There is one name that immediately comes to mind when the topic of high-performance air cooling comes up, especially in small form factor (SFF) cases. Noctua is king, everyone knows that, but is Noctua king at all price and TDP ranges?
On the lower end of the TDP range is the NH-L9a, and as one of the CPU coolers with the lowest profile available, it is currently one of the most popular and desirable coolers on the SFF market, especially as case makers are becoming more and more daring and are releasing smaller and shorter cases, every year! While everyone loves the performance that virtually all Noctua coolers offer, not everyone is a fan of the iconic Noctua brown and tan look, so I’m sure that many enthusiasts were excited to hear that Noctua released the all black chromax version of this tiny cooler. This is the model that we will be taking a look at in this review.
The NH-L9a-AM4 stands at just 37mm tall, which includes the height of an all black, 14mm tall NF-A9x14 fan; this makes the heat sink’s height a mere 23mm. The width of the cooler is 114mm, while the depth sits at 92mm, with the fan covering most of the heatsink’s span at a squared 92mm. These dimensions mean that this cooler is compatible with virtually every AMD motherboard on the market.
The Noctua NH-L9a-AM4 retails for $49.90 and $39.90 for the chromax black and standard Noctua brown versions, respectively.
Noctua NH-L9a-Am4 Chromax Black
Noctua NH-L9a-Am4 standard color
Categories of Review
Packaging and Presentation
I don’t think I have ever been more impressed at opening a box containing a piece of PC hardware. I might as well have been opening a box of expensive cigars or something along those lines, Noctua definitely kills it with the presentation of their popular little cooler. I definitely got the sense that I was dealing with something of a high caliber. I have never worked with the non chromax version of this cooler, but I am willing to bet that the cool matte black finish of the chromax version makes the presentation all the more visually pleasing.
The packaging is neat and clean. A single piece of foam sits at the top, cut out to fit most of the components that are necessary. I felt that the folded instruction sheet that looks more like a personal letter was such a nice touch, and for a second I even wondered if it was actually a letter addressed specifically to me. Turns out I’m not that special.
Unsurprisingly, the instruction sheet is also simple and clean. A single sheet with just a few instructions. This makes sense considering that this model is specifically manufactured for the AM4 socket, no need to put in multiple instructions for multiple socket types. I did find it interesting however that the instructions only came in English.
Along with the instruction sheet and the cooler itself, the box contains everything else you need to get this little cooler working! The box includes Noctua’s own NT-H1 thermal paste, a low-noise adapter for those wanted a quieter system, the 4 screws needed to secure the cooler to the motherboard, a back-plate, a set of 4 longer fan screws for those that want to swap out the fan with a taller one, and an awesome Noctua logo pin with an adhesive back.
Taking a step back, the outside of the box is stylish and simple. It does a great job of showcasing all of the specs and important details of the cooler, all while feeling clutter-less and attractive. From what I’ve seen, this is actually an upgrade in Noctua’s packaging aesthetics as other components sport the white and brown, kind of “standard” look.
The packaging sports just the right amount of information, and uses all sides of the cardboard box to relay that information in a clear, concise manner.
Aside from the front flap of the lid not wanting to close all of the way (see the pics above), I would say Noctua knocks it out of the park with the presentation and packaging of this great little cooler.
Specs and Function
The NH-L9a-AM4 chromax is the latest rendition of the cooler, specifically fitted to work with the Ryzen line of AMD CPUs while also looking great in matte black. Noctua directly advertises the NH-L9a as a great fit for home theater PCs (HTPCs) and other SFF builds, and this makes sense considering the small size of the cooler.
At only 23mm of heatsink height, and only another 14mm of fan height, I believe that at 37mm total height, this is the shortest cooler that I have worked with to date. I found it difficult to find the TDP of this little cooler, as Noctua’s website chooses to show you a CPU compatibility list instead of giving an outright number, however from what I have seen from other reviewers and users, it seems to sit at a TDP of 95w.
