Noctua NH-U14S Review

By: Jonathan Kwan
August 30, 2013

A few weeks ago, I was driving home from a friend's house. As I merged into the highway, my radar detector received a strong Ka band signal from behind. My detector does not false; Ka band alerts simply means police. Let me clarify I do not normally speed, nor did I plan to, but in a situation like this, it reminds me why my trusty little receiver is worth every penny I have spent for the entertainment value it provides. As I kept to myself in the right lane going a little below the speed limit, a silver unmarked Ford Explorer passed me on the left. Sure, there were very subtle clues it was a police, but if it was not for the big hint my detector gave me, I would never have been aware of it. Meanwhile, a red Tiburon, unaware of the situation, moved in at obviously extra legal speeds, and began to tailgate the unmarked police car. I began to chuckle as the Ford Explorer moved over to the right lane to let the Tiburon pass. The Tiburon driver nailed it past the cop, and before he knew it, the Explorer flashed its red and blue lights, and pulled the guy over. As you can see, sometimes it is very important to be aware of who you are up against. Being ignorant of the situation will bring huge surprises you have not been asking for. In the same way, the silent heatsink market has changed a lot in the past few years. Consumers are not just asking for acoustic superiority anymore; excellence in cooling is now an expectation. Is the Noctua NH-U14S a proper response to the market, or will it find bad surprises along the way? Read on to find out!

Our Noctua NH-U14S review unit came in a large, brown corrugated cardboard box from Noctua's headquarters in Austria. As usual, it was wrapped in lots of blue "RASCOM" tape. After traveling half way around the world, it was transferred to Canada Post using the XpressPost service when it arrived on Canadian soil. As usual, a delivery note was left in my mailbox, and I went to a local postal outlet around one minute drive away to pick it up. Everything arrived in reasonably good condition, and Noctua installed an appropriate amount of packing material inside the shipping box to ensure everything arrives safely. Now the box was pretty darn big, but this is only because they have thrown in a bunch of extra NF-S12A PWM fans that went missing last time for us to play around with. Also in the package was the NF-U12S; the 120mm variant of the heatsink in this review.

Retaining Noctua's fundamental predominantly burgundy color scheme, the NH-U14S' packaging ensures Noctua-ness never goes missing, despite the changes in design. Its updated layout for a modernized look was first seen in the company's NF-P12 PWM packaging since early 2012. While some people may not be big fans -- no pun intended -- of the Noctua color palette, it is hard to argue against its overall clean and distinguished appearance when placed on the shelves at your favorite local retailer. As you can see in our photo above, the packaging is sleek yet practical; at first glance, you are not going to miss the product name, what it is, and a short list of feature highlights.

Before we move on, let's take a look at the specifications of the Noctua NH-U14S, as obtained from the manufacturer's website:

Heatsink Specifications
Socket compatibility: Intel LGA2011 (Square ILM), LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA1150 & AMD AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, FM1, FM2 (backplate required)
Height (without fan): 165 mm
Width (without fan): 150 mm
Depth (without fan): 52 mm
Height (with fan): 165 mm
Width (with fan): 150 mm
Depth (with fan): 78 mm
Weight (without fan): 770 g
Weight (with fan): 935 g
Material: Copper (base and heat-pipes), aluminium (cooling fins), soldered joints & nickel plating
Fan compatibility: 140x150x25 (with 120mm mounting holes), 140x140x25 (with 120mm mounting holes), 120x120x25
Scope of Delivery:
NF-A15 PWM premium fan
Low-Noise Adaptor (L.N.A.)
NT-H1 high-grade thermal compound
SecuFirm2™ Mounting Kit
Anti-vibration pads and fan-clips for second NF-A15 (optional)
Noctua Metal Case-Badge
Warranty: 6 Years

