It's fair to say that Noctua have established themselves something of a reputation in the air cooler market. This is in no small part due to the excellent performance of the class leading NH-D14. However, it wouldn't be unreasonable to note that that although the D14 is a true performer it is a little on the large size and as such it's possible that it may cause you some compatibility issues, especially if you're toting tall RAM. Enter then the NH-U14S, a slim line single tower at only 78mm deep with the supplied NF-15 PWM fan Noctua boast a high degree of motherboard compatibility. Although we're not expecting the NF- U14S to match or even get close to the D14 it still has a lot to live up to if it's going to wear the Noctua badge so lets have a look at the full technical Specification to see if the right ingredients are there.
Dimensions without fan
Dimensions with fan
NF-A15 PWM 1500RPM
82.5 CFM 67.9 CFM using LNA
300 to 1500 RPM PWM
4 Pin PWM
140 x 150 x 25mm
Approx Cable Length
Fan LED Colour
Nickel Plated Copper heat pipes and base
6 in spread "U" form
1 x Noctua CPU Cooler
Up Close: Packaging and contents
The NH-U14S comes in an simple yet elegant box with plenty of information provided with regards to it's key features and compatibility
Inside we find that Noctua have interlinked the clearly labelled and diagrammed accessory boxes. Lifting away this first tier we find the cooler itself with the fan already attached nestled in its own protective cardboard casing.
The accessory boxes are delight in themselves, with the relevant AMD and Intel mounting systems being kept separate. It's rare for a manufacturer to include quite so much kit with their coolers but with Noctua it appears no expense has been spared, whether it be the decent sized syringe of NT-H1, an additional set of thicker sound isolation stand-offs for a second fan or a set of additional fan clips, case badge. Heck, they even give you a screwdriver! The instructions provided are again separated with the relevant AMD or Intel sheets being in the corresponding box, so no wading through vast sheets staring at tiny diagrams and trying to work out which bits you need for what. Top marks to Noctua.
As the review sample was supplied with an additional fan we're also going to be taking a quick look at it, and rest assured we'll be testing in single and dual fan configurations. Unlike the 1500 RPM NF-A15 that comes in the box with the cooler the additional fan is slower 1200 RPM unit. Noctua recommend using this at the rear as an extract, with the thicker rubber stand-offs and slower rotation best optomising the airflow through the cooler. While on the subject of fans we have to say that in an age where we're all keen to colour coordinate our builds we're a little perplexed as to why Noctua persist with the prosthetic limb beige and brown colour scheme. Yes we get it that it's their "Signature" colour, but unless you're planning a build with a sand and suede theme you're going to be hard pushed to get them to blend in.
Up Close: The Cooler
With our small rant about the colour of the fans out of the way let's take a closer look at the cooler itself. Standing 165mm tall the NH-U14S is actually taller than the D14 (didn't see that coming did you?) However even at 165mm it should fit fine in most enthusiast cases, and should you need just that little bit more room, you can always mount the fan a little lower.
The six heat pipes are well dispersed within the 51 element fin stack, which should help them dissipate their heat most effectively. The sides of the fin stack are closed for the most part again better to aid the air flow through the cooler
The contact plate is of reasonable size although not as large as some we've seen of late, with the Nickel coated copper heat pipes being closely sandwiched together. Build quality is as you would expect of Noctua with no evidence of solder splatter or bluing being seen
Up Close: Assembly and Fitting
Assembly is accomplished via Noctua's SecuFirm2 system and is simplicity itself. Noctua provide separate boxes of components for both AMD and Intel CPUs, with each box having its own set of clear step by step instructions. We often joke here at OC3D about real men not needing instructions, but the feeling is best attributed to items that feel so intuitive that they are simply not required. The SecuFirm2 system used on the NH-U14S falls very firmly into this camp.
