I know it’s not a completely fair comparison as Noctua’s model is more expensive, while on the other hand, BeQuiet’s model is a dual tower design, but still, it will be interesting to see how they stack up against each other in this Noctua NH-U12A vs Be Quiet Dark Rock Pro 4 face-off.
The new NH-U12A is basically a successor of its popular NH-U12S brother, and although at first glance they seem to be completely the same, they’re not, since the NH-U12A has a thicker heatsink profile of the heat-sink and comes in with their new NF-A12x25 PWM 120 mm fans which were so long in development, close five years, that they almost became a myth in a way. They are a real piece of engineering art, the distance between the inner part of the frame and the fan blade is only 0,5 mm, which is three to six-time smaller than usual. Because of that they had to use, or create to be precise, a special material which they’ve called Sterrox, which is a novel liquid crystal polymer type of material. It brings in less wear of material and before all their stretching, as centrifugal forces, which are applied onto fan blades due to the spinning, end up in stretching them over time, where they could rub of the frame if it were a classic ABS thermoplastic in question. Of course, besides getting them by buying this cooler, you can also buy them separately if you wish to for your chassis, they have your usual flavors, all of them being 120 mm in size as of now.
Other than that, the NH-U12A has a pretty standard looking single tower-style heat-sink design, counting 50 very nicely threaded aluminum fins and a total of seven nickel-plated 6 mm copper heat-pipes running through them in this densely looking pattern, seen from the top, as well as Noctua’s engraved logo and this slight cut-out for easier access of the screwdriver. Of course, on the bottom, we’re greeted by this very nicely polished, also nickel-plated copper CPU base contact plate.
Noctua NH-U12A vs Be Quiet Dark Rock Pro 4 – the ultimate battle
Taking a closer look at BeQuiet’s Dark Rock Pro 4 cooler, we have a completely blacked out dual tower fin stack design, with a total of also seven 6 mm copper heat-pipes running down through coolers heat-sink and taking you to the CPU cooler base, which was not as polished out as Noctua’s one. With it, you’ll also get two low RPM fans from their Silent Wings 3 series, which I personally really like and they proved to be a great combination of performance and noise level, but what’s interesting about them, in this case, is that you’ll get two different sized ones, a 120 mm one squeezed between the towers and 135 mm one for the outer side.
The installation process for both coolers is basically as easy as it can be, you can do it in less than five minutes. In this case, when it comes to Intel’s 115x platform, that being a Core i5 8600K and ASRock’s Z390 Phantom Gaming 7 motherboard, you’ll get a backplate with screw already on it, onto which you put the stand-off bits, or you screw them into the back-plate in case of the Dark Rock Pro 4 cooler, and on top of them, we have these two plates which form a single frame line on each side. Then you just put the cooler on top of the CPU and secure it using the crossbar which screws onto those plates on each side.
When it comes to installing the coolers onto an AMD based motherboard, in my case that was the AM4 platform, Ryzen 7 3700X CPU and ASRock’s X570 Creator model, be sure to stick around and subscribe for that the review of that motherboard, basically, you just need to pull the plastic parts off and rescue the stock back-plate, while everything is pretty straightforward installation wise as it was with Intel’s platform, with a use of different stand-offs and frame plates from the coolers bundle box.
Overall I feel like Noctua’s cooler is a bit easier to install, since it doesn’t have that fixed metal top-plate which complicates fans and especially the cooler installation, but you’ll get a long screwdriver, with both models actually, so you can reach the screws through the punched out top plate of the Dark Rock Pro 4, which also has this cool caps that just screw on after you’re done with the installation. This is mostly on a count of it being a dual tower design, so it’s hard to compare them solely based on that, but another thing that Noctua has over it is that since it’s a single tower cooler, the Noctua NH-U12A has better RAM clearance, for example, you can put the RAM kits after you install the heat-sink, which is something you can’t do with BeQuiet’s cooler for the first two RAM slots if the RAM kit is just a bit taller than a regular RAM kit model with no or minimal heat-spreader. Once you put them in, their height is not that big of a problem, especially in Noctua’s case, since you can adjust it easily with moving the fan clips up a bit. Speaking of those, it’s much easier to put them back on Noctua’s model, while you really need to put some effort into putting the fans on, and especially off with BeQuiet’s fan clips, plus it’s really easy to scratch that black paint-job with them. Both of them clear space around the first PCI-express slots, but nowadays this kind of placement for the first PCI-express slot at the very top is becoming a rare sight more and more, especially high-end motherboard, so it’s not that big of a concern.
Ryzen 7 3700X heating up the Noctua NH-U12A & Be Quiet Dark Rock Pro 4
Before I continue with the results, just a few additional side-notes, with both coolers and CPU’s I’ve used the Thermal Grizzly’s Kryonaut thermal paste so I can have a more consistent comparison, rather than using their own bundled paste. Also, you’ll hear me referring to a temperature span, instead of a one specific number when talking about the CPU temperature results which I got here, and that’s because the CPU temperatures always move up and down few degrees, especially if you have a temperature insight to every single-core, even when they taper off, as it just can’t be a fixed value over a certain time period, or at all, it’s always moving about, even in idle, but I think you’re all pretty much familiar with this notion.