Fan specifications:
Model: Noctua NF-A15 PWM
Bearing: SSO2
Max. Rotational Speed (+/- 10%): 1500 RPM
Max. Rotational Speed with L.N.A. (+/- 10%): 1200 RPM
Min. Rotational Speed (PWM): 300 RPM
Max. Airflow: 140,2 m³/h
Max. Airflow with L.N.A.: 115,5 m³/h
Max. Acoustical Noise: 24,6 dB(A)
Max. Acoustical Noise with L.N.A.: 19,2 dB(A)
Input Power: 1,56 W
Voltage Range: 12 V
MTBF: > 150.000 h

Out of the box, you will greeted by three more boxes. All boxes are in raw corrugated cardboard color; tiled next to each other in the same thickness. The two smaller boxes hold the included accessories, while the larger one contains common accessories. Unloading the accessory boxes, and taking out a cardboard spacer will reveal the heatsink itself. The Noctua NH-U14S already has a NF-A15 fan pre-installed. Three individually packaged accessory bags are labeled "Intel", "AMD ", and "Accessories", respectively. The Intel and AMD sets are mounting accessories for their respective platforms -- the SecuFirm2 mounting kits allows the Noctua NH-U14S to work with Intel's LGA1366 and LGA 115x sockets, as well as AMD's AM2, AM2+, AM3, FM1, and FM2 sockets. Accessories tagging along include a low noise adapter, screwdriver, second set of fan clips, fan corner rubber dampeners, and a case badge. The NH-U14S also ships with Noctua's excellent NT-H1 thermal compound, which we had reviewed back in our August 2008 shootout. As always from the company, the included bundle is not just about the heatsink itself -- it is also about the included excellent removable high performance fans and 'stock' thermal paste. Cooling fans such as the NF-A15 aren't exactly cheap when you buy them separately in retail, and one is included in the package.

One manual is included for each socket type for a total of three installation posters, placed in their respective boxes. The instructions are concise and clear. With the accessories very cleanly distinguished for each application as aforementioned, it makes life just that much easier. I just wish more manufacturers will learn from Noctua, haha.

A view from the top three-quarter view of the heatsink. Noctua took elements of what they have done right with its predecessor, and further optimized it on the Noctua NH-U14S. Basically, it takes the form factor of the NH-U12P we have reviewed over five years ago, increased the size by about 30%, and included some elements from the NH-D14 into their latest product. Obviously, if you want the 120mm version, you can go for the NH-U12S, also reviewed by Yours Truly this week. As far as engineering and implementation goes, fans can be mounted on using two clips each. Only one fan is included out of the box, but installation accessories are included for the optional second 120mm or 140mm unit. These wire clips are easy to attach and remove in a uniform fashion. Rubber strips on the heatsink are now superseded by integrated rubber dampeners on the included NF-A15 PWM, used to reduce mechanical noise emissions during operation, as seen in our photo above.

Noctua’s NH-U14S takes a hybrid approach in the heatsink fin leading edges compared to their previous designs. It still retains a low angle V-shaped slope towards the center, sort of like the NH-U12P, but includes bits of zigzag edges first seen in the NH-D14. By doing this, the company attempts to maximize its ability to permit airflow between the fins with minimal resistance and turbulence noise -- all with a negligible decrease in heatsink surface area. There are fifty full sized aluminum plates on the radiator, and six smaller ones near the bottom to take advantage of the bigger fan. The spacing is fairly tight. From my calculations, the total surface area of all the cooling fins combined is actually approximately 0.75 square meters, which is quite a bit for a heatsink of this size.

Aesthetically speaking, from this point of view, I believe it could use some enhancement with regards to the finish of the heatpipes -- the end could definitely use a secondary cap over the raw welded finishing seal. It's not a big issue, but it is something I would expect from something at this price range. The Noctua logo and branding is engraved on the top fin horizontally. The NH-U14S is symmetrical, so it should not matter which way you install it.

Noctua specifies the NH-U14S at 770g with no fans installed. This is a 32% weight increase from the NH-U12S, which is very reasonable. With the stock fan attached, it will tip the scale at 935g. I cannot call this heatsink lightweight by any objective measure, but it still really good, considering it is considerably under a kilogram. A heatsink that is too heavy may stress the motherboard physically. Generally speaking, the material composition of the heatsink is crucial to this property -- we will take a closer look at the construction of the NH-U14S in just a short moment.

