Noctua NH-U12P SE2 CPU Cooler and NF-P14 FLX 140mm Fan
Our new Noctua NH-U12P Special Edition 2 CPU cooler and NF-P14 FLX 140mm fan review is part of our Performance meets Value series that we began last month by comparing AMD’s value platform versus Intel’s performance platform, Core i7. The last CPU cooler that we reviewed was Cooler Master’s thirty dollar Hyper 212 Plus here. Since we have also been using it to overclock our Core i7 920 to 3.8 GHz, it is natural that we will make comparisons and contrasts with it.
However, as important as saving money on hardware is, this editor believes that the choice of a CPU cooler is critical to any PC build. The cooler should never be cheap or retail. Too much depends on it if you value keeping your CPU cool or especially if you plan to overclock. I would recommend that you instead look for sales and perhaps even rebates to save money. At the time of writing this article, the Noctua NH-U12P SE 2 CPU cooler has been on sale at NewEgg.com for the last few weeks for $74.99; $5.00 off the MSRP. It can sometimes even be found for less at Amazon.com
This review is not just about “value”. If you want to cool the hottest Phenom II X4, a value CPU cooler such as Hyper 212 Plus will suffice. You will pay half for AMD’s quad-core platform compared to what an Intel user will pay for entry level Core i7 920’s platform. Unless you are supplying radical voltage to the AMD CPU to get higher than 4 GHz, a budget cooler will work nicely. The stock AMD cooler for Phenom II 955 X4 will easily get you to 3.6 GHz and the Hyper 212 Plus will get you to 3.9 GHz with good temperatures using +.2V applied to the cores.
As you can note in the image below, even stock heatsinks are evolving to keep up with the hotter running quad-core CPUs. On the far left is Intel’s retail stock Core i7 920 heatsink/fan. They are using more fins and a larger fan than for their last generation of Penryn quads. AMD has moved to a redesigned fan and heat-pipes to cool their 955 X4 on the far right as compared to what they use to cool their dual- and tri-core CPUs. And Intel has adopted a round design much like Noctua’s 140mm fan for more efficiency.
Intel’s new Core i7 and i5 CPUs mark a new and exciting advance in processing power, but they definitely require a higher quality heatsink than for our Q9550S or our Phenom II 955 X4, especially if you want to cool them without excessive noise. Noctua offers an easy entry into the world of premium quality quiet cooling with the NH-U12P SE2, a premium value package that offers everything you need to cool Core i7 or i5 CPUs quietly.
Heat is drawn away from the CPU by the base of the heatsink and is transferred up into the array of hi-grade aluminum fins for dissipation. A large 120mm fan spins on each side of the heatsink fins array in a “push-pull” configuration, blowing CPU-heated air through and away from the heatsink. The fans’ support for PWM allows the BIOS to control the speed of the fans based on the CPU’s thermal needs – raising the fans’ RPMs to maximum speed as necessary and also lowering the fans’ speed and its noise during the off-peak cycles.
The NH-U12P SE2 ships with Noctua’s SecuFirm2 multi-socket mounting system that has the easiest and most straightforward installation that I have encountered on the Intel LGA1366 platform. It is also adapted for 1156 and 775 platforms as well as AMD socket AM2, AM2+ and AM3 platforms. A relatively large tube of Noctua’s professional grade NT-H1 thermal compound is included.
Besides comparing the premium NH-U12P SE2 to our budget Hyper 212 Plus, we can give you impressions of our ThermalRight Ultra Extreme 120 which is now cooling our 3.9 GHz Phenom II 955 X4. We would have liked to make a direct comparison between it and the Noctua SE2 cooler with our Core i7, but we purchased it last Summer – long before Core i7 was launched – and the older version will not work with it. We also used it successfully to get our Q9550S from its stock 2.83 GHz to 4.0 GHz without the thermals rising out of the safe zone. Both are premium coolers and both have superb true mirror finishes on their contact plates. Both are priced about the same and have similar street prices. Here the similarities end.
