Noctua is famous for its tandem twin-tower heatsinks, starting with its NH-D14 and proceeding to the larger NH-D15. The NH-U14S has been out for a few years now (in fact we reviewed it once in 2013). The single tower heatsink is designed to keep the fans clear of DRAM slots and should be able to accept taller ram without running into compatibility issues. We saw its capabilities in the past, but we have decided to tee it up along with several other coolers with a new base test system. Read on to see how the other coolers and the U14S fared with our new test system.
On its website, Noctua says it is a “collaboration” between Austrian and Taiwanese companies. They are famous for premium products, products that cool well and quietly. To that end, the word Noctua means owl, a bird that flies on silent wings.
The NH-U14S is a single tower design that is symmetrical front and back. It is thin enough that it avoids interfering with any tall RAM you may be using, even if you use an LGA 2066 or 2011 motherboard. The heatsink has six heat pipes and includes a single 1500 RPM NF-A15 PWM fan and includes hardware to fit a second 140 mm fan (sold separately).
On the NH-U14S product page Noctua touts the features of this heatsink. We have already covered “Full RAM compatibility on LGA20xx,” “NF-A15 140mm PWM Fan” and “Anti-vibration pads and fan-clips for second NF-A15 (optional)” in the introduction. The OEM goes on to point out:
Their SecuFirm2 mounting system. Except for the final brackets, this is the same mounting kit used on all of their coolers.
Reasonable size for better overall compatibility. “Standing 165mm tall, the NH-U14S is short enough to fit most modern high-end cases.”
PWM support and Low-Noise Adaptor
Compatibility with past and future sockets. “Complying with the open SecuFirm standard, the NH-U14S can be made compatible with the older LGA1366 and LGA775 sockets using the optional NM-I3 mounting kit, which is provided by Noctua free of charge. If technically possible, Noctua will also provide upgrade kits for future sockets.”
A tube of NT-H1 thermal compound, a fine TIM that comes in the kit, and
6-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Noctua does make a NH-U14S TR4-SP3 version of this heatsink, aimed at the Ryzen Threadripper / Epyc platform. They note “the NH-U14S TR4-SP3 is a dedicated version for the AMD TR4/SP3 socket. Due to its customized larger base, it cannot be used on any other sockets and is incompatible with Noctua’s standard mounting kits.” The version we are seeing reviewed has hardware for Intel and earlier AMD sockets.
|Socket compatibility||Intel LGA2066, LGA2011-0 & LGA2011-3 (Square ILM), LGA1156,
LGA1155, LGA1151, LGA1150 & AMD AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, FM1, FM2, FM2+
(backplate required), AM4 with NM-AM4-UxS
|Height (without fan)||165 mm|
|Width (without fan)||150 mm|
|Depth (without fan)||52 mm|
|Height (with fan)||165 mm|
|Width (with fan)||150 mm|
|Depth (with fan)||78 mm|
|Weight (without fan)||770 g|
|Weight (with fan/s)||935 g|
|Material||Copper (base and heat-pipes), aluminum (cooling fins), soldered
joints & nickel plating
|Max. TDP||see TDP guide|
|Fan compatibility||140x150x25 (with 120mm mounting holes), 140x140x25 (with 120mm
mounting holes), 120x120x25
|Scope of delivery||NF-A15 PWM premium fan
Low-Noise Adaptor (L.N.A.) [RC-7]
NT-H1 high-grade thermal compound
SecuFirm2™ Mounting Kit
Noctua Metal Case-Badge
Anti-vibration pads and fan-clips for second NF-A15 (optional)
|Model||Noctua NF-A15 PWM|
|Max. Rotational Speed (+/- 10%)||1500 RPM|
|Max. Rotational Speed with L.N.A. (+/- 10%)||1200 RPM|
|Min. Rotational Speed (PWM, +/-20%)||300 RPM|
|Max. Airflow||140,2 m³/h|
|Max. Airflow with L.N.A.||115,5 m³/h|
|Max. Acoustical Noise||24,6 dB(A)|
|Max. Acoustical Noise with L.N.A.||19,2 dB(A)|
|Input Power||1,56 W|
|Voltage Range||12 V|
|MTTF||> 150.000 h|
Unboxing the NH-U14S
The heatsink comes in a simple box with black and brown ink extolling the virtues of the enclosed heatsink. When we open the box we see the accessories box on top. You will note no plastic or Styrofoam – it is all recyclable cardboard.
|U14S Box||Inside Box|
Underneath the accessories box sits the heatsink itself. It sets with the attached fan and is immobilized/protected by its own cardboard box with the heatsink resting on a tray. Basically, the entire assembly is shielded by cardboard corners.
|Box Unpacked||Heatsink Unveiled|
Finally, we have the tower standing by itself. Notice how thin it is – just wide enough to enclose those six 6 mm heat pipes.
