Noctua NH-D15 CPU Cooler Review

Today we are going to look at Noctua’s cream of the crop dual tower air cooler for CPU, the NH-D15. It stands in as successor of the renowned NH-D14 which has earned its title for being the king of air-coolers. If you have not heard about Noctua, its a company founded in 2005 specializing in computer hardware manufacturer of CPU coolers and computer fans. The company is a joint venture between Austrian Rascom Computer Distribution GmbH and Taiwanese Kolink International Corporation. According to the official website, it has received more than 3000 awards for their wide range of products. Interestingly, the company logo symbolizes an owl related to the name Athene Noctua (a little bird resides in temperate and warmer parts of Europe, Asia east to Korea, and north Africa.)

Noctua introduced this flagship-model on April 8th 2014. The CEO of Noctua, Mag. Roland Mossig explained that this elite cooler has undergone continuous development over the past 3 years to come up with a substantial efficiency improvement. Countless of thermal simulations were conducted on hundred of samples to achieve the performance they are satisfied with before they proudly release them, as noted by Mag.

The NH-D15 shares similar design as NH-D14 undergone significant changes which includes the fan mounting bracket, fan, heatsink structure and heatsink mounting bracket. Before getting down into these interesting details, let’s take a quick look into the specifications described below before jumping into the meat of the content!

Noctua NH-D15 Specifications

Model
Brand Noctua
Model ID NH-D15
Heatsink Specifications
Type Dual Tower Heatsink
Material Copper / Aluminium (Nickel-Plated)
Mounting Compatibility Intel LGA2011 (Square ILM), LGA115x (LGA1156,
LGA1155, LGA1150) & AMD (AM2, AM2+, AM3,
AM3+, FM1, FM2, FM2+, backplate required)
Dimension 6.30” x 5.90” x 5.30” ( Without Fan ) (H x W x D)
6.30” x 5.90” x 6.33” ( With Fan) (H x W x D)
Weight 2.40 Lbs ( Without Fan )
2.90 Lbs ( With Fan )
Fan Specifications
Type CPU Fans
Bearing Type SSO2
Fan Size (W x H x D) 120mm mounting holes (150mm x 140mm x 25mm)
Power Connector 4 pin (PWM)
Voltage, Current, Power 12V, 0.13A, 1.56W
Color Light Beige Frame, Brown Fan Blade
LED N/A
Corner Type Open
Cable Length 20cm
M.T.B.F. 150000 hour
Max Rotational Speed (+/-10%) 1500 RPM
1200 RPM (with L.N.A.)
Max Airflow 140.2 m3/h
115.5 m3/h (with L.N.A.)
Max Acoustical Noise 24.6 dB/A
19.2 dB/A (with L.N.A.)
Other
Warranty 6 years
Accessories / Scope of Delivery
  • 2 x NF-A15 PWM Premium Fan
  • NT-H1 high grade thermal compound
  • 2x Low-Noise Adaptor (L.N.A.) (75mm)
  • 4-pin PWM y-cable
  • Screwdriver (160mm)
  • 4 brown anti-vibration rubber grommets (25mm)
  • 4 metal screws
  • Noctua Badge (25mm x 25mm)

Noctua Related Products

  1. Noctua NF-A14 industrialPPC-2000 Fan Review
  2. Noctua NF-P14s Redux-1200 Review
  3. Noctua NH-D15 CPU Cooler Review

Unboxing Noctua NH-D15

Front Side
Here is the front view of the box listing several features under NH-D15 belt.

Left Side
On the left side of the box, it displays several languages, each describing briefly about the product to cater customers from different country, namely English (England), German (Germany), French (France), Spanish (Spain), Irish (Ireland), Portuguese (Portugal), Slovene (Slovenia), Japanese (Japan) and Chinese (China). I guess Noctua’s marketing team has done an in-depth research on the bulk of their customers country origins and added language support to cater them instead of focusing on the top 10 most spoken language in the world, which is a smart move.

