The Noctua NH-U12S is going to be tasked with cooling the Intel Core i7 5820K in our bench rig. The installation with Noctua’s SecureFirm 2 kit is very easy, even easier than installing the NH-D15 due to the much more compact dimensions.

The mount bracket installation is wrong here, it should be inverted. XD

As the ASUS X99 Deluxe uses a square Independent Loading Mechanism (ILM), mounting the cooler would be even easier with Noctua’s SecureFirm 2 mounting system. All I needed to do was install the bolts onto the frame of the LGA 2011 socket.

Above is the shot of Noctua NH-U12S in two different fan configurations.

There is no PCIe lane clearance problem at all.

Specification

Cooler Specification

Fan Specification

Test Machine

Hardware

Processor Intel Core i7-5820K
Motherboard ASUS X99-Deluxe
Memory Avexir Blitz 16GB DDR4
Storage Sandisk Ultra II 256GB
Power Supply Cooler Master V850

Software

OS Windows 10 64bit Annivesary
Utilities LinX, OCCT, Intel XTU, RealTemp, CPU-Z, HWMonitor

We are testing the Noctua NH-U12S on our official Pokde’s rig. With an Intel Core i7 5820K with a 140W TDP, it can pose a challenge for any cooler to tame the heat output when all the cores are under load. The CPU will be running [email protected] and also overclocked to 4.1 [email protected] Turbo Boost is disabled and SpeedStep enabled in both BIOS and operating system. For the testing phase, I will also be using three different tools to stress the CPU cores to the max: LinX, Intel XTU and OCCT. The tests are run for an hour each.

Our target is to monitor how high the temperatures can rise during the test. We also monitor closely during the test to check if any thermal throttling happens when the temperature hit the CPU’s Tjmax of 105°C. If it is just a spike there will be no thermal throttling unless it stays at the temperature for a certain period of time. This is just to see the maximum potential of the cooling performance of any CPU cooler. The fan speed settings are left at default. The system runs in an open test bench, with ambient temperatures of 25°C.

Noctua said that the NT-H1 doesn’t need any cure time, but I believe that it can get better after some thermal cycling. So, after applying new thermal paste, I ran a stress test for 1 hour before letting it sit for more than 12 hours. After the idle period, I stressed it again for 1 hour before shutting down the computer completely for more than 6 hours before I start recording the temperatures.

Special case for the cooler review, I will test on two different fan configurations which is with single fan and dual fan configuration.

Performance

I manually set the Tjmax at 105°C in RealTemp, and for the results, I picked the maximum reading from HwMonitor. The highest temperature I got with the Noctua NH-U12S in both single and dual fan configurations was 103°C when running LinX. Thermal throttling was unfortunately detected when stressing the CPU in LinX, even at stock clocks.

Stock Clock

Overclock

Noctua NH-U12S cooling performance is just as I expected it to be. From the graph, using two fans did indeed improve the temperature for both idle and load. However, the Noctua NH-U12S still struggles to keep the temperatures below 100°C in LinX.

Unlike the Noctua NH-U14S heatsink which only get a little warm during load, the Noctua NH-U12S gets warm during idle and can feel uncomfortable to touch when under load.

Recommended CPU:

Intel : LGA 1150, 1151, 1155, 1156, processors

AMD: AM3+, AM4, FM2+ processor

Recommended form factor:

mATX, ATX

Conclusion

With less area to dissipate heat, we knew that it definitely will not be on par with the coolers we have previously reviewed. Based on my observation, the Noctua NH-U12S is more suited for LGA 115X and AMD AM4 processors with lower TDPs. In term of build aesthetics, Noctua NH-U12S will look great in mATX cases with its rather compact dimensions.

Noctua NH-U12S backed with 6-year warranty and priced at RM 305, which is a little bit pricey. Adding a second fan will be a must if you are looking for more performance, and the Noctua NF-F12 PWM will cost you another RM90. In my opinion, the Noctua NH-U14S is a better investment for overall performance if you do not have strict space constraints.

Based on its overall performance and factor, I award the Noctua NH-U12S with our Bronze Pokdeward.

Our thanks to Noctua for providing us with the Noctua NH-C14S to review!

We would like to thank our sponsors for our very own benchmarking rig – The PokdeRig. These companies believe in us and put their trust into what we do. They deserve all the love in the world!

Asus X99-Deluxe

Asus X99-Deluxe

Intel Core i7-5820K

Intel Core i7-5820K

CM MasterAir Pro 4

CM MasterAir Pro 4

CM V850

CM V850 PSU

Sandisk Ultra II

Sandisk Ultra II

Avexir Blitz 16GB DDR4

Avexir Blitz 16GB DDR4