Noctua NH-D15 Review
Knowing that a lot of you will skip the results pages and head straight over to the conclusion, we were going to make you wait until right up to the end of the review until spilling the beans, but we just didn't have the heart to make you wait. Yes Ladies and Gentlepeeps the Noctua NH-D15 is the new king of the air cooler castle “The King is Dead...Long Live the King".
There is however more to the story than simply just the results of the torture tests. Let's not get swayed from the holy trinity of cooler reviewing by sheer brute force and raw performance. Remember that a cooler has to also go about its business quietly and look good whilst doing it.
In terms of the sonic qualities of the D15, or what the Motor industry would call NVH (Noise Vibration Harshness) the D15 is a well sorted bit of kit. At the full 12volts it's quieter than any AIO we've tested and we'd say on a par with the surprisingly asonorous bequiet Pro 3. Drop in the pair of inline Low noise adapters and the NVH drops to almost imperceptible levels, with the cooler able to hold the 4.4GHz overclock with only a five degree temperature penalty.
The D15 is also well put together, with unboxing and assembly being a positively joyful experience (unlike others we could mention). There were no marks or scratches of any kind and no evidence whatsoever of solders splatter or poor assembly.
Even if Noctua have to some degree alleviated high heat sink RAM compatibility in single fan mode by notching the underside of the fin stack, case compatibility may be something of an issue. Noctua give the height of the cooler with the fans attached at 165mm, however our measurements showed it to be closer to the 180mm mark, as the fans are by necessity positioned higher up in order to clear even standard height RAM. 180mm might not sound a lot, but the number of cases that will take a 180mm high cooler is starting to dwindle well below the number of cases that will, for example, take a 240mm AIO rad in the roof.
Case compatibility aside, the only real problem we have with the D15 are its looks. We've said before that we understand the poo brown and prosthetic limb beige of the fans are a Noctua trademark. We get it, we really do get it, but things have moved on and we really just can't help thinking that in a day when manufacturers are going to greater and greater lengths to colour code and integrate items such as RAM, Motherboards, Waterblock covers, and even fan cowling trim it might just be a little presumptuous of Noctua to assume that people will be willing to accept the wholly non integratable looks of the D15 in favour of pure performance.
Let's think of it another way. Imagine the Noctua D15 as a potential girlfriend. If you're honest with yourself even you think she looks a bit plain, quite dowdy and dated in fact, and so do your mates. She really has no fashion sense and when you go out she wears the same old beige outfit that she's been wearing for years, she just hasn't moved with the times at all. Thing is though, you happen to know she goes like a privy door when the plagues in town, which it has to be said is not without its attraction. But wait a minute there fella. There are other fish in the sea you know, some of which are almost as capable as little miss Noctua, and some of whom are even more "adept" if a little bit harder on the pocket. These other girls with their style and coordination also have the added advantage of really getting your engine revving when you look at them. They're going to look good on your arm as well as on your...well...you get the idea...
For those of you who are having difficulty following the analogy, or would rather not try to, what we're saying is this. Times have changed. With the advent of cheap affordable AIOs pure performance in a tower cooler no longer means instant adulation. Don't get us wrong, we're not taking anything away from the D15 in performance terms, the fact that Noctua can achieve what they have with a standard twin stack tower cooler borders on witchcraft. However the plain fact of the matter is that if you want your cooler to integrate aesthetically with the rest of your gear or want to reach the higher overclocks then you're either looking for a sexier bequiet at the expense of some performance or otherwise you're off down the AIO route, the upper end of which offers the key to the 4.6GHz club. Would it really be too much to ask that as a bare minimum Noctua had released the D15 with a matte black aluminium top plate and black fans? Perhaps even a choice of colours for the top plate and fin stack. How about a White D15 with black fans, a Black D15 with white fans, or red fans or blue fans, you get the idea.
And so to the awards. It goes without saying that the D15 gets the pure performance award. Yes there are AIOs out there that perform better, but for an air cooler to perform this well is nothing short of remarkable. We can't however give it a gold award. Remember the holy trinity. Noise, Performance and Looks. Just because it's a Noctua we can't go making exceptions.
Thanks to Noctua for sending in the NH-D15 for review, you can discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.