The 2019 Low-Profile Cooler Shootout: Crowning a Welterweight Champ
Here at TBG, we have a thing for coolers. In fact, at this point, we’ve tested more coolers than any other PC component, with nearly 40 under our belt. That means we have a very good sense of what the best models are, and what makes for a great cooler. And while it’s true that coolers can live much longer lives than most PC components, the technology does in fact improve over time, which means the cooler that someone named “best ever” in 2010 or 2013 almost certainly isn’t worth buying today. And that’s why we keep at it, testing cooler after cooler in order to make sure we can always give you, or readers, the best advice.
In fact, this isn’t even our first low-profile cooler shootout. That would be our 2016 roundup. But much has changed in the intervening three years, with numerous new models being introduced, as well as a whole new line of CPUs to cool, namely AMD’s Ryzen AM4 platform, which is what we’ve adopted for all our cooler shootouts. This time around we’ve got a total of seven coolers and eight different test configurations. These include two reference coolers from AMD (the Wraith Stealth and Wraith Spire), as well as two coolers from Noctua (the NH-L9x65 and the NH-L12S), a new cooler from Scythe (the Big Shuriken 3, which we’re testing with both the thin stock and an optional thick fan), plus the be quiet! Shadow Rock LP and the SilverStone NT06-Pro. Special thanks to each of these companies for providing us with test samples for this review!
Below you can see all the coolers we’ll be testing this time around, along with their heights and current selling prices:
- Noctua NH-L9x65 (65mm) – $50
- Noctua NH-L12S (70mm) – $50
- be quiet! Shadow Rock LP (75mm) – $48
- Scythe Big Shuriken 3 (69mm) – $47
- SilverStone NT06-Pro (83mm) – $60
And here are the specs of the mini-ITX system that we used for all testing:
- AMD Ryzen 5 3600 CPU
- Gigabyte B450I Aorus WiFi Motherboard
- Corsair 2x8GB Vengeance LPX DDR4-3200
- SilverStone SG13 Case
- SilverStone SX700-LPT Power Supply
- SilverStone PP08 SFX Adapter
- Noctua NF-A12x25 PWM Case Fan
Yes, indeed, we actually took the time to swap in and out each of the eight cooler configurations to complete the benchmarks for this test, which wasn’t easy given that this ITX system had no motherboard backplate cutout!
As with all of our reviews at this point and going forward, this review is in the form of a YouTube video, which you can see below:
If you’d like to just focus on the benchmarks, you can flip through them below, where we also provide our conclusions.
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!