Rear Side
A list of features are described on the rear side of the box. This information can be also found on Noctua’s website. The features are PWM Support & Low-Noise Adaptor, Dual NF-A15 PWM 140 Fans, High RAM Compatibility, Expanded Heatpipe Layout, 6 Heatpipe Dual Tower Design, Award Winning ND-D14 Cooler (What? ND-14? Yeah, its shown in the picture here. Maybe its a spelling mistake on Noctua’s print), 6 years warranty, NT-H1 Thermal Compound, Socket Compatibility, SecuFirm2 Mounting System and Component Cooling.
Noctua NH-D15 External View Features

Right Side
The box also provides a detailed product specification on both fan and the CPU cooler, including scope of delivery.

Top Side
Here is the top view of the box. Scanning the QR Icon with my QR Scanner reveals that it points to a mobile version of Noctua’s website which does not work at this point of time when this guide is published.

Compartmentalized Components
Each component are segmented in their individual boxes, making it easy to store them back instead of tucking all of them in one big box with plastic bag, which was how its done previously in NH-D14 packaging. Nice improvement in this storing design!

Mini Boxes
Here are the mini boxes used to house the smaller components of the CPU cooler.

Foam Cover
The foam cover acts as a divider between the CPU mounts and CPU cooler. Notice there is a triangular hole at the top right corner? Very smart design, makes it easy for customer to pull up the foam instead of using their fingernails to pry it out, or overturn the box to remove the thick foam.

Noctua CPU Cooler + NF-A15 PWM Package At Bottom
The heavier and larger components (CPU cooler and secondary fan) are placed under the CPU mounting bracket and accessory.

NF-A15 PWM Second Fan Packaging
Here is the packaging of the NF-A15 PWM. Simple yet elegant box packaging.

Special NF-A15 PWM
This NF-A15 PWM fan from Noctua isn’t the same one as the independent version as this can ramp up to 1500 RPM instead of 1200 RPM. However, if its connected to a L.N.A. (Low Noise Adapter), it will bring down the fan rotational speed to 1200 RPM.

Foam Protection
Foam are placed on all four corners and in between CPU cooler, second fan and accessory, mounting brackets.

Foam Thickness
The foam is soft, with depth of 2cm, therefore it can absorb shocks better and provide better comfortable cushion for the product its protecting inside.

Accessory
The accessory items are packed inside a box instead of plastic bag. Smaller components such as the anti-vibration rubber grommets and screws are packed in air-sealed plastic bag whereas Noctua badge is placed in a mini stapled plastic bag.

Two new things I have noticed: the screwdriver and the fan mounting bracket. The new L-shaped screwdriver is now 180mm compared to the previous version 160mm but loses the triangular-end found in NH-D14 screwdriver. I wished Noctua had combined the best of both designs; (1st) make it 180mm in length as the dual tower is quite tall, and (2nd) include the triangular-end for ease of twisting screwdriver.

Intel Mounting System (Comparison NH-D15 vs NH-D14)
On the left side of the image its the NH-D15, the right side is NH-D14. The only noticeable differences is the cut-out in the center of Noctua’s supplied backplate and the bolts are now non-removable. You can’t reposition it, which can be a good thing since I had trouble installing the Noctua NH-D14 ones where the bolts simply does not stick in place. Still, I would like to see the backplate being magnetized, so it sticks to the mainboard’s stock backplate when the motherboard is placed vertically instead of horizontally.

NH-D15 Intel Mounting Bolts
The bolts used in NH-D15 are smaller and non-removable.

AMD Mounting System
I felt strange when looking at AMD mounting system. It uses far less items to mount the heatsink compared to Intel. That should be a good thing for AMD motherboard users.

Manuals for LGA2011, LGA115X and AM2
There are 3 manuals for different setup. Choose according to your motherboard compatibility. Each of the manuals has a personalized dark-blue signature from Noctua’s CEO (Roland Mossig). However, its a let down as it only comes in English but not the other additional 8 languages found on the external packaging. The LGA2011 and 115X manuals are found in the Intel Mounting Box whereas AM2 manual is found in AMD Mounting Box.

