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

Results: Noise And Acoustic Efficiency

Decibels are on a logarithmic scale, so every ten decibels has twice the apparent audio volume. But air is compressible, so sound sources don’t stack up as neatly. Ten times the source energy is needed to double sound pressure, and a drop of 3 dB is similar to reducing the source energy by half. With that understanding, we were pleased to see a 5 dB drop in the NH-L12’s noise level accompany the installation of its included resistor wires.

Zalman’s CNPS8900 Quiet similarly impresses us by making very little noise at full speed, and a look back at the thermal charts shows that its 51° over ambient result is very close to the low-speed NH-L12’s 49° over ambient.

A temperature reduction of 50% is a cooling improvement of 100%. To rate improved cooling with a higher percentage score, we divided the stock Intel baseline cooler’s temperature by the actual temperature of each competing solution. We then divided each cooler’s actual noise level by the reference cooler’s noise level to put noise on a direct scale, since the higher denominator produces a lower dividend.

The SilenX EFZ-100HA2 had a 10° advantage over the bundled Intel cooler, yet it's noisy enough to finish worse than the stock solution in a cooling-to-noise comparison. Zalman’s CNPS8900 Quiet takes top honors at full speed, while Noctua’s NH-L12 edges it out with the included speed-reducing resistor wires installed.

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  • LePhuronn
    Zalman CNPS2X conspicuous by its absence - 28mm tall cooler that claims to be able to shift 120W?
  • Sayken
  • tiu_sergiu
    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
  • Haravikk
    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"