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Eight Low-Profile CPU Coolers For Your Compact PC, Reviewed

Eight Low-Profile CPU Coolers For Your Compact PC, Reviewed
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A recent look at ASRock's M8 compact barebones PC saw us undervolting our CPU in order to run stably, overclocked. This forced us to ask the question: how much cooling can we fit inside a slim enclosure? Eight heat sink vendors helped us find the answer.

Compact enthusiast-oriented PCs are becoming increasingly popular as hardware vendors improve the efficiency of their components alongside raw performance. In the last year, we've covered complete mini-ITX systems, low-profile memory kits, and small enclosures. We even based an entire System Builder Marathon on the mini-ITX form factor.

One thing we found during that exercise was that it's difficult to match the dimensions of boutique-built boxes with high-end hardware, if only because there aren't many enclosures optimized for tiny spaces and big specs. Always eager to make bold statements of frugality, I came upon ASRock’s M8 mini barebones system, to which I added a number fairly potent parts. I then ran smack up against the reason that Chris paid big bucks for his Tiki: ASRock’s M8 wasn’t designed for high-performance CPU cooling. The best I could do was 4 GHz, and that was only after I reconfigured the barebones machine's intake and exhaust fans, upgraded the CPU cooler, and locked the processor's core voltage at a level below Intel's stock ceiling. Clearly there was room for improvement.

We set our upper limit for cooler size at 4” to cover the largest of slim cases, and eight different heat sink vendors responded with samples. Six of them even fit within the approximate 3” limit of ASRock’s M8. One manufacturer said it thought its submission would qualify, but might not fit our test motherboard (even though we were sure it would). Several others asked us for a few additional millimeters of headroom, though that would have resulted in a viscous cycle. It was important to us that we keep this a comparison of truly low-profile coolers to address the growing compact computing market.

Here are today’s contenders:

Low-Profile CPU Cooler Features
 Gamer Storm
Gabriel
Noctua
NH-L12
Scythe Big
Shuriken 2 Rev. B
SilenX
EFZ-100HA2
Height2.4"3.7"2.3"2.2"
Width4.8"5.8"5.3"4.7"
Depth4.8"5.3"4.9"4.8"
Base Height1.1"1.6"1.4"0.8-1.5" Tapered
Assy. Offset0.6" x 0.5"0.5"NoneNone
Cooling Fans(1) 120 x15 mm(1) 120 x25 mm,
(1) 92 x25 mm
(1) 120 x12 mm(1) 92 x15 mm
Connectors(1) PWM(2) PWM(1) PWM(1) Three-Pin
Weight14 Ounces24 Ounces17 OuncesEight Ounces
Intel Sockets115x (1150/1155/1156)115x, 2011, 1366, 775115x, 2011, 1366, 775115x, 775
AMD SocketsFour-bolt RectangularFour-bolt RectangularAll Four/Two-boltAll Clip-On
WarrantyOne YearSix YearsTwo YearsThree Years
Web Price(Not Available in UK)
£50£40£15

Due to distribution issues, the Gabriel CPU cooler’s price is an estimate based on the company’s other products. That doesn’t leave any room for award recognition, but it still lets us get a look at performance in lieu of its final release. Noctua’s NH-L12 is distinct in that it's the largest cooler to qualify for our story.

Low-Profile CPU Cooler Features
 SilverStone
Nitrogon NT06-Pro
Thermalright
AXP-200R
Xigmatek
Janus
Zalman
CNPS8900 Quiet
Height3.2"2.8"2.5"2.4"
Width5.5"6.0"4.7"4.7"
Depth5.5"5.4"4.7"4.7"
Base Height1.2" (w/fan)1.4"1.2"1.3"
Assy. Offset0.8" (x)1.1" (x)0.6"None
Cooling Fans(1) 120 x20 mm(1) 140 x13 mm(1) 120 x15 mm
(1) 80 x10 mm
(1) 110 x25 mm
Connectors(1) PWM(1) PWM(1) PWM
(1) Three-Pin
(1) PWM
Weight23 Ounces24 Ounces15 Ounces14 Ounces
Intel Sockets115x, 2011, 1366, 775115x, 2011, 1366, 775115x, 2011, 1366, 775115x, 1366, 775
AMD SocketsFour-bolt RectangularAll Four/Two-boltFour-bolt RectangularFour-bolt Rectangular
WarrantyOne YearOne YearOne YearOne Year
Web Price£55£50(Not Available in UK)
£30

Thermalright’s special-edition AXP-200R is similarly estimated to cost slightly more than the AXP-200. Both coolers are identical apart from fan color, though we aren't worried about value judgements on a product that sells for at least £47. On the other hand, exceptional performance could open the door to Tom's Hardware Elite recognition, regardless of price.

Designed to support two fans in a push-pull configuration, SilverStone’s NT06-Pro includes only one. The firm instructs users of low-profile cases to mount the fan below its radiator, so that’s how we're testing it. It might even squeeze into ASRock’s M8 in this configuration, though the side panel would probably block airflow through its fins.

Display all 4 comments.
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  • 0 Hide
    LePhuronn , 14 November 2013 10:49
    Zalman CNPS2X conspicuous by its absence - 28mm tall cooler that claims to be able to shift 120W?
  • 0 Hide
    Sayken , 14 November 2013 16:04
    Nice
  • 0 Hide
    tiu_sergiu , 14 November 2013 18:06
    There must be 2 winners
    Nocturna NH-L12 is best quality (Don't forgot about 6 ears of warranty)
    and Zalman CNPS8900 Quiet Smart Buy
  • 0 Hide
    Haravikk , 16 November 2013 13:43
    I'm a bit surprised by the Noctua offering, as they do have a much smaller only (37mm tall) but then I expect they wanted to use as much space as possible to ensure a good score.

    Also the NH-L12 I believe is compatible with Noctua's NF-A15 which is a 150mm PWM fan with 120mm mounting holes. In my perfect small form factor case I'd swap one of those as the top fan and just use a 150mm side vent as the only exhaust for the case, with other vents as intakes over the major components, or maybe leave off the top fan in favour of fitting an 200mm fan if space allows. That being for a high performance small case anyway, anything more modest I'd probably just go for the 37mm option.

    Another favourite option is Prolimatech's Samuel 17 cool (45mm) plus one of their 140mm x 15mm Ultra Sleek Vortex fans for a total height of ~60mm, which still tops out under 2.5"