Everything about this cooler feels premium. Even the weight, especially considering its size, is hefty and feels of quality, like you’re holding an expensive piece of machinery. The heatsink itself looks amazing with the matte black coating, and the copper base of the cooler looks great with a mirror finish. The heat pipes are also made of copper, while the cooling fins consist of aluminum.
Not only does this cooler feel premium, but Noctua basically guarantees that it is, since they include a whopping 6-year long manufacturer’s warranty.
This model is designed to fit with any AM4 socket motherboard and in any SFF case that tickles your fancy, no matter how short or cramped, this cooler can fit comfortably inside. As you can see in the pic below, it is completely clear from every other section of the Asrock X470 board in the picture, and the pic below that shows that it sits flush in height with the G.Skill Ripjaws V RAM sticks, which are low to medium in height as far as RAM goes. Noctua includes longer fan screws for those that want to upgrade to a ‘standard’ fan height of 25mm, and with how much room the cooler gives as is, I’m sure there will be opportunity to make the upgrade in almost every case this cooler is used in!
You may not even care to upgrade the included 14mm tall NF-A9x14 fan, as it boasts quite some power and function at a max speed of 2500PRM, all while keeping noise levels to a minimum, especially considering its small size and short height (more on that later).
Where I would normally critique the standard Noctua brown colorway as “decent” and “not my cup of tea”, the chromax black version is above and beyond. The coated matte black finish that covers the heatsink head to toe is pleasant to look at, and the all black fan matches extremely well with it. The fan sports ridges on the inner rim of the casing, and more ridges on the fan blades as well. The ridges do a great job of giving the cooler a bit of an aggressive look. I’m not sure why, but it throws me off a little that the center of the fan is just a plain black surface, I suppose I expected more, but it makes sense considering the overall minimal aesthetic of the cooler.
Even the fan screws are black, which I point out since I have noticed other coolers that sometimes ruin or challenge their aesthetic a bit with shiny silver screws.
I am not exaggerating when I say that the cooler is “head to toe” in matte black. Literally the only parts of the cooler that do not sport this color is of course the base of the cooler, which will not be seen after installation anyway, and the white stamped numbers on the side of the fan, which also will be unseen once the cooler is installed. Noctua could have even easily chosen to skip coating the legs of the cooler, but we all know it is unlike Noctua to ignore those kinds of details.
The installation process was quite interesting to me, as I found it to be a little trickier than I had anticipated, especially considering the simplicity of the instruction sheet and the simple amount of mounting hardware – the SecuFirm2 mounting kit – that comes with the cooler. While simple on paper, I found that it was actually quite the small challenge to install this cooler.
The reason for this is because the screws that hold the cooler to the motherboard are screwed in through the back of the board, which means that instead of sitting the cooler upright onto the board and screwing in the screws that way, you essentially have to flip the motherboard and cooler upside down, and screw them in from the back. This can get tricky as you try to hold the cooler in place with the motherboard while also having to hold the screw driver. For a second I felt that the instructions were meant for someone with more than 2 hands.
I ended up using the anti-static padding that comes in the motherboard’s box to help me do the trick. I placed it on top of the motherboard and the cooler which was already in it’s place on top of the CPU, and with one hand on the back of the board, and one hand holding the top end with the padding, I flipped the motherboard face down. The padding helped me hold the whole board with one hand while it kept the cooler in place, this free’d up my right hand to grab and place the back plate in place, which helped stabilize the cooler a little more as well. I then removed the padding and held the cooler and motherboard with my left hand as I screwed in the screws with my right.
I’m willing to bet that there are a few different variations of ways to install this cooler. Overall, I would say that it was not the most complex or annoying cooler installation that I have dealt with, in fact it was pretty easy, however it was a little trickier than the instruction sheet would have you to believe, and requires a tiny bit of a “balancing act”.
