Way back in June of last year, our own Shane McAnally got his hands on the Noctua NH-D14 CPU cooler, and frankly couldn't say enough good things about it. It scored a maximum 5/5 on our old rating scheme, and got the editors choice award from our Editor-in-Chief, Charles Gantt. Today I have the NH-C14 to play with - let's find out if it lives up to the outstanding NH-D14 or if those shoes are just too much to fill. More after the break....
When I was first approached to review the NH-C14, Noctuas high-end low-profile cooler, my first thought was "Great, I've been looking for a good replacement for the Arctic Cooling unit currently sitting in my media center. Then the box arrived and I thought "Ok, there is NO way that's going to fit!".
Noctua NH-C14 Retail Box - Front View
The box is, frankly, absolutely huge. It was at this point I'd already pretty much decided to test this Cooler in my main PC which currently lives in a Bitfenix Colossus.
Noctua NH-C14 Retail Box - Rear View
The box is big, bold and glossy, as befits a top-of-the-line product. Emblazoned with copious amounts of information and specifications galore, you know, before you even think about opening the box that Noctua don't appear to be cutting any corners here.
Noctua NH-C14 Retail Box - Specification List on top of box
The flexible and thorough nature of the specfications backs this up too - although I have to admit to being initially confused by the L.N.A. and U.L.N.A. acronyms. Probably time to open the box and see if anything comes to light....
Noctua NH-C14 Retail Box - Contents
Inside the big glossy outer box, there are two plain white ones. The smaller flat on on the left contains all of the fitting accessories, and the larger one on the right, the cooler itself.
The first box, once opened, reveals four bags of parts, the oddest screwdriver I've ever seen, and a detailed installation manual. The four bags are all individually labeled which is definitely a nice touch; one for AMD, one for Intel, one for common parts, and finally an optional support bracket. The upshot of this is that you're left with no doubt, almost immediately, which bits you're going to need and which you can put to one side.
Intel Specific Installation Kit
The intel bag contains a backing plate, a pair of mounts and four sets of fixings made up of a screw, a spacer and a thumbscrew/screwdriver driven thumb nut.
AMD Specific Installation Kit
The AMD bag is a little more sparse, with only two mounts and four sets of fixings made up of a screw and spacer.
Additional Fitting Accessories
Common to both AMD and Intel comes the third bag. Hiding in here are four fan screws, four 120mm-140mm fan adaper brackets, a splitter to run both CPU fans from a single power source, and four resistor cables, two in blue and two in black. You also get a case badge and a tube of TIM to finish the list. The fan speed adjusters are the cause of those acronyms on the outside of the packaging - one pair of Low Noise Adapters and one pair of Ultra Low Noise Adapters.
This isn't your average case badge. Most manufacturers throw in a cheap plastic or foil sticker with a brand logo on, in the hope that you'll pop it somewhere on your case. Noctua have provided a solid metal badge, backed with a 3M double sided sticky pad. Another solid piece of evidence that they do NOT cut corners to save pennies.
The final bag contains an optional support bar and a pair of screws, along with a seperate instruction manual for this one part.
Opening the second box and you're presented with this beast of a cooler. It's huge - there's no other word for it. A large radiator, connected to the base with six heatpipes, and all sandwiched in between a pair of 140mm fans.
Cooler With Fans Fitted
CPU Interface Plate
The base isn't quite smooth although it's pretty close, and as you can see, Noctua are sticking with a solid block over the Heatpipe direct contact we've seen on some recent coolers.
The two fans Noctua include are 140mm units with clips pre-installed ready to fit to the radiator. In fact the cooler arrives fully assembled and these clips make popping the fans on and off an absolute breeze. There are also small rubber bumpers fitted in each of the traditional mounting holes to keep vibrations down.
The fan blades themselves have small cutouts in them. Noctua claims this helps to smooth the shape of air as it travels over the blades, reducing turbulence which reduces noise and vibration while maximising airflow.
The cooler laid bare. Nothing unusual here - lots of fins to maximise surface area, and all six heatpipes run the full length possible, from one end of the CPU block, right to the end of the fin array.
From every angle, the cooler looks the part. Well made, strong, polished and ready to take on whatever you choose to throw at it.
Set on either side of the CPU base, there are spring-loaded fitting screws. These screws go into the mounting brackets once fitted to your motherboard.
You might think that getting TO those screws is going to be a pain, but once again, Noctua has you covered with small amounts of fins removed directly above those screws.
