Choosing a CPU cooler can be a daunting task, especially with so many quality products available in the market. Still, one brand does rise against the rest, and that is Noctua. This Austrian cooling component manufacturer is known as one of the best in the industry, and for good reason. Not only do their coolers perform on the same level as other brands’ liquid AIO counterparts, but they also do it with near-silent operation.
For those that can’t fit an NH-D15 into their case, or would just like something slightly smaller, without sacrificing cooling performance, then two are Noctua’s best CPU coolers: the NH-U12S and their newer mode, the NH-U12A. Both products feature Noctua’s excellent NT-H1 thermal compound, and the NH-U12S can also be found in a Chromax all-black variant, missing from the NH-U12A which only comes in the standard beige and brown colors. Both these coolers can fit in most case sizes, including mini-ITX form factors.
But, what does the NH-U12A offer to justify its 67% higher price ($100 MSRP)? Does it outperform the NH-U12S enough to be worth the extra investment?
In this article we will compare the two CPU coolers – in terms of their overall quality of build, the performance of their fans, as well as their benchmarked values for CPU temperatures and noise levels – in order to determine which product provides the greater value for its cost.
Specifications & Benchmarks
|Model||Noctua NH-U12S||Noctua NH-U12A|
|Fan Model||NF-F12 PWM 120 mm||NF-A12x25 PWM 120 mm|
|Number of Heatpipes||5||7|
|Number of Fans||1||2|
|Airflow||93.4 m³/h (54.97 CFM)||120.1 m³/h (60.09 CFM)|
|Static Pressure||2.61 mmH2O||2.34 mmH2O|
|Bearings||SSO2 Magnetic Levitation||SSO2 Magnetic Levitation|
|Benchmarked1 Noise Levels||38 dB||36 dB|
|Benchmarked2 Stock CPU||58 Celsius||57 Celsius|
|Benchmarked3 OC CPU||78 Celsius||77 Celsius|
|Dimensions||158 mm (H) x 125 mm (W) x 71 mm (D)||158 mm (H) x 125 mm (W) x 112 mm (D)|
|MTTF||150,000 Hours||150,000 Hours|
|Warranty||6 years||6 years|
1 50% PWM Load
2 Intel Core i7-8700K (95 W TDP) Stock wPrime @ 3.7 GHz
3 Intel Core i7-8700K (95 W TDP) OC wPrime @ 4.8 GHz
So, first thing’s first, the NH-U12A comes with two fans, versus the one NF-F12 of the NH-U12S. These two fans are Noctua’s flagship NF-A12x25 120 mm models, which are hailed as some of the best case-fans money can buy. They are capable of outputting 29% more airflow than the NF-F12, but 12% less static pressure – which is a more important metric when it comes to chilling a heatsink. Both these fan models include Noctua’s SSO2 magnetic bearings and anti-vibration pads, making them both reliable and silent.
The NH-U12S has a 120mm heatsink tower with five copper heatpipes and a 45 mm fin depth, allowing it to be compatible with any type of RAM – even ones with tall heat spreaders. The NH-U12A also has 100% RAM compatibility, but unlike the NH-U12S, it has a seven heatpipe layout and 37% larger fin surface areas. Both have aluminum cooling fins, soldered joints, and nickel-plated components for better heat dissipation and increased durability.
The NH-U12A has a redesigned heatsink and two of the best fans Noctua has to offer, so, surely, it must outperform the NH-U12S by a significant margin… right? Well, unfortunately, it does not. The differences between the two CPU coolers are minimal, to the point of being non-existent. In fact, TechPowerUp values their overall relative performance as identical, resulting in the NH-U12S to lead the NH-U12A by 54% in performance per dollar expended.
Now, for the question of why the two coolers perform so similarly, the answer is debatable. It may be because two fans are simply too much for cooling a single 120 mm heatsink tower – or perhaps because the speed of the heat being transferred via the heatpipes to the heatsink plateaus when going beyond the specifications of the NH-U12S – but the fact of the matter is that the 40% cheaper model ends up performing equally to its more expensive counterpart.
So, it may seem like the NH-U12S is the clear victor, and an easy choice between the two coolers, but this may not always be the case. The NH-U12A does have utility beyond the cooling of the CPU, as the two NF-A12x25 fans can improve the overall airflow in the case without taking up any case-fan slots. Given that a NF-A12x25 fan costs about $10 more than the NF-F12 fan, the overall cost does balance out – but that is if you actually need that additional fan, and most will not.
The NH-U12S provides excellent value at a low cost, and also provides you with the ability to upgrade via adding a second NF-F12 fan – which would increase the price to about $80 total – though benchmarks show that this second fan will only knock down CPU temperatures by just one or two degrees Celsius.
At its current price, the NH-U12A is definitely not worth its cost, and even at its $100 MSRP, it will only be the better choice if you need enhanced in-case airflow.