What is the best CPU Air Cooler? 

A CPU cooler is an important component every Pc needs. Without proper cooling, there is no way a CPU can function properly. Overheating would cause is to throttle and reach maximum temperatures within minutes, especially in CPU demanding tasks. That is why most CPU coolers come with a stock cooler, which provides enough cooling capacity for everyday tasks. Let us be honest here, most people do not use their computer for complicated stuff, they just care about having a Pc which lets them go on Facebook, Youtube and watch movies.

A Pc enthusiast, however, who does lots of CPU demanding tasks like streaming, editing, gaming or multitasking will probably need a better CPU cooler to keep his CPU temperature under control. In any case,  what is needed in that situation is a good liquid cooler or air cooler. If you are looking for a CPU cooler but are not sure whether to choose air or liquid cooling, check out my post where I put up air coolers against liquid coolers.

The good thing about air coolers is that there is no possibility of water leaking onto Pc components, which makes them a safer choice and they are cheaper, too. They may lose in terms of aesthetics to liquid coolers, but high-end air coolers provide almost identical performance to liquid coolers at a much cheaper price.

So, onto our question: What is the best CPU Air Cooler?

After watching many videos and doing research on the Internet I concluded that the king of the hill when it comes to air coolers is, undoubtedly, the NH D15 by Noctua.


 

 

Noctua NH D15 Specifications

Basically, the Noctua NH D 15, although being over 2 years old, is still a beast of a cooler and no air cooler has been able to outperform it. We are talking about a dual tower air cooler with up to two  140mm Noctua fans attached to it, which provides an impressive cooling solution for your CPU. It comes equipped with 6 heat pipes which provide great heat distribution and airflow. Noctua has made a name for themselves with their premium CPU fans, which are ultra-silent and effectively moving air through the chassis.

The cooler is compatible with all sockets(Intel LGA2066, LGA2011-0 & LGA2011-3 (Square ILM), LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA1151, LGA1150 & AMD AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, FM1, FM2, FM2+) and compatibility with AM4 is also possible with the addition of the AM4 backplate, which Noctua ships for free, so you can hook it up to your new Ryzen CPU. 

Before buying the NH D15 you should check compatibility with your RAM, Pc case and motherboard because the cooler is massive and you should take that as a matter of fact. With a height of 160mm without the fan and 165 mm with the fan, a width of 150mm and a depth of 135 and 161 mm respectively(with and without fan) it would be a good idea to check if it fits in your case and if it covers up your motherboard’s upper PCIe slot. RAM clearance can also be an issue as many people own high profile RAM, which causes problems with the installation of the second Noctua cooler.  Check out this link to see if your motherboard is compatible with the Noctua NH D 15

For compatibility with your Pc case, it is recommended to go tour manufacturer’s website and check compatibility. Full towers are 100% compatible and most mid tower cases should be, too. In fact, I can tell you that it perfectly fits in my Aerocool Aero-1000 case and my MSI Z170A Tomahawk motherboard has enough clearance to accommodate the NH D 15. If you have compatibility issues, you should check out the Noctua NH D15S, which is essentially the same cooler but with only one included fan and was launched in order to deal with mobo and RAM compatibility problems. However, take into consideration that if you want to operate the cooler in dual fan configuration you must pay 20$ more for the second fan. In the case of the Noctua NH D15, the second one is already included.

Noctua is confident that their NH D15 is a premium product and ships it with a 6 years warranty. The cooler comes in a premium package, which enhances the “premium feel” with an easy installation guide for every socket. Additionally, the package includes:

  • 2x NF-A15 PWM premium fans 
  • 2x Low-Noise Adaptors (L.N.A.)
  • XY-cable
  • NT-H1 high-grade thermal compound
  • SecuFirm2™ Mounting Kit
  • A Noctua Metal Case-Badge

The thermal compound is great and thermal compound, in general, has an impact on the performance of the cooler. Of course, you can use your own thermal paste if you happen to have another one. With a maximum rotation speed of 1500rpm, the cooler is super silent despite its mass.