That odd long screwdriver suddenly makes a lot of sense. My first instinct was to toss it to one side and use a regular one, but I ended up going back to the included one as it was just the right length whereas the one I planned to use didn't quite reach.
Cooler with Optional Support Bar Fitted
Once reassembled, I decided to fit the optional support bar. This was very simple - just a matter of removing two of the four screws holding the base together, clipping the support into place, and using the two slightly longer screws as provided to hold it all back together. Literally 30 seconds work and zero problems.
So far, so good. Everything I like to see in a product has not only been covered, but covered to a high degree. Lots of flexibility, an undeniable attention to detail, quality parts and clear and concise instructions.
Installation and Testing
Although my initial thoughts included that this monster of a cooler wasn't going to fit into my Media Center, I decided to give it a try. Nothing to lose and all that, so here we go with the relevant test rig specficiations.
- Thermaltake DH-101 Media Centre Case
- Asus M3N-H/HDMI Motherboard
- AMD Athlon II X2 250 @ 3.0Ghz
- 4GB OCZ Gold DDR2
- Windows 7 Ultimate
The DH101 isn't the largest case - it's actually one of those with 40mm fan exhaust mountings to keep the vertical height down. Because this is a media centre which runs 24/7 in my bedroom, to keep noise down, I have disconnected ALL of the case fans from the PC - the only cooling installed is courtesy of the 120mm fan in the PSU and the vents in the chassis itself. The result is a PC which runs warmer than I would usually accept, but which is almost silent in use.
The original cooler in the Media Center was an Arctic Cooling Alpine 64PWM unit.
AC Alpine 64 PWM Cooler fitted
Once removed, you need to remove the stock AMD mounting bracket from the top of the Motherboard. I actually took the motherboard out of the case to fit the cooler, and with Intel based systems, this may well be a requirement, but in my case, I could have gotten away with leaving the motherboard installed.
Using the parts from the AMD bag, fitting the retention brackets for the cooler was a simple matter of lining up the spacers and screwing in the screws.
AMD Bracket removed and replaced with Noctua Mounts
You then place the cooler on top, and using the long provided screwdriver, screw it into place. There is enough clearance between the fan blades that you can do with with the cooler fully assembled.
It's a tight fit in the DH101, but fit it does. With only a couple of millimetres to spare between the cooler and PSU, and the heatpipes and Bluray cables, it almost looks like it was designed to go into exactly this case.
The only "problem" was that I couldn't reinstall the top brace piece. This isn't really much of an issue as I'd had the PC running for over a year previously when I had another tall cooler installed.
That aint gonna fit back on there!
With the brace removed, and the cover reinstalled, you can see just how close the clearance was in this case.
On the plus side, this means that while slightly restricted on one side, this cooler is going to draw cool air straight from outside the case.
Because the Noctua fans are standard DC case fans, a quick visit to the BIOS was required to switch it from PWM mode.
AC and Noctua Retail boxes
And just before we start the testing, a quick look at the packaging for the Noctua compared to the packaging of the cooler it's replacing - told you it was huge!
The NH-C14 can be used in one of three modes. Dual Fan Mode, High Clearance Mode and Low Profile Mode.
OCCT was used to run the PC for a full hour with the Stock AMD cooler fitted, the AC unit fitted, and then with the Noctua unit fitted in all three fan modes. All of the coolers were cleaned of any existing Thermal Interface Material (TIM) and installed using Noctua's NT-H1 TIM for consistency. The syringe of TIM provided was more than sufficient for all three coolers, and there is still enough in the tube for at least one or two more applications, so yet again, no penny-pinching here either.
First up, the stock AMD cooler.
A peak temperature of 51.5 degrees centigrade is acceptable for a stock cooler and shows that, while noticably loud, the stock cooler is more than capable of keeping this CPU under control.
Secondly, the previously installed cooler, the Arctic Cooling PWM64.
Nothing amazing, but still definitely adequate, with a slight improvement in temperature over the stock cooler, and a definite improvement in noise. Top temperatures of 48 degrees here.
Now for the Noctua unit. In the interests of providing a complete picture of the NH-C14's potential, the cooler was tested in all three modes.
Low Profile Mode - one fan fitted, below the radiator section of the cooler.
A much more respectable result this time. Peak temperatures never exceed 34 degrees centigrade, a full 14 degrees cooler than the AC unit, and over 16 degrees cooler than AMD's stock solution. It's also worth noting that the idle temperature is around 5 degrees cooler than stock with the Noctua fitted.