The Noctua NH-U12P SE2 has two very special 120mm fans included in the box; with the Thermalright cooler, you have to to pick your own and they can be quite pricey, even on sale. In fact, Noctua includes all the hardware and accessories you could possibly want – including a very decent Philips screwdriver and a very large tube of their own pro-grade thermal compound. We tried Noctua’s thermal compound on our Phenom II 955 X4/Thermalright Ultra 120 combination and it matched or cooled slightly better than our Arctic Silver that we have always used as a standard to which other high-quality thermal compounds are often measured. The Hyper 212 plus also included Cooler Master’s thermal paste, but it would not suffice for a finely machined and polished surface for either the Noctua or the Thermalright coolers.
In fact, you can see the Hyper 212 has scuffed up our Core i7 CPU (below left) with its relatively rough machined surface (below right). Note the contrast with the mirror surface of the Noctua’s contact plate (above):
For some people it is really important that their CPU cooler fan(s) be quiet. In this situation, the Noctua NH-U12P SE2 with two 120mm fans is definitely quieter than my single Scythe 120mm fan with all of them running at their maximum RPMs. When I purchased the Scythe 120mm fan separately from my ThermalRight UltraExtreme 120, there was a choice of three fans with three fixed speeds and thus three stages of cooling. I chose the fastest, noisiest and most effective 120mm fan that Scythe had at the time. With the Noctua NH-U12P SE2 you don’t have to make a choice as two adapters to slow your fans down to into inaudibility are provided right in the box.
I have no way to measure this accurately, but the Noctua NH-U12P SE2 is definitely a very quiet cooling solution. Of course, I was running with a GTX 280 and would have to momentarily stop its fan just to be able to hear any extra sound coming from the Noctua’s fans. I normally run with 4 case fans which also had to stop, just so only the PSU fan was running so as to even hear it at all.
With the 140mm Noctua NF-P14 FLX fan running in the side case, a quiet power supply unit, and the Noctua SE2 cooler and the GTX 280 at idle, my PC was really quiet – even in the dead of night. So I can whole heartedly recommend this combination to people who require performance and quiet from their cooling solution. I can be certain of this as Noctua also supplies adapters to lower the RPMs of your fans into complete inaudibility. Since I was once an audiophile with a true high-end stereo system (stacked and imaged Dahlquist DQ-10s, Mark Levinson modified tube preamp; 1000 watts per channel RMS GAS amps, Grado Signature cartridge and a Thorens turntable), I can still appreciate the need for quiet and extreme performance.
As you can see in the above image, adapters are included with both the 140mm FLX fan (left image) and the Noctua NH-U12P SE2 HSF (right) that will quiet the fans. Of course they accomplish this by slowing the fan’s rotation and thus offering more quiet but progressively less cooling with each of two step downs. The 140mm Noctua fan was even quieter than the Cooler Master 120mm side panel case fan that it replaced and yet it moved even more air, helping to further cool my Gladiator 600 case and in turn, my hot, overclocked to 4.0 GHz, Core i7 920 along with a GTX 280 plus an open-design 8800-GTX for PhysX which made for an extremely hot case indeed.
You also need to remember that a high-quality universal CPU cooler like the Noctua NH-U12P SE2 will likely last through several builds if you plan ahead. The manufacturer’s warranty is six (6) years for this Noctua cooler! Another thing you should consider is “noise” – ideally you do not want your CPU’s cooling fan adding much noise. Here we see Noctua taking a similar approach to the CPU cooler that we reviewed a few months ago – the Hyper N520 which uses two much smaller 92 mm fans in push-pull configuration for quiet and effective cooling for about $45.00 on NewEgg.
In contrast, the budget thirty dollar Hyper 212 Plus by Cooler Master uses a single, slower-running 120mm fan to keep noise down while still doing effective cooling. In fact, they allow for some even further cooling by letting you install another second (optional; not included) 120mm fan in a push-pull configuration much like the Hyper N520 – except these fans are much bigger! Generally, by using the second fan, we gained about 1-3 degrees Centigrade more cooling over using a single fan.
Here are the two compared, side-by-side:
They certainly look similar. They both use two 120mm fans in a push-pull configuration. Yet the Noctua NH-U12P Special Edition 2 CPU cooler was able to effectively cool our hot overclocked Core i7 920 at 4.0 GHz well within safe thermal temperatures while our Hyper 212 Plus ran into extremely dangerous temperatures from 3.50 GHz to 3.80 GHz. What is the difference? Well, we shall explore.
