ProsThe NH-U14S stands out as a true winner; it's quiet, effective, and very easy to install
ConsWhile the NH-U14S is a five-star product, the NH-D15S receives only a 3.5-star rating; it disappoints with a high price, along with overall performance below the NH-U14S
Earlier this year, we put together a comprehensive guide to CPU coolers, looking at six different models representing six different categories. It wasn't so much a shootout as a compendium of the range of coolers available, along with a primer on which ones best fit particular goals and purposes. Well, the time has come to do a proper high-end shootout, pushing a handful of top contenders with a seriously-overclocked Intel six-core processor and an open-air GeForce GTX 980 Ti. Only the strong will survive, but we're stacking the deck by starting with the strongest. We're going to be pitting the three top-performing coolers from our previous guide, the Thermalright Macho Rev. B, the Noctua NH-D15, and the Corsair Hydro H100i, against Noctua's two best single-fan 140mm coolers, the NH-U14S and NH-D15S. And this time we're going to pick a winner.
This article will serve as a detailed review of the NH-U14S (shown at right) and the NH-D15S (shown at left), as this is the first time we're testing them. Therefore, we'll go into a bit more detail on these coolers in regard to installation and ease of use. For details on the other three contenders, flip back to our previous article. As background, Noctua offers a full range of air coolers, starting with low-profile coolers designed for low-power and compact PCs, up to and including the behemoth dual-fan 140mm NH-D15, which is included in this test. The coolers range in price from about $40 to $100, meaning Noctua has positioned itself firmly in the high-end arena. As with many manufacturers that have been in the air-cooling business for a while, Noctua has not ventured into the world of liquid cooling, leaving that to companies like Corsair and Cooler Master, which have much broader product portfolios. That allows Noctua to focus exclusively on what it knows best, and history has shown that it definitely knows air cooling. Ultimately, however, liquid coolers have more cooling potential than air coolers, so at the very high end, Noctua has to win on price, ease of installation, noise, and reliability. We previously found that the NH-D15 was very close to catching the Corsair Hydro H100i, the best-selling 240mm liquid cooler for the past few years, but we concluded that a lower-cost, single-fan version would offer a better-balanced package overall. Noctua has now delivered that product in the form of the NH-D15S, and we're giving Noctua another chance to prove that it still has what it takes. And make no mistake, liquid cooling isn't Noctua's only challenger. Thermalright, another dedicated air cooling purveyor, offers up some of the lowest-priced 140mm coolers on the market, including the Macho Rev. B that we're re-testing for this shootout. That means Noctua is going to feel pressure at both ends in this shootout. Things could get interesting!
Here's the system we used to rate our contenders, which is brand-new here at The Tech Buyer's Guru as of Summer 2015:
- CPU: Intel Core i7-5820K, overclocked to 4.4GHz at 1.2V
- Motherboard: Asus X99-Pro/USB3.1
- Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti ACX 6GB
- RAM: G.Skill 4x4GB Ripjaws4 DDR4-3000
- SSD #1: Samsung SM951 M.2 256GB
- SSD #2: 2x Samsung 850 Evo 500GB in RAID0
- Case: Corsair Carbide 500R
- Power Supply: EVGA Supernova 1000 PS
- Operating System: Windows 8.1
We'd like to extend a very special thank you to Noctua for providing all three Noctua-branded coolers featured in this article. To recap, here are the five coolers we're testing in this shootout, along with their market prices as of our publication date:
- Thermalright Macho Rev. B ($53)
- Noctua NH-U14S ($75)
- Noctua NH-D15S ($100)
- Noctua NH-D15 ($95), in single- and dual-fan modes
- Corsair Hydro H100i ($104)
One quick note on pricing: the NH-D15S is supposed to fit in between the NH-U14S and NH-D15 in Noctua's product lineup, but because it's still quite new and hasn't fully penetrated the U.S. market, it appears that its selling price is artificially inflated. It's been two months since release, however, so we honestly have no choice but to take this price into consideration when judging the NH-D15S; things are already looking tough for Noctua's newest high-end entrant.
Another thing to keep in mind: Intel does not provide a stock cooling solution for the Haswell-E line of processors, which the Core i7-5820K is a part of, so there is no "baseline" against which we can judge the aftermarket contenders. If you're going with Haswell-E (and we wouldn't blame you if you did!), you're going to be using an aftermarket cooler, and it's going to need to be a pretty serious piece of hardware. While we haven't tested lower-end coolers on our 5820K, as our tests will show, you really don't want to go there!
All right, with the introduction out of the way, it's time to get into the nitty-gritty of Noctua's top 140mm offerings.