Noctua NH-D15 CPU Cooler Review
With the advent of easily installed, quiet and high performance all in one water coolers like Corsair's Hydro series, the lay of the land has changed for air-based CPU heatsinks. Many don't find them as versatile or able to deliver same same excellent results but technology on the heatsink front hasn't stood still and Noctua's new NH-D15 is meant to effectively close the gap between air and water.
The market where the D15 finds itself in is a cluttered one with literally dozens of options regardless of what your preferences are. Where Noctua has always distinguished themselves as designing some of the quietest coolers around and that's something unique when it comes to higher performance solutions. In an effort to deliver water-like results, it's often a race to the bottom of the acoustics pile but that may change with the NH-D15
In many ways the D15 is a very close cousin to Noctua's groundbreaking NH-D14 and improves in several areas that were deemed in need of revision to deliver optimal cooling. With that being said, regardless of the improvements this is still a $100 heatsink and for that kind of money buyers have access to the Corsair Hydro H80i and H100i. Those are some serious competitors.
Noctua does add some value to their overall proposition with a number of included high quality accessories. There’s the usual SecuFirm2 mounting system, a small yet full syringe of Noctua’s thermal compound, a Y adapter to attach the included fans to a single motherboard header and Low / Ultra Low Noise adapters.
Noctua’s NH-15 is an absolutely massive cooler and while that will likely be beneficial due its impressive thermal mass, compatibility benefits are firmly in the water coolers’ realm. It is so massive that it even makes a Phanteks TC14PE look normal sized in comparison. Weight is another concern since with three fans installed we’re looking at about 1.5KG hanging off a motherboard.
In order to obtain a broadly compatible design while maximizing size, Noctua took the D14 template and modified it as necessary to work optimally with their newer NF-A15 fan. As such the D15 is a dual tower cooling solution with two massive fin arrays and an insane amount of heatpipes. Those heatpipes are centered within each fin array in a straight, evenly spaced row. This ensures that each heatpipe is properly cooled by the large two fin arrays and no heatpipe is partially blocked by any other.
As an added bonus (and just like the D14 before it) this design also means the heatpipes are actively cooled by the D15’s fans' air movement instead of relying solely upon the fin array like some less advanced coolers do.
Looking closely at the sides of the cooling towers, a distinct double U-shape quickly becomes evident. This distinctive layout allows for fans to be mounted on both sides of the array so the D15 can accept up to three fans. This means fans can be moved slightly higher or lower on the array in order to improve compatibility with a broad range of cases and motherboards.
The Noctua NH-D15 relies upon two NF-A15 fans but has the abilities to use any 120mm fan, in up to three fan configurations. The NF-A15 may not be as powerful as the F12 Noctua produces, but its unique 140x150mm design does get the job done. At full speed it moves 67.7 CFM at a moderate 1.51mm of static pressure. This is slightly more airflow (65CFM) at a higher static pressure (1.21mm) than the 140x140 NF-P14-FLX which the D14 comes equipped with.
After removing the fans the very first thing which stands out is the large amount of changes incorporated into the two cooling arrays when compared to the older D14. While very advanced for its time, the D14's slab sided fin array simply relied upon a saw tooth pattern to 'cut' the air in order to lower static pressure requirements. In this regards the D14 was somewhat successful, however it did need high static pressure fans to really shine.
The new D15's fin setup should be much more forgiving to lower static pressure fans like the NF-A15. It utilizes a design that is very similar to that of the U14S which also uses the A15. IN this case there’s a deeply sloping ‘V’ profile on each side of the two cooling arrays which helps channel the airflow and remove any dead zones created by the fan’s hub.
Another feature of the D15's fin array, and something the U14S didn’t receive, are the extra strict cooling towers. Having two very deep fin arrays may increase cooling performance but it also brings up issues with ram clearances. In order to accommodate as many motherboards and ram height profiles as possible, while retaining excellent cooling abilities, each of the D15's fin arrays has a large notch cut out of its bottom portion. This notch allows the installation of RAM modules after the D15 is in place. It’s a brilliant solution.
Make sure as much heat is transferred to the heatpipes and then on to the fin arrays, Noctua has once again opted for a thin solid copper, chrome plated base that has each of the six heatpipes welded directly to it. This is a tried and true approach that was fully expected as Noctua has spent a lot of years perfecting this particular design. It also has one of the best quality finishes we have seen in a long time.
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