Since the fan speed can vary depending on the fan profile within the motherboards BIOS, I’ve decided to use the same motherboard manufacturer, both for Intel’s and AMD’s platform, that being ASRock as you’ve already seen by now, so those fan profiles can have a consistent configuration. I’ve used two of those, one was their so-called “Standard” fan profile, and the other one was the full speed fan profile, and that second one I only used within the overclocking environment, because you’re not going to use it at stock settings, there’s no point, and I did that just to see by how much it can lower down the temperature, which is the reason why I’m talking about the fan speed and noise first, before talking about the actual CPU temperatures, as it has a direct connection to it. Of course, the best thing you can do is to set up a manual fan curve, see what suits your case the best, because there are a bunch of different factors which vary from setup to setup and which can affect the cooling capabilities, starting from the CPU itself to the chassis airflow. I’ve used the Y fan splitter to connect the fans onto one CPU fan header on the motherboard, just so I have the fans reacting at the same time according to the signal change and with that a more consistent testing ground so to speak, and of course you wish too you can separate them for more fine control, but even if I would separate them, they would react the same as I’ve used the same fan profiles unless I’ve used different fan profiles or a manual fan curve between them.
In the case of BeQuiet’s Silent Wings 3 fans, under that ASRock’s standard fan profile and CPU idling, I was seeing them running at 600 RPM, while Noctua’s fans were running at around 800 RPM’s. Under stock load that was around 1100 RPM for Be Quiet Dark Rock Pro 4 and around 1200 RPM for NH-U12A. They also or to be precise ASRock’s motherboards fan profile, kept that same fan speed even when I through some overclocking settings at them. Of course, there’s is a difference between them in speed since they have different maximal RPM. For example, the Noctua’s ones run at around 2100 RPM at full speed, while the BeQuiet’s ones top out at just a bit below1900 RPM. And while the RPM readout in the HWMonitor for Noctua’s fans was as decelerated by their specifications when you count in the tolerances, the BeQuiet’s was off, but I assume that’s due to them being connected to a single fan header using the Y splitter while having different maximal fan speed specifications at 12V, which is 1200 RPM for the larger 135 mm fan and 1500 RPM for the smaller 120 mm fan. With that said, you could probably extrapolate their exact fan speed based on the maximal fan speed readout from the how monitors and knowing their specifications, but in the end the noise which they produce talks for itself.
Of course, in the end, Noctua’s one was much louder than BeQuiet’s at full speed, because of the difference in maximal fan speed. But, in a way, this doesn’t matter since you won’t use them like that, at their full speed that is, while they were both whisper-quiet under stock load. Here’s an audio example for each of those cases, while also showing you a sound meter for measurement comparison.
Again, all of this is not set in stone, you can and you should adjust your fan speed manually in motherboards BIOS or some-kind of utility software, and set-up a fan curve that suits scenario the best, depending on what you would like to achieve noise and performance-wise, and of course your CPU and chassis setup.
Be Quiet Dark Rock Pro 4 vs Noctua NH-U12A – Brown tower wins with power (just enough)
Finally, coming down to the performance side of things, checking out the temperatures of Intel CPU under load, there’s actually nothing too exacting happening here. The i5 8600K isn’t a TDP monster, it’s a six-core non-hyperthread CPU after all, even with all its cores winded to 1,3V core voltage and 5,1 GHz of clock speed in my overclocking scenario, it was staying nice and cool, below 70°C in both cases. Here the difference in performance between them is almost negligible, but it does go in favor of the Noctua on average by a degree or two. The same goes for the stock load performance, Noctua was basically below the 50°C mark for the whole time, while BeQuiet’s cooler was roaming around that mark, few digress above, few degrees below. As for the idle temperature in botch cases it was below 30°C, and basically there’s nothing to compare since Intel’s power-saving technology tapers off everything to a pretty much same level.
Crossing over to AMD’s pretty beefy 8-core, 16-thread Ryzen 7 3700X CPU, things get a bit more interesting as now we can really check out the full potential of both coolers as they try to drain as much heat possible from this CPU. Here we can see the difference in cooling capabilities of each model a bit clearer, especially since AMD rounds up the CPU temperature in one package. At stock load, the NH-U12A was again handling it few degrees better, mostly around 82 to 84°C, with a peak of 93°C, which was probably an anomaly because it was way below that majority of the time. The Dark Rock Pro 4 peaked at 88°C, while it was steadily roaming around 84 to 86°C.
In the case of overclocking this CPU, I’ve managed to get stable 4250 MHz across all cores, at just a bit below 1,4V for the core voltage, which was roughly 0,05V more than what you see with the stock settings. This, of course, introduced another stress level for the coolers, which again Noctua’s model handled better as you can see it here. It managed to keep it at around 90°C, with the peak being at 92°C, while BeQuiet’s model peaked at 96°C, and was roaming around 92 to 94°C. Again, the idle temperature at stock settings was pretty much spot on in both cases, as AMD also has it’s own power-saving features which brings that down to a similar level.
With both of them blasting at full fan speed and with CPU’s being overclocked, in the case of Core i5 8600K, the temperature went down by about 3-5°C with both coolers, while in case of Ryzen 7 3700X, with the Dark Rock Pro 4 I saw roughly the same temperature drop, while with the NH-U12A it was little bit less pronounced, two or three degrees on average.
When you sum all of this up, both of these coolers are excellent and basically one of the top choices when it comes to air CPU coolers. Of course, each of them has its own quirks, but they will provide you with the best of both worlds, being it cooling or noise-wise, bottom line you can’t go wrong with either of them. Dark Rock Pro 4 is maybe a bit more attractive since it will cost you less, plus I assume that most of you will like its dark mat look over NH-U12A. On the other hand, for such a relatively small package, compared to the BeQuiet’s Dark Rock Pro 4 model, Noctua really made a capable cooling solution, as they pretty much always do, but then again, it will costs you a pretty penny more, so you’ll have to weigh in on that too once it comes to decision time.
That’s it for this time, I hope this Noctua NH-U12A vs Be Quiet Dark Rock Pro 4 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!