We are not out of order by insisting on the Noctua NH-U12P Special Edition 2 CPU cooler to cool an overclocked Core i7 920. We are helping to get the word out that retail and cheap CPU coolers will perhaps even shorten a hot-running CPU’s life; and they will certainly limit your overclocking potential. And a premium cooler such as our Noctua Noctua NH-U12P SE2 being reviewed today, will allow you to reach your CPU’s maximum overclocking potential in safety compared to even a very good budget cooler.
Noctua NH-U12P Special Edition 2 CPU cooler arrives in a cardboard box packed with everything necessary to cool any modern CPU that you may buy. Here is the box from a couple of angles. As you can see, the specifications and features are printed right on the box. The Noctua NH-U12P SE 2 CPU cooler is pictured and we can see that it is “universal” – engineered to fit any modern Intel or AMD CPU’s cooling needs – overclocked or stock.
Here we can see how it is engineered to easily fit any modern socket and it is held simply and securely in place.
The box also proudly displays international awards galore and it will get another richly deserved one or two today from ABT.
The cooler and its accessories are safely packaged in a two smaller boxes inside the shipping/display box.
And now everything is out of the box. There are “common parts” and also packages included specifically for both Intel and AMD CPUs.
The instructions are excellent, well written, and easy to follow. We had no difficulty following them for installing the Noctua NH-U12P SE 2 CPU cooler on either an Intel or AMD CPU platform.
In the next photo, you can see that the backplate on the Noctua NH-U12P SE 2 CPU cooler fits over the backplate of our Core i7 Gigabyte X58 motherboard. There are specific and just as easy to follow procedures for Intel Penryn, Core i5 or even AMD motherboards. Noctua uses a very clever design that is totally user friendly. If you have a Cooler Master case similar to our Gladiator 600 (pictured), you do not even have to remove the motherboard as a hole is cut into the plate to allow easy access to the back. If not, you will have to remove your motherboard to install it.
Here is our Noctua CPU cooler out of the case and ready for installation:
This Noctua CPU cooler is beginning to look like quite a bargain for only $75. But is it quiet and effective? Let’s look at the specifications.
Specifications and Features
The Noctua NH-U12P SE 2 CPU cooler’s specifications are printed right on the top of the box and are also listed below:
Now for an easier to read chart:
These are truly outstanding specifications. How do they achieve the incredibly low noise? Well, take a good close look at one of the fans, the 140mm fan; they all share the same characteristics:
Notice the notches in each fan blade. They are called “Vortex-Control” notches and the trailing edge of each fan blade’s vortices are split up into several smaller vortices with each one producing noise in different frequencies. In this manner, the noise produced by the spinning blades is spread over several frequencies thus making it much less perceptible and annoying to the ear.
Here is the illustration on the box to explain and illustrate it:
Of course, the static pressure of each fan will be lowered somewhat by having the notches, but this is compensated for by having two fans in push-pull configuration which completely covers for any lack of pressure by a single fan. If you like quiet and cool, this is the air-cooling solution for your hottest Core i7 air overclock.
To cool well, there has to be a great contact surface. In our last CPU cooler review, we pointed out the weaknesses of the machined surface of the Hyper 212 Plus that needed a lot of thermal paste to fill in the gaps. Well, take a close look at the mirrorlike surface of the Noctua’s contact plate into which 4 heat pipes whisk the heat away from the CPU into the Noctua NH-U12P SE 2’s heatsink of densely packed cooling fins which allow the fan’s forced air to pass through to cool them quickly.
Noctua recommends that you only use a dab of their supplied pro-grade thermal compound; specifically, a drop 4-5 mm in diameter in the center of the HS contact plate. They warn that applying too much compound will lower the thermal conductivity and adversely affect the cooling performance of your CPU cooler.
We do not recommend polishing this cooler’s base. It already has a mirror finish and it is completely true for a perfect fit to your CPU’s contact plate. It looks like Noctua has a performance cool and quiet winner by the specifications and the “look” and feel of this precision built CPU cooler. Especially attractive are the very low noise levels, 12-20 dB(A). We like the Noctua NH-U12P SE 2 CPU cooler so far, so let’s install it.
A Closer Look
Luckily for us, our Gladiator 600 mid-tower case has an access port so one can change out any CPU or CPU cooler without having to remove the motherboard and we love this feature. Now let’s prepare for installing the Noctua NH-U12P SE 2.