First up we thread double ended bolts into the commensurate holes on our 2011 Motherboard. If you're using anything else then back plates are supplied. Once in place mounting brackets are laid over the upper threads and tightened down with cross headed thumb bolts. With the mounting brackets in place a single cross tensioning beam is screwed down onto the upper surface of the contact plate being tensioned via integrated springs. The whole assembly took about 8mins and was simplicity itself. The Cooler is fitted with the fan removed and its slim profile means you're not going to be cutting your knuckles trying to reach bolt heads under the body of the fin stack
With the fan clipped back in place there's still a good few mm until you reach the edge of the exclusion zone, meaning even the tallest RAM can live in peaceful coexistence with the NH-U14S. Even at 165mm in height there's still pleny of room inside our trusty Cooler Master "Test Trooper" Noctua do state that when using the cooler with socket 2011 there may be some RAM encroachment issues with the rear most stack but we found no problems with the X79 UD3 used here.
Dual fan configuration on the left, and single on the right.
A side on view help to scale the size of the cooler, but do take into account the sheer size of the Cooler Master "Test Trooper" we use as our test bed.
Testing and Performance
Intel i7 3960X Stock@ 1.1v (undervolted) 4.0GHz @ 1.25v 4.4GHz @ 1.35v 4.6GHz @ 1.45v Gigabyte X79 UD3 Corsair Vengeance LP Memory Corsair HX850 V2 Corsair Force GT 60GB Coolermaster Storm Trooper.
Continuity is very important in testing, and for this reason we keep as many of the potential variables as locked down as possible. We will be using OCCT in Linpack X64, AVX compatible with all logical cores tested and 90% free memory utilised. The test is set up to run automatically with just a few clicks to set it going. A 10 minute idle followed by 30 minutes of testing and a 5 minute cool down is the order of the day and brings the total test time per clock speed to 45 minutes. So as to remove subjectivity in determining whether a CPU has failed, OCCT is set to stop the test and register a fail should the max temp exceed 80 degrees. In testing we noted that if even just one of the cores exceeds 82 degrees OCCT halts the test and a fail is recorded.
All tests are conducted with the pump at the full 12 volts direct from the PSU. We have also tested the fans at the full 12 Volts and at lower speeds enabled when fed with just 7 Volts. At 45 minutes per test and 8 tests per kit that makes for a total of 6 hours per kit and a grand total of 24 hours total testing. Not content with that we also decided to test all of the systems at their highest overclock using a set of Nuctua fans. Add in assembly/disassembly and leak testing and you can see what a mammoth operation this is.
As usual we'll be testing our coolers at varying levels of overclock and increasing levels of voltage. this in turn of course means increasing levels of heat which the coolers need to dissipate. To begin with we start with the undervolted stock speed. Why undervolted? well if you have things set on "Auto", you may well be using more volts than are actually required to run at the chosen frequency, for example our 3960s will run quite happily at just 1.1volts, solid as a rock, 24/7, and as such we use this as our starting point.
It's no surprise the Noctua come through this test in both single and dual fan set up. With only a degree or two between the two there's an indication that it's the ability of the pipes to transfer the heat rather than the airflow over the fins that is determining the temps here. Looking at just the air coolers we can see that the temps are also on a par with all but the mighty D14
Turning now to the 4GHz test we up the voltage to 1.25 volts, this is what is deemed normally as stock volts. Something we are always harping on about on the forums is AUTO does not mean stock volts, and normally if you overclocking with "auto" volts the motherboard will be upping the volts much more than needed if you were to do it manually. By whichever means it happens, upping the volts (especially from our 1.1v undervolt) does have a big impact on temps, with an average increase of 10-15 degrees seen in the results.
The 4GHz test sees the difference in temps between the single and dual fan set ups start to widen. the Noctua posts temps slightly below the smaller Matterhorn Pure and Megahalem Black, but in dual fan trim is only a degree of the Massive Alpenfohn
Upping the volts still further we achieve a stable 4.4GHz overclock at 1.35 Volts. It's here we start to separate the wheat from the chaff, with lesser coolers not able to disperse the increased heat effectively. Again we see a jump of 10 degrees or so from the figures at 4GHz. Both the H100 and the well-respected D14 are creeping into the 70s here, indicating that only the cream of the crop will excel at this level.
