Noctua NH-D9L Review (Page 2 of 4)

Page 2 - Physical Look - Hardware; Installation

If you recall the Noctua NH-D15 review, you will have remembered Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Kwan calling it the love child of the NH-D14 and the NH-U14S. Thus if we were to go on TV with the Noctua NH-D9L, Maury Povich would be saying "You are the parent!" to the NH-D15. Joking aside, at first glance, this looks like a shrunken down version of the NH-D15, which means it comes with all the benefits on a smaller scale. As for attaching the fans, Noctua has again used a similar implementation, with two metal clips to attach each side to the grille of the heatsink. At first, I thought this was a flimsy idea, but these hold the fans quite well, and are very easy to detach and reattach. The fans also have rubber dampeners to reduce the vibration and noise created between the fan and the heatsink. If you were to buy the NH-D9L, you will only receive the single NF-A9 fan attached to the heatsink. Additional NF-A9 fans can be purchased separately.

Again, much like the larger NH-D15, the NH-D9L takes a similar hybrid approach in the leading edges of the heatsink fins. There is a slight V-shaped slope towards the middle. However, there are also a few teeth-like zigzag edges. This is to optimize the NH-D9L's ability to permit airflow between the fins with minimal resistance and noise -- all with a negligible decrease in heatsink surface area. There is a total of thirty five aluminum plates on each side of the radiator. The spacing is reasonably spaced, with about 1.7mm between each fin. From my calculations, the total surface area of all the cooling fins combined is approximately 0.47 square meters, which is reasonable given its size.

When it comes to looks, Noctua has limited itself to a few colors. The heatsink itself is all silver, because of the aluminum and nickel plating all around the entire product. The fans are in the standard Noctua colors of tan and brown. While it does not necessarily create the most aesthetically pleasing looks, Noctua prides itself on functionality over form. There might not be any flashing lights or pulsing LEDs, but it sticks true to its roots. Noctua's logo can be found on the top fin horizontally. Everything is symmetrical, with the exception of the engraved logos, so you can install the cooler in either orientation. Of course, the OCD users will be looking to make sure the Noctua logo is not upside-down.

At a mass of 428g, the Noctua NH-D9L is relatively light. Throwing a single NF-A9 on top increases it to 531g, and a second one pushes the overall mass to 634g. Comparatively, the Intel stock cooler fan weighs in at 330g for both the heatsink and a single fan. This additional weight should be manageable by the motherboard, and should not create too much additional stress thanks to the excellent mounting system. The main cause of the weight, besides the fans, is the material choices of the heatsink itself -- something we will look into in just a bit.

As aforementioned, the fans are very easy to remove, but still hold the fan steadily in its place. It clips on the outer side of the fan, and goes around the sides of the fins. From the photo above, we can see the clips are mounted over a recessed ledge integrated into the heatsink fin design. Plastic clips are not required; just attach the wire clips directly to the fan. The wire clip retention length is reduced to a balanced level, so attachment stability is not compromised. This makes it easier to remove the fans with tabs in the wire, and the clips can also be removed uniformly. This implementation also gives users more flexibility in their choice of fan location, in relation to the heatsink. Of course, the fans generally will not need to be removed except for installation, as the fan in the center blocks the mounting screws.

Speaking of which, the fan in question is the NF-A9 PWM. This 92mm fan has a Noctua specified rotational speed range of 400-2000 RPM, an airflow rating of 78.9 cubic meters/hour, and a static pressure of 2.28 mm H2O. It also comes with a low noise adapter, which reduces all of the numbers I stated above in order to keep the output noise low. Rated mean time before failure is approximately 150000 hours, which is just over seventeen years. While you could find different fans to place on the heatsink, I would not recommend swapping out the Noctua fans, unless they produce a new set of 92mm fans, like if they make an NF-F9.

As a whole then, the Noctua NH-D9L is a small heatsink. With an overall footprint of 110mm in height, 95mm in width, and 95mm in depth, this small cube of a cooler is quite the cute package. The main thing to note is the lower height in comparison to other 9cm coolers, which means it will fit in much tighter areas. This also gives the cooler 3U compatibility, which allows the NH-D9L to fit in smaller rack mount chassis. From the base where the metal makes contact with the processor, four continuous U-shaped heatpipes lead away from the CPU contact, splitting into two radiators and effectively making 8 heatpipes in total. These two radiators are independent of each other and allow heat to dissipate across its fins. According to Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Kwan, the heatpipes are supposed to efficiently lead the heat away from its source due to the low heat of vaporization, or phase change energy, of alcohol. The heatpipes are aligned in a linear manner to evenly distribute the heat in the radiating fins. The 0.47 square meters of surface area, combined with Noctua's NF-A9 PWM fan should be able to deliver very good heat dissipation performance, but we will see if this statement is true on the next page.

