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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  • Qasar - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    " At $100 its hitting the AIO water cooler heatsinks." maybe.. but how well would those AIO's cool compared to this one ? here. AIOs start at $65 cdn, but i doubt they would cool as well as this would.. i bought an NH-D15 for my 5930k, and at full speed.. my case fans are louder, and it keeps the cpu pretty cool even overclocked.. i liked the NH-D15 so much.. i grabbed one each for all of my comps, Phenom 2, an AMD FX, and my 2 X58 based cpus.
  • Skeptical123 - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    I think you're misunderstanding the target consumer here. Noctua has made such a solid product for so long now they have established themselves not only as a market leader but as a premium brand. Just look at the NH-U12A for example. While a very good product they raised the price higher giving it likely some of the highest profit margins of any cooler on the market because they can command that price. As their core market segment does not want water coolers no matter the price. Due to too many moving parts, etc. Or simply not have the room in the case and or not want ing to mess around with mounting a radator
  • mobutu - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    Way way way too expensive so totally out of the realm of even considering this product.

    For Ryzen is even totally unnecessary unless your into heavy overclocking. You can get mild overclocking with the free included wraith cooler.

    Spending that 100 usdollars into a better cpu/gpu is a no brainer.
  • sonny73n - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link


    Only idiots overclock the CPU and spend more money for the cooler.
  • azrael- - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    There's some very important info missing from the review: the weight!

    The first thing I look at with a cooler is its weight, considering how most of them hang off the motherboard. There's a reason AMD and Intel have cooler weight recommendations.

    And yes, I know I can simply look up the cooler on Noctua's web site, but that doesn't change the fact that this information should be part of the review.
  • jabber - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    People always go on about the Coolermaster 212 but it has the suckiest mounting system in HSF history. I detest the things. My heart sinks if a customer brings in a system with one of those.
  • DanNeely - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    "Overall, the NH-U12A is designed to fit top-tier cooling performance into a more compact 120 mm cooler, as opposed to larger and more traditional 140 mm coolers."

    This seems like a bit of an odd turn of phrase. AFAIK dual 120mm fan tower coolers have been around almost as long as single 120mm models; which has been a lot longer than 140mm models of any sort started to show up.
  • vailr - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    For half the price, the Scythe Mugen 5B (~$45 on Amazon) seems to offer equivalent CPU cooling.
  • D@ Br@b($)! - Saturday, July 13, 2019 - link

    +1 and it's more quiet too.
  • djayjp - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    Yeah sure 250W load at 7v and only like 55C lol. Bs

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