The all new Noctua NH-U12A tested: compact, high-performance, expensive

Noctua NH-U12A Test Review
(Picture: PCBC/FM)

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The Noctua NH-U12A is the fifth generation of the U12 series. With two fans, it is said to be the most powerful single-tower cooler. We tested it.

Introduction: That’s why the Noctua coolers are brown and silver

NNoctua has established itself more and more in the high performance league in recent years. In addition to many industrial solutions, the company also offers premium products for the end customer market. The Noctua brown stands out especially. Already during the reporting to other coolers we have therefore read again and again as a comment that only the colour prevents many from buying.

However, the color is one of Noctua’s success factors, as the company let us know upon request. 15 years ago, Noctua opted for brown. The focus was on calm as the core virtue of the brand. Earth tones are therefore better suited than bright, eye-catching colors. In addition, most people often associate the shades brown and beige with noble and high-quality products made of wood, leather and other natural materials. But it is precisely this restrained color combination that is also the secret of conspicuousness. No other manufacturer uses brown tones for its fans, which is why Noctua fans always stand out and are immediately associated with the company.

Why Noctua does not simply offer the coolers in other colors after years of successful brand establishment is easy to explain. Although the company has already shown black versions of three coolers at Computex 2018, they have not yet been released. One of the reasons for this is that the coating of the heat sinks themselves is very difficult, as the company explained in response to our demand. Since Noctua is one of the few manufacturers to solder the coolers, the coating process is very complex and expensive. However, the first completely black models could probably come onto the market in September or October. The exception is the NF-A12x25 fan, which is also mounted on the NH-U12A. This is due to the special material Noctua uses for the NF-A12x25. This Sterrox LCP material reacts very sensitively to other color pigments, which is why it is not easy to produce any color they want by simply pressing a buton. By the end of the year, however, this could also be reality. In the future Noctua will focus more on a discreet black, which eliminates the last negative point. So next year there might be a black version of the NH-U12A as well. Until then we have tested the brown version.


The Noctua NH-U12A in detail

The heat sink

The Noctua NH-U12A takes over the heritage of the NH-U12S. The predecessor is a compact, slim single tower cooler with five heatpipes and a 120 mm fan. Noctua has changed the NH-U12A accordingly in comparison. The cooler comes with a significantly thicker heat sink, which is supposed to offer 37 percent more surface area. In height and width, the dimensions have practically not changed. From the nickel-plated copper heatplate, which continues to be mounted directly on the processor with Noctua’s SecuFirm2 system, seven nickel-plated copper heatpipes lead into the cooling tower. This is even more than the current flagship NH-D15, which gets by with six heatpipes. The heat is dissipated via the aluminium fins, which have not changed in structure and have the same spacing as the NH-U12S predecessor. The whole heat sink is slightly tilted to the left to ensure full RAM compatibility with AM4 and LGA-115x systems. Due to the compact dimensions of 125x112x158 mm (WxDxH) including fans, the cooler does not block even the highest PCIe slot.


The fans

The biggest change is not on the heat sink either, but is attached to it. With the NH-U12A Noctua delivers two of the high performance fans NF-A12x25. The company has developed these fans for four years and optimized them for maximum performance. The gap between fan blades and frame is only 0.5 mm.

Noctua NH-U12A Test Review
The gap between fan and frame is kept to a minimum. (Picture: PCBC/FM)

Thanks to a special plastic, special bearings and very high manufacturing precision, the fans are among the most powerful in their class and can usually easily compete with 140 mm models. However, this quality has its price. One of these fans already costs almost $30 in retail, and two are mounted on the NH-U12A. The fans are mounted as usual using small wire brackets. Noctua has changed the mounting compared to all other models. The brackets no longer have to be pulled over two edges of the cooling fins with a lot of force, but only over one, which makes fastening much easier.

Noctua NH-U12A Test Review
The clamps are much easier to attach due to only one edge. (Picture: PCBC/FM)

What else is in the package?

