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Noctua NH-L12S review – Is it worth it?

Last Updated on June 12, 2024
Noctua NH-L12S box featured image
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The Noctua NH-L12S is the low-profile little brother of the D15, just with a single stack to allow it ti fit into small spaces. Because of that, this cooler obviously operates at a lesser capacity, but that doesn’t mean it’s not desirable. Low-profile coolers are niche and expensive, so let’s dive into what the L12S offers and decide if it’s worth it for your small form factor builds.

This Noctua cooler was originally made available in 2017, giving us a huge advantage when it comes to finding a good price. Considering the performance and versatility of this low-profile cooler, we already think the price is reasonable, but there’s nothing wrong with a good deal.

  • Noctua NH-L12S close up of fan spinning
  • Noctua NH-L12S bottom showing cold plate
  • Noctua NH-L12S on it's side showing fan
  • Noctua NH-L12S in box and contents
Highly Recommended
4 /5
Editor’s Rating
How We Review
Specifications
  • Cooling Method: Air
  • Max fan speed: 1800 rpm
  • Fan size: 120mm
  • Material: Aluminium, Copper
  • Noise level: 25.7 dBA
  • Thermal paste: Included
What We Think

This is a cooler designed for the smallest of form factor PCs, you might struggle trying to cool higher power CPUs, but for the mid range compact solutions, look no further than the L12S.

Reasons to Buy
  • Low profile
  • Cost effective.
  • Surprising performance.
Reasons to Avoid
  • Not designed for modern CPUs
  • Not ideal for full sized PCs.
  • Color scheme not for everyone.

To cut a long review short, this cooler isn’t designed to cool our 14600K at all, but it does its best. If you’re building a compact system, you’re already considering the TDP of the components, as there is less room for cooling. So you’re probably not going to be pairing this with high-performance CPUs. It’s still an air cooler, after all. This CPU cooler would be perfect for those lower TDP previous-generation CPUs.

✓ Review Summary

Why we gave it a 4

This is a fantastic low-profile CPU cooler but it just can’t handle the heat of the 14600K, there’s numerous instances of thermal throttling and high temperatures. Don’t let that put you off, though, this cooler would be perfect for a lower power CPU in a small form factor build. Noctua has outdone themselves on design once again, and the fact it’s even able to remotely keep up with a CPU it was never supposed to cool is very impressive.

What’s in the box

Noctua NH-L12S box and box contents

What’s just as important to note as the performance of the cooler is what you get in the box. The cooler comes with everything you need to get started, including Noctua’s patented thermal paste, which is very good by the way. Here’s everything you get in the box with the L12S:

 

  • 1x NF-A12x15 PWM premium fan
  • NA-RC7 Low-Noise Adaptor (L.N.A.)
  • NT-H1 high-grade thermal compound
  • SecuFirm2™ mounting kit
  • Noctua metal case-badge

Design

The design of this cooler is compact and low profile, this means that the vertical profile of the cooler is small, however, you can make it taller if you have the headroom. The L12S is designed to be in the most compact of spaces and to work in conjunction with other space-saving components, such as low-profile RAM. However, if more clearance is needed, the fan can be moved to the top side of the heatsink to accompany larger components.

Noctua NH-L12S side view with fan attached

The Noctua NF-A12x15 PWM is capable of spinning up to 1850 RPM, and it comes in the two-tone brown colors we’ve come to love and expect from Noctua. The cooler only has room for a 120mm fan as it’s designed to fit in as small of a footprint as possible.

The whole design of this cooler is horizontal, both the heatsink and fan placement are horizontal to minimize the vertical profile as much as possible, this means that the cooling performance will be sacrificed to keep things in a small package. This is something you would come to expect, it is also an air cooler after all, don’t be expecting to cool a 14900K with it.

Installation

Installation of this CPU cooler is similar to that of the D15 that we reviewed previously, the mounting mechanism is the same, only slightly smaller. The mounting mechanism is simple enough, it just feels a little backward. Don’t get us wrong, it’s easy and well thought out, you just install the mounting hardware to the CPU socket, then attach the cooler on top of that.

Noctua NH-L12S underside showing cooling plate

There are cutouts in the heatsink for you to push the included screwdriver down into to screw the Heatsink to the CPU mounting hardware. You may find this finicky if you have the fan underneath the heatsink in “low profile” mode. If the fan is on top of the heatsink, you may want to remove it, just to make life a little easier.

Performance

Before moving on to the performance of the Noctua cooler, we must first outline the hardware we used to test it, especially the CPU. This is because the hardware directly contributes to the temperature of both the system and the air around it. We like to keep all of our testing components the same, as it’s important for fairness and consistency.

The components used to benchmark the Noctua cooler are as follows:

ComponentName
CPUCore i5-14600K
MemoryCorsair Vengence @ 6400MHz
MotherboardCrosshair Dark Hero Z790
GPURTX 4070 Ti Super
Power supplyASUS ROG Thor 1000W
CaseCooler Master Masterframe

Now let’s get into the performance of the Noctua NH-L12S, bear in mind that this CPU cooler is due for an upgrade at some point, it was not designed to cool the CPU we are attempting to cool, the 14600k. We need to keep hardware consistent to create comparable results. Usually, we like to measure the air temperature coming from the back of the cooler, but that was impossible due to the setup.