Comparison : Noctua NH-D14 vs NH-D15 (Heatsink)

Wider Heat Pipes
NH-D15 has all 6 heat pipes spread out more to distribute heat evenly to the wider fin stacks. What I discovered when fastening the 2 screws on the heatsink to the backplate is they get trapped under the widened outer heat pipes. This prevents the user from screwing in further for a tighter installation. This can be avoided by reverting to NH-D14 heat pipe design or use 5 heat pipes.

Removed Razor-sharp Fin Design
I like what Noctua did with the fin stacks where they removed the claw-like design on all the fin stacks. When mounting the fans on NH-D14, the fan structure usually get scratch by those or get hooked by it. I wished Noctua had removed them completely instead of having some remaining on the NH-D15. If there is a need to keep that, at least make them blunt as how PH-TC14PE CPU Cooler does it which has a curved instead of pointy structure.

Wider Fin Stacks
The wider fin stacks had caused an issue with mATX motherboard compatibility as it blocks the first PCI-Express Slot which is used to install the graphic card. However, ATX motherboard does not have this issue as they do not use the first PCI-E slot. For a better compatibility for both users, Noctua could revert to the NH-D14 fin stack width instead of having one side longer than the other which gives a non-symmetrical appearance (unpleasing to one’s eyes).

NH-D15 Innovative Side Design
This helps the air flow through a tunnel-like fin stacks without any air being leaked from the side which is a good thing. Another point to add is, its easier to handle/hold the heatsink when there aren’t any sharp corners at the side. This design should be kept for the next NH-D16 release!

Half Cut-out on Bottom Fin Stack
Another new design that takes place on NH-D15 is the removed of the fin stacks at the bottom to allow better compatibility with high profile RAM (memory sticks).

Noctua NH-D15 Installation

The chassis I’m using is Fractal Design Arc Midi Mid Tower which has a cut-out at the rear side of the mainboard tray. Therefore, I can install any 3rd party CPU cooler with the supplied backplate without having to remove the motherboard out. The supplied backplate is used to avoid breaking the motherboard due to the excessive weight put by the heatsink (1 kg for heatsink, 1.32kg with 2 x NF-A15 PWM installed)

Step 0: Remove existing CPU Cooler
First, remove any existing CPU cooler that is currently installed on your CPU, leaving the behind of the motherboard CPU socket clear. I’m using an Intel motherboard socket LGA115X for this demo installation, therefore it will have the mainboard’s stock backplate. This one does not need to be removed as its built-in to the motherboard.

Step 1: Installing Noctua’s Backplate
To install Noctua’s backplate (NM-IBP2), place it over the rear side of the motherboard where the mainboard’s stock backplate can be found so that the bolts stick through the mounting holes. Align it so the 2 curved cutouts of the supplied backplate does not obstruct the screws of the mainboard’s stock backplate.

If done correctly, you can see those bolts sticking out the front side of the motherboard. Hold onto the supplied backplate in place with one hand while the other hand is used to complete step 2, 3 and 4.

Step 2: Installing Spacers
Insert the black plastic spacers onto the bolts of the supplied backplate.

Step 3: Installing Mounting Bars
Add the 2 mounting bars on top of the spacers. My setup will be air flow blowing horizontally with air being exhaust out from the rear. Therefore, my spacers are placed horizontally similarly to an equal symbol.

Caution: Choose the alignment of the mounting bars according to the desired final orientation of the cooler. If you wish to setup so that hot air blows upwards, you will need to set the mounting bars vertically instead of horizontally.

Tips: I recommend installing the mounting bars horizontally because most chassis do not have fan holes on top, and even if they have with exhaust fans OR have a PSU (Power Supply) on top to exhaust hot air, this vertical setup is outperform by 2-3 degree Celcius compared to horizontal setup.

