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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  • garadante - Friday, March 15, 2013 - link

    I actually imagine that in the 240/280mm closed loop coolers, there's easily more than .25 liters of coolant. Perhaps even approaching a liter or more, depending on the size/density of radiator piping and the tubing.

    If your numbers are closer the accurate, than that's a fair enough way to say 15 minutes is likely enough, but still, I'd like to see 30-60 minute tests for the best performers, or even longer. Run those 280mm radiators for 1-2 hours and see how much/if at all that affects performance. Because on that slight change that it -does- affect it significantly, these numbers posted in the review are absolutely meaningless and misleading.
  • coffeejunkee - Friday, March 15, 2013 - link

    Well, interesting results to say the least. Tom's Hardware and X-bitlabs have reviews up as well comparing aio's to NH-D14 and Phanteks PH-TC14. Their results are quite different from this. For example in the X-bitsreview the H55 is easily beaten by PH-TC14 but here the H55 does better than the NH-D14. Something's not right, and it's probably called outtake fan.
  • Nfarce - Friday, March 15, 2013 - link

    Just remember that there are a lot of variables in different entities testing the same cooler, not the least of which is hardware including the case itself, and the success of how well the coolers are attached to the CPU with paste to minimize gaps. Then you have ambient temperature and altitude differences, etc. I wouldn't trust one review to be better or worse than another review of the same cooler. You are better off trying to find a pattern among all the coolers tested you are interested in and see which one mostly stays on top.
  • coffeejunkee - Saturday, March 16, 2013 - link

    Well, yes that's the reason I comment. I read many cooler reviews and I'm aware you can't compare them on an absolute basis, too many outside variables for that. But the results of this one have me scratching my head. This is simply the first time I see an aio like H55 do better than the NH-D14 and it just doesn't make much sense to me. I mean, look how thin the H55 radiator is and then look at the massive 1 kg of copper and aluminium which is the NH-D14. Ok, so H55 has higher rpm fan, but the dual fan setup on the NH-D14 counters that.

    Also, Hyper 212 is a nice heatsink if you can get it around $30 but just 1.6 degree difference vs NH-D14? Which weighs like twice as much and has 2 fans, one even a 140mm model? Maybe using the NH-L12 bracket isn't so ideal afterall (also might be nice to mention regular NH-D14 doesn't come with pwm fans).
  • mapesdhs - Friday, March 15, 2013 - link

    I wish you'd included the Phanteks PH-TC14PE. It's cheaper than the NH-D14, looks nicer
    and in many reviews performs better.

  • Nfarce - Friday, March 15, 2013 - link

    I've been loving my NH-D14 on a 4.8GHz 2500k for two years solid now. Even in summer indoor ambient temps of 80F (27C), it never gets above 55C at that high level o/c running 1.38v. Of course the modded Antec Nine Hundred it sits in has excellent airflow too.

    And two years ago I paid $85 for the thing, so the price has not come down at all, which speaks volumes about the continued demand for them. Best $$ I ever spent under $100 on a piece of hardware.
  • Havor - Saturday, March 16, 2013 - link

    I don't get all the bias of the reviewer against the NH-L9i, yeah for normal PC use its pretty much useless, but thats not ware its made for.

    Its a HTPC/small form factor cooler, and it fits in to places ware its big brothers don't fit, its real competition is the Scythe Shuriken series and some other low profile solutions.
  • Lycros - Saturday, March 16, 2013 - link

    Anyway you can use the same fan(s) across all of the heatsinks next time?
  • ellroy80 - Sunday, March 17, 2013 - link

    Dustin, your review of the NH-L9i is really not fair. It states on the Noctua website that "The NH-L9i is a highly-compact low-profile quiet cooler designed for use in small form factor cases and HTPC environments. While it provides first rate performance in its class, it is not suitable for overclocking and should be used with care on CPUs with more than 65W TDP." So your usage scenario is really not applicable to this cooler. Any chance you could re-test it with, say, an i3-3225?
  • lichoblack - Monday, March 18, 2013 - link

    I have to agree that the review paints the cooler in bad light, but instead of using another CPU, I'm more game with changing the restrictions: test small coolers and see how they fare. The NH-L9i/L9a have a very low height, and you can use them in very, very restrictive cases (thinking of an htpc/emu case using a Lian-Li PC-Q12, then you can only use a cooler up to 55mm, so you can use a stock intel fan, but not an AMD stock fan. see: Not many coolers fit this bill, and big air just doesn't fit this. CLC could, depending on the case, but big air can't. So more small aftermarket coolers so we can better paint the small air picture :)

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