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

The Best Cooler For Compact Systems?

Noctua’s NH-L12 is the top performer in all of today’s tests, though attaining that status in our noise measurements requires installing resistor wires that also raises its temperature to third place. It's also the largest cooler in today’s tests, and fits only the most spacious of small enclosures, such as SilverStone's SG08. And we’re sure SilverStone would have something to say about that, following closely behind with its own NT06-Pro.

The rest of the field fits most compact enclosures with heights of less than 3”. The best cooling-to-price ratio among these comes from the SilenX EFZ-100HA2. If this were a comparison of basic replacement parts, SilenX’s low price would make it a top contender. But hot and cheap don't win any favors in the high-end cooling market.

Second in the value charts, Zalman’s CNPS8900 Quiet is best among the sub-3” coolers in our Acoustic Efficiency chart. It also takes second place behind the SilenX EFZ-100HA2 in our cost to benefit analysis. It's barely warmer and barely noisier than Noctua’s much larger NH-L12 in its top-performing low-speed mode, and has the added advantage of fitting most compact enclosures.

Two candidates emerge for our top-honor Elite award, the Zalman CNPS8900 Quiet that fits most "slim" enclosures and Noctua NH-L12 that fits only a few. But there can only be one best. And since one of the two products also qualifies for a value award, I’m bypassing the debate between performance superiority and enclosure compatibility.

The CNPS8900 Quiet combines good cooling performance, low noise, broad case compatibility, and a moderate price to make it the smartest choice for the majority of compact system builders.

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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"