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This review actually hits a little bit close to my heart, and I need to explain a little bit about that before we go on with this review. Like 15 years ago Noctua was actually one of the first companies that sampled Hardware Canucks, I think the first one was Thermalright from back in the day, then there was Arctic Cooling, and then there was Noctua. That was actually before they launched the NH-U12S, but when they launched the U12S that jumped onto the scene like a bat out of hell. Since then this has actually been one of the best coolers for the money you could possibly buy, great engineering, great cooling, great everything. It does cost $70 USD though, if you can actually find it for that price at the moment.
Recently Noctua went back to the drawing board, and they said look in this environment how can we address some of the shortcomings that are currently in the market? The result is this: The NH-U12S Redux. It keeps all of the great qualities of the original U12S, cuts out a few of the frills, and comes in at just $50 USD. Because of that price point I think this is going to be one of the most popular coolers going forward.
With that out of the way, I am sure you are wondering what the actual differences are between these coolers. But before I get to that, I want to get to the similarities. The first similarity is actually the size, they are both still extremely slim, and the compatibility is absolutely perfect. I’m going to get to the installation process in a bit, and if you wanted a little bit more detail the actual dimension of the U12S and U12S Redux are 158mm high, 125mm wide, and just 45mm deep. However, if you look at them next to one another they legitimately look the same unless you go into the minute details.
First of all, the U12S Redux has 4 heatpipes instead of the 5 on the U12S, in addition to that those heat pipes are not soldered to the fin array, and that might not sound important but that direct contact with the fin array allows them to take the heat from the core up through the heatpipes and more quickly transfer it to the heatsink. One other thing is that the U12S Redux doesn’t actually come with a tube of thermal compound, instead Noctua has pre-applied a hexagonal pattern on the base.
Another thing that is probably pretty obvious to you is that they both come with a single fan, but the fan that they come with is completely different. The specs of the fans are what really sets one apart from another. The single fan on the Redux is actually the P12 Redux that is rated at 1700 RPMs, whereas the F12 on the original U12S is only rated at 1500 RPMs. And even though they have really similar specs across their operating range the F12 can actually deliver a lot better airflow and static pressure at a lower RPM. That means that basically you are going to be getting about the same temperatures, but the U12S is going to be operating at a little bit lower decibel levels.
What I also wanted to talk about are the areas that Noctua did cut back a little bit other than in the design and that’s in the accessories. First of all, you don’t get a full tube of thermal compound like you would with the U12S that is where the pre-applied thermal compound comes in. You also don’t get any clips for a second fan, and you don’t get any of the low noise or ultra-low noise adapters, or even the Y splitter that come with the U12S. Instead all of those items are actually included in a separate accessory pack, think about it like a Noctua DLC. Let’s go through what you get in this. Most importantly you get a second 120mm fan. Now is that really necessary? Well you are going to see from our performance results later that this cooler already performs really, really well on 99.9% of the systems that are out there. But other than that, you also get a low noise adapter, you get the fan Y splitter, an ultra-low noise adapter, fan clips, vibration mounts, and that’s pretty much it.
I also wanted to talk a little bit about the installation hardware, because there is one thing that I wish Noctua would have really added to the Redux: The really handy screwdriver that you get with every other Noctua cooler aside from this one. So about that installation hardware, well Noctua includes your standard AM4 mounts, but they don’t actually have AM3 compatibility. For AM4 mounting you’re going to have to reuse the backplate that comes with the motherboard. I’m going to get into the full installation in a little bit for this, because it’s super, super simple. Now on the Intel side you get your standard LGA1200/LGA1150 hardware along with LGA2066 studs, but I really have to give it to Noctua because they are actually using a full metal backplate for the installation of those Intel systems. A lot of other manufacturers have actually moved to plastic and that is such a pain in the ass, so good on Noctua for that one.