Step 4: Secure Mounting Bars
Secure the mounting bars with the four provided thumbscrews.

Step 5: Apply Thermal Paste
Apply a pea-sized thermal paste on top of the CPU chip. Putting more than that does more harm than good as the heat will be trapped in that paste itself. The pea-sized amount of paste is sufficient to remove any hollow gaps aka air pockets when the CPU chip is in contact with the heatsink.

Step 6: Install Heatsink
With the motherboard laid flat, place the heatsink on top of the mounting bars. Wiggle it so both screws on the heatsink is trapped within the mini bolt found located in the center of each mounting bars. Fasten both screws with the provided L-shaped screw driver.

Caution: Do not remove heatsink once its in placed, doing so will create turbulence on the smoothed pressurized thermal paste, as a result, you will need to clean the remaining thermal paste on both CPU chip and heatsink base before reapplying the thermal paste! If this task is not done, you risk trapping heat within those air pockets.

Step 7: Install Fans
Install the NF-A15 PWM fans onto the heatsink using the provided wire fan clips. Once that is done for both fans, connect the cables to the Y-Splitter cable. The Y-Splitter cable is connected the CPU fan header.

Note: These fans will ramp up to 1500 RPM which is quite noisy in my opinion. Should you wish for a quiet build when running intensive tasks such as encoding video, you can install the L.N.A cables (Low Noise Adapter) which will downgrade the max fan rotational speed to 1200 RPM. To do this, simply attached the L.N.A. in between the Y-Splitter and the PWM fan cable. Do not use the L.N.A. as a bridge between the Y-Splitter and the CPU fan header as this might cause it to overload the fuse.

Bonus Step: Installing 3rd Fan (Horizontal Setup)
Noctua NH-D15 only provides 2 x NF-A15 PWM fans and 2 x wire fan clips. If you wish to have 3 fan setup, you will need to request Noctua support team to send you an additional wire fan clip that is compatible with NF-A15 PWM fan. The third fan is fan clip setup placed on the opposite way of the default fans.

Bonus Step: Installing 3rd Fan (Vertical Setup)
You can install up to 3 fans when the heatsink is setup vertically. But the performance isn’t that good even though the theory says that heat rises up. This statement should be corrected as hot air being directly exhausted out of the chassis with fan mounted as exhaust.

Noctua NH-D15 Clearance

First PCI-Express Slot Obstructed (Horizontal Setup)
Noctua NH-D15 has a wider heatsink fin stack which obstructs the first PCI-Express slot by 4mm. This isn’t an issue for ATX motherboard because the graphic card is slot in the 2nd PCI-E slot. However, for those who are using Micro ATX (mATX) motherboard, it will pose several issues such as insufficient room to slot in the graphic card as it uses the first PCI-E slot, unable to install-uninstall fan clips with graphic card in place, high temperature spread to the graphic card when performing intensive task, non-insolated fan clips transfers heat to graphic card PCB (printed circuit board) that might caused it to be damage.

Solution for mATX owners on first PCI-E slot issue
A few NH-D15 reviewers have pointed about this issue regarding the mATX motherboard. Therefore, you have 2 options: purchase the older model NH-D14 or setup NH-D15 in vertical mode. NH-D14 has shorter fin stacks width so it does not pose any issues. NH-D15 vertical setup will give at most 28m clearance to setup your graphic card in first PCI-E slot for mATX motherboard.

CPU Cooler Setup Vertically (View 1)
Having the NH-D15 setup vertically, you can easily get 25mm clearance from the graphic card.

CPU Cooler Setup Vertically (View 2)
Here is another view of it, notice that the heatsink fin stacks does not exceed the RAM clips? It just about the right distance.

CPU Cooler Setup Vertically (View 3)
You will have at least 10mm space between the memory sticks (RAM) and the heatsink fins. The memory sticks I’m using here are low-profile (aka regular ones without any metal heatsink on top of it).