If you’re interested in how we test the CPU coolers, we have all the information you need on our PCGuide Labs page, it’s here that you can also find how we test our GPUs and CPUs.

Idle cooling performance

Idle cooling performance
CPU temp 34°C (core temp average)
CPU temp 39°C (max temp)
throttle 0%

As you can see, the CPU cooler kept the 14600K at bay during idle system loads, which means that this cooler is sufficient to keep your PC running, but only at the idle state. 39 degrees is the maximum temperature we saw with this CPU cooler, which isn’t the best, but it’s not bad y any stretch.

Aida Stress test cooling performance

Aida cooling performance
CPU temp 78°C (core temp average)
CPU temp 98°C (max temp)
throttle 5%

Unfortunately, we did see some thermal throttling when we ran Aida64 on our 14600k, but as we have said before, this CPU cooler was never designed to cool this CPU. At least not this version of the CPU cooler, anyway. We see a maximum temperature of 98 degrees, which is well beyond the throttling temperature of 96. However, we do only see a 5% throttle. We also want to remind you that Aida is far beyond the normal use case for any CPU, it’s unlikely you’ll ever see this level of harsh usage under normal operation.

Blender cooling performance

Blender cooling performance
CPU temp 76°C (core temp average)
CPU temp 97°C (max temp)

Blender is a 3D modeling software capable of creating some very complex scenes, and luckily for us, it has a dedicated benchmark feature. CPUs tend to get hot under rendering stress as they aren’t particularly great at it, these kinds of workloads are usually reserved for the more linear power of the GPU. No surprise then that it made our 14600K work up a heck of a sweat. The max temperature saw was 97, and the average was 76. Not much less than the Aida benchmarks, the limitations of this smaller form factor are starting to show.

Handbrake cooling performance

Handbrake cooling performance
CPU temp 86°C (core temp average)
CPU temp 97°C (max temp)

Calling all video editors, this one is for you, Handbrake is a video encoder that we use to run tests on CPUs. Encoding is a strenuous task that tends to heat things up a bit. We run the Tears of Steel test on Handbrake, which involves encoding a 4k video that is around 6GB in size. The L12S really struggled here to keep the 14600K cool, reaching 86 degrees on average, ouch.

It is clear to see that this CPU cooler form factor has hindered its ability to cool higher-end CPUs, but this should not discourage you from purchasing it to cool lesser CPUs. This CPU cooler would pair perfectly with a CPU with a TDP less than 115W, or there about, and it will tie in perfectly with any small form factor / low-power PC you are planning.

Price

Noctua NH-L12S fan spinning up close

This Noctua cooler can be bought right now for around $63, however, you can sometimes find it for a significantly better price during sales events. According to Camelcamelcamel, an Amazon price tracker, the best price for the L12S was $51. It has only recently climbed in price to $63, but we could see that come down.

What these benchmarks mean

We test all of our coolers in a range of different scenarios, designed to stress the CPU in a way that makes it generate a lot of heat, we then measure how good CPU coolers are at getting rid of that heat. Generally speaking, the lower the temperature the better. The reason we have such a wide range of benchmarks is to capture as many use cases as possible, this is because not everyone uses their CPUs in the same way.

If the CPU cooler we are testing holds and maintains an acceptable temperature throughout all of our tests, then we can consider it a well-reounded CPU cooler, and optimal for standard usage. We test all of the coolers with the same hardware, so we know all of our test conditions, and results, are standard.

Conclusion

This CPU cooler is designed for cooling low TDP CPUs in a small form factor, it wasn’t really designed with a 14600K in mind – however, it held up okay. If you were to pair this cooler with a 5600X in a very small form factor, for example, that would be this cooler’s exact use case, and it would thrive in those conditions. Mostly thanks to the 5600X’s mere 65w TDP.

  • Noctua NH-L12S close up of fan spinning
  • Noctua NH-L12S bottom showing cold plate
  • Noctua NH-L12S on it's side showing fan
  • Noctua NH-L12S in box and contents
Highly Recommended
4 /5
Editor’s Rating
How We Review
Specifications
  • Cooling Method: Air
  • Max fan speed: 1800 rpm
  • Fan size: 120mm
  • Material: Aluminium, Copper
  • Noise level: 25.7 dBA
  • Thermal paste: Included

This Noctua cooler did allow things to get a little toasty throughout our tests, so it may not be the best Idea to pair this with any new high-end hardware. But since this cooler was never designed to cool such a CPU, we’re not going to deduct points. If you want a low-profile CPU cooler, capable of cooling a CPU up to about 115W, then this CPU cooler is certainly one to consider. It’s a very reasonable price and cools surprisingly well for the limited surface area it has to work with. It almost kept the 14600K at bay.

Jack Howarth, a Tech Writer at PC Guide, is deeply passionate about technology. He started his journey during college, earning an Extended Diploma in ICT, and CompTIA A+ later in life.

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