In order to show you how easy that installation process is I want it to bring over an AM4 system, and go from start to finish for the installation process of the U12S Redux. The installation onto an AMD AM4 system is unique, but it follows the same path as the Intel one. The only difference is the Intel one has a Noctua provided back plate. Here all you would need to do is install little spacers, and then there is going to be a crossbar that is going to be installed on both sides with separate screws. Those ones you just pop in the holes, and because the AMD backplate is already in place it should just slot in.
With that out of the way I wanted to talk about this crossbar that Noctua has installed, because it really sets them apart from a lot of other heatsink manufacturers, and because this is installed you don’t have to fiddle with a whole kit of parts. Not only that but Noctua pre-installs their screws with little detents on the bottom, and those detents allow this group to be guided into this stud without too much of a problem. I’m going to get that out of the way and you will see how easy it is to install.
The cooler is pretty much installed, except I wanted to talk a little bit more about memory clearance. That is one of the U12S and the U12S Redux’s highlights, because the cooler is so slim basically any tall memory module will fit in front of it, even on the closest slot to the CPU socket. Yes, there are thicker memory modules out there, and if that’s the case all you really have to do is move the fan up a little bit and clear that memory module. But other than that the installation cannot get easier and it’s one of Noctua’s biggest strengths. So that all out of the way, I really want it to cut to the performance because we have to remember that the DNA of this cooler is actually taken from one of the most legendary coolers on the market at the moment.
Now onto performance testing, and starting at 120W at a lower heat load that covers most modern CPUs out there right now. Well the NH-U12S Redux is super competitive with the original NH-U12S, and that is partly because the heat loads remain so low. We have already seen this before because those low heat loads do not stress most modern CPU coolers. It’s only a couple of degrees behind or tied with the U12S, but you can see from the graph it does get just that little bit louder like I talked about before. When we normalize the 38dB right across the board, this thing is right in-line with pretty much every other cooler we have tested.
At 165W, which is actually below the PL2 levels of most higher-end Rocket Lake chips, the U12S Redux and the U12S still run neck-and-neck right up until the slightly higher fan speeds where the Redux does start falling behind by a couple of degrees, but don’t forget it does get louder as well. The second chart really puts things into perspective when you remember that there are actually some competitors here that cost twice as much, or even more, but offer similar or even worse performance at 165W TDP.
Moving to 260W, and remember this cooler cost $50 USD. At a full 260W the NH-U12S did fail at lower fan speeds, but once you get into higher RPMs it actually does deliver proper cooling. But what it doesn’t do is offer cooling that is good enough for these super super high-end chips, but really that was totally to be expected. You have to be running this thing at a 100% fan speed to get sort of reasonable temperatures and not close to throttling temperature for a lot of modern processors. Now moving to that 38 decibel normalized result, what did you expect? This is a $50 cooler.
At the same time I also wanted to talk about those dual fan results because slapping more fans onto there does increase performance, but by how much? At 120W, really not that much because you didn’t need that additional cooling capacity. Moving to 165W you can see it start to make a little bit of a difference as we go higher and higher in the RPM range, but at that 260W level well that is where it can really put the pedal to the metal. If you have any intention of overclocking your processor or if you upgrade your processor to higher-end one in the future this is really when you want that dual fan option. And that is the option that Noctua gives you to spend a little bit more money, maybe a little bit further in the future and get that much better performance without having to switch coolers.
I guess that brings me to the conclusion, and I want to cut this short. Is the Noctua NH-U12S Redux worth it? The answer to that is absolutely. Look it’s not a cheap cooler, but it gets the job done for pretty much anyone, and anybody else that needs to go a little bit higher in the TDP level well you slap on that other fan and that brings overall performance very, very close to the U12S. Now, on the other hand, there are a couple of coolers out there that are also extremely good values, the Scythe Fuma 2 is a perfect competitor to this, but the problem with the Scythe is that it isn’t as widely available as the U12S Redux is right now.