Front Fan Clearance
Returning to horizontal fan setup, for low profile RAM (Memory Sticks aka Random Access Memory), you will need to raise your front fan at least 20mm up, high profile RAM will need another 5-100mm height.

Rear Fan Clearance (3rd Fan)
Installing the third fan will need approximately 20mm height adjustment from the height of the heatsink. Reason being, most motherboard comes with a secondary power cable slot located at the top right corner, and that cable blocks the fan from being laid close to the motherboard.

NF-A15 PWM Fan Incompatible for Top Fan Slots
If you wish to purchase these NF-A15 PWM fans for exhaust or intake, I’ll recommend you to avoid the NF-A15 PWM/non-PWM fan. NF-A15 has width of 150mm (extra 10mm) making it impossible to mount them on most standard fan slots. Using Prolimatech Magnetic Pin Fan Rubber Grommets allows me to do so on the honeycomb grill of Fractal Design Arc Midi. Chassis such as Phanteks, NZXT and Corsair which implements open fan grill will be difficult to install NF-A15 even with the Prolimatech Magnetic Pin.

NF-A15 PWM Fan on Rear Fan Slot
You can mount the NF-A15 PWM fan as exhaust at the rear of the chassis if it supports both 120mm and 140mm fan slot. Why? The fan holes supports 120mm but the width of the fan is 140/150mm. Also, to fit in a 140mm fan slot, you will need to place in vertically instead of in any position since one side of it is has a wider length.

Noctua NH-D15 Testing

Hardware Test Setup
Ivy Bridge 3770K Overclock (4.2 GHz @ 1.148V / 4.4 GHz @ 1.248V), Gigabyte Z77X-D3H Motherboard, G.Skill 32GB RAM, Corsair 120GB SSD, Rosewill Fortress 750W 80 Plus Platinum Non-Modular Power Supply, Western Digital Green Caviar 1TB and Fractal Design Arc Midi Chassis. The fans on Noctua NF-A15 PWM when tested are without L.N.A. so then run at full 1500 RPM, whereas the 3rd fan max out at 1200 RPM.

Software Test Setup
AIDA64 Extreme Edition (Stress CPU + FPU), RealTemp, CPUz. Idle Test is 1 minute, Stress Test is 3 minutes. Test are done in closed-bench-test instead of open-bench-test. Open bench test means with the case side panel open/removed. Each different test as a cooldown of 3 minutes. The reason why the stress test is 3 minutes is it reaches the highest temperature peak compared to a 15 minute stress test with AIDA CPU+FPU Stress Test based on my observation.

Benchmark Analysis
Testing with AIDA64 Extreme Edition Stability Test with only CPU will provide a good simulation of how much heat the CPU produces which is similar to encoding a video on Sony Vegas. However, adding FPU test along with CPU test will generally increase the heat by an additional 10 degree Celcius, where most regular software aren’t that intensive. FPU stands for Floating Point Unit, a test that generates with equivalent amount of heat of Prime95 when paired with CPU Stress Test but it also stress on most of the Intel’s Instruction Sets (MMX, SSE, AES, AVX, etc) which is much better than Prime95.

The average idle temps on all 4.2 GHz test is 35 Celsius while 4.4 GHz test is 37 Celsius with ambient temperature of 29 Celsius regardless of the number of fans mounted on the heatsink with 1 Celsius +/- fluctuation. Below are the max temperature for all test fluctuation of 10 Celsius (e.g. if max temp is 70, the temp fluctuation will be in the range of 60-70 degree Celsius, where 5 Celsius is beneath it will be the temperature it always hovers)

4.2 GHz Test Results (ambient temp 29 Celsius)
Intel CPU Cooler (1 fan) : 95, 96, 92, 93 Celsius.
Noctua NH-D14 (2 fans) : 69, 70, 72, 73 Celsius
Noctua NH-D15 (1 fans) : 68, 69, 68, 68 Celsius
Noctua NH-D15 (2 fans) : 66, 70, 67, 67 Celsius
Noctua NH-D15 (3 fans) : 67, 70, 67, 68 Celsius

