Noctua designed the NH-U12A to cover a very specific portion of the market – users that want a top-tier air cooler but are limited by the space available in their systems. Although this rarely is a concern for home users with high-end ATX tower cases, it is a growing issue for those building compact gaming systems, be it for living room use or just easier transportation.

To that end, Noctua’s engineers had to develop a cooler that competes with larger variants but fits into compact and HTPC cases. The solution seems simple at first – a modest increase of the NH-U12S’s mass would definitely improve the cooler’s performance. However, chaotically increasing a cooler’s size is a harbinger to compatibility issues. Fortunately, Noctua’s engineers never do anything randomly. The new NH-U12A is designed to specifically stay clear of the PCI Express slots, ensuring that the installation of the cooler will not be blocked by the graphics card. The cooler may partially overhang some of the RAM slots, but regular modules not taller than 42 mm will still fit. Finally, they balanced the length and density of the fins (airflow impedance) with the capabilities of the two 120 mm fans perfectly, ensuring good overall performance.

Noctua claims that the NH-U12A can compete head-to-head with 140 mm tower coolers. Though this definitely isn't true in all situations, when the thermal load is relatively low, the cooler can actually live up to Noctua's claims. With "relative" being, well, relative, by tower cooler standards, as high-end coolers can easily dissipate better than 200 Watts. This means that the NH-U12A will perform just like (or even better than) a 140 mm cooler with many stock-clocked processors, as only a handful of chips actually draw more than a 100 Watts or so.

Otherwise, once we start looking at high TDP scenarios, the larger 140 mm coolers of comparable class and quality will outperform the NH-U12A, even if only slightly. Noctua can't entirely escape the laws of physics here in that regard, as volume and surface area still count for something.

Past that, it's worth noting that the NH-U12A continued to display very good thermal performance even when the speed of the fans is reduced down to inaudible levels, making it an excellent choice for living room usage scenarios.

The only real drawback to the NH-U12A is its retail price, which is above and beyond even the usual Noctua premium. With US listings running at around $100, the cooler is going for roughly double the price of the similar NH-U12S, and the same has been true in Europe as well. As best as I can figure, the use of two high-end NF-A12x25 fans has significantly increased the production costs of the NH-U12A.

As a result the NH-U12A is, at least at the moment, a true niche product. Within its 120 mm space it's the tower cooler to beat. But if you can fit a larger 140 mm cooler, then this opens the door to a number of cheaper and equally capable coolers, including Noctua’s own top-tier 140 mm coolers, which currently sell for less than the NH-U12A. None of which changes the fact that the NH-U12A is a fine cooler, but as things stand the potential market is limited to users who want a high-end cooler for a compact system that can't fit something larger.

Thermal Resistance VS Sound Pressure Level
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  • Oliseo - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    I run a Corsair 115i Platinum (280mm) AIO on my i9 9900k, running at 5Ghz all cores with no AVX offset. (Uncore at 4.8)

    It never goes above 72 degrees, when running 100% rendering 3D models. (Where AVX is used heavily).

    I do have the Noctua NH-D15 on my sons i7 9700k, but it's simply not as good as my AOI.
  • Qasar - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    for $100 bucks more then the NH-D15, i would hope so, or it would be a rip off ;-)
  • FreckledTrout - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    Yeah this did remind me of my old Thermalright TRUE 120. I have it in a friends computer running an old 2600K I donated. That cooler is/was very nice.
  • mjz_5 - Thursday, July 11, 2019 - link

    Would love to see how this compares to the stock Ryzen coolers
  • keyserr - Thursday, July 11, 2019 - link

    Thanks for the review. I'm becoming one of 'those' people that likes silence in their PC. I was waiting for this fan to come out and build a system around it! However, I have since read that the NH-D15 / NH-D15S is quieter and this review suggests that since it performs well at low rpm. Lower rpm than than the NH-U12A. I might also wait for the fanless monster.. for a mITX beast system :)
  • Hyper72 - Saturday, July 20, 2019 - link

    I'm with you there. I like my computer out of hearing and sight so it's great to see a nice review!
  • jabber - Thursday, July 11, 2019 - link

    Just love that fake limb plastic colour.
  • Ashinjuka - Thursday, July 11, 2019 - link

    While this is interesting and I understand why AnandTech would review it, similar to feelings expressed towards the extreme high end PSUs and folks asking for more realistic and everyday reviews to compare to, I'd love to see you folks do a round-up of some of the middle and lower end 3rd-party CPU coolers that are out there.

    My last few "utility" builds have used PCCOOLER Corona GI-X2B's and... they're fine. They're really fine. Basically silent under normal use. One 120mm fan with a LED ring, 2 heat pipes, rated for up to 105 TDP, for $15.

    Sure, I wouldn't try to do any major overclocking with that but I suspect that for the 99%, these cheaper, less halo-premium CPU coolers are perfectly adequate and still way better than, for instance, stock Intel.
  • webdoctors - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link


    Really wish it was compared to regular budget coolers like the 212 in the graph.

    At $100 its hitting the AIO water cooler heatsinks.

    I see at newegg the CoolerMaster 212 is $35 with free shipping,

    Cooler Master Hyper 212 LED with PWM Fan, Four Direct Contact Heatpipes, Unique Fan Blade Design, Red LEDs, Optimized Bracket

    I'd love to know how this compares to that, its sort of the benchmark (pardon the pun) comparison point since its been used for ~10 yrs and on a multitude of platforms.

    Using the stock AMD Wraith cooler, and putting that $100 into a better CPU would be much better, you'd get a substantial upgrade in CPU performance.
  • piroroadkill - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    But they did compare it to the 212 in the thermal resistance vs sound pressure level graph.

    The difference is stark.

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