As aforementioned, the fans are even easier to dismount from the heatsink itself compared to the NH-D14. While the NH-D14 improved upon its predecessor, the design on Noctua's latest NH-U14S takes it a further step up. It clips on the outer side of the fan, with a two stage clipping ledge for an easy yet secure installation. From the angle denoted by our photo above, we can see that the clips are mounting over a two stage recessed ledge integrated into the heatsink fin design. Plastic clips are no longer needed as well; just attach the wire clips directly to the fan. Because the wire clip retention length is reduced to a balanced level rather than spanning the entire height of the heatsink as we have seen in old Noctua products, attachment stability is not compromised -- but the revised advantage is obvious. It is even easier to remove the fans with tabs in the wire, and the clips can also be removed uniformly. This also allows more flexibility in fan-heatsink location alignment for the user.

Normally, you will not need to replace the otherwise excellent NF-A15 on the Noctua NH-U14S, but it still needs to be removed during installation. The NF-A15 is an improved version of the NF-P14. From what I can see on Noctua’s website, it looks like the NF-A15 is a combination of the NF-F12 PWM and NF-P12 PWM, where both has been reviewed here at APH Networks before.

Generally speaking, you probably will not find a better home elsewhere in your computer, nor will you find a better fan in the market today for this purpose, so I highly recommend you to keep it on your heatsink -- until Noctua comes up with a NF-F15 or something, of course.

The Noctua NH-U14S is a supremely thin heatsink. Five continuous U-shaped heatpipes lead away from the CPU contact base in two opposing directions for ten effective heatpipes. Those heatpipes then go through the radiator to dissipate the heat into the surrounding environment. Theoretically, the heatpipes are supposed to efficiently lead the heat away from its source due to the low heat of vaporization (Phase change energy) of alcohol. The heatpipes are aligned in an aggressive alternate matter to best distribute the heat in the radiating fins. The Noctua NH-U14S still retains relatively compact dimensions; its height of 165mm with width at 150mm is pretty standard -- but its length is the one that sets it apart from the competition. In standard configuration, with one fan mounted, it comes in at only 78mm depth – only 7mm longer than the NH-U12S. Combined with Noctua's excellent NF-A15 PWM fan that are specifically designed for heatsinks with a high amount of static pressure, everything looks great on paper as far as cooling performance and noise levels are concerned.

There is a clearance room of about 4.5cm between the heatsink contact base and the bottom of the fin array, and about 3.5cm between heatsink contact base and the fan. While it may not allow very high profile RAM to fit under, the slim depth of the NH-U14S will not extend from your CPU socket area to adjacent RAM slots. Its 140mm fan (Actually, the NF-A15 is a 150mm unit) can extend partially into this extra cooling fins. To take advantage of this, Noctua implemented six smaller fins in this area. The downside to this is you are not going to get much, if any, airflow in the area between the contact base and the first cooling fin generated by the intake fan, since it does not extended into this area. Because of the depth of the fan, depending on your motherboard design, it may have somewhat tight clearance with your RAM.

A shot of the bottom of the Noctua NH-U14S CPU heatsink. The photo above shows the configuration of the heatpipes more clearly in relation to the base leading into the fin array.

Like all Noctua heatsinks we have reviewed in the past, the NH-U14S is a copper/aluminum hybrid heatsink electroplated with nickel. The vital parts such as the base and heatpipes are built using copper for best heat transfer ability with a thermal conductivity of 401 W/mK. The heatsink fins utilize aluminum as its material due to its lightweight properties as juxtaposed to copper -- this is to allow the construction of larger heatsinks without stressing too much on the motherboard due to weight. Aluminum has a thermal conductivity of 237 W/mK which is not as optimal for heat transfer as it retains more thermal energy.