In the first photo, we see the NF-A15 PWM fan. There is no doubt it’s a Noctua given its unique coloring. It’s equipped with anti-vibration padding and two clips for securing the fan to the tower of the cooler.
In the second picture, we see the accessories box. Nearest to us, on the left, there are AMD (pre-Ryzen) mounting brackets, you’ll also notice the end of the L-shaped Phillips screwdriver that is included in the heatsink kit. Next to them are the Intel platform brackets including a bag of cap nuts and spacers nestled into the center and underneath. In back, you can see common parts including thermal paste, spare fan clips and the extra-thick cushions for the fan. Finally, the folded manuals are displayed on the lid. PDF copies of the manuals are available online here.
|NF-A15 PWM Fan and Clip||Small Parts|
The left picture shows the base of this heatsink with the plastic contact plate shield here.
On the next picture, we are not able to notice distortion here – the surface is nearly flat and has a mirror finish. Pay attention to that hold down screw. The bottoms have a positive stop against the brackets then the springs hold the heatsink down. Taken together the springs and hold down screws assure the NH-U14S cannot exert excessive clamping pressure.
|Bottom of the U14S||Reflective Flat Bottom|
There is one thing you must pay attention to: those screw heads on the back of the Intel socket are not symmetrical. This makes the orientation of the backplate a critical matter. You want those three screw-heads showing through the holes in the backplate. If you don’t pay attention you can fit the backplate incorrectly and cover those srew heads. So get it right.
On the right is a picture of the backplate by itself. The screws you are essentially studs and press-fitted to the backplate. This is an improvement over the early Noctua backplates as the screws were separate back then.
|Noctua Backplate on Intel Socket||Noctua Backplate|
A piece of cardboard stands in for a motherboard so you can see how this mounting system works. Spacers go on top of the through-motherboard screws.
In the next image, you see the mounting brackets set atop the spacers, held in place with cap nuts. The cap nuts can be tightened with fingers or a Phillips screwdriver.
|Noctua Backplate||Mounting System Ready for Heatsink|
We put the heatsink on the Noctua mount. Note that the crossbar is held to the heatsink with a screw. That saves you from dealing with a loose crossbar. Next we can mount the fan and the assembly is complete.
|U14S on Mounting System||With Fan Added|
In the picture, the fan is elevated by the extra-thick anti-vibration pads attached to it. One has been left free to show the difference in thickness between it and a standard-thickness anti-vibration pad lying next to it in front of the fan. Something else to notice: the fingers attaching the pads to the fan has collars to catch the flange. You will need to tug on each finger as it penetrates the flange to make sure it seats properly.
Thick and Regular Pads
Putting it all together we see the thicker trailing pads held together with a second pair of fan clips (you will find a pair in the accessories box).
Finally, the NH-U14S sitting on a motherboard. This overhead view shows that the heatsink does not interfere with RAM. Further, it shows the hexagonal distribution of those six heat pipes. Last it shows the screwdriver access hole in the center of the tower.
|Thick & Thin Pads in Action||U14S Next to RAM|
We have updated the Test System to the configuration below:
With the current review, we are inaugurating a new system for testing the capacity of heatsinks to cool your chip. We are using the six-core Coffee Lake CPU, the i7 8700K, overclocked to 5.0 GHz.