As you can see the backplate is installed easily and the bolts are ready to install the spacers on for the mounting bars.
Now to install the cooler onto the CPU cooler’s mounting bars and to tighten them down with the supplied thumbscrews.
As you can see, the cooler itself has only two screws to tighten down. They hold the Noctua cooler securely so it cannot move at all – unlike ThermalRight Ultra 120 and Hyper 212 Plus which will move slightly on the contact plate if you twist it. There are also two rubber strips on each side of the cooler that insulate it from the fan to reduce any vibration.
This time we had no issues installing the fans onto the clips even with a lack of room in our mid-tower Gladiator 600 case. The clips are designed so well that it is relatively easy to install both fans. It is very similar to our ThermalRight Ultra120 which clips on easily also and quite unlike the nightmare we encountered with the clips for Hyper 212 Plus.
In just a few minutes we easily clipped both fans to the heatsink.
Here it is with the side case panel on:
As you can see, the case side panel will not accommodate a fan inside your case although you could install it on the outside of your case (for a rather ghetto look). Here we are using the Noctua NF-P14 FLX 140mm fan as a quieter replacement for a Cooler Master 120mm case fan to direct more air toward cooling the GTX 280 plus 8800-GTX in PhysX pair of hot running video cards and also our hot Core i7 920 overclocked to 4.0 GHz . Four case fans are cooling our Gladiator 600 case.
Noise & the Test
Well, we have been living with the Noctua NH-U12P SE 2 inside our case for five weeks and we love it for all of our needs including extreme CPU overclocking. It does not matter how hot your CPU gets, you will not hear your CPU cooler over your videocard fan, especially if you choose a GTX 280 or HD 4870-X2.
The last time we ran a comparison, we got our Core i7 920 to 3.5 GHz on the stock Intel cooler. However, the temperatures were excessively high – well over 80C in games and thermal protection would throttle the CPU speed if we tried running Vantage or any synthetic test like Everest that stress the CPU. We would say that relatively safe temperatures can be achieved at 3.2 GHz with the stock Intel cooler. In contrast, we managed to get our Core i7 to 3.5 GHz with Hyper 212 Plus rather safely. Unfortunately, at 3.8 GHz we could run games but with either Vantage or Everest, we would throttle our Core i7 920 and once we saw 99C (which is shockingly high) with Hyper 212 – even with two 120mm fans in push-pull.
So, the stock Intel cooler runs out of safety margin at about 3.2 GHz and the Hyper N212 quits after maybe 3.5 GHz. In contrast, our Noctua NH-U12P SE 2 cooler handled both of these speeds with temperatures maxing out in the low-60s Centigrade. Let’s see how far we can safely push it. So we went for a much more extreme overclock on our Core i7, this time raising our voltage +.2V; somewhat dangerous to its chances of its having a long life but definitely raising the 920’s core temperatures for our tests. This time, we managed to remain stable all the way to 4.0 GHz. Let’s take a look at our setup:
The Test and Conclusion
- Intel Core i7 920 at stock, 3.5 GHz, 3.8 GHz and at 4.0 GHz
- Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD3R (latest BIOS, PCIe 2.0 specification; CrossFire or SLI 16x + 16x).
- 6 GB Kingston DDR3-PC18000 RAM (3×2 GB in tri-channel; 2×2 GB supplied by Kingston)
- GeForce GTX 280 (1GB, reference clocks) by BFGTech
- GeForce 8800 GTX (reference clocks) in PhysX configuration
- 250 GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 hard drive
- Silent Pro 600 watt power supply (supplied by Cooler Master)
- Intel stock CPU cooler
- Cooler Master Hyper N212 Plus Direct Touch Universal Cooler (supplied by Cooler Master)
- Noctua NH-U12P SE 2 Universal CPU cooler (supplied by Noctua)
- Noctua 140mm NF-P14 FLX fan used as a side-panel case fan (supplied by Noctua)
- Cooler Master 120mm fan used as a side-panel case fan
- Cooler Master 140mm fan used as a side-panel case fan
- Gladiator 600 mid-tower case (supplied by Cooler Master)
Test Configuration – Software
- NVIDIA WHQL GeForce Driver 195.62; high quality filtering and optimizations off
- Windows Vista 64-bit SP1; very latest updates
- DirectX August 2008.
