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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  • Tunnah - Thursday, July 11, 2019 - link

    I was on board until the price. I paid £60 for my NH-D14 and expected a price bump considering it's now 8 years old, but nearly double the price is a bit too far.
  • GreenReaper - Thursday, July 11, 2019 - link

    The pound isn't worth what it used to be eight years ago, either:
  • nivedita - Thursday, July 11, 2019 - link

    Noctua isn’t an American company
  • logamaniac - Thursday, July 11, 2019 - link

    nor the pound an American currency
  • Dug - Thursday, July 11, 2019 - link

    Nice to see a new cooler review. Hopefully more can come down the pipeline and get rid of the old coolers on here that you can't even buy.
  • eastcoast_pete - Thursday, July 11, 2019 - link

    Thanks for the review. Two questions/comments:
    1. You mentioned the Evo212 in some paragraphs and a graph. I also believe that this is a good comparison cooler, as it also addresses price/performance. And, while the Noctua is a bit of a niche product, I would have like to see how it did compared to the higher priced "extra quiet" heatsinks shown. If you have the data, could you share them?
    2. I know that many people who are looking for that kind of cooler wouldn't care for whatever setup came with their CPU. However, those have the best price - free (with the CPU). It would be nice to know just how much extra thermal performance one gets by replacing the coolers that come with the CPU. May suggestion is to show the performance of the respective boxed Intel and AMD cooler alongside. With AMD making noise about their Wraith Spire cooler's performance (included with most of their desktop CPUs), I would really like to know just how much better these aftermarket ones are. Thanks!
  • eastcoast_pete - Thursday, July 11, 2019 - link

    For question 1. "It refers to the 212 cooler, the Noctua is obviously already shown.
  • Mil0 - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    I second the suggestion for comparing it to the wraith (spire), esp with Ryzen's PBO.
  • Edkiefer - Thursday, July 11, 2019 - link

    I always liked the NH-U14S there going for low 60$ (about same as NH-U12S). You do need a case to support the height.
  • LoneWolf15 - Thursday, July 11, 2019 - link

    I'd absolutely love to find out how the newest Noctuas (UH12A, NH-U14S NH-D15, NH-D15S) compare to the older NH-D14, NU-U12S, and the Thermalright TRUE 120.

    The results on Noctua's new gear is amazing, but I contacted Thermalright to ask about heat dissipation for my TRUE Black 120 from 2008, and found it's rated for a stunning 240 watts. I have two Noctua Redux 120mm 1300rpm fans on it and it's keeping a Core i9-9900K (running all eight cores at max turbo 4.8GHz at 100% usage in Folding@Home) stable , a bit over 80C at 160+ watts load under constant use. An eleven year old (admittedly heavy nickel-plate copper with six heat pipes) cooler. I'm still impressed.

    I'd love to know how far we've really come since the D14 and TRUE120 just to see if there's a significant difference.

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