Noctua NH-D14 & NH-U9B SE2 Review

Author: Pier-Luc Gendreau
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, December 14th, 2009
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/noctua_nh_u9b/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Silence, performance and overclocking. These three words don't go hand-in-hand with Intel's default cooling solution that ships with their retail processors. For this very reason, enthusiasts have to rely on other companies to design superior heatsinks. Some large players are, for better or worse, more widely known than others, while a few of them truly stand out for their premium products. Noctua is definitely part of the latter. They have been in the business since 2005 and have released quite a few solid products including the NH-U12P, which is among the best heatsinks available on the market.

Today's two coolers we will review target the same goals as their predecessors : low noise, performance and quality. The NH-D14 is Noctua's new flagship heatsink, sporting two fans and six heatpipes in a large footprint. On the other hand, the NH-U9B SE2 is a much more compact design. With half the heatpipes and pair of 92mm fans, it will accommodate smaller cases. They both ship with their SecuFirm2 mounting system which supports a wide range of processors starting with AMD's AM2, AM2+ and AM3 as well as Intel's LGA775, 1156 and 1366. Basically, right about everything that was released in the last few years.

Let's see if Noctua's latest pieces of engineering have what it takes to compete!

Let's start with the NH-D14.

At first glance, the D14's box looks very classy and is, as usual with Noctua, made out of thick, solid cardboard. Not that it really matters in the big picture, but I much prefer seeing this new color theme used than the questionable, brownish box previously used for Noctua's other coolers. Then again, Noctua isn't renown for their prettiness -- but more for quality products, which isn't a bad thing at all. At about twice the size of the NH-U12P, the box is actually quite intimidating and with over three inches of foam, the heatsink is sure kept safe from damage.

The first thought that crossed my mind while taking it out of the box? This is huge. I mean, really huge. Other than that, the NH-D14 ships with two pre-installed fans obviously made by Noctua themselves. The one on the exterior is a 120mm NF-P12, while the one hanging in the middle is the 140mm NF-P14. They both carry 3-pin fan connectors, meaning there is no PWM control here. Considering their fans are usually quiet even at full speed, I don't see this as a big issue though.

With this new flagship unit, Noctua took the brute force approach to cooling. More surface area coupled with plenty of heatpipes and airflow is exactly what they did here. At a grand total of 1.24 kilograms and nearly 160mm long with two fans installed, the D14 is certainly not a svelte heatsink. Moreover, the six heatpipes, which is also about as much as you can possibly squeeze underneath, look like they are well suited to move the heat up in the heatsink's fins.

As I just mentioned, it has six large heatpipes traveling between the two cooling towers and trough the base. Speaking of that base, you don't get any pretty reflective surface here, however, it is perfectly flat which ensures a good, even contact with the processor for optimal cooling.

Noctua ships the NH-D14 with a whole bunch of accessories, literally everything you will need is in there. In fact, it even includes the necessary tool! You also get two mounting kits : one for AMD's AM2, AM2+ and AM3 and another one for Intel's LGA775, 1156 and 1366. Additionally, they bundle thermal paste as well as a couple adapters to run the fans at lower speeds for an even lower sound level. Finally, the manual is thorough and guides you with ease through their notably simple assembly process.

You'll notice immediately the NH-U9B SE2 ships with Noctua's traditional brown packaging. Just like the D14 we just looked at, it is very forgiving and everything is neatly enclosed with basically no room to wiggle. The sole difference is the fact that this one is smaller, much smaller.

In terms of design, the U9B is basically a scaled down version of the NH-U12P and, honestly, that's a good thing considering how well it fares. Just like its bigger brothers, this heatsink is very well built and ships with two 3-pin fans, albeit smaller 92mm ones, as well as the necessary hardware to attach them. The metal clips are solid and hold the fans tight, while leaving you with the possibility to swap them out for any other standard 92mm fan.

Instead of simply applying a piece of adhesive to protect the coolers base like pretty much every other manufacturer does, Noctua uses a molded piece of plastic. Not only does it keep the underlying surface safer, it also voids chances to forget to remove it prior to installation. The base itself is identical to the D14, it still doesn't have that neat mirror finish, however, it is perfectly flat which is what counts the most. The U9B is two heatpipes short of the D14, taking it down to four U-shaped heatpipes which is very respectable considering it's a small cooler.

Except for the fan which is quite obviously difference, Noctua ships the NH-U9B SE2 with the exact same hardware as the NH-D14.

The first thing you want to do is screw these metal plates to the heatsink's base. Make sure they are tight since it's a key element of the mounting system. If you're lucky enough to have the D14, this step is already done for you at the factory.