Because of its small size, and Noctua’s aim for this cooler to be used for HTPCs and other SFF PCs, I wasn’t expecting this cooler to be able to adequately cool anything above a Ryzen 5. After testing it with a Ryzen 5 3600, I was actually quite impressed with how it held up, and am thinking that it might actually do decent with a Ryzen 7, depending on what sort of tasks it will be taking on.
Since I had just done testing recently for another cooler, I decided to piggy back on those results and also put the NH-L9a to those same tests. I also decided to add an additional test with a popular multiplayer shooter, Rainbow Six Siege, to see how strongly this cooler would do in a less CPU intensive game compared to AC Origins and PUBG.
CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600 (base clock)
RAM: G.Skill Ripjawz V 16gb 3200mhz
Motherboard: Asrock X470 Fatal1ty-ITX/AC
Case: Raijintek Ophion with glass panel, two Scythe Kaze Flez fans (top and bottom) set to exhaust to create negative air pressure
Thermal Paste: Arctic MX-4
CPU-Z stress test: 100% load – 10 minutes
Assassin’s Creed Origins @1080p ultra settings (city of Alexandria) – 30 minutes
Rainbow Six Siege @1080p ultra settings (1 full game of ranked) – about 30 minutes
PUBG @1080p ultra settings (multiple maps) – 30 minutes
In all tests, it trailed just behind the Cryorig C7, with mostly negligible differences of 1-2 degrees Celsius. This is quite impressive considering that the NH-L9a is a whole 10mm shorter than the The C7, that is quite a bit less metal available to dissipate heat. Also impressive is that it did equally better than the AMD Wraith, a cooler that is quite decent for being a stock cooler, as well as being quite massive in size compared to the NH-L9a.
The cooling prowess of this tiny piece of hardware is very impressive considering its size, and I have fully come to realize why this cooler seems to be the go-to cooler for super short, popular cases like the S4 Mini, and DAN A4.
So at this point we are all thinking, this cooler has to have some type of flaw, right? Most likely with its small, slim fan it sounds like a jet plane taking off at full load. Well, I find it quite pleasant to say that this is not the case.
I still don’t have a decibel reader, and if I end up doing more cooler and fan reviews I may end up having to invest in one, but for now once again I will go with a more qualitative route to explaining noise levels.
I was a bit surprised at the low noise levels of the NF-A9x14 fan, even at 100% load. I shouldn’t be surprised, as this is an award winning fan, however I have had enough experiences with fans of this size to be wary of them. However, the high-pitched annoying sound that typically comes from a fan of this size and height was absent, and instead a lower-pitched, more pleasant sound is what came from it. If someone told me to close my eyes, listen, and guess the size of the fan, I would have definitely gone for a 120mm. Also, during game testing, I couldn’t even hear it over the GPU and case fans. I imagine that if you want even lower noise levels, as well as a bit more cooling prowess, upgrading to a 25mm height fan may be a good choice, but definitely not necessary.
While the NH-L9a might not be my first choice if I was looking to do CPU intensive tasks, it is undeniable that this cooler is a complete package. A small size that allows for basically 100% compatibility with RAM, motherboards, and SFF cases; a great fully matte black look that can match with just about any aesthetic; impressive cooling power that holds its own against much bigger competitors; and finally, an impressively pleasant noise level especially considering the size of the fan.
I definitely understand why this little beast of a cooler is increasingly becoming the go-to cooler for the smallest of SFF cases, and with it’s low noise level, especially if you use the low noise adapter, this is the perfect cooler for an HTPC. I will actually be replacing the Cryorig C7 with this cooler in my HTPC for this exact reason. Even if you were to use it in a gaming PC, this cooler easily holds its own with mid-range CPUs and CPU intensive games.
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Noctua NH-L9a-Am4 Chromax Black
Noctua NH-L9a-Am4 standard color
Is there another product that you would like me to review next? Send me a DM @mitxlove on IG, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for suggestions!
Thanks to Noctua for sending the product that made this review possible. The views expressed in the review are thoroughly my own.