 

Noctua NH D15 Installation 

Installation is really simple for the Noctua NH D15. I thought that because of the cooler’s mass that the installation would be difficult. The truth, however, is that with the inclusion of a tall screw driver, the installation process was an ease compared to my previous cooler, the Hyper 212 EVO. The tall screw driver is ultimately a life saver because you need a tall screw driver to mount the two main screws of the cooler onto mounting brackets. The only thing that proved to be difficult was the RAM clearance issue as well as the fact that the cooler comes really close to my graphics card once properly installed. The XY cable lets you power both fans through a single fan splitter, so you do not use up more than one fan header on your motherboard. The backplate has already 4 screws attached to it which must be installed on top of the motherboard’s backplate. After mounting the

The XY cable lets you power both fans through a single fan splitter, so you do not use up more than one fan header on your motherboard. The backplate has already 4 screws attached to it which must be installed on top of the motherboard’s backplate. After mounting the back plate, you need to put in the 4 plastic “holders” and then put in the two mounting brackets, depending on which direction you want the cooler to be installed. It is recommended to mount the cooler so that the air blows into the back of your case, to ensure optimal airflow and cooling performance. After mounting the mounting brackets, secure them with the 4 provided thumb screws. At this point, the backplate will mount properly on the back of your case, so do not worry if was moving freely until that point, because it is perfectly normal. Now it is time to mount the cooler itself. Remove

Now it is time to mount the cooler itself. Remove the CPU fan in between the the two towers. Remove any thermal paste on the  CPU with isopropyl alcohol and apply thermal new thermal paste at the center of the CPU, but no more than a grain of rice. Put the cooler gently onto the mountain brackets and let the thermal compound spread evenly. After adjusting it properly use the tall screw driver to screw down the cooler’s two thumb screws onto the mounting brackets. make sure that you put some force, but not too much. Start by screwing down the first a little bit, then move on to the next. Adjust each a little bit and ensure that you screw them down evenly because, otherwise, the cooler will move to the direction of the screw you screwed down and you won’t be able to mount the other screw. Also, make sure that you do not screw too much as it can damage both your motherboard and the Noctua NH D15, over time.


 

Noctua NH D15 Performance

 

Noctua NH D15 temps with Prime 95 stress testing

Prime 95 Stress Testing

Noctua NH D15 idle

 

The Noctua NH D 15 can easily compete against premium liquid coolers like the Corsair H100 and the NZXT Kraken x61 in terms of cooling performance.  These liquid coolers have 3 fan radiators and priced much higher than the Noctua NH D15. However, the Noctua cooler easily competes against them although being an air cooler. It is a well-known fact that water cools better than air. I have an overclocked I5 6500 Intel CPU at 4,5 GHz with 1,36 Volts and the CPU never goes above 45 degrees at idle and 60 degrees with Prime 95. The highest spike I ever saw with prime 95 was 65 degrees Celsius with the average temps hovering around 57-58 degrees.

There really much is not much to be jealous of a premium liquid cooler. Temperatures are almost identical, while the NH D 15 is way ahead of any other air cooler on the market, including Be Quiet’s Dark Rock Pro 3 and Cryorig’s R1 which are essentially its two competitors. The Noctua outperforms them both.


 

Conclusion

If you are looking for the best air cooler on the market and do not mind a massive cooler inside of your case, there is no need to look anywhere else than the Noctua NH D15. If compatibility is an issue for you, go for the Noctua NH D15s, which eliminates compatibility issues and, essentially, is the same cooler but only with one fan. However, if you want maximum performance you should aim for the NH D15 if you are an overclocker. Another downside for some people is the cooler’s visuals. Noctua fans, although ultra silent and power efficient are brown, which some people do not prefer. Personally, I installed an NH D15 in my case a few days ago and I could not be more happy with the performance of it. The cooler is available for around 106$ (90 euros) on eBay which is a great price for a premium air cooler like the NH D15.


If you liked my review or have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or email me at johnb@johnpchardware.com. I will be more than happy to help you out.