While this is all quite interesting information, visually speaking, the NH-U14S from Noctua has none of the copper color with its copper heatpipes and base. According to the specifications, the Noctua NH-U14S is electroplated with nickel on top of its copper -- which has a thermal conductivity of only 90.9 W/mK. While nickel has a lower thermal conductivity than copper which may limit heat transfer, the electroplated layer is very thin, and should not directly affect performance to a significant degree -- but it is likely related to the corrosion allowance factor. Nickel and nickel-base alloys generally have desirable properties that can withstand corrosive environments and high temperatures -- which are especially beneficial for a heat dissipation device. The contact base in the Noctua NH-U14S has a generally clean and flat finish for optimal performance, as you can see in our photo above.

The reason why nickel has such a property is because of nickel's ductility and toughness all the way up to the melting point of 1455°c, measured at non-standard pressure. Nickel's face-centered cube crystal structure is virtually unaltered all the way up to that temperature. Nickel, like titanium, is highly resistant to corrosion therefore corroded material won't build up on the surface in the long run. It is surely a good sign, because the NH-U14S will be less prone to losing its cooling performance over time, as juxtaposed to a corroded copper surface.

Additionally, all the joints are cleanly soldered at the base, as well as the fact that the heatpipes are soldered to the fins, so that it does not lose contact over time. Lower quality heatsinks offer high initial performance, but degrades over time as contact between metals decreases due to thermal expansion and contraption. Overall, the Noctua NH-U14S appears to be built very solidly. Reliability should also be excellent as I have seen with every Noctua heatsink I have used in the past five or six years, which retains performance very well over time.

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Installation

Installation proves to be very simple. Noctua packaged each set of installation accessories individually for excellent organization; along with the clear and concise setup poster, setup was a breeze. This is not to mention I have used the SecuFirm2 system with the NH-D14 before. As you can see in my photo above, Noctua's mounting system on the Intel platform utilizes a proprietary backplate supplied by Noctua that installs over the stock plate for optimal weight distribution -- the inertia generated by such a large heatsink is really something that needs to be addressed accordingly, otherwise it may simply fall out, or otherwise cause excess stress on the motherboard. To install, simply align the openings on the supplied backplate with the screws of the motherboard's stock backplate, and flip the motherboard around.

Interestingly, Noctua actually revised the SecuFirm2 mounting system on the NH-U14S. In my personal opinion, this is more like SecuFirm2.5. While the way it works has not changed (All the parts are interchangeable with old ones), the backplate is modified with new mechanics, as well as integrated bolts. Functionally, the revised mechanics should not do anything, but the integrated bolts make installation less of a pain in the butt.

Two mounting bars are included for attaching the heatsink to the motherboard. First, put the plastic spacers onto each integrated bolt. The user then has the choice of either aligning the mounting bars according to the final desired orientation of the cooler, as the NH-U14S can be installed either horizontally or vertically. Our photo above shows the alignment of the mounting bars for horizontal installation. Tighten the screw caps over the bolts, and you are good to go.

Fastening the heatsink over the CPU socket proves to be a simple job. Remove the intake fan to gain access to the spring loaded screw located on the NH-U14S heatsink itself. Align the heatsink with the screw threads on the mounting bars, and tighten the screws alternately until they stop. Overall, installation is straightforward, and Noctua's mounting system is very secure as well as distributing weight very well, even though the heatsink is not very large or excessively heavy.

Unlike many tower heatsinks I have used in the past, the NH-U14S did not interfere with any of my adjacent RAM slots, because it is so thin. However, clearance might be a bit tight on some motherboards, depending on your make and model.