With the cooler itself comes of course a number of necessary accessories. With the increasing popularity of the Ryzen processors, Noctua has also decided to include the AM4 assembly kits directly. In addition to the usual backplate for Intel’s mainstream platforms LGA-115x, the attachments for LGA-2011/LGA-2066 and the matching brackets, you will also find the mounting material for the AMD sockets AM4, AM3(+), AM2(+), FM1 and FM2(+). Especially the AM4 compatibility was not always given in earlier product series, which is why an extra mounting kit was necessary. This is directly omitted with the NH-U12A. Only the threadripper-platform TR4 is left empty-handed, which is no wonder because of its size.

Noctua NH-U12A Test Review
The package contents of the NH-U12A. (Picture: PCBC/FM)

In addition to the mounting material, there is also a long screwdriver required to screw the cooler onto the brackets, a Y-cable to connect both fans to a PWM port, two low-noise adapters, a metal case badge for sticking onto the case, the mounting instructions and the NT-H1 heat conduction paste. Unfortunately, Noctua does not yet include the new and somewhat better NT-H2 heat conduction paste here.


Assembly

Noctua again uses the SecuFirm2 system to mount the NH-U12A. First you have to insert a backplate through the mainboard and fix it with two brackets, four nuts and four thumbscrews. The radiator is then screwed onto these brackets with only two spring-loaded screws. Before that, the heat conducting paste has to be applied to the processor. Afterwards the fans can be mounted and connected. The installation takes a maximum of 10 minutes and is really simple. It is also praiseworthy that Noctua uses the same system as with the previous coolers. So if you have a NH-U12S or NH-U14S and simply want to replace it, you don’t even have to dismantle the mounting system.

The Performance


Testing system and testing environment

As a test system, we used the proven structure that was also used in our other cooler tests. An Intel Core i7-7700K on an MSI Z270 Gaming M7, which is fully equipped with four Ballistix Elite memory modules, serves as the basis. The mainboard is mounted in a be quiet! Dark Base 700, which is equipped with three Silent Wings 3 fans. Two 140 mm fans are located in the front, one 120 mm fan is mounted on the back of the case. As graphics card we used a Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Founders Edition.

The ambient temperature during the tests was 23 degrees Celsius and has hardly changed during all cooler tests. The Dark Base 700 was fully closed at each test. The case fans were constantly running at a moderate 40 percent. The fans of the respective coolers were set via the PWM control of the motherboard and ran at 20 percent speed from 30 degrees Celsius. The speed increased continuously up to 70 degrees Celsius, from then on the fans of the cooler ran at 100 percent.

Test program and measurement method

As a test program, we have again chosen Prime95 for this test. However, since the blend test has not proved to be necessarily constant, we now perform the measurements with the Small FFTs test as a load. 10 minutes each with one minute warm-up have proven to be optimal. Each cooler in our test had to cool the i7-7700K at standard clocks of up to 4.5 GHz in automatic mode and overclocked to 4.8 GHz at 1.28 Volts.

We finally measured the temperature with AIDA64 Extreme. The statistic function in the system stability test also shows the average values over time of the individual cores. We have added the respective average value of the individual cores and thus calculated the average value of all cores.

New in this test is the measurement of the noise level. We measured the volume in dB(A) of the overall system from a distance of approx. 25 cm using our level meter with the case open. The case fans ran at the set 40 percent, while the PWM fans of the coolers ran at 100 percent. These values are for comparison only.


Results compared to other Noctua coolers

In our test, the Noctua NH-U12A competes against three of its brothers from the same family. On the one hand, we tested the direct predecessor NH-U12S, on the other hand the NH-U14S as a 140 mm version and the NH-D15 as a flagship with two fans. Out of curiosity as to how the two NF-A12x25 fans perform, we also performed the tests with the NH-D15 in combination with the NF-A12x25 fans that were actually too small.

