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.

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  • kmmatney - Saturday, March 16, 2013 - link

    The test setup was fine to me, and all coolers are measured under the same conditions, which is what is really important. I have an 212 EVO cooling a Core i5 running at 4.3 Ghz. I can't stand any noise, so only have a single case fan, running very slow. I've been thinking about moving my single exhaust fan to be an intake to get positive pressure.
  • Egg - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    What about a test bench? I can see where Dustin is coming from regarding not wanting the case fans to affect the test result.
  • JeBarr - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    quote " the NH-L12 stands to impress as potentially the most powerful downward-flow cooler on the market."

    Correction: Noctua NH-C14 or Phanteks PH-TC14CS hold that title.

    Thanks again Dustin for another fine air cooler review. Keep 'em comin'!
  • rhx123 - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    I have a NH-L9i and I pretty much got it as a stock cooler replacement, my temps were fine on a i5-3470 but the noise was not.

    I have a huge phobia of of a large chunk of metal damaging my machine when I move it, but for a multiplier-locked CPU getting a closed loop would be mad.

    The NH-L9i is very quiet on idle, and more importantly the fan doesn't have an obvious tonality like some fans do.
  • jrs77 - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    The CM Hyper 212 Evo is still the best cooler, when you take it's price into account. Additionally you can make it even better with a $15-fan like the Akasa Apache PWM, which outperforms the stock-fan in both: noise and airflow. And even with an additional fan you're still paying less then for the other bigger coolers.

    The AIO-liquid coolers are not really that impressive imho. I've had a Corsair H50 and H60 and an intel AIO-liquid cooler and allthough they showed better temps, the pumps and fans were loud and made irritating high-pitched noises. Not to mention that I had to RMA both Corsair-coolers (the H50 even twice) because the pump made rattling noises.
    Also, for the money of them you can get a very good aircooler, performing just as well, especially if you're not overclocking. With regards to that, you should test a Prolimatech Genesis with two silent 140mm fans sometime.
  • A5 - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    To be fair, the H50 and H60 are the two cheapest CLCs on the market. If one is going that route, this testing shows the larger CLCs to be the ones to look at. The "cheap" ones don't really perform appreciably better than the CM 212 EVO and cost 50+% more.
  • HisDivineOrder - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    Pumps fail. That's enough for me right there to stay air. Sure, fans fail, too, but with a CLC you have the fans AND the pump at risk of failure. With air cooling, it's just the fan.

    The difference between those coolers--air and water--is so small so as to be insignificant in day to day usage. The only reason someone should go for water cooling is if they want to break some speed records, but CLC should stay out of mainstream, every day systems.

  • Rick83 - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    Is there an error in the noise chart?
    How can the PWM L9i be louder than the 100% L9i?
    Especially, as in the text it doesn't say so.
    Would be great if you could fix that.
  • DanNeely - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    Thanks for finally reviewing a Coolermaster 212 series unit; because their ubiquity gives lots of people a known reference point to compare performance with.

    Could you add a YateLoon fan to your next fan roundup for the same purpose since they're one of the most popular budget 120mm fans?
  • Beenthere - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    Dustin - Again you display a strange and absurd POV on HSFs...

    "...and if for whatever reason a closed loop cooler isn't on your list..."

    Why would any technically astute consumer have a CLC on their "list" of desirable CPU coolers when CLCs are inferior in every typical CPU cooling metric used by consumers, including thermal efficiency, noise, cost and reliability. If you ignore all of the obvious reasons to not buy a CLC and just buy one because you want one or don't know any better, that is fine but no one with a technical clue would buy or recommend a CLC based on merit.

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