Noctua is a company known for their exceptional heatsinks, especially when it comes to air-cooling high-end CPUs with extreme overclocks. However, the world trends are changing insofar that the general consumer isn’t necessary looking to cool their gaming machine so much as having a slim HTPC that remains cool and quiet.
In comes Noctua with their latest low profile coolers for both Intel and AMD processors. Traditionally Noctua has packed both Intel and AMD brackets with one heatsink, but with the NH-L9 the heatsink design and cooling capacity is different, so both AMD and Intel sockets come in different packaging.
Each of the Intel and AMD heatsinks come with four thumb-screws, and low noise adapter cable, a tube of Noctua NT-H1 thermal paste, an instruction booklet and four long screws in case you want to install a larger sized fan. The AMD set comes with an extra backplate for AMD motherboards.
NH-L9i and NH-L9a
The NH-L9i is the Intel based heatsink, with the built-in bracket capable of directly screwing onto the motherboard. And that’s literally how you install the NH-L9i on an Intel motherboard: apply thermal paste, put the heatsink on CPU, and screw it in from the back.
Meanwhile the NH-L9a is the AMD based heatsink, and installing it is identical to the Intel heatsink. The only addition is to have the backplate on the rear of the motherboard, and then screwing it in. Of course, being low profile heatsinks means the NH-L9 have to be very small, and they’re certainly impressive sitting at just 37mm high. That’s slim enough for most HTPCs including those with some extremely thin cases.
Rated at a maximum of 65W TDP for AMD processors and up to 77W for Intel Ivy Bridge processor (with Turbo disabled) and 95W for Sandy Bridge, the NH-L9 are capable of handling quiet a lot of heat. Of course, for the most optimal experience a 65W TDP or lesser rated processor is recommended. And for most people’s HTPCs AMD’s Trinity based APUs and Intel’s Ivy Bridge Core i5 and i3 processors will suffice.
For testing the two NH-L9 heatsinks, the below testbeds were used:
In both cases the testbed were lying in the open, so in a closed case expect a little more fan spin, and presumably a little less noise as the casing muffles it. Unfortunately we didn’t have a Core i5 or i3 processor, but the Intel i7-3770K will show what pushing the NH-L9 to the limits means. Meanwhile the AMD A6-3500 represents the ideal scenario.
For testing the NH-L9 I ran both processors at stock speed, disabling the Turbo Boost on the Intel processor to keep it in line with the TDP guidelines from Noctua. Cinebench R11.5 was use for stress testing the processors as it utiilizes each core with hyper-threading (where applicable) at 100%.
With the AMD A6-3500 you can see that only are the temperatures better than the stock heatsink, but the general speed is also low, reducing the ambient noise. The i7-3770K on the other hand represents what the worst case scenario could be, with the NH-L9i spinning at near full speed and being a fair bit noisy as a result. Note that the Stock Intel heatsink is the XTS100H which is a high-performance tower cooler from Intel, meant for their i7 and Extreme Edition CPUs. The above example just illustrates the performance difference between these two types of coolers, and the type of CPU the NH-L9 is meant for.
Basically if you stick with a processor which has a TDP rating of 65W or below, you’ll have a perfectly fine experience with the Noctua NH-L9 heatsinks. And besides, for an HTPC you don’t really need a high-end processor in the first place. With a low profile of just 37mm, the Noctua NH-L9 is one of the most impressive looking and performing heatsinks for HTPCs on the market.