- All games are patched to their latest versions.
- Highest quality sound (stereo) used in all games.
- Vista 64, all DX10 titles were run under DX10 render paths
- Everest Ultimate
First, we used the stock Intel cooler and were able to only get about 3.2 GHz safely with synthetic tests under full load. We were able to manage 3.5 GHz in games but the thermals would rise dangerously to over 80C. So let’s see what we got with Core i7 920 at 4.0 GHz and Vantage. In contrast, at (only) 3.8 GHz with our Hyper 212 Plus, we saw over 90 C; and that would be for games as it never could last more than a few seconds with Everest Ultimate’s stress test until the CPU throttled to avoid damage.
Much better! Temperatures of our Core i7 920 at 4.0 GHz remain in the mid-70s C contrasted with Hyper 212 Plus temperatures in the low 90s C at 3.8 GHz. And this is pretty much as high as we noted actually playing demanding games. So let’s give it a real stress test with Everest ultimate and load all the cores at once.
Finally at our i7 920’s maximum overclock, 4.0 Ghz – a full 1300+ MHz overclock – fifty percent over its 2.66 GHz stock clock – we see maximum temperatures remaining in the lowest-80s. Noctua NH-U12P SE 2 Universal CPU cooler passes all tests with flying colors! We are talking nineteen (19!) degrees cooler with the Noctua at 4.0 GHz contrasted with Hyper 212 Plus failing at 3.8 GHz; a -200 MHz lower and much hotter overclock of our i7 920 than what we got with the Noctua NH-U12P SE 2.
Noctua 140 mm NF-P14 FLX fan
Now we take a close look at the Noctua NF-P14 FLX fan. This flexible fan’s design is round so that the fan enclosure holes are spaced to place it into the same normal 120mm fan space that a conventional square fan requires. Since it is 140mm, the blades can revolve more slowly than a 120mm fan and still move the same amount (or more) of air – but with less noise. And if you need to cool a PC home theater setup, this fan can be slowed into complete inaudibility.
We got our Noctua NF-P14 FLX fan sent along with the Noctua cooler directly from the company headquartered in Vienna, Austria. This fan commands a premium price at NewEgg, $29.99.
However, by using a 140mm completely round design with the same hole-spacing as common 120mm fans and achieving a better airflow to noise ratio, the NF-P14 FLX is ideal for upgrading case fans. In some circumstances, it might fit 120mm CPU coolers with the supplied adapters, making for an excellent upgrade especially for home theater PCs where quiet cooling is essential.
This Noctua NF-P14 FLX fan also carries some pretty impressive specifications. This chart is from Noctua’s web site:
Please note that this fan is warrantied for six (6) years! The bearings are SSO precision milled CNC brass parts and this diagram explaining their advantages are taken directly from Noctua’s web site and it also applies directly to the two 120mm fans in the Noctua NH-U12P SE 2 CPU cooler.
Here is how it comes packaged:
The cover opens to describe Noctua’s FLX fan:
The back has this:
We see excellent specifications and a well thought-out packaging and instructions on the box and at Noctua’s website. Let’s compare Noctua’s 140mm FLX fan to the Cooler Master 120mm fan that it replaces as a side panel case fan directly bringing in cool air right on top of our hot and cramped pair of video cards and overclocked Core i7 920.
Again, we have no db meter that can measure 12 to 20 dbA. So, we must rely on our fairly trained ears to detect differences. Since there is no way to hear these rather silent fans with a running video card such as GTX 280 or HD 4870-X2 along with four other case fans, we took them out of the case entirely and ran them from a silent 12V DC source.
Note the fans spinning side by side. The Noctua was quieter than either the 120mm or 140mm Cooler Master case fan. But what about its ability to move air and thus cool effectively? Well, we designed our own completely unscientific visual test to compare the quieter 140mm Noctua against a 140mm Cooler Master fan. Both fans are actually set up in the side panel of our (out-of-the-case) Gladiator 600 to demonstrate the airflow and relative air pressure of the two fans using colored ribbons.
