All the benchmarks below were included in the video linked to on the previous page, but if you want to study them in depth, here they are!
There's one best cooler here, and it's not the one with the lowest temperature. At idle, it's noise that matters, and here, the NH-L12S is the leader. Honorable mention goes to the be quiet! Shadow Rock LP, which is nearly as quiet.
In this 5-minute test using CPU-z's built-in stress test, we see which coolers handle heat over extended tasks. It's a good approximation for the temperature you'll find during gaming. The lowest temperature was achieved by the SilverStone NT06-Pro, but it came with deafening noise. The true winner here is again the NH-L12S, with the be quiet! Shadow Rock LP just a step behind.
Finally, we have our intense Cinebench test, which pushes the CPU to an extreme level, but for just 30 seconds, typical of the type of compression, decompression, and rendering that many PC owners use their system for. Here we see one clear winner, and surprise, surprise, it's the Noctua NH-L12S. It's both the coolest and quietest, which is a feat of pure magic.
The Final Tally
Based on our results, there is clearly only one best when it comes to low-profile coolers: the Noctua NH-L12S. It's cool, it's quiet, it's easy to install, and it's surprisingly affordable. Simply put, if your system has space for its 70mm height, and you are using low-profile RAM, it's the only cooler to consider. With that said, if it's not available in your area, an honorable mention goes to the 75mm-tall be quiet! Shadow Rock LP, which was just a step behind in terms of performance. Another honorable mention goes to the Noctua NH-L9x65, not for its performance, but for the simple fact that it's the most powerful cooler ever released that fits within the 95mm x 95mm footprint that Intel uses for its reference coolers. By sticking to this compact design, the NH-L9x65 ensures that it will stay clear of RAM, video cards, and other motherboard components, allowing it to be the "universal" choice whenever there's a question of compatibility.
That's it for now, and we mean for a while! This test took us weeks to complete, due to the extensive video footage we shot, as well as the significant amount of time invested in swapping out coolers in our compact ITX case. We're taking a break! In the meantime, check out all our CPU cooler recommendations at every price point in the CPU Cooler Buyer's Guide, updated quarterly!