Noctua NH-U12S

U12S

Noctua's NH-U12S is the high-end veteran in the 120mm market, and it's become the de facto benchmark by which all other 120mm-based coolers are judged. It stands a fairly tall 160mm according to our tape measure (the specs suggest it should be 158mm), and weighed in at 742 grams on our scale. That means it's the tallest and second-lightest cooler in this roundup, which is an indication of its heritage. Traditional 120mm-based coolers, like the NH-U12S, use a tall, thin fin stack that is not offset to account for RAM clearance or case width. We had no trouble installing it in our large test system, but we know that it will barely fit in many mid-tower cases.

So, while the Noctua doesn't exactly lead the way in cutting-edge design, it's a breeze to install. It took us just 7 minutes to get this cooler up and running, making it by far the best installation process in this roundup. Everything is just "dialed,"  with excellent spring-loaded screws, easy to use fan clips, and the best manual you'll see from any manufacturer in the PC industry. Noctua gets it right over and over again when it comes to packaging, quality, and ease-of use. You of course get a generous tube of  NT-H1 thermal paste, as well as a low-noise adapter for situations where you don't need the fan's full 1500RPM operational range. Note that thanks to its multi-position fan mounting system, you can raise the fan to clear RAM slots on very compact motherboards (think ITX models) if you have headroom to spare in your case. That makes it a good pick for modern high-end ITX gaming systems.

Note that we actually tested an original-issue NH-U12S, not the SE-AM4 model, so we simply used Noctua's NM-AM4-UxS adapter kit to mount it on our Ryzen platform. The coolers are otherwise identical.

Fuma

Scythe Fuma Rev. B

The Fuma is a hefty cooler, coming in at 917 grams on our scale, making it the heaviest in this roundup. It's fairly short, at 150mm tall, but as we'll discuss, this is before it's mounted!

The truth is that the Fuma is pretty difficult to install as 120mm-based coolers go. The two Scythe Slip Stream fans that come pre-installed must be removed when affixing the heatsink, and getting them back on is a pain. There's almost no clearance for the middle fan between the two fin stacks, meaning that getting the fan and its associated clips slipped in between them is incredibly difficult - the clips kept getting stuck on the heatsink fins, bending a lot of them in the process. A few more millimeters of clearance would go a long way towards addressing  this problem.

Then there's that front fan - it almost certainly will need to be raised above its default position, as it sits directly above multiple RAM slots, and in our test system, which use a high-profile LED RAM kit, we actually had to raise the fan a full 15mm, meaning the cooler then stood at 165mm tall, which is as tall as many 140mm-based coolers. In other words, this is not a compact cooler. Having the fan sit high also compromised the aesthetics, while covering up our RAM's LED lights, so overall, it's just not great in terms of appearance. The big question is how it performs, of course, and you'll find out soon enough!

Mugen

Scythe Mugen 5 Rev. B

Scythe's Mugen 5 Rev. B may have been released at the same time as the Fuma Rev. B, and may come in at the same price, but wow, it couldn't be more different. It weighs in at a massive 900g, and measures 155mm tall. Most of its weight is in its huge heatsink, as unlike the Fuma, it comes with just fan. That being said, this fan is no slouch - it's Scythe's brand-new Kaze Flex 120mm, the latest in a long line of fluid dynamic bearing-equipped fans that simply blow away the competition in terms of quality for your money. We're still using decade-old Scythe S-Flex and Kama Flow 2 fans in some of our test systems, so yes, we know they will stand the test of time! Note that the Fuma's Slip Stream fans use sleeve bearings, so they'll likely have a shorter lifespan.

In other good news, the Mugen 5 was a breeze to install. It took us just 9 minutes to get it seated, with the help of the nice magnetic screwdriver included in the box (you need a long-reach screwdriver to affix the rear retention screw through the body of the heatsink, and Scythe doesn't want to take any chances here, so it includes one). You also get a small tube thermal paste (which is easier to apply than the packets that a few manufacturers utilize), and in this situation, Scythe's excellent fan clip design has nothing to hold it back, unlike with the awkward Fuma.

AR03

SilverStone AR03 Version 2

The AR03 came in at 761 grams on our scale, and 161mm tall, making it the tallest heatsink in this roundup. In a lot of ways, it parallels the design of the Noctua NH-U12S, which isn't surprising given that they are both of the same vintage (around four years old). Tall and slim heatsinks ruled the roost back then.

Like every model but the Cryorig H7, the AR03 uses the stock AMD backplate, but unfortunately, like the Cryorig (and the Arctic), it allows the backplate to float, rather than including spacers that would secure it independent of the heatsink. That means it really doesn't inspire confidence during the installatin process. All told, it took us 12 minutes to install this cooler, in part due to the somewhat unusual elastomer fan clips, which must be pushed and pulled in various directions to work, along with the very liquidy thermal paste, of which there's barely enough for a single application. All in all, it's fairly evident that time has passed the AR03 by, as it's just not that user-friendly.

Summary Notes

We'll be assigning scores for ease of installation later in this article, but suffice it to say that Noctua simply owns this category. Yes, its coolers come at a premium price, but they come with a premium experience. The massive Mugen 5 Rev. B was a surprise runner-up in terms of ease of use, thanks to its well thought out design and mounting bracket. The rest of the coolers are all fairly similar, each having their own odd challenges.

By the way, since we've included photos of each cooler here, we might as well address aesthetics. We just love the look of the blacked-out Arctic and its color-matched fans, and while we weren't blown away by the RGB effects on Cryorig's H7, the cooler and fan themselves are quite attractive. We also liked the stately appearance of the big Mugen 5 and the old-school Noctua (yes, we know the beige fan makes a somewhat peculiar statement, but Noctua's working on that with its new line of Chromax fans!). We weren't as impressed by the Fuma, since its front fan needed to be propped up, and the SilverStone looks a little dated with its white-on-baby blue color scheme. The low-profile Noctua NH-L12S won't do much to spruce up a big gaming tower, but it will look great filling the CPU bay of any slimline PC.

OK, time to move on to the main event: thermal testing!

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