Here I have the brand new Be Quiet’s successor of their Shadow Rock series, the Shadow Rock 3, which we waited for almost 7 years to come out. Next to him, I have the Noctua’s NH-U12S, the black Chromax variation of it, which is essentially the same well-known NH-U12S just coated in black, so I figured why not compare these two coolers in a Shadow Rock 3 vs NH-U12S faceoff, since the price difference between the regular NH-U12S and the new Shadow Rock 3 is around 10$, I think this could be a common dilemma among users, especially knowing how these two companies make really good air CPU cooler.

Right of the bat the new Shadow Rock 3 shape-wise resembles its predecessor a lot, it has the boxy looking silhouette, which comes sort of naturally as it’s a single big tower cooler configuration, more so since it is as wide as it’s long, but this time it’s actually a bit shorter in length than it’s predecessor, although decently wider and a tad taller. But here is where the similarities to it pull to a stop.

Instead of 4, now we have 5 heat pipes, altogether they are a bit smaller in diameter, 6 instead of 8 mm. They are now completely nickel-plated, expect on the bottom part, where they have to flatten them out and polished them down to the copper part, so they’re flush with the CPU contact base and like this, the heat pipes basically make the contact base itself. On top of the base, we also have this heatsink like a top hat, which helps in pulling off some extra heat of the CPU base.

Comparing it to the older model, the aluminum fin array is less dense with the Shadow Rock 3, we now have 30 of them, while before it had 51, but they do cover a greater surface area since the tower is wider. Because of that, this generation is substantially lighter than its predecessor, a bit above 700 grams with the fan, 590 grams without it, instead of whooping 1100 grams before, which maybe sounds like a bad thing, but Be Quiet actually managed to bump up the cooling capabilities of this model from 180 to 190W of TDP despite of these constructional cut-downs s, so this cooler, in the end, is working smarter, and not harder.

Shadow Rock 3 gets a major weight cut-down

As for the design and aesthetics of the cooler, it received a freshened up and more modern, up to date look, topped off with this really cooling looking large black and silver surface top plate with a brushed aluminum finish, which will most certainly pop out if you have a see-through panel on your chassis. All of this is finished off with one Shadow Wings 2 120 mm PWM fan, which I’m going to talk about more a bit later on, while you’ll get a second set of fan clips for a push-pull configuration.

Looking it from the side, we have that off-center asymmetrical design, and with this model the tower is really pulled to the back, which they did on purpose so the cooler frees up the area around the RAM slots on the motherboard once you install it, so you don’t have any obstacles when putting in the memory after the fact. The only problem this brings in is that the cooler can’t stand upright on its own, it just tips over, at least without the fan, while with it, it’s in a perfect balance.

Since I already touched the topic of installation, Be Quiet made this process as painful as possible, and in preparing for my Shadow Rock 3 review it only took me around 5-10 minutes to put everything together. With Intel’s platform you have your classic set of back-plate, cross-bracket and middle-pressure plate which is on one side easily accessible since the cooler is off-center, while on the other you’ll have to use that hole on the top of the cooler so you can screw it down, but thankfully Be Quiet provides a long screwdriver for that, although it can be a bit tricky to align the screw since you’re working with a limited space here. With AMD’s AM4 platform this process is pretty much the same, you only don’t need to use their back-plate since you can use one which always comes with AM4 motherboards, you just need to remove those plastic brackets. As for the socket supports, expectedly this model supports basically all of the latest ones expect AMD’s Threadripper.

Shadow Rock 3 vs NH-U12S

Cooler Clearance around the first PCI-express slot seems to be on the iffy side, I can’t tell for certain since both of my motherboards don’t have a PCI-express slot that first row, as in their place is an M.2 slot, but most of the today’s motherboards have a similar configuration, so I don’t think it will be a problem.

I won’t go too deep into detail with Noctua’s NH-U12S cooler, I think by now we’re all well familiar with it as it’s been on the market for quite some time, with this Chromax version of it being recently introduced, but other than the black color that it brings, that’s pretty much it, everything else is the same, RAM clearance, process of installation and socket support. In comparison to the Shadow Rock 3, if you take a look at their specification, they seem to be pretty on par, their weight is nearly incidental, not that this strictly indicates performance potential, but it’s interesting information. Noctua also has 5 nickel-plated 6 mm heat-pipes, although it does have more fins stacked in its aluminum heatsink, there’s less surface area on each of them. All in all, this should be a pretty interesting standoff.

