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Noctua NH-L9I review

A very capable, very small chip-chiller for the HTPC crowd

Our Verdict

For

  • Very small
  • Good for HTPC builds
  • Quiet operation
  • Easy to fit
  • Does not interfere with RAM

Against

  • Not one for overclocking
  • Not suited to high-end CPUs

After all the huge tower fans we've looked at recently, it makes a refreshing change to be playing with something at the other end of the spectrum. Noctua's NH-L9i is a compact top cooler - and when we say compact, we mean it.

The NH-L9i is a mere 37mm high and weighs just 420g. With a footprint of just 95 x 95mm, it's made for smaller motherboards with limited space around the CPU socket. To give you an idea of just how compact the cooler itself is, 14mm of its 37mm height is taken up by the cooling fan.

This is the Intel version, and as such only supports Intel's Socket LGA1155 and LGA 1156 series of CPUs. If you want a compact cooler for an AMD chip, you need the NH-L9a, which supports AM3+/FM1 as well as FM2 sockets. The only real difference is the clipping mechanism.

Fit for purpose

Fitting the Noctua NH-L9i is a doddle and, amazingly, it takes longer to describe than to do. That said, you still have to mount it on the mobo before you build the system if your chassis doesn't have a large cutout in the motherboard plate. The four screws used by the mounting (which the company calls the SecuFirm2) are tightened to the rear of the board. Yep, that's it - just four screws.

Noctua has made the heads of these big enough for you to use your fingers for the initial tightening, before resorting to a screwdriver.

With a cooler this small there's no worry about obstructing any of your DIMM slots, so you're free to use any memory you fancy - including those with the most outlandish of heat sinks.

Also bundled in the box is a set of longer screws that enable the fitting of one of Noctua's 92 x 25mm fans if there's enough room in the case. That would give a bit more cooling performance compared with the 92 x 14mm version supplied as standard. Noctua also backs it with an impressive six-year warranty.

The NH-L9i uses a nickel-plated copper contact plate and dual U-shaped heatpipes. These heatpipes then run through a multi-finned aluminium array, giving it some impressive cooling chops. Noctua recommends that the NH-L9i is used with a CPU with a TDP of 65W or less.

Unfortunately our test rig uses an i7-3770K, which has a TDP of 77W. It was therefore a little out of its comfort zone when tested, but at stock speeds it coped well both when the CPU was idling and at 100 per cent - especially given the size of its cooling fan. Even at 100 per cent it was comfortably under the 105°C TJ Max temp of the i7-3770K.

Benchmarks

Idle CPU performance
3770K @ 3.5GHz: Degrees centigrade: Lower is better

NOCTUA NH-L9I: 35
THERMALRIGHT AXP-100: 35
COOLER MASTER BLIZARD T2: 25

100% CPU performance
3770K @ 3.5GHz: Degrees centigrade: Lower is better

NOCTUA NH-L9I: 76
THERMALRIGHT AXP-100: 68
COOLER MASTER BLIZARD T2: 73

Peak to idle performance
3770K @ 3.5GHz: Seconds: Faster is better

NOCTUA NH-L9I: 145
THERMALRIGHT AXP-100: 86
COOLER MASTER BLIZARD T2: 172

Noctua also says the cooler isn't recommended for overclocking, but we gave it a shot anyway. At idle it kept the 3770K running at 4.5GHz reasonably cool but running the CPU at 100 per cent it was a completely different story as the core temperature soared past the TJ Max temp in under minute, so we stopped the test to save our blushes.

The cooler is designed with a mini-ITX mobo/compact HTPC scenario in mind, so an i7 is overkill anyway. Put this cooler on a low wattage i5 or i3 and it will keep the CPU cool in a small form factor case, and do it quietly - just what you need in an HTPC.

Tech Specs

Product TypeCooling Fan/Heatsink
Number of Fans1
Compatible Processor SocketSocket H3 LGA-1150, Socket H2 LGA-1155, Socket H LGA-1156, Socket AM2+ PGA-940, Socket AM3+, Socket FM1, Socket FM2
Fan Speed1 x 2500 rpm
Brand NameNoctua
Application/UsageProcessor
Fan Diameter1 x 92 mm
Heatsink Height23 mm
Heatsink Width95 mm
Heatsink Depth95 mm
Height37 mm
Width95 mm
Depth95 mm
Fan Bearing TypeSSO2 Bearing
ManufacturerNoctua
Product ModelNH-L9i
Product NameNH-L9i Cooling Fan/Heatsink
Mount TypeScrew Mount
Package TypeRetail
Manufacturer Part NumberNH-L9I
Manufacturer Website Addresshttp://www.noctua.at
Marketing InformationThe NH-L9i is a premium quality quiet CPU cooler for Intel LGA115x based HTPCs and Small Form Factor systems. At a super-low profile of only 37mm, the NH-L9i is ideal for extremely slim cases and due to its 95x95mm footprint, it provides full compatibility with tall RAM modules and VGA cards on mini-ITX mainboards. The custom designed SecuFirm2™ mounting system for LGA115x makes installation a child's play and thanks to the highly optimised NF-A9x14 premium fan that supports fully automatic speed control via PWM, the NH-L9i runs remarkably quiet. Topped off with Noctua's renowned NT-H1 thermal compound, the NH-L9i fuses everything users have come to expect from Noctua's larger coolers into a super-compact package for slim HTPC systems.


MaterialCopper Base, Copper Heat Pipe, Aluminium Fin
Weight (Approximate)345 g