Introduction

Now that CPU cooler reviews have begun in earnest here at AnandTech, it's been interesting to see just how conventional wisdom plays out in practice. There's been a pervasive attitude that closed loop coolers are only really competitive with the highest end air coolers, and there may be some truth to that, but we have at least one of those flagship coolers on hand today along with parts from SilverStone, be quiet!, and Cooler Master.

Once we got in touch with Noctua and let them know we were doing cooler reviews, they gave us the opportunity to correct what I'd consider to be a sizable omission in terms of coverage in general: no review of the flagship NH-D14 CPU cooler. The NH-D14 is big, beefy, expensive, and typically regarded in enthusiast circles as one of the finest air coolers available. Alongside the NH-D14, Noctua also sent us their NH-L12 and NH-L9i low-profile CPU coolers; while the NH-L9i is potentially underwhelming, the NH-L12 stands to impress as potentially the most powerful downward-flow cooler on the market.

In the interests of making it a full-on roundup, three additional coolers were brought in for review. First is the flagship SilverStone Heligon HE01, a substantial dual tower cooler with a massive 140mm (38mm thick!) fan in the center and rated to cool a staggering 300W. Next up were two coolers I've had in house for a little while that are going to get to see sunlight and scrutiny: the be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 2 (rated for 220W) and the cooler from my case testing bed, the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO. The EVO can typically be found for under $40 (and usually much closer to $30) and is regarded as one of the best budget coolers on the market.

  Noctua NH-D14 Noctua NH-L12 Noctua NH-L9i
Dimensions (in mm) 158x126x120 93x128x150 95x95x37
Fans (Supported) 1x 140mm & 1x 120mm (3) 1x 120mm & 1x 90mm (2) 92mm (1)
Weight 1240g 680g 420g
Rated Noise in dB(A) 13.2~19.8 13.1~22.4 14.8~23.6
Price at NewEgg $81 $69 $48

  SilverStone Heligon HE01 be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 2 CM Hyper 212 EVO
Dimensions (in mm) 140x119x160 147x138x166 120x80x159
Fans (Supported) 140mm (3) 1x 120mm & 1x 135mm (2) 120mm (2)
Weight 926g (w/o fan) 1250g 580g
Rated Noise in dB(A) 18~41 13.5~26.4 9~36
Price at NewEgg $75 $99 $33

Before we get started with testing, some notes. First, the NH-D14 that Noctua sent is their Socket 2011 edition, but there's no appreciable difference between that one and the standard version; the mounting brackets from the NH-L12 were used for the NH-D14 and worked like a charm.

The be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 2 is unfortunately, like the rest of be quiet!'s line, still a bit rarefied stateside. That's unfortunate, because this little company has a lot to offer (as you'll see later). Of all the coolers tested, the Dark Rock Pro 2 is the most intimidatingly large, but be quiet!'s products are designed for silence first, so we'll see how it works out.

Finally, having the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO in this lineup almost seems unfair; it's smaller than the other coolers, only really benefits from one fan, and is the least expensive by a longshot. Looks can be deceiving, though. I used to run a Hyper 212 Plus and can attest to that cooler being both remarkably inexpensive and efficient, and the EVO's fan is both more powerful and quieter than its predecessor's.

Ease of Installation
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  • cjs150 - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    Personally I would also prefer water cooling for the simple reason that a good (thick) 240/280 Radiator can cool both CPU and GPU and there is no need to worry about whether the RAM heatspreaders are too tall for the air cooler.

    What the result show is just how good the closed loop water coolers have become.

    However, there is no denying air cooling is simpler, less prone to messy accidents (I know!) and perfect for those who like to keep the computer on all the time. Nice review and keep up the good work
    Reply
  • James086 - Friday, March 15, 2013 - link

    A minor caveat: be sure to point a fan at the ram and motherboard heatsinks. I didn't and because there was no airflow around my motherboard, it popped a VRM. Reply
  • StevoLincolnite - Monday, March 18, 2013 - link

    Ram cooling isn't important, they don't even need heatsinks, it's all for looks.

    However, motherboard cooling is important, spend a little extra and get a motherboard with decent heatsinks or even active cooling like the Sabertooth x79.
    Plus, case airflow is important too.
    Reply
  • maximumGPU - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    Nice review! wish there was a thermalright silver arrow on there to get a more comprehensive look at the high end coolers. When i bought mine it was widely considered superior to closed loops, looking at the review's results i'm not so sure about that now. Reply
  • wiyosaya - Tuesday, April 02, 2013 - link

    I've been a fan, pun intended, of Thermalright paired with Scythe fans for a long time. I currently have a TRUE Spirit 120M paired with a very low noise 120mm Scythe fan cooling an i7-3820. The absence of noise was a prime factor for me, and I don't overclock because stability is also of prime concern for me. IMHO, this combination works very well.

    I, too, would have loved to have seen any of the Thermalright heat sinks in this review.
    Reply
  • iTzSnypah - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    I don't believe that the case has adequate airflow. Reply
  • iTzSnypah - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    Also there is a fault in your testing methodology. When you tested the CLC's you effectively increased the number of case fans, which would increase airflow and decrease load temps.

    I suggest you retest, with the case always having 3 fans, 1 intake and 2 exhaust.
    Reply
  • FragKrag - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    I don't think the point here is to get a completely unbiased performance test, but rather test the coolers in a realistic environment Reply
  • dragosmp - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    The thing is there's not more realistic not to have case fans than to have them. One may argue that it's more likely to encounter systems that have one/two exhaust fans than to have only one intake.

    I'm suspicious of these results as most sites put aircoolers in a much better light and my own experience show it's a bad bad thing to remove rear fans.

    In this setup aircloolers spit warm air that is hardly being channeled out by anything; the positive pressure generated by the front intake can be dissipated in many ways that don't move the warm air around the CPU zone. I've worked recently with a 600T, if the up/rear fans were slowed to 400RPM (so still working) with a CM 212+ @1200RPM and a 2700K@4.2GHz the CPU got toasted in games 80°C+ - running the fans @800RPM decreased the temp by some 20°C.

    "I removed every case fan but the front intake, which I ran at 5V to prevent it from affecting acoustics while still providing adequate airflow." - how much airflow was there thru the fan-less rear exhausts?
    Reply
  • lever_age - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    Right, look at how restrictive the back panel looks. Some people with intake-heavy setups (and that would be a whole lot more than a single fan at 5V in a large case that's very far away from the CPU cooler) cut out the spot and use a wire grille instead, and remove slot covers.

    If it weren't for some of the top venting, the air coolers would have been really suffocated. In that setup, there is a bias towards the CLCs because their fans are actually working close to the actual vents on the case, due to how everything is mounted and positioned.

    If you're only testing down to 30 dB, you can easily run a few more decent-quality fans at some ~800 rpm and get some more reasonable airflow without really increasing the noise level measured.
    Reply

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