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The Tests

Our test configuration is as follows:

CPU: Intel Core i5-2405S
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD3H
RAM: G.Skill Ares F3-1600C8Q-16GAB 4x4GB
Graphics: Integrated
Chassis: Fractal Design Define R4
Power: FSP AURUM CM Gold 650W
Optical Drive: None
Hard Drive: 2x Kingston SSDNow V+200 12GB RAID 1, Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB
Operating System: Microsoft Windows Server 2012

Compared Hardware:
- Noctua NH-U14S (Single NF-A15)
- Noctua NH-U14S (Dual NF-A15)
- Noctua NH-D14 (Single NF-P14)
- Noctua NH-D14 (NF-P14 center, NF-P12 intake)
- Noctua NH-U12S (Single NF-F12)
- Noctua NH-U12S (Dual NF-F12)

All tests were run in our custom built computer to best reflect real life performance. The computer remained in the same location in the same room throughout all tests. The room temperature in our testing lab is around 21c. Stock thermal paste respective to all coolers were used to rate its performance; all pastes were given a proper amount of time for them to fully settle. The fans on all heatsinks were directly connected to the motherboard's 4-pin connector. Computer was turned on and idling for at least one hour for the idling tests. High CPU load results were obtained using the Prime95 in-place large FFTs test with eight worker threads for a minimum of ten minutes or until the temperature is deemed stable.

The Noctua NH-U14S is essentially a supersized version of the NH-U12S. Therefore, it is unsurprising the Intel Core i5-2405S CPU equipped with the bigger cooler performed better. This means the NH-U14S' performance is really good. As you can see in our graph above, the NH-U14S was consistently three degrees Celsius lower compared to its smaller brother. Keep in mind the NH-U14S has a bigger fan in conjunction with nearly 40% more cooling surface area -- note the law of diminishing returns. Compared to the Noctua NH-D14, the big daddy of all air coolers, it obvious did not keep up, nor did we expect it to. It slotted right between the NH-U12S and NH-D14, as it is consistently three degrees Celsius higher than the uber large heatsink. At the end of the day, the NH-U14S' slim single radiator proves to be a very efficient design, despite its relatively compact size.

While this is very subjective, I am quite a picky person on noise, and the loudest component in my entire system are my noise optimized Noctua fans. On a scale from 0-10 where 0 is silent and 10 is the loudest, I would rate the NH-U14S equipped with a single NF-A15 PWM to be at 4.0/10 acoustically with fan running at full speed. However, when your computer is idling or under nominal loads -- where it is probably going to spend most of the doing -- the PWM fan slowed down is almost inaudible. There is no noticeable turbulence noise associated with this cooler, indicating a well optimized fin array design. Overall, in terms of sound emissions, the Noctua NH-U14S is an unquestionably excellent choice for quiet PC enthusiasts.

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In the introduction of this article, I have asserted that someone being ignorant of the situation will bring huge surprises they have not been asking for. In the same way, the silent heatsink market has changed a lot in the past few years -- consumers are not just asking for acoustic superiority anymore; excellence in cooling is now an expectation. The question is whether or not the Noctua NH-U14S a proper response to the market, or will it find bad surprises along the way. With this drilled in my head throughout the review, I was reminded of this old joke. It goes along the line of, “An [Insert random race here] and an [Insert another random race here] is in the car. Who’s driving?” The punch line, of course, “The police.” The NH-U14S is no different. This heatsink is not the Tiburon who was unaware of the situation and ended up with a nasty surprise. This heatsink is also not me, who was aware of the situation, but just drove by with a chuckle. The Noctua NH-U14S is the police. It drives around, relatively unnoticed, until it gives unaware individuals nasty surprises. The Noctua NH-U14S is a highly efficient, relatively slim, extremely well built, low noise, and great performing heatsink that delivers everything it promises to do. It is no NH-D14, nor should we expect it to be. It does not defy physics. But it defies everyone else in its weight class. The problem right now is not whether Noctua responded to the market or not -- it whether you are responding to the NH-U14S or not. For about $75 at press time, the NH-U14S definitely is not a cheap cooler, but this rare combination of performance and silence does come at price.

Noctua provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.

APH Recommended Award | APH Review Focus Summary:
8/10 means Definitely a very good product with drawbacks that aren't likely going to matter to the end user.
9/10 means Excellent product with very minor drawbacks that does not affect the overall product.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 8.4/10
Please note that the APH Numeric Rating system is based off our proprietary guidelines in the Review Focus, and should not be compared to other sites.

The Noctua NH-U14S is a heatsink that delivers excellent performance and supremely low noise in a compact package.

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