Secondly, install the backplate under your motherboard's and insert the screws into the holes corresponding to your socket. Simple enough.

Once that is done, flip back the board, place the thick plastic washers (shown on the right), add the metal piece and tighten this all up using the bolts and Noctua's supplied tool. With the heatsink's mounting system in place, all that's left to do is apply some thermal paste and screw the cooler on. Thanks to the well designed SecuFirm 2, you simply have to tighten everything until it won't go any further so you get just the right pressure every time.

Here's the fully installed U9B. As you can see, the heatsink itself is fairly small, but with the two fans installed it's actually quite wide. Fortunately, even though it's a close call, it doesn't block any memory slots on the boards I have tested.

However, the D14 is an entirely different story. Needless to say that the heatsink is huge and as a result, will limit some hardware configurations. The heatsink leaves a tad over 40mm of clearance between the base and the first fin so make sure your motherboard and memory heatsinks don't exceed that or you will run into problems. The maximum height of the actual memory module may not exceed 51mm in order to fit. There are many variables at play here so make sure to take a few measurements before shelling out for the D14.

I will test the Noctua NH-D14 and NH-U9B SE2 on top of an Intel Core i7 system and record temperatures at both idle and load. Temperatures are gathered using the latest version of RealTemp. Results will then be compared with those of previously tested heatsinks.

Testing Setup

A quick peek at the charts above tells the first part of the story -- the NH-D14 is the best air cooled heatsink we have come across. Yes, it's huge, but apparently it pays off! The NH-U9B SE2 isn't so clear cut though. It's no slouch, but it is also not significantly better than the comparably sized Coolermaster TX-3, which is a whole lot cheaper. Expectedly, all of them performed far better than Intel's stock cooling solution which simply cannot cope with the heat output of an overclocked Core i7 processor.

Noctua has proven once again that their Austrian engineers have the necessary know-how to design top-notch heatsinks to keep the hottest processors running nice and cool. The NH-D14 displayed class leading performance, while remaining quiet the whole time. It outperformed their previous flagship NH-U12P by a fair margin, especially under high loads. In fact, the huge surface area and six heatpipes really start to shine once the heat is on.

Since not everyone has room to spare for the perhaps exceedingly large D14, the NH-U9B SE2 may be more fitting. It's definitely not the best air cooler, but its smaller footprint kind of makes up for it. I say kind of because, although it performs well, Coolermaster's TX-3 is barely worse and costs less than half the price.

The two fans bundled with each of these heatsinks may not feature the prettiest colors on the market, but what really matters is that they are excellent at blowing air and doing it while remaining quiet. Even at full speed they produce very little noise and impressive airflow. It is clear Noctua's unique fan blade design is doing a fine job.

As far as size goes, well, I've said it before, the D14 is absolutely huge. It will be a tight fit in some cases and sure won't fit in anything smaller than a mid tower. Whether you install it horizontally or vertically, it will block at least one memory slot so make sure your memory isn't too tall. On the other hand, the U9B is much more reasonable and actually pretty compact. It is not high by any means and won't have a problem fitting in all, but the slimmest enclosures. Even though it is a tad wide with both fans installed, it did not interfere with the memory slots on our motherboards.

When it comes to appearance, Noctua's heatsinks aren't one of those flashy coolers with LEDs and all. Instead, they opt for a simple look and make it up by offering premium performance and quality. The nickle plated aluminum fins are soldered rather than squeezed into place and build quality is nothing short of impressive. Furthermore, the SecuFirm2 mounting system is easily one of, if not the, best one on the market. The assembly is simple, yet keeps the heatsinks nice and tight with no room to move even by the slightest margin.

In the end, the Noctua NH-D14 is absolutely great! It's well built, quiet -- if not silent -- and performed beyond expectations. The U9B didn't perform as well on the other hand, although it is also silent and retains high quality standards. In the box, Noctua includes everything you need to get started, and even be left with leftovers. The provided instructions are clear, well written and will get you going in no time. Obviously, you get what you pay for and these premium heatsinks carry a premium price tag. At nearly $84.99, the D14 isn't cheap, but that's not to say it isn't worth it. If you want the best possible air cooling performance and money is no object, it's a no brainer, the NH-D14 is the way to go.

Quite frankly, even though build quality is up there with the best and the bundle is complete, at $54.99 I think the NH-U9B SE2 is simply too expensive for what it is. It performs alright considering it's size, but with the target being HTPC's it restricts itself to a small portion of a price sensitive niche market.

Overall, I completely recommend the NH-D14, but when it comes to the NH-U9B SE2, I think Noctua has missed the mark.

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