So, you’re probably wondering what was my testing setup? Similar to my Noctua NH-U12A review, for this test I’ve used two CPUs, a six-core Core i5 – 8600K in its stock and overclocked state, and AMD’s Ryzen 7 3700X, an 8 core 16 thread CPU, also running and stock and overclocking settings. For both of them, I used the same thermal paste, Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut, just so I can have the same consistency. Everything was done on an open testbed with stable room temperature, so I don’t have any other factors impacting the performance of the coolers themselves, as can differ greatly from chassis to chassis, and their fan setup.

Shadow Rock 3 Ryzen 7 3700X and i5 8600K pairing

Speaking of the fan setup, since both of the motherboards are coming from MSI, I’ve used two different fan CPU profiles, just to add some variety to the testing, first one being Standard default fan speed setting and the other one being the full speed setting. Later on, I will also check acoustics with each of those profiles on Be Quiet’s and Noctua’s fans and different scenarios. You will also see that I added a second fan for a push-pull configuration, just to see how will it impact the performance and if it’s worth that extra noise, but since I didn’t have a second Shadow Wings 2 120 mm fan, I’ve decided to put two Noctua’s NF-F12 fans on the Shadow Rock 3, which is why you’ll also see a total of three different setups of Shadow Rock 3, one with its stock fan, second one with one NF-F12 fan and third one with two NF-F12 in push-pull configuration. So, let’s get this party going.

Shadow Rock 3 Review

Starting off with Intel’s platform, at stock settings, to my surprise both coolers are basically on par with each other, Shadow Rock 3 did preform a degree or two cooler, even at the same fan speed using default motherboards CPU fan curve. As you can see it even preferred it’s own fan better over Noctua’s NF-F12, while under full fan speed in the stock single-fan configuration, NH-U12S did trail behind by a degree, but its fan was topping out at 300 RPM less than Shadow Rock 3.

Shadow Rock 3 price
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With raising up the voltage and clocks of the i5 8600K CPU to 5,1 GHz, the difference is even smaller, basically, a margin of an error, while as you saw in this scenario and the before one, the push-pull configuration does do much in this situation, a degree or two at best.

Jumping over to the AMD’s platform, at stock, both were handling the Ryzen 7 3700X without a problem and again very similarity, although Shadow Rock 3 did a bit better job of cooling it. You can also notice that I have fewer results here, and that’s because the default fan profile pushed the fan speed to the max right from the get-go with introducing any load since this CPU can get hot very quickly, while of course, you can manually tone it down, make a custom, but I don’t think you will be that happy with the CPU temperatures in that case.

Getting some heat into them with overclocking, the difference here again tapers off, although the Shadow Rock 3 this time did benefit from the push-pull configuration, and managed to pull down the temperatures by about 3 degrees compared to the single fan solution. Too bad I didn’t have a second Shadow Wings 2 fan, would really like to see how it would perform with it in a push-pull setup

Any winners in this NH-U12S vs Shadow Rock 3 battle?

As for the noise that the fans made, in their stock single fan configuration, with the default fan profile set on the motherboard, there were both really quiet under stock load using Intel’s CPU, basically inaudible, as you will hear for yourself soon, but that’s no wonder since they run at really low RPM. With the dual fan configuration and default fan profile the noise floor expectedly goes up by a bit with the, but still not that bad, especially since the NF-F12 start to get louder more towards the end of its top fan speed, and speaking of that, with full fan speed profile being applied or in case when AMD’s Ryzen 7 3700X was under load, either you way you look at it, you will get a noisy companion with both coolers. Interestingly enough, they are not that obnoxious as you would maybe think. Here’s a short sound clip of all of those mentioned scenarios, while also showing the sound meter for measurement comparison.

noctua nh-u12s price
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I must say that I was really surprised by the cooling potential of the Shadow Rock 3, to be honest, I didn’t expect this kind of outcome. Like this, it’s a really good competitor for this price point and it can without a problem stand right next to Noctua’s NH-U12S performance and noise-wise, while also taking a little bit less money out of your pocket.

That’s it for this time, I hope this Be Quiet Shadow Rock 3 vs Noctua NH-U12S comparison help you in making your final decision, if you have any question feel free to hit me in the comments section of my YouTube video listed above, you can contact me via my social media channels!

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