From the heatsink contact base to the bottom of the fins, there is an overall clearance of 3.5cm. Of course, this probably will not matter to you, as the cooler is already extremely small, and will not interfere with the memory, whether low or high profile heatspreaders. In an ATX build, there is more than enough room for a single fan. Adding a second NF-A9, however, will require some rejigging around. In my case, adding a second fan to the memory side required me to place the fan above the heatsink, which could be a bit of an inconvenience. Even with the relatively low heatspreaders on the Kingston HyperX Fury RAM, the second NF-A9 still interfered with their position. Thankfully, Noctua does allow you to install the cooler in four orientations, so you can always change it around to fit to your environment, but this is something to keep in mind.

A shot of the bottom of the Noctua NH-D9L CPU heatsink. The photo above shows the configuration of the heatpipes more clearly in relation to the base leading into the fin array. As you can see, the base is also very flat with practically zero signs of abnormalities. Because the surface is shiny, you can see your own reflection in it. However because the reflection produced is a bit blurred, I would not necessarily recommend this for your next mirror selfie.

The following sections have been borrowed from Jonathan Kwan's Noctua NH-D15 review. As with all Noctua heatsinks we have reviewed in the past, the NH-D9L is a copper/aluminum hybrid heatsink electroplated with nickel. 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 it is quite a bit lighter in comparison to copper. This keeps the NH-D9L as light as possible to reduce stress on the motherboard from the weight. Aluminum has a thermal conductivity of 237 W/mK, which is not as optimal for heat transfer as it retains more thermal energy, but the compromise is understandable.

Visually speaking, the NH-D9L from Noctua has none of the copper color with its copper heatpipes and base. According to the specifications, the Noctua NH-D9L 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-D9L 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-D9L 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 the heatpipes are soldered to the fins, so it will 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-D9L appears to be built very solidly. Reliability should also be excellent as Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Kwan swears by them for their long endurance and retaining performance over time.

When I knew I had to install this product, I was a bit weary at first. The last CPU cooler I received, the Antec Kuhler H2O 1250 was quite the effort to actually get it installed and working, especially since I was too lazy to remove the motherboard from the case. The main problem with the Antec stemmed from the backplate, which used unattached bolts. However, my editor assured me this would be a piece of cake, and he was right. SecuFirm2, the same system used on other Noctua CPU coolers like the NH-U14S and the NH-D15, is found with the NH-D9L as well. Therefore, if you have another recent Noctua cooler, you are more than likely able to exchange between the two for parts. The SecuFirm2 uses a metal, not plastic, backplate, which is much sturdier. The preattached bolts make it easy to put the plate in place. Going step by step through the included manual proved to be easy, with practically zero issues in getting things to stay. As you can see from above, the backplate sits on top of Intel's stock plate to distribute the weight evenly. The part number NM-IBP2 with the text "Rev. 2" is also engraved on the plate. When you are installing the product, be sure to align the openings on the supplied backplate with the screws on the stock backplate, and flip the motherboard over.

Two mounting bars are included to attach the heatsink to the motherboard. Once the backplate is pushed through, place the plastic spacers on each bolt. The two mounting bars can be placed in a horizontal or vertical configuration, which allows the user to choose their installation orientation. The bars included here are the NM-IMB2, which again are the same bars found from the NH-D15. From the photo above, I have placed the bars in order to get a horizontal orientation, as you will see soon enough. Once you tighten the thumb bolts on the bars you can get to the heatsink itself.

Before doing so, be sure to place a bit of thermal paste between the processor and the heatsink. Noctua advises to put a small dot measuring in 4 to 5mm in diameter. Next, remove the center fan from the NH-D9L and place the heatsink over the two protruding screws on the mounting bars. Using a screwdriver, whether the one provided or not, tighten the screws, alternating between each screw to evenly attach the heatsink. Finally, reattach the NF-A9 fan to the heatsink. Once again, installation proved to be seamless, and took me very little time to get the NH-D9L up and running.

As I have noted before, the NH-D9L did not interfere with my RAM, as the cooler has quite a small horizontal footprint. However, due to its low clearance, adding a second NF-A9 to the memory side proved to be more difficult, as the fan began to get in the way. Unfortunately, the only way to attach it would be to place it higher than the heatsink itself. Otherwise, you could also rotate the cooler, or rearrange the fans to still maintain even spacing. With the physical inspection, we can see Noctua has kept everything the same in the NH-D9L as its father, the NH-D15. How will it actually perform when we put it through our series of tests? Let us read on to find out!

Page Index
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. Physical Look - Hardware; Installation
3. Test Results
4. Conclusion