High Clearance Mode - one fan fitted, above the radiator section of the cooler.
Another improvement in temperatures here. 31 degrees is as hot as things got with this arrangement, a further drop of 3 degrees over the low profile configuration.
Dual Fan Mode - both fans fitted, one above, and one below the radiator section.
This final test in the straight comparison series produces yet another drop in temperature, albeit a mere 0.5 degrees over the high clearance result. It's fairly obvious that the CPU being used in this review is absolutely not pushing the NH-C14 anywhere near its' limits and I'm confident that with a CPU with a higher TDP, the dual fan arrangement would provide a larger differential over either of the single fan configurations.
It is also worth noting that the direction of airflow through this cooler, directly down onto the CPU, means there's a flood of air passing over your Motherboard VRMs and, to a lesser degree, your RAM chips.
These tests were run with the motherboard in full control of the fans - without the L.N.A. or U.L.N.A. cables fitted, and with the motherboard set for performance as opposed to silent.
Noise levels? Even with the BIOS set for performance, the noise levels produced by the NH-C14 were much lower than the stock cooler and comparable to the AC unit. After I had completed the above tests, I reset the BIOS setting to silent (this is a media center pc after all so noise levels are a major concern).
Finally, the Dual Fan, BIOS set to silent results
Predictably, with the fans running at substantially slower speeds, there are two results here. The first is a slight rise in peak temperatures, up from 30.5 degrees to 33 degrees, and the second being a very noticable drop in noise levels. The noise level actually dropped so far as to be effectively nil - I could clearly hear the noise of the PSU fan and Hard drive activity over the CPU cooler. Personally, I'll happily take a maximum temperature under load which is only 3 degrees warmer than the stock cooler at IDLE, and have an effectively silent CPU cooling solution!
In summary, the following chart shows the peak temperatures reached by both cores of the CPU, in every configuration tested.
These results are the main reason I didn't install either of the sets of adapters Noctua included. Even without them, the cooler is pretty much silent, especially from 10 feet away where we usually are when using the Media Centre. It's nice that Noctua have included them though, allowing you to experiment with different cables to get the cooling/noise compromise you need.
If you choose to only use one of the fans on the CPU cooler, there are parts included in the accessory kit to allow you to make use of the other fan elsewhere in your PC (or in a totally different PC) so there's no waste.
Pro's and Con's
- Outstanding Cooling
- Noise? What Noise?
- Very well constructed
- Flexible cooling options for low profile/high clearance/standard modes
- Included fan speed adapters to allow each fan to run at one of three speeds
- Top down airflow direction means huge amounts of air moving over motherboard VRMs and RAM
- Very easy to install
- No corners cut - attention to every detail is there and obvious
- *Removed* - see note below
I can't find a single issue or fault with this cooler, other than the need to purchase a backplate if you have one of a VERY small list of motherboards. To be honest, if you're going to be buying a super-budget board, you aren't likely to be in the market for a high-end cooling solution anyway.
EDIT: Noctua, after reading this review, has informed me that if any purchaser of this cooler has an AMD motherboard without a backplate, they will happily provide one free of charge. The purchaser simply needs to contact firstname.lastname@example.org and provide proof of purchase. Bearing in mind the VERY small percentage of motherboard which don't have backplates, this makes a lot of sense and will help reduce waste. Can't say fairer than that!
It was never going to be a fair fight bearing in mind the size of the coolers and fans in this comparison, and there was little doubt that the Noctua would come out the winner, but the sheer scale of the beating the Noctua handed down surprised me. With nearly 7 degrees knocked off of the idle temps and a huge 20+ knocked off of the under-load temps, the Noctua's performance is stunning. The fact that there's only an 8 degree difference between the idle and loaded temps when the cooler is running in full-on high performance mode further compliments the Noctua unit, and I have zero doubt it'd be more than capable running on a CPU with a much higher TDP.
It's effective, well built, quiet and Noctua's attention to detail shines through. Not only am I giving this cooler our maximum score of 10/10, I'm also giving it the first Editors Choice award I've ever personally issued.
I started this review with a question relating to if this cooler can live up to the standards set by the NH-D14 Shane reviewed last year, and I'm ending it with an answer to that question - the answer - oh hell yes - easily! Go, now, and buy one, or two.
At the time of writing, the Noctua NH-C14 is available from newegg at a touch under $90
This product was provided free of charge by the manufacturer for the purpose of review.