4.4 GHz Test Results (ambient temp 35 Celsius)
Noctua NH-D15 (1 fans) : 78, 80, 77, 77 Celsius
Noctua NH-D15 (2 fans) : 79, 78, 78, 78 Celsius
Noctua NH-D15 (3 fans) : 77, 79, 77, 77 Celsius

4.2 GHz Test Results (ambient temp 29 Celsius,vertical setup)
Noctua NH-D15 (1 fans) : 71, 74, 70, 72 Celsius
Noctua NH-D15 (2 fans) : 71, 74, 71, 71 Celsius
Noctua NH-D15 (3 fans) : 70, 72, 70, 71 Celsius

Based on the results above, I can conclude that having 2 fans to cool reduces temperature by 1 degree Celsius, and having 3 fans mounted to heatsink reduces 2 degree Celsius at most within a closed-bench test. If you have a room with air-conditioner, you can get away with maximum of 4 degree Celsius with dual fans vs 1 fan when the ambient temperature is kept at a constant temperature.

Conclusion

Noctua NH-D15 MSRP is priced at $99.90 USD.

Pros

  • High Cooling Performance
  • Whisper Quiet with Low Noise Adapter (1200 RPM)
  • Low and High Profile Memory clearance for both single/dual fans
  • Backplate Easy to install
  • Exceptional build quality
  • Well-packaged
  • Excellent accessories bundle

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Noisy without Low Noise Adapter (1500 RPM)
  • Blocks first motherboard-expansion slot
  • Color theme not for everyone
  • Wire Fan Clips a hassle to install

Verdict

Noctua NH-D15 is truly amazing when it comes cooling performance. It blows out most air-cooling and water-cooling competitors in terms of cooling performance and capable of providing near-silent operation with low-noise adapters. With ample space of 64mm clearance for DIMMs and no obstruction on memory in single-fan mode, plus SecuFirm 2 mounting system implemented on the NH-D15 makes it extremely easy to setup. Noctua’s easy-mounting system, excellent packaging, tidily-packed accessories and a 6 years warranty makes that premium price tag a little easier to swallow. Great job on Noctua’s side!

Areas for Improvement

There are many rooms for improvement where Noctua can work out based on my thoughts that I have pointed in the review above. I’ll sum up a list of suggestions and points as some of the good points from NH-D14 are missed out from NH-D15:

  • Keeping same width of the fin stacks and heat pipes from NH-D14 for better motherboard compatibility.
  • Remove or blunt the razor sharp pointy edges from fin stacks as it posses risk of cutting someone.
  • 180mm screwdriver with triangular-end for easy-handling
  • Reduce price of cooler by including only 1 fan instead of 2 as most of the heat are indirectly dissipated via the large metal heatsink. This allows more consumers at different tier (mid-to-enthusiasts) to purchase their product at a lower cost.
  • Redesign wire fan clips structure to be able to fit any fan (120mm/140mm). A suggestion would be it holds on to the fan frame instead of mounting holes. The fan clips must have at least 2 fingers spacing to get a secure grip on them. NH-D15 fan clips shrink down the NH-D14 clips, making it difficult to get to install or remove in a chassis with pre-installed components.
  • Provide different fan color options (fan color blade and fan color frame), perhaps a neutral black-white theme. Noctua can brand their items with design not just color alone!
  • Update the user manual especially the images to look the same as the hardware. I would like to see supports for multiple language languages.
  • Fix the long overdue QR bar codes links. It still points to non-existing pages on mobile.noctua.at (e.g. mobile.noctua.at/manuals/cooler/nh-d15/index.php) This same applies for the rest of their products. They can perform a redirect of that page to the official Noctua’s NH-D15 specs page.

For more details on the technologies implemented in this product, please visit their homepage product section at NH-D15.

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