At maximum RPMs, we can see the Noctua’s 140mm notched fan moving at least as much air as the Cooler Master’s 140mm fan and it is quieter to boot! Plus we have two more steps down to lower the Noctua fan’s RPMs into inaudibility. The low-noise black adapter (L.N.A.) lowers the RPMs from 1,200 down to 900 and the noise from 19.6 db(A) to 13.2 db(A).
Now with the 140mm Noctua Flex fan installed in the side panel and cooling our Core i7 and both hot running Geforce GTXes running in PhysX, we could measure no consistent differences in either the case, CPU or GPU temperatures using either the louder Cooler Master 120mm fan or with the much quieter 140mm Noctua FLX fan. Of course, we already had excellent airflow in our Gladiator 600 with 4 strategically placed large case fans so this upgrade would be for quietness.
We also like the Noctua FLX’ ability to easily slow the fan down further with the supplied adapters into inaudibility for PC home theater setups. As you can see, the airflow is still quite good and it would be very worthwhile to have Noctua case and CPU fans in your PC when quietness is required.
We note that the ambient temperatures were slightly warm and consistent at 73-75 F during all of our testing. We see Noctua NH-U12P SE 2 doing an excellent job of cooling. The Noctua 140mm FLX fan helps keep case temperatures down by quietly cooling from the side panel, or anywhere you choose to place it. We really like Noctua’s $30 140mm FLX fan and especially their $75 NH-U12P SE2 CPU universal cooler.
When it comes to cooling your overclocked hot Core i7 or Core i5 efficiently and quietly, Noctua is the company to turn to. Just as we saw the Hyper 212 Plus quietly eclipse the stock cooler, the Noctua NH-U12P SE2 silently passes the budget cooler in every way. The only comparison that comes to mind is between Mercedes and Toyota. Toyota is a fine and well-built automobile but not in the same class as the more expensive German prestige automobile. The adage, “you get what you pay for” also comes to mind. If you have a Core i7 or i5 that you really want to push to its maximum overclock by safely using air-cooling, Noctua may be for you. And if you want a near-silent overclock, then you need look no further than the Noctua NH-U12P SE 2. It comes highly recommended by this reviewer!
Noctua’s 140mm NF-P14 FLX fan is unique in that it fits where only formerly 120mm fans could fit before. For your money, you get a super fan that will fit into almost any home theater PC and delight the audiophile with its ability to use either of its adapters to slow the RPMs into inaudibility while still maintaining good air flow.
Noctua NH-U12P SE 2 CPU cooler
- Noctua NH-U12P SE 2 is relatively inexpensive and a great *quiet* cooling solution for overclocking Core i7 or i5.
- Two adjustable and quiet vortex-control 120mm fans provide superb silent cooling with two additional incremental step downs in speed, lowering noise (and cooling ability).
- Everything is included for installation with the NH-U12P SE 2 including thermal compound and a screwdriver.
Noctua 140mm NF-P14 FLX fan
- Noctua 140mm NF-P14 FLX fan is a great *quiet* cooling solution for a case or CPU cooling fan.
- A single quiet vortex-control 140mm fan provide superb silent cooling with two additional adapters providing incremental step downs in speed, lowering noise (and cooling ability).
- Everything is included for installation – just have a Philips screwdriver handy.
- This 140mm fan is designed to replace 120mm fans by its unique round design and supplied adapters.
- Static pressure is slightly reduced (as is noise) by the vortex control notches.
There you have it. Noctua’s NH-U12P SE 2 CPU cooler is an excellent all-in-one quiet cooler for a inexpensive price considering its extraordinary build and all inclusive package. It is well-deserving of our “Editor’s Choice” award. Recommended. We are so happy with it that we are also awarding it the “Great Value” award also.
Noctua’s 140mm NF-P14 FLX fan is a silent 140mm fan that fits where only 120mm fans could fit before. It is well deserving of our Editor’s Choice award. Recommended especially for home theater PCs.
Our next article will be part two of our “value meets performance” series with an expanded continuation of Phenom II versus Penryn versus Core i7. This coming part two is much expanded over part one as we will be testing Phenom II’s 550 X2, 720 X3 and 955 X4 against Q9550S and Core i7 920 with HD 4870-X2 and HD 4870-X3 TriFire. We ran well over 5,000 individual benchmark runs over the course of a month to bring it to you and it will be published next weekend.
Happy New Year!
ABT Senior Editor
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