Small Form Factor systems are getting more popular as computer parts design for mini-ITX systems are readily available in the market today. People choose to go through this route as an SFF system is perfect for a small and limited space for a media PC in their living room, or they might have a need for a small and powerful system to lug around while traveling.
One of the challenges of a small form factor build is finding a proper cooling solution for your processor with its limited height clearance in most SFF builds.
With that in mind, we will be checking out the Noctua NH-L12S: a low profile cooler for such use cases, delivering optimum cooling performance and low fan noise.
The Noctua NH-L12S is an updated version of the award-winning NH-L12. Noctua tweaked compatibility, efficiency, and flexibility of the known NH-L12 cooler. The most noticeable difference between the NH-L12 and NH-L12S is that the latter features a 120mm fan and is slimmer compared to its predecessor.
Printed on the box are all the details you need – like the specification of the cooler and the fan. You can also see the awards that the predecessor cooler received.
Inside the box, you will find the cooler and accessories in each separate box as per usual.
Inside The Box
Opening the accessory box will show all the things you needed for installing the cooler to the motherboard. Inside you will find the cooler bracket and screws for your Intel or AMD system with an included manual for each platform. They also included the custom screwdriver for your installation of the cooler as well as an NT-H1 the thermal paste. There’s also a Low-Noise Adaptor (LNA) if you’ll be going for a silent build PC. Lastly, they included a case badge that you can stick on your PC case.
Closer Look of The Cooler
They limited height of the cooler to be able to fit in a smaller build while increasing the width of the cooler to still have a better surface area. The issue that with found with this design is that the cooler will possibly interfere with the first ram slot when using high profile ram.
Transferring the fan on top of the heat sink will solve RAM clearance issues most of the time.
Testing the Performance
The test of our cooler will be based on the idle and max load temperature of the Noctua NH L12S and we will be comparing it to an AMD Wraith Prism cooler as these two coolers are almost similar in TDP. The NH-L12S is rated to be used on CPUs with no more than 95w TDP while the Wraith Prism came with the Ryzen 7 2700x with a 105w TDP.
The processor that we will be using for testing the thermals is the Ryzen 5 2600 processor in an open-air case environment (23°C ambient) to eliminate the thermal limitations of the case. We did this to keep the data as controlled as possible.
For stress testing the CPU (stock clock speeds) using prime95 to put the processor into full load capping at 4.0GHz boost most of the time. We got the peak temperatures after 30 minutes of stress testing.
Our data reveal the capacity of the cooler to handle the thermal load while leaving a decent amount of headroom for higher clocks. Noctua states that this cooler is not suitable for processors that are above 95w and we think they have a point. Putting this inside a small form factor case will bring more thermal limitations especially when overclocking is applied.
The NT-L12S actually performed better than the AMD Wraith Prism given it’s larger fins that dissipate heat a lot better.
The Noctua NH-L12S delivers its own standard of quality – from its packaging, up to the cooler performance but do take note of the RAM clearance – you will have 70mm clearance for standard RAM compatibility thanks to it slimmer fan. We were surprised that it performed better than the AMD Wraith Prism which was rated for a relatively higher TDP processor.
But nonetheless, Noctua still recommends using a computer chassis that has proper air ventilation to ensure sufficient CPU cooling performance. For most HTPC’s this could be a challenging in cases like the Silverstone SG13, so that’s something to keep in mind.
For the price of $49.90 at Amazon.com this cooler is a solid choice for compact PC builds. With great quality and performance, this is no doubt a great option provided you can get away with the RAM clearance.