CPU coolers come in all shapes and sizes. There exists the iconic copper Zalman cooler and also the humongous Cooler Master V10. Today, we take a look at something more conventional-looking low-profile cooler. It’s Noctua’s NH-L12 – a low-profile C-type CPU cooler that is meant for HTPCs and small form factors.

Unboxing

I absolutely love the box style of Noctua’s coolers. They never cheap out on the packaging and they all have the same style of design on the box too.

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Now to open up the top reveals a box. Opening up the box… reveals another box. This time it’s a white box which houses all of the included accessories and user manuals.

Noctua NH-L12

Lift it up and it reveals the Noctua NH-L12 that’s resting underneath it. Nicely packed together with some dampening materials too – yet these dampening materials are actually just folded cardboard. Smart and economical yet effective.

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Digging out all of the content reveals the Noctua NH-L12 with a 92mm fan and another 120mm fan included, mounting kits for both AMD (up until AM3+ chipset, you’ll have to get the free AM4 mounting kit here) and Intel, installation guides, a screwdriver, and a bag of “common parts”. We’ve seen this bag of common parts before in our Noctua NH-D15 review, and they’re pretty identical here too. You’ll get the metal Noctua badge, two low-noise adapters, a 4-pin Y-splitter, NT-H1 thermal paste, and surprisingly, two sets of mounting screws. One of the set is the basic metal mounting screws, whereas the other one is anti-vibration mounting screws.

Noctua NH-L12

It’s nice to see these types of accessories included together in the box itself., as you can actually change the fans to whatever you want. Of course, Noctua’s original fans are already good enough, right? More on this later 😉

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This time around, the entire packaging is less convoluted and complex as the NH-D15. It’s still something special overall, as Noctua included little pieces of support around the cooler itself to truly diminish the possibilities of shipping damage and manhandling. Trust me – lightly-doped aluminium isn’t that tough.

Noctua NH-L12

Design

Surprisingly, the Noctua NH-L12 has a rather interesting design. There is a total of 4 heat pipes coming out from the CPU base into the stack of aluminium fins that is sandwiched between the two fans. Now, accommodating two fans on a single CPU cooler is definitely not something that is seen every day.

Noctua NH-L12

These two fans are already included and pre-installed on the NH-L12 already, and they vary in sizes too, if you didn’t already know. The top fan is Noctua’s renowned 120mm NF-F12 fan, whereas the bottom fan is a 92mm NF-B9 fan. Both of these fans are PWM, too.

Noctua NH-L12

To achieve a balance between thickness and silence,  Noctua opted for some rather interesting design choices to help cope with vibrations. Firstly, the bottom 92mm fan doesn’t have rubber pads on the corners, but instead, Noctua stuck two strips of squishy material perpendicular to the fins. It does reduce noise and vibration reduction fairly well too – but it did pose a little tiny issue during installation.

Noctua NH-L12

While Noctua included two fans with t he NH-L12, you can actually repurpose the NF-F12 fan at the top for some other uses. Maybe replace your rear exhaust fan. If you do use only the 92mm fan, the NH-L12 will still look sleek and clean, but there will be two little holes exposed. These two holes are used to screw in the cooler itself. Which leads us pretty nicely into the next section – the installation.

Noctua NH-L12

Installation

It’s fairly simple to install Noctua CPU coolers – and I’m sure anyone who is familiar with Noctua will definitely know this. Firstly take out the user manual. Secondly, prepare the screws needed. Thirdly, there’s a piece of rubber on the backplate itself – at least for the Intel mounting kit. Depending on your chipset, you might need to remove that piece of rubber prior to installing the backplate onto the motherboard. Best to pre-emptively counter these issues first instead of fumbling around during installation. Also, refer to the user manual and determine what’s the final orientation you want the Noctua NH-L12 to point to.

Noctua NH-L12

For me, I want to get a feel of how and where I should position the Noctua NH-L12 before proceeding with any sort of installation. I chose the heat pipes to point to the rear I/O area since that area is empty. I can’t point those heat pipes towards my RAM slots, as it does slightly interfere with them – and by slightly, I mean that it did push my Corsair LPX RAM slightly.

