Noctua NH-U12S Review
Unboxing a Noctua product is one of the truly great treats in the reviewers world. There's a real sense of quality and class from the outset, and although the inner boxing is brown card, even its thin sturdiness belies quality and simplicity rather than cheap and cheerful. Delve deeper and the individually boxes reveal that they are there to separate the fittings required for Intel and AMD CPUs. A third long thin box contains the accessories, an LNA lead, a Y splitter, an additional set of fan clips, a set of thicker rubber fan spacers, a tube of actual NT-H1 TIM, a screw driver and even a metal case badge. All that's missing is the cuddly toy.
Having cursed and sworn at many a CPU mounting system over the years, the SecuFirm2 mounting system coupled with clear and concise instructions make fitting the NH-U12S a simple, perhaps even joyful task, and with a 50 fin stack measuring just 45mm thick, even with a 25mm fan attached Noctua guarantee you will not have any RAM encroachment issues. Which is nice.
Producing just 22.4dB(A) of noise at is full 1500RPM the NF-F12 fan that comes with the U12S makes for a very quiet set up. An LNA is supplied which can be used to further reduce the noise to 18.6dB(A) but we found this to be wholly unnecessary as it's quiet enough as it is especially when you consider the 300RPM drop in fan speed will result in a 2-3 degree increase in your temps.
Just because we've already made our thoughts clear on the Noctua signature colour scheme in our last review doesn't mean we're going to slack off on them now. Yes, we know the colour belies the quality, but would you buy a Porsche if all the only colour you could get them in was poo brown and false arm beige? Come on Noctua give us some style as well as substance.
The performance of the U12S was a bit of a mixed bag, especially when you consider its beating the U14S at 3.2GHz and it having a lower single fan temp than dual fan temp at the same 3.2GHz overclock. We explain the reasons for this in detail in the performance and testing section, suffice to say that at low levels of overclock with low volts, the performance of a cooler is more to do with the fans abilty to remove what little heat there is from the fin stack than the fin stacks ability to conduct the heat away from the contact plate, and as the U12S is fitted with focussed flow High pressure NF-F12s as opposed o the standard NF-A15s on the U14S we think this explains the variances.
In comparative terms the U12S performed well against some bigger coolers, in particular the colossal K2 and the ear bleeding Eisberg (at low fan settings at least). Matched against coolers of its own size the U12S fared better than the Matterhorn Pure by a few degrees but was pipped by half a degree by the Megahalem Black. Let's remember though that the Megahalem black is priced identically to the U12S but doesn't come with even a single fan as standard, so in effect is in the region of £15-£20 more. The Matterhorn Pure however at just £30 is still a very good buy.
But of course it isn't only air coolers that the U12S has to compete with. With AIO water coolers getting cheaper and more user friendly its biggest competition comes from the likes of the Cooler Master Seidon 120 and similarly the Corsair H60. Cost wise the U12S stacks up quite well initially, but adding an additional NF-F12 fan will add an extra £20 to the cost of the set up, and will only reduce your temps by a degree or so, and as it does not open the door to higher overclocks we would have to say hand on heart that it's not worth the extra cash
To summarise, the UI2S is a good cooler, especially if you're looking for something that will keep things cool while not getting in the of comedy tall RAM. It's also one of the quietest coolers we've ever tested. The quality is there in spades, even if the looks aren't to everyone's taste, (and especially not ours, did we mention that?), still there's no denying that to the trained eye a look inside your case window is bound to raise an "oh, you've got a Noctua, Coooooool" The problem with the U12S though isn't anything to do with the U12S, it's to do with the falling cost of AIOs. If we look at this as an air cooler in isolation then yes it's a cracking piece of kit, and in performance per pound measures is a good buy. If however we throw the AIOs into the fray then it becomes a very different ball game.