Noctua gained its fame in coolers world by working very hard to adapt their products to their customers’ needs. In the era of APU computers (Kaveri, for example), or rather, processors with low consumption and high performances, motherboards of small dimensions are becoming more and more popular on the market, as well as small chassis, all with the intention of constructing a computer of small dimensions which will look nice with a brand new LCD TV, and also completely fulfill every multimedia task set before it, without any compromises. With that in mind, coolers of standard dimensions just won’t do, because they are too big.
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In its processor coolers portfolio, Noctua has a solution for every situation. Let’s say you want to make a HTPC based on Micro ATX motherboard (24.4x24.4 cm). With an appropriate chassis, that will be a computer of small dimensions. Still, that computer can be even smaller if you decide to use Mini ITX motherboard (17x17 cm), or Nano-ITX (12x12 cm)… With an appropriate chassis and motherboard that can be a computer of seriously tiny dimensions, but it will require you to carefully choose a cooler and a processor. It’s true that BOX cooler isn’t too high, but it’s also true that BOX cooler is, whether AMD’s or Intel’s, simply put, unacceptably loud, especially in the case of a supposedly silent computer, which is a very important detail with HTPC. You really don’t want loud buzzing to spoil your experience of listening to music or watching movies.
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Noctua has excellent coolers in situation such as these – cooler won’t take up a lot of space, it will perform its task better than BOX cooler and it will be noticeably quieter. For testing, we’ve received NH-L9i model, and if you take a look at specifications table you’ll quickly realize that this is a cooler intended for Intel base, but there’s also an AMD version, which has letter “a” as a suffix, which is, of course, an abbreviation for AMD.

Supported sockets Intel LGA 1156 / 1155
Cooler dimensions (L x W x D) 95x95x37 mm
Cooler weight 420 g
Materials Copper + Nickel / Aluminum
Heatpipes/diameter 2 / 6 mm
Fan dimensions 92x92x14 mm
Fan speeds 300 - 2500 rpm / 300 - 1800* rpm
Fan noise 23.6 / 14.8* dBA
Connector 4 pin
Warranty 6 years
Price 40 €
Contact www.noctua.com
* - with L.N.A. adapter

Packaging

Noctua is famous for their rich packaging, and that applied for NH-L9i model as well. Once we opened the box, we encountered dense, rubberized foam that contains all of the components. The supplied equipment consist of Low Noise Adapter (LNA), a tube of NT-H1 thermal paste (which costs about 10 euros on its own), four screws for cooler mounting, Noctua badge, four long screws (in case of AMD model, metal backplate).

IMG 0105-s IMG 0107-s

 

Design and solutions

NH-L9 has a height of only 37 mm, and has a fan called NF-A9x14 which can earn a separate review, but we’ll try to keep it short. This is a new fan belonging to the A-series of this company and it’s equipped with new technologies such as AAO and Flow Acceleration Channels. Unlike the older series, NF-A9x14 has multiple fan blades which are, among other things, larger than those of older Noctua fans (NF-S and NF-B series). PWM shore on the fan is a wonderful addition, and this will ensure most silent work possible, or rather, best performances, because revolutions per minute will be determined according to processor load. LNA adapter’s purpose is to slow down the fan from the maximum of 2500 to 1800 revolutions per minute, which is enough for good performances, and at the same time it’s quieter than any BOX cooler at the same number of revolutions.
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Cooling profile doesn’t offer anything revolutionary, but we didn’t expect that. Cooler’s body has two 6-mm heatpipes, and the pipes themselves are starting from one end in the middle, and then bend in a “U” shape on the opposing and around the edges and go back to the beginning.

Quality of the base, i.e. the surface that’s most exposed to the heat, Noctua did an exquisite job with NH-L9 – the bases are perfectly flat.

Performances and noise

The processor of choice is Intel Core i3 2100 whose TDP is exactly 65 W. So, the idea was to compare a Noctua cooler with an Intel BOX cooler and see the differences at different levels of RPM. Since Intel BOX’s cooler on Core i3 2100 processor fan goes up only to 2000 RPM, and Noctua’s goes up to 2500 RPM, we decided to test three different settings in order to get an ideal info about performances – 800, 1400 and 2000 RPM.

  Noctua NF-L9i Intel Box Cooler
Idle/Load [°C] @800 RPM 34/64 34.5/65.5
Idle/Load [°C]  @1400 RPM 32/55 33/59
Idle/Load [°C]  @2000 RPM 32/51 32.5/56
Test CPU:  Core i3-2100@3/1 GHz 1.12V

Results table clearly indicates that Noctua is noticeably better, but the differences in temperatures under load aren’t nearly alarming and, in both cases, they are in within limits of standards specified by Intel (Tcase for that processor is 69.1 degrees Celsius). However, we didn’t expect how much will Noctua be better. It’s definitely better, as shown by the test. Still, we were more interested in noise. Namely, it turned out that our measuring device shows the noise of 21.54 dB(A) from the distance of one meter with Intel’s BOX cooler under maximum number of revolutions (2000 RPM). In practice, that means that you’ll definitely hear the fan. Your ears won’t ring from the noise, but it will be noticeable. On the other hand, at the same number of revolutions, Noctua had exactly 6 dB(A) less, or rather, 6.6 dB(A) with the LNA adapter. In practice, that means that you literally won’t hear it from a distance of one meter.

Of course, at the maximum amount of revolutions, NF-L9i’s fan is still quieter than Intel BOX’s fan (3,2 dB(A) of difference), which isn’t completely silent, but it’s very quiet, and the performances are exactly 10 degrees better – however, we repeat, we haven’t put that in the results table, because it wouldn’t be a fair comparison.
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Is it good for small factor MB HTPC?

Short answer is – it’s perfect. Packaging contains excellent thermal paste, silent PWM fan, as well as LNA adapter. Lastly, there’s the very positive impression because of the very good performances considering the very small dimensions of NF-L9i model. Due to lack of competition it wouldn’t be a fair recognition, wouldn’t it? Still, it’s not Noctua’s fault because nobody else had the idea to make a well-rounded product for HTPC with very small dimensions.