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Noctua NH-U12A Review: Stock v.s. Aftermarket

Why did I buy this?

Don’t get me wrong, none of this is necessary. The stock cooler does get the job done. So then, what’s the point of this?

On the left, we have included cooler, the Wraith Prism. On the right, the Noctua NH-U12A, the ultra-premium air cooler.
My original Wraith Prism next to the new Noctua NH-U12A (fully mounted).

Goals

Non-goals

  • Bling. Yes, including RGB. I will leave this to the folks doing custom liquid cooling.
  • Liquid cooling. Don’t get me wrong, it can be amazing. However, I prefer the simplicity and reliability of air cooling.

Cost

At the time of my purchase, the Noctua NH-U12A cost $99.90 USD. If that price makes you cringe a little, that is a reasonable reaction. After all, you can get entry level liquid coolers (like this one) for around $80 USD. Will this stack up? Let’s find out.

A screenshot of the NH-U12A on Amazon.

The Unboxing

Accessories!

I love unboxing Noctua products. In addition to the core hardware, they always include a goody bag of extras. So, what does the NH-U12A include!

The contents of the accessory bag. (and the extra long screw driver).
  • Low noise adapters (x2): These reduce fan speed by limiting power from the motherboard. If the lowest fan speed your motherboard is still too loud slap one of these on!
  • PWM Y-Splitter: If your motherboard only has one PWM (4 pin) fan header for your CPU cooler, this is for you. This enables a single header to power both fans.
  • Metal case badge: Just in case you wanted to brag about your cooling priviledge? It is solid metal, not just a sticker — nice.
  • NT-H1 thermal paste: This is nice stuff and I was excited to have it included. Admittedly, at this price point . . . it probably should. You can buy it seperately on Amazon for $7.90 USD.

The NH-U12A itself

Last but not least the cooler, with dual NF-A12x25 fans (which cost $30 USD when purchased individually).

The cooler with fans attached (as unboxed).

First impressions — the build quality is excellent. The fins are all in excellent condition, free of bent edges. Not really a downside, but they are quite sharp. I managed to cut myself on them during installation.

Tip: Don’t bleed on your PC. The fins are sharp, be more careful than me.

The NH-U12A features a 7 heatpipe design. The CPU facing surface is a polished silver (the heatpipes are not exposed) and should make excellent thermal contact.

The cooler with fans removed.

Installation

Step 1: Remove the mounting clips.

This is pretty easy. Just remove the 4 screws on the mounting clips on either side of the processor.

Tip: Leave at least one screw attached at all times. Otherwise, the back plate will fall off the back of your motherboard into your case.

Step 2: Attach the mounting hardware

With the socket-appropriate spacers (dark-grey for AM4) screw on the mounting brackets.

Step 3: Apply thermal paste

Apply a small bead of thermal paste to the center of the processor. The pressure of the cooler will spread it for you. I might have added a bit much, but it will be fine.

Step 4: Mount the cooler

With the fans removed, screw the cooler onto the mounting clips. Getting the two spring loaded screw heads to thread onto the clips was a bit tricky. I recommend starting with your hands, applying pressure while twisting. Once they are attached, screw each side 2 or 3 turns at a time. Alternate between the two sides to insure pressure is applied evenly.

Step 5: Attach fans and plug in fans

Reattach the fans to the cooling block. Plug the fans into your CPU fan header. If you only have one, use the included PWM Y-Splitter. My motherboard had two, labeled “CPU” and “CPU_OPT” (CPU optional).

Performance

Hooray! Expensive cooling does make a difference! In my benchmarks, I found my processor ran about 8-9% cooler. The extra cooling head room enabled my processor to shave a few seconds off of each benchmark (thanks to AMD’s Precision Boost 2).

Temperature over time (in Celcius)
Temperature over time (in Celcius)

Conclusion

Do I like this cooler? Yes. Do I like the beautiful, vomit-biege color scheme? Also yes (don’t judge me).

To me, the noise reduction alone has made this purchase worth while. However, the cooling performance is nothing to scoff at.

Noctua fans have a ridiculous 6 year warranty, so this cooler may stick around for the next build . . . and maybe the build after that.

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