CoolerTemp. 4,5 GHzTemp. 4.8 GHzNoise Level
Noctua NH-D15Ø 65.5 °CØ 76.8 °C47.9 dB(A)
Noctua NH-D15 (NF-A12x25)Ø 66.2 °CØ 78.8 °C49.7 dB(A)
Noctua NH-U14SØ 66.5 °CØ 80.3 °C46.2 dB(A)
Noctua NH-U12AØ 67.7 °CØ 80.5 °C49.7 dB(A)
Noctua NH-U12SØ 70.8 °CØ 84.6 °C45.8 dB(A)

If you look at the test results, you get a quite interesting picture. The NH-U12A is clearly superior to its direct predecessor NH-U12S. The difference between the two coolers is 3.1 and 4.1 degrees Celsius respectively. However, the Noctua newcomer does not quite reach the NH-U14S. It is 1.2 degrees warmer without overclocking. Overclocked, however, the difference shrinks to 0.2 degrees Celsius. The NH-U12A is completely beaten by the flagship NH-D15. However, with two cooling towers and two 140 mm fans, it also has completely different strengths, which it shows off above all in overclocked mode. Here the NH-D15 reaches a value of 76.8 degrees Celsius and is therefore 3.7 degrees cooler than the NH-U12A. Without overclocking, the lead shrinks to 2.2 degrees Celsius.

Just how good the NF-A12x25 fans actually are can also be seen in the test with the NH-D15 and the two fans of the NH-U12A. The difference without overclocking is 0.7 degrees Celsius, with overclocking the value rises to 2 degrees Celsius. The missing size of the fans naturally contributes to a weaker performance. A twin tower cooler in 120 mm format with the NF-A12x25 fans would probably be unbeatable and would also outshine the NH-D15.

We were somewhat disappointed by the volume of the fans in comparison. With a value of 49.7 dB(A), the two fans of the NH-U12A perform significantly worse than all other test subjects. The predecessor NH-U12S achieves the lowest value with 45.8 dB(A). The NH-U14S, which cools almost identically or slightly better than the NH-U12A, is significantly quieter at 46.2 dB(A). Even the NH-D15 with two 140 mm fans is not as loud as the NH-U12A. It should also be noted, however, that the noise is very well dampened by the insulation of the Dark Base 700, which is why the values are definitely ok. The difference is only noticeable when the case is open.

Conclusion: expensive, but very good

With the NH-U12A, Noctua has given the U12 series a generous upgrade. The cooler fits through the compact dimensions in almost every case and on every motherboard. Two fans and a wide heat sink provide a cooling capacity that reaches up to 140 mm models, especially in the overclocked tests. But the NH-U12A has to admit defeat to big double tower coolers. However, these never offer the comfort and compatibility.

The only downer is the current price Noctua charges. The NH-U12A currently costs a proud $99.90, which makes it even more expensive than the NH-D15. This is available for about $90. Nevertheless, the Noctua NH-U12A also receives two PC Builder’s Club Awards in the categories Excellence and Performance.

About Florian Maislinger 1222 Articles
Florian Maislinger is author and founder of PC Builder's Club. As a skilled IT engineer, he is very familiar with computers and hardware and has been a technology lover since childhood. He is mainly responsible for the news and our social media channels.

4 Comments

  1. Your test is flawed because you dont have data points for fixed db or rpm ranges. All of your findings are at basically 100% fan speed.

    The NF-A12 was designed to be most efficient between 40-60% rpm. Thats where most people are going to run them. I run mine at 45-55% max.

  2. Should of normalized noise levels to make the performance and noise test fair. Try to make all the CPU coolers hit the same noise levels such as 46dB(A) then measure their respective temperatures to see which CPU cooler performs better at equal noise levels.

    Also from the results it looks like the NH-U12A is quiet poor performing when compared to its previous NH-U12S, it has a lower temperature but much higher noise level, would like to see a fair test to really see how it fairs against each other.

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