Regretably with only just the supplied fan the Noctua was not able to complete this test. With 2 fans however it was a different story. A Delta T of 54.1 degrees sees it holding temps only a degree or so off the twin stacked twin fanned K2, which it has to be said has quite significant RAM encroachment and fitting issues. Neither of them however come close to the all conquering D14!
Sadly the NH-U14S wasn't able to keep it's cool at 4.6GHz, which to be honest wasn't entirely unexpected. Don't treat this as a failing though as even the omnipotent D14 has fallen off the charts. Our test demonstrate again and again that only the very strongest will be able to dissipate the heat generated at this level of overclock and overvolt.
Before we go any further let’s make it clear that the NH-U14S is not another D14, so don't go expecting the same level of cooling that its big brother offers. The U14S does however share the same level of quality and attention to detail in build, accessories and packaging that we've come to expect from all Noctua products. As you can imagine we open a lot of boxes here at OC3D and few manufacturers bring as much joy as Noctua do when you open the lid and start to delve into the contents.
With everything out and your chosen fitting method extracted from its individual interlinked box the act of fitting the U14S could scarcely be easier. This is in no small part due to the clarity of the instructions and the intuitive design of the SecuFirm2 fittings. With a good sized syringe of NT-H1, additional fan clips, rubber isolation pads and even a screw driver there's nothing left wanting.
With the fin stack only 52mm thick without the fan fitted and 78mm with the fan you're pretty much guaranteed not to have any RAM encroachment issues. Noctua state that certain AMD boards RAM slots encroach on the CPU exclusion zone, so there are a few exceptions to this.
In use the U14S is one of the quietest coolers we've heard. This of course is mainly down to the NF-A15 PWM fan it comes bundled with. At 1500 RPM the fan is near silent producing only 24.6dB(A). A second NF-A15 can be added running at a slower 1200 RPM as advised by Noctua, with a set of 5mm thick rubber stand offs acting as a baffle and further reducing vibration. Under test conditions there was no discernible increase in noise when the second fan was added. It should be noted that Noctua do supply a LNA should you want to run both fans at the same speed.
if you've read through the whole review as we know you diligent OC3Dites have then you'll already know that we're not big fans of the Noctua's fan colour scheme. We understand that Brown and prosthetic limb beige are something of a signature colour for Noctua, and any enthusiast gazing through a case window will instantly know that quality lies within, but just as a thought wouldn't it be great to have sexy looking Noctuas. Imagine that, Noctua fans that actually go with the colour scheme of your case (we're making the assumption here that you don't have a suede and sand themed build).
We've already asserted that we're not expecting the U14S to match or even come close to the D14, but how well did it actually do? Well not bad, but perhaps not as well as expected. Certainly at stock and 4.0GHz it was only slightly better than the Megahalem black and the Matterhorn pure, both of which are smaller 120mm fan units. What is interesting is that it's performance is only slightly off that of the truly massive K2 which with its RAM encroachment and fitting issues makes it the weaker choice, especially when compared to the similarly sized D14. At 4.4GHz the U14S managed to squeeze through in dual fan trim, again only a degree or so off the pace of the K2.
But of course it isn't only air coolers that the U14S has to compete with. With AIO water coolers getting cheaper and more user friendly its biggest competition comes from the likes of the cheaper Cooler Master Seidon 120 and similarly priced Corsair H60. Add in the £20 cost of the additional NF-A14 fan required to hold temps down at 4.4GHz and the price tag of nearly £80 for the whole shooting match starts to look a little steep.
To summarise, if you've got tall RAM and are looking for a very quiet cooler then the NH-U14S is a good bet. It has quality (if not stunning good looks) in spades, and although the fans aren't to everyone's taste it will be instantly recognisable as a Noctua through your case window. This does of course come at a price especially when you throw in the second fan. Performance is acceptable if not blistering and as we might expect of a cooler of this size. If however you're feeling a bit braver and fancy trying an AIO then there are better bangs for your buck to be had.
Thanks to Noctua for providing the NH-U14S for review, you can discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.