Noctua NH-U12A Rewiew
Noctua’s newest CPU cooler is out to give water cooling a run for its money.NOCTUA’S LATEST COOLER
is big. Yes, it’s 120mm standard, but with fans mounted on both sides of a beefy heatsink, it takes up a lot of space inside your case. It’s not too big to handle, though, with an asymmetric design that ensures it can fit alongside your RAM and GPU even if you’re filling every slot on an AM4 or LGA115x motherboard. Noctua fully redesigned its heatsink model for the NH-U12A, the new design featuring seven heat pipes (as opposed to the conventional six) and increased fin surface area. The heatsink is 6.2 inches (158mm) tall, meaning that it won’t fit in some smaller cases, but this size ensures its capability. The objective was to deliver a 120mm cooler that could perform at the same levels as 140mm ones, and Noctua has succeeded there. With both fans attached, this cooler is bulky, but it can still comfortably squeeze in between the RAM and rear I/O shroud—quite an achievement.
The fans are Noctua’s 120mm NFA12x25 PWM models, which come in their typical brown and beige color scheme, evoking the faintly kitschy computer design aesthetics of the pre-2000 era. The wire brackets that attach them are awkward, but ultimately quite secure, rubber pads ensuring minimal vibration during use. Looking past this, it’s hard to fault these fans; they run whisperquiet, and ensure good airflow through the heatsink. Pulse-width modulation support means they deliver variable RPM based on the temperature of the CPU. There’s always the option to remove one and fit it into the case instead, too.
It’s not the easiest cooler in the world to install. As always, getting the backplate to remain in place while you secure the first screw is a hassle, but that’s the case with any heatsink—a bigger issue is the thick plastic washers and the two spring-loaded screws on the base of the cooler tower. There’s a lot in the box; the U12A can be fitted to any AM-series AMD motherboard as well as Intel-compatible LGA-115x and LGA- 20xx models, so it comes with a variety of brackets and screws, and backward compatibility with older mobos is a pleasant addition. The cooler comes with the fans attached to the heatsink, but they need to be removed in order to install it, and they can be tricky to reattach.
STRESSED TO KILL
This cooler does its job well. Even running multiple benchmarking programs at once (we forgot that Prime 95 considers the “close” button to be a mere bluesky suggestion, and accidentally left it running in the background as we opened Cinebench), our CPU temperature barely reached 60 C. At idle, the Ryzen 5 2600X sat comfortably below 30 C. It’s not noisy, either—even stress tests that had the fans running at full pelt weren’t producing much noise, and while idling they were almost inaudible. It handles overclocking well, too; without raising the voltage, we pumped up the CPU to 4.2GHz, and the Noctua easily outperformed a standard AMD Wraith Stealth running at stock clocks. This cooler means business—it’ll keep overclocked CPUs cool even when running more demanding software. Our system crashed repeatedly during overclocked processor stress tests with the Wraith Stealth, while the U12A kept us afloat.
The main downside here is the cost. For a cooler devoid of any liquids, $100 is a steep price to pay—even if the performance is undeniable. It’s still cheaper than an all-in-one cooler of similar quality, though, so if you don’t like the idea of liquid cooling, it’s an excellent choice. Is it perfect? Not quite. The chunky design, objectionable color scheme, and overly complicated installation process hold this cooler back a little, but it does perform excellently. It might not be as elegant a solution as a high-tech AIO cooler, but you get your money’s worth—even if the price isn’t exactly low.
Plus: Runs quietly; new heatsink design; good for overclocking.
Minus: Costly for a fan cooler; bulky; tricky to install.
Socket Compatibility Intel LGA1150, LGA1151, LGA1155, LGA1156, LGA2011, LGA2066, and AMD AM4, AM3(+), AM2(+), FM1, FM2(+)
Cooler Size 120mm, Cooler Dimensions 6.2 x 4.6 x 4.4 inches, Cold Plate Material Copper, Fan Airflow 60.1cfm, Fan Noise 18–23dBA, Warranty Six years, 100$.