Keep Ice Cool with Noctua’s NH-D15
Take the CPU fan and cooler for example. True, it’s not a particularly glamorous piece of kit but if you try turning your PC on without one, your CPU is going to get damn hot and your PC is not going to start.
It’s an essential. Many people are quite happy with the budget option CPU fan and cooler that is bundled with processors made by Intel, but if you want a fan and cooler that is going to keep your processor cool while you overclock the frequency, you’re going to need something a little more substantial.
Enter Noctua’s NH-D15. Compared to Intel’s bundled heatsink/fan combination it’s a giant.
And what you get for that extra size is a larger area (one whole square metre of surface to be precise) to dissipate heat.
But how does it perform? Well keep reading for more detail but let’s just say it’s good enough to earn one of our Top Performance Component awards.
It’s not just the heatsink that’s bigger the NH-D15 also features one 140mm fan as standard, and gives you the option to attach a second one if you really want to keep things cool.
It’s worth mentioning that despite its size, it’s a very light unit: weighing in at just 980g without fans, and 1.3kg with.
The packaging from Noctua is as always, excellent, and when you see the box it’s clear you’ve invested in a quality product. Even the cardboard looks and feels good.
Inside the large box, you’ll find five smaller boxes. All specially crafted to fit neatly together into the bigger box – great package design!
The main box contains the cooler with one 140mm fan attached to it. The extra boxes, contain an additional 140mm fan, an Intel mounting bracket that’s compatible with LGA2011-0, LGA2011-3, LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA1151, and LGA1150 sockets and an AMD bracket compatible with AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, FM1, FM2, and FM2+ sockets.
There’s also a separate box containing all of the fixtures and screws you will need to install the cooler, as well as a tube of Noctua’s NT-H1 thermal paste, two low noise adapters, a Y-cable, a metal case badge, and a screwdriver.
The design of the fan is based around Noctua’s last-generation NH-D14 cooler, which has scooped a host of awards globally from hardware websites and magazines.
All of the parts are well made, and solid with nothing ‘cheap’ about them.
The materials used include: copper in the base and heat pipes; aluminum for the cooling fins (which would explain why they are so light!), and nickel plating.
The Noctua NH-D15 has a dual tower design that features six heatpipes to pull heat away from your CPU.
The dual tower design has been used for a number of reasons, to increase surface area, improve airflow and to allow more even heat distribution.
The heat pipes have been moved further apart than on the NH-D14, while the size of the cooling stacks has been increased from 140mm to 150mm.
You’ll notice from the photographs that the lower cooling fins – those nearest the motherboard/CPU – are slightly recessed.
This allows clearance for memory modules that use their own over-sized heatsinks. What it means is that you shouldn’t have any compatibility issues slotting this into your system even if you use memory modules with large heat sinks.
Let’s look at the NH-D15’s cooling performance. To test the cooler out I used an i5-4690K that runs at 3.5GHz standard speed and at 3.9GHz boost.
I used Core Temp to measure how hot things got on the CPU, and to log temperatures for 10 minutes, then tested the processor using the CPU stress tool Prime95.
So how did the Noctua NH-D15 fair? Well at idle the CPU merrily chugged along at between 24-25c.
After a 10-minute test on Prime95, Core Temp recorded a temperature of 64c. This doesn’t really mean anything unless it’s compared to something, so I switched the NH-D15 out and reinstalled the stock CPU fan and cooler provided by Intel.
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As expected the stock cooler fared a lot worse. At idle the CPU was 33c, but following a 10-minute stress test on Prime95 the CPU temperature skyrocketed to 100c – way too hot!
So the NH-D15 at stock operation, managed to reduce the CPU’s temperature by around 8-9c, but was a massive 36c cooler following a stress test.
What this means is that investing in a cooler like the NH-D15 will go a long way to extending the life of your CPU, and will also help to cool the rest of your system too.
While it’s not for everyone, overclocking – that is raising your CPU speed to boost performance – will be a key reason many people consider the Noctua NH-D15, so it seemed a good idea to see how it performed.
Logging into the BIOS I gradually raised the clock speed of my i5-4690K to 4.2GHz.
While the i5-4690K can clock a lot higher than 4.2GHz I wanted to keep to a realistic overclock that more people are likely to achieve.
Running Core Temp again, I recorded idle temperature for 10 minutes, and then compared it to a 10-minute run using Prime95.
As expected the overclock raised temperatures, but not as much as you might expect.
At idle, the Noctua NH-D15 kept the CPU at a reasonable 30c, while under load the temperature crept up to 75c – a full 11c hotter than the standard non-overclocked speed.
Crucially though, this is a lot less than the 80c at which most CPUs tend to start getting very toasty – and remember Prime95 really is an intense stress test of a CPU. It would be very unlikely for things to get so hot under normal gaming use.
The verdict is in, and it’s good. If you’re looking for a near-liquid level of CPU cooling, but don’t want the extra work that comes with it, the Noctua NH-D15 is for you.
Yes, it is big and bulky, and you will need a lot of room in your case to fit it in, but despite its size it actually surprisingly light.
It’s build quality is exceptional too, and alongside performance are the reasons we’ve decided to award Noctua’s NH-D15 the Top Performance Award badge.
The cooler comes with a six-year warranty, and is available for around $90.
Building a Gaming PC
Building a gaming PC is a great skill to have, and more than anything it’s fun. You’re creating something and learning new things at the same time.
If you’re a little unsure about where you should start, take a look at the below video playlist. It’s designed to be as simple and straightforward to follow as possible.
There’s tips in there on how to install a CPU cooler, among other things.
Click the menu box in the top left of the below window to cycle through all the videos.
I deliberately made the videos short and clear, to help make the learning process as straightforward as possible.
If you need tips and hints about installing a CPU cooler for your gaming PC build, hit me up in the comments section, or tweet me directly.
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As PC games get better and better and the hardware to run them advances at an ever quicker rate you may be tempted to buy a pre-built custom gaming PC.
STOP! Don’t do it. There’s a range of benefits to building your own PC:
- you’ll save a tonne of money
- you can customize it exactly as you want
- you avoid ‘bloatware’ that comes bundled with pre-built systems and clogs up performance
The good news is it’s a buyer’s market with a massive range of components available to builders and building a gaming PC is easier than many realize.
If you can put together a Lego kit you can build a computer. It’s that easy.
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If you’re interested in other PC gaming components and builds head to the blog.
There’s so many different PC systems you can build. Check out a few ideas below.