Noctua NH-L12

With all those pre-planning done, it’s time to get the cooler inside. I installed the backplate, then placed the Noctua NH-L12 as per how I planned. Then I realized something.

Noctua NH-L12

By the looks of it, the fins are in the way of the screws. Noctua thought about this obviously and etched out two little square holes to poke the included screwdriver through and screw the base in. Very clean and elegant solution to an otherwise cumbersome process. Thanks a lot for this workaround!

Noctua NH-L12

Now, you’ll have to be extra careful with those two holes. Part of the vibration dampener for the 92mm fan is actually exposed might get snagged when poking the screwdriver through, and potentially damaging it. Just be extra careful while dealing with this part.

Noctua NH-L12

Once the Noctua NH-L12 is seated, aligned, and screwed in place, the fans are ready to be secured to the heat sink itself. Since I’m a lazy guy and assembled the entire cooler with the motherboard installed in the case, it did require quite a lot of fumbling to get the 92mm aligned and secured. This is exponentially more difficult if there isn’t much space between the top of your case and the cooler, so I really suggest you have the whole cooler set up before installing the motherboard into your casing.

After getting the 92mm fan secured, the 120mm fan can be clipped on pretty easily – and you’re done!

Performance

The Noctua NH-L12 is a low-profile cooler with two configurations – with or without the 120mm fan. Noctua also provided a very handy TDP table so you can have an idea of what type of configuration you need to have. Surprisingly though, this small little cooler has a lot of cooling potential – but it’s highly recommended to use both the fans together to achieve its full potential.

Noctua NH-L12
Again with the beautiful machining by Noctua!

I’ll be using my main rig. Specs down below, but this time it’s back in the Sharkoon BW-9000W that we reviewed here, and replaced the super-bright blue LED fan at the rear with a Noctua NF-F12. Thanks for sending me an extra fan too!

Testing hardware configuration
CPU Intel i5-6400 @ 4.0GHz
Motherboard ASRock Z170 Pro4
GPU MSI GEFORCE GTX 1060 3GT OC
Memory Corsair Vengeance LPX 4GBx4
Power supply FSP Hexa+ 550W

For me, I tested the Noctua NH-L12 with both the included fans installed. One 92mm Noctua NF-B9, and another 120mm NF-F12. Temperatures were actually rather fantastic! I compared it with their flagship NH-D15 and found out some interesting data.

NH-D15 (℃) NH-L12 (℃)
CPU GPU CPU GPU
Idle 35 30 36 28
CPU Only 45 31 52 34
GPU Only 52 72 55 72
CPU + GPU 51 74 56 72

It can be said that the temperatures are obviously affected by the GPU, since that’s the characteristic of such cooler type. To me, I think that with the reduction of so much mass and into this tinier cooler, the temperatures are actually pretty good. Obviously, this type of cooler is more susceptible to the internal case’s airflow as it takes in all the air around it and blows them towards the CPU base itself.

Noctua NH-L12

There’s an obvious difference here is the overall temperature difference when load is applied. However,  I would like to point your attention to the CPU-only tests. This is a heatsink with relatively mass of metal (less than half of the NH-D15, actually), and it’ll be heavily reliant on the fans for cooling. Imagine if I am to take away the 120mm fan – the temperatures won’t be nice. From what I can see here, the temperatures are actually pretty good overall.

Also, on a very positive sidenote here. Due to the orientation that I’ve installed the Noctua NH-L12 in, it does cool the RAM modules a little. I’m not sure by how much, but sure enough, the 120mm fan does cover those RAMs as well.

Noctua NH-L12

Wrapping up the Noctua NH-L12 review

Ths cooler is something special. It’s not really expensive too, as it only costs about RM285 over at Lazada, or about USD $59.95 at Amazon. The Noctua NH-L12 is a small cooler with great cooling potential while having some leeway on how you want to fit it in your tinier-than-usual computer.

Noctua NH-L12

While Noctua’s iconic color scheme is prominent to rigs with a side panel since its orientation is as such, you can swap the 120mm fan for something more flashy – like an RGB if you desire. Keep in mind though, you might not get the cooling performance that the NF-F12 offers 😉

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The enthusiastic nanoelectronic engineer who found his way into simplifying the world of tech for everyone. Introverted, but noisy. Nice to meet you!