The Noctua NH-D15 is certainly one of the best air coolers on the market today, while defeating some of the AiO liquid coolers too. However, there is a price to pay. Firstly, the form factor. Secondly, compatibility. Make sure you check everything before picking one up for yourself.
I’ve always been wanting to get an aftermarket air cooler. Noctua NH-D15 was a great candidate, because why not go for the most well-reputed air cooler out there? For those who had been following my PC case reviews which we started off not too long ago, then you might have seen the hideous Intel stock cooler in there. Well, don’t judge me. That stock cooler is actually doing quite a lot of work.
As stated in those case reviews, I’m using an Intel i5-6400, overclocked from 2.7GHz to 4.0GHz with an ASRock Z170 Pro4 motherboard. That kicks out quite a lot of heat, but the stock cooler survives only because of my air-conditioned room.
So I reached out to Noctua to holla at them, and they were kind enough to send us a unit of their best of the best – the Noctua NH-D15. Just how exactly good is the NH-D15? That’s why we’re here to test it!
We’ve also prepared a video just to showcase the packaging itself, the unboxing experience, the super-simple and straightforward installation process, and then showcase on how it looks. While I was at it, why not add the benchmark scores alongside?
Trust me – there’s a plot twist near when I finished installing the Noctua NH-D15 and was about to put everything back together.
The Noctua NH-D15 has a humongous box – I’m not going to lie, I was awestruck when I first saw it. The sheer size of this box raises a lot of skepticism on whether their case will fit or not. I can assure you, however, that the cooler itself is obviously much smaller than this humongous box, but the size can be managed easily too. More on this later, of course.
Opening the box is definitely an experience for me. It’s nice. Take a look at the series of images.
What Noctua did to the packaging is fantastic. It made the whole unboxing experience a bliss. I highly recommend you to watch the video to really get a feel for how the Noctua NH-D15 unboxing experience really is.
First of all, the included screwdriver is a godsend. Secondly, Noctua included a Noctua NA-YC1 Y-cable to split a single 4-pin male fan header to two 4-pin female fan headers. Then, Noctua also included their low-noise adapters – or LNA, for their included fans. Since there are two included fans, they gave two LNA adapters! Fourthly, the fans they included is their 140mm NH-A15 fans – two of them, actually. Fifth, they included a tube of Noctua NT-H1 thermal compound.
Lastly, Noctua logo badge. It’s made out of metal, and there’s 3M adhesive at the back!
Now that’s a lot of accessories!
It’s really simple. Just take the appropriate installation manual – and there are 3 of them in the box, one for LGA2011, LGA115X, and AM3 individually. They just told the world that you’re eligible to get the NH-AM4 mount for Ryzen-based CPUs for free too.
For me, I took the LGA115X manual, read through it and saw what type of and prepared the appropriate screws and mounts and remembered to the included screwdriver too.
Installation was super straightforward. I took out the Intel stock cooler, oriented the backplate and placed it on the back, then screwed according to the user manual. Since they’re thumbscrews, I just screwed them finger-tight plus a slight nudge with the screwdriver.
Onward with a tad of thermal paste, then placing the NH-D15 on the CPU itself and screwing it on. Again, not too tight – but appropriate tightness is needed.
After screwing it in, I placed both the fans back onto the Noctua NH-D15. Seriously, Noctua made everything so easily accessible on their coolers!
Issues I faced with the Noctua NH-D15
For me, there is just one – clearance. Firstly, as mentioned above, the RAM clearance. Although Noctua trimmed off some of the fins at the bottom of the stack, it’s still not enough to accommodate those RAMs and the fan together.
What happened was I had to bias the right fin stack tower’s fan a little higher. Thanks again for Noctua for having such a versatile design, but the cooling performance will obviously be hindered. The second fan can be mounted on the same side as the first fan too – making a push-pull configuration for the right stack of fins.
Secondly, is the case itself. I installed the NH-D15 on the budget-oriented PC case, the SilverStone RL05 that I’ve reviewed here. I knew it was going to be an issue since the RL05 can only take a 120mm fan beside the rear I/O panel. By doing some mental math, I was skeptical at first but went ahead with the installation.
Luckily, I was wrong – or at least nearly wrong. The Noctua NH-D15 sits nicely in the SilverStone RL05 – but just barely. The clearance between the side panel and the entire cooler itself is minute. I mean, a slight tap on the side panel and I’ll be knocking on the cooler itself!
Now, for most people, this won’t be an issue – but I suppose it’s a warning for those who are seeking to get a Noctua NH-D15 for your personal beast of a machine. Just make sure your case is wide enough. Else, you can get Noctua’s shorter coolers.
Thirdly, the PCI slot clearance issue. From what I can see, the first slot will be blocked – so this is definitely something to keep in mind for those who uses the topmost PCI slot.
Now, how about that performance? I’m still using the same rig – and I’ve applied the same thermal paste for both stock Intel cooler and the Noctua NH-D15.
|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|
The test was done in an air-conditioned room that’s very cold, and it was coupled with a rainy midnight too. I did not use the included LNA, as that LNA is actually a resistor to change the RPM. Since I’m using 4-pin headers on my motherboard anyway, I’ll let my fan curve handle it.
|Stock (℃)||NH-D15 (℃)|
|CPU + GPU||62||62||47||57|
Now that’s a humongous delta between both coolers! The temperature drop in idle isn’t that extreme – I get it, but under load, that’s a huge drop. I actually did monitor the temperatures on a rather hot (we’re in Malaysia after all) afternoon, and the temperatures were about 40 degrees on average under my daily usage loads.
Another thing that has improved is the acoustics. From a noisy and whiny stock cooler to near-silent operations even under load while maintaining such great temperatures? That’s a difficult feat difficult to pull off.
Wrapping up the Noctua NH-D15 review
Here, what I can tell you is this – the NH-D15 is a strong air cooler. While this isn’t an apples to apples comparison between form factors – as the stock cooler is a blower style cooler and the Noctua NH-D15 is a tower style cooler.
For the price of RM 419, it’s definitely a premium air cooler. From what I can see, the Noctua NH-D15 can even outperform some all-in-one liquid coolers too. Of course, the price to pay – other than cash – are the form factor and compatibility issues.