|CPU||Intel i7 8700K (6 cores) at 5.0 GHz|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte Aorus Gaming 7|
|RAM||16 GB Corsair LPX 3200 MHz|
|Vcore||Set to 1.37 volts, static|
|Cache||Set to 4.5 GHz|
|Operating System||Windows 10, 64-bit|
|SSD||Samsung 840 EVO 500 GB|
|PSU||Seasonic SS-460FL 460W Fanless|
|Heat Stress Software||Linpack with AVX2 – LinX 0.6.5 user interface|
|Power & Core Temp Log||Intel® Power Gadget|
|Ambient Temperature||Digital TEMPer USB Thermometer, with logging software|
|Sound Pressure Meter||Tenma 72-942 with SPL measured at 1m
Ambient Noise was 31 dBA
The overclock chosen for this series was 5 GHz which equates to the CPU using around 145W. This is at the upper end of what heatsinks can cool but this particular range was chosen so that AIO’s will be tested fairly in later reviews. The Vcore was set manually to a static mode (not adaptive mode) for testing consistency.
After each heatsink was mounted the temps were not measured for a day to give the TIM time to spread and thin out.
Linpack operates in bursts. When the temps are rendered graphically, the traces look like a series of plateaus separated by valleys. Since you are interested in how well a heatsink cools, I measured the temperature plateaus. The Intel Power Gadget can keep track of the power used in watts and the temperature of the cores in °C. The gadget’s log was set to make a measurement every second. Each heatsink ran three times, 30 minutes per run. The runs were averaged.
The temperature of the air entering the heatsink was logged every five seconds; the runs were averaged.
The sound pressure level was recorded a meter away at a position “above” each heatsink in decibels with an A-weighting (dBA). While SPL is at best an approximate measure of what we hear, it is all we have. The SPL ratings you will see are SPL above what sounds like a silent basement.
Megahalems: When this heatsink came out in late 2008 it was the heatsink to beat. It appears to be unique as it has two towers, but side by side, rather than in tandem. When there are push-pull fans and the fans set up enough airflow the gap between the towers has always produced a moaning sound. In this picture, there are two, sleeve bearing, 140 mm Blue Vortex fans. The little rectangular object clamped to the yardstick is the Digital TEMPer USB Thermometer.
Genesis: Also from Prolimatech, this heatsink is unique in that one of its towers is parallel to the motherboard. In the picture, it is sporting the same Blue Vortex fans. With both Prolimatech heatsinks the procedure is to use Gelid GC-Extreme TIM.
On the left is an NH-D14 with its original fans. This heatsink is officially EOL but Noctua continues to make them because people continue to buy them. With all Noctua heatsinks NT-H1 TIM was used.
On the right is the same heatsink with three NF-A15 1200 RPM fans. Here you can see the utility of a low profile RAM. Given that DDR4 RAM runs 1.2-1.35 volts there is no reason to get tall RAM.
|NH-D14 With Stock Fans||NH-D14 With Three A15 Fans|
Here is a Noctua NH-D15 with its stock NF-A15 1500 RPM fans. Like all the heatsinks, it has six heat pipes. Note that the NF-A15 fans stretch across the full width of the NH-D15’s twin towers.
The last arrangement is the NH-D15 with two, 2000 RPM NF-A14 fans. The squareness of the fans is clearly delineated here. They do not reach across the full width of the towers.
|NH-D15 With Stock Fans||NH-D15 With Two NF-A14 Fans|
The Prolimatech heatsinks and the NH-D14 were purchased. Noctua provided the NH-D15 and the NF-A15 PWM fans. Noctua also provided the NH-U14S featured in this review. A big thank-you goes out to them.
Results for the Comparison Heatsinks
All of the contestant heatsinks were facing power reported to be in the 145-watt range. They all did pretty well, even the ones at the bottom of the stack.
It should come as no surprise that in this cool-off (or should we call this a bake-off?) the NH-D15 took the top five, the coolest combinations. The top spot goes to the D15 sporting a train of stock A15 1500 RPM fans that were slowed by their included Low Noise Adapters. It also included an additional retail A15 (1200 RPM) for a total of three fans. These three slower fans made an SPL that was quieter than the stock setup. Based on what we later learned, probably by putting the fastest fan first, you might squeeze out another few tenths of a degree from your system.
The stock setup of the NH-D15 is only 0.6 °C warmer than the leader. By putting LNA’s on the two fans only produced a loss of 0.2 °C, the system was barely warmer, but the heatsink was nearly inaudible. Finally, the NH-D15S comes with a single fan. Pretending it was a D15S the D15 still bested the other heatsinks, and with only a single fan.
