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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  • extide - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    How do you measure thermal efficiency? Just by how cool it gets the cpu? If so then CLC's do well.
    Noise wise, has a lot to do with the fans and can be very similar to other coolers.
    Cost? They are a bit expensive but their ability to cool well and also exhaust heat directly out the case is typically enough justification. I mean we are only talking about maybe $20 max, far less than a tank of gas even.
    Reliability? I have had two in service for quite a while now and they have been fine but I can see how adding a pump into the mix is a recipe for lowering overall reliability potential.

    However the simple fact is water moves heat better than heat-pipes, period. So you can move heat to a larger radiator, and also put that radiator in a larger variety of places. That is why even the small closed loop coolers do well. I have built several full custom loops in the past, and the closed loop coolers are not nearly as good as a high end custom setup, but FAR easier to get going and little to not maintenance. They have their place IMHO. They are not perfect but they definitely have their place.

    Do you have any facts or reasons behind your statement or are you just saying stuff because it sounds cool? Maybe your idea of technically astute is incorrect, or you are simply not technically astute yourself.
  • cjs150 - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    Of course there is the downside to water coolers. They are spot not area coolers. Air will cool everything (to a certain extent) in the case as it flows over it, water will only cool those spots which have a waterblock.

    That is why you need to have decent airflow in a watercooled case - if not you fry the RAM (and yes I have done that)
  • DanNeely - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    A few years ago I saw a CPU waterblock by a low-tier vendor that had brackets for a down blowing fan on top to keep the ram/mosfets from baking; and have always wondered why none of the other vendors have ever offered anything similar.
  • mevans336 - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    I would love it if there were a way for the noise to be recorded so we can listen. Sure dBA numbers are great, but the actual pitch of the sound emitted is very important. I also have a hard time translating dBA numbers into perceived sound increase. I have a Noctua NH-D14 and according to your charts, there is only a 2dBA increase from silent to 100%. I would have guessed it to be MUCH larger than that as the perceptible sound increase from silent to 100% in my rig is massive. The pitch/tone of the sound (if that's the right terminology) at 100% changes drastically too.
  • kmi187 - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    Here in Europe the DarkRock Pro is typically 1 to 2 euro's cheaper than the Noctua NH-D14, sometimes a bit cheaper even, if you can be bothered to look around. The new BeQuiet Shadow Rock also performs quite well imho, haven't used it myself but it's the cooler we put in budget systems at the shop whenever coolermaster EVO's aren't available.
  • IanCutress - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    We used the original Dark Rock Pro for an ASUS S2011 contest early last year, and it was quickly overwhelmed by the heat generated from the CPU past 5 GHz. So much that we had to force extra pressure on the socket so the processor didn't downclock and bork the scores.
  • lwatcdr - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    Good review. The only thing I would suggest would be to also use a test bench for testing the coolers so you can take the case out of the equation. I would still test in a case as well but pick one you really like to build in because you will need to do it forever. Of course maybe you have.
    Now you just need to test every cooler in every case and with every CPU. Can you have it by next week?
  • wongwarren - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    No sorry the Plus' fan is better than the Evo's fan.
  • lichoblack - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    What about comparing low-profile coolers with some CLC's? Given the new trend towards smaller cases, and the height restriction of those microATX (Thermaltake LANBox for instance) or microITX cases (a LianLi one has 38mm height restriction, fitting for the noctua reviewed here) it would be interesting to compare a CLC to a compact cooler that has to be smaller than, say 100mm height.
  • shaolin95 - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    Good stuff. I hope you add the Thermaltake Water 2.0 extreme to the mix.
    I moved from D14 to it and love it.

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