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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  • Soulkeeper - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    What was the RPM on the fans ?
    Did they manage to spin at their rated 2000rpm during the testing ?
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    We reached 1920 RPM, which is well within the manufacturer's margin of error for the fans.
  • sonny73n - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    This stupid cooler is way overpriced and outdated. Nickel does not transfer heat better than copper. Why 2 fans? They’re only mere 2 inches apart, why not slap another 2 fans on it? Why Noctua always like to make heavy and big coolers? I’ll never support self-proclaimed “engineers” who has no clues about how to make better products.
  • Korguz - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    ok sonny73n if you think you can design something better for less.. then go do it...
  • D@ Br@b($)! - Saturday, July 13, 2019 - link

    He doesn't have to. There are already coolers with similar performance for less money.
  • keyserr - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    I would like a section for performance @ normalised sound, maybe at 32db, 33db, 34db etc because 7volts gives different rpms and noise.
  • Arbie - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    Scythe Mugen 5 for me too. When I last found comparisons of this against eg Noctua it offered equivalent results for much less money, and has been working great for me.

    But I'll probably just go with the Wraith cooler that will come with a top Ryzen 3000 chip. That does depend on 3950X tests when they surface, but current indications are that better cooling won't increase clocks.

    This new AMD lineup will go a long way towards making high-end air - and of course any water loops - unnecessary. Those vendors must be getting nervous.
  • Qasar - Saturday, July 13, 2019 - link

    " This new AMD lineup will go a long way towards making high-end air - and of course any water loops - unnecessary. Those vendors must be getting nervous. " how so ??
  • Arbie - Thursday, July 18, 2019 - link

    Because, as I indicated, increasing the cooling on Ryzen 3000 CPUs does not appear to increase their boost clocks. I had certainly hoped otherwise. Beyond that, very few people will manually overclock Ryzen 3000 because that achieves nothing over PBO, except to waste power all the time.

    So why go to premium air? And why even consider water? Except on Intel, but any vendor dependent on sales of those chips ought to be very nervous - as I said. The niche markets involved are getting smaller (for air) and much smaller (for water).
  • D@ Br@b($)! - Saturday, July 13, 2019 - link


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