The NH-D14 with an all-new suite of three A15 PWM fans was trailing right behind the NH-U14S at 62 °C. Then we see the Prolimatech heatsinks. The one disappointment comes when the NF-A14 2000 RPM fans are put on heatsinks. For some reason, they do not do as well as you might expect (partly because they were square, partly because they could not use spacers?).
A comment one might expect is that there is not much separation between the heatsinks. That was the purpose of doing three runs with each heatsink: the results are consistent.
The Megahalems and the Genesis ended up on the bottom of the stack of results. But remember there is only a 4.4 °C difference between the best and the worst results here.
Results for the NH-U14S
What is surprising is that the U14S finished as high as the middle of the pack. How can you expect a single-tower heatsink to keep up with dual-tower competitors, especially doing Linpack with AVX2 at 5 GHz? First, the double-fan setup (1500 as push, 1200 as pull) finished only 1.5 °C behind the leading D15 combination. This is an amazing result. Even stock it only runs 2.7 °C behind the leader.
Going with a TY-147A seems a like a good idea. After all, it is a 160 x 140 mm PWM fan that runs a little faster than an A15 and is inexpensive. But the two-fan combo ran 0.4 °C behind the stock single-fan option, and 1.6 °C warmer than the best U14S combination. This raises the intriguing question as to whether the “spacer” pads improve a trailing fan’s performance. We could test the same fan combo without those extra-thick pads, but we must stop the testing somewhere.
Availability and Price
The contestant heatsinks are making their first appearance in this system, so we are calibrating them for future reference.
The Noctua NH-D15 still appears to be the best heatsink around. If you have a D15 you could squeeze another degree and a half, perhaps two degrees by adding a retail NF-A15 (1200 RPM) and cutting back the stock 1500 RPM A15’s by using their LNA adapters. Or you can rest assured that you have already bought the best heatsink and not spend another dime.
Noctua’s NH-D14 was a fine heatsink in its day. If you still use one, you can replace its fans with three retail NF-A15 PWM fans. Or you can leave it alone, spend no money and know you have an adequate heatsink. But if you have one of the early non-PWM NF-D14’s you may wish to change out your fans to get PWM technology and the quietness that comes with PWM control.
The Prolimatech Megahalems and the Genesis heatsinks with the Blue Vortex fans finished at the back of the pack. But remember how much they were cooling. Perhaps there are better fan combinations, but these heatsinks were designed with quiet in mind, and fitting them with more powerful fans does not improve their cooling much.
Conclusions for the NH-U14S
The NH-U14S is the heatsink featured in this review, and it did surprisingly well. One would expect that it would not be able to keep up: not only cooling less well than the D15 but falling behind the DF14, the Megahalems and the Genesis as well. Instead, this little one tower heatsink surpassed all our expectations and beat out three top heatsinks, with the stock U14S only falling behind the stock D15 by 2.1 °C (59.3 vs 61.4). If we look at the single-fan options the U14S is only 1.4 °C behind the D15S (60.0 vs 61.4). How does it do its magic? Who knows? It is a fine heatsink that won’t interfere with tall RAM. You could improve the cooling by little more than a degree by buying an NF-A15 and putting it on the back side of the heatsink as a pull fan. But the Noctua engineers think gains to be had over the single fan is not worth the cost. However we are all about limit pushing here, so Noctua includes a second set of fan clips with the NH-U14S kit.
Those extra-thick pads are touted by Noctua as providing “the best balance of performance and acoustics,” as if one is giving up performance to get less noise. I’m not sure about the acoustics, but the thicker pads seem to produce systems that cool very well indeed.
One last thought: if you are going to buy a second NF-A15, put the 1500 RPM fan in front and the 1200 RPM fan in the back. This configuration had a 2.6 °C advantage over the faster fan in the pull position.
- Surprisingly good at cooling a CPU
- Avoids interfering with tall RAM
- Includes NF-A15 fan + clips and pads for a second fan
- Comes with extra-thick pads that seem to improve the performance of a pull fan
- Comes with Low Noise Adapter
- Mounting system common with the other Noctua heatsinks
- Mounting system avoids placing excessive clamping pressure on the CPU
- The packing is all recyclable
- Low cost