A good CPU cooler can usually be found at the top spots of an enthusiast’s shopping list, as stock coolers rarely are sufficient for the wants and needs of advanced users, especially when overclocking is involved. Choosing the right aftermarket product can be a little complicated, mostly depending on what the product’s focus is and the available budget. For example, some products have been designed to be as quiet as possible while others strictly aim for maximum thermal performance and neglect acoustic comfort completely. Even if two coolers cost about the same, their behavior can be radically different, and it falls to the user to make a judicious choice according to his/her needs.

Whether the focus of the user is quieter operation or higher thermal performance, there is another factor that can make the purchase of a good cooler complicated: size. Sometimes you cannot just buy the best cooler for the job for the simple reason that it will not fit into the system. This is particularly true for compact and/or narrow cases, especially those meant for ITX systems and horizontal placement. With the majority of typical CPU coolers being tower-type constructs, it is difficult to find one that fits inside compact case designs.

To combat this, many manufacturers designed and produced horizontal coolers, i.e. coolers with the fin array placed horizontally instead of vertically. Horizontal coolers are much shorter than typical tower coolers and tend to cool the motherboard’s parts better as well, yet rumor has it that they do not perform as well as tower coolers. The truth is that size/mass is a major factor here as well, meaning that the horizontal designs are meant to be compact and usually just lack the mass of comparable tower cooler designs.

In today's review we will explore three such lower-profile coolers; the Reeven Steropes RC-1206b, the Phanteks PH-TC12LS and the Noctua NH-C14S. These horizontal coolers are all meant for desktop/HTPC designs but they also are significantly different in terms of size, with the Steropes starting at 60 mm tall, moving up to 74 mm with the PH-TC12LS and jumping up to 115/142 mm with the NH-C14S. In the following pages we will explore their design, quality and performance.

Horizontal GPU Cooler Roundup
  Reeven Steropes RC-1206b Phanteks PH-TC12LS Noctua NH-C14S
Fan(s) (mm) 120 (low profile) 120 140
Fan Speed (RPM) 2000 1800 1500
Height (mm/in) 60/2.4 74/2.9 115/4.53
Current Retail Price $40 $40 $75
The Reeven Steropes RC-1206b
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  • wolfemane - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    This is from my personal experience only, but the L9i didnt cool much better than a stock Intel cooler. It just did it much quieter. I had one on an i3-6100 in a node 202 build and in a Bitspheonix prodogy
    mitx case. I then swapped the 6100 for a 6600k and that was beyond the l9is capabilities in either case. But that was to be expected. Even noctua doesn't recommend the L9i for anything more than 65w unless in a very well ventilated case.
  • xenol - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    I would've liked to see the heatsinks installed on a system in order to gauge how it might look on my own builds. Cooling performance is important, but I'm willing to sacrifice that if these coolers make it a pain to work on my computer.
  • bigboxes - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    I've got an AXP-200R in my HTPC. I didn't need to go that low of profile, but the huge fan is super quiet and perfect for my application. At 73mm of height clearance I'd think that the Thermalright model would have been in your review.

    AXP-200R website: http://thermalright.com/product/axp-200r/
    AXP-200R in use: http://i256.photobucket.com/albums/hh175/bigboxes/...
  • stlouis1 - Thursday, January 19, 2017 - link

    I've been using AXP-100's as my go to for small form factor builds. It would have actually been nice to see the AXP-100/200 in this review for comparison as the Thermalright options have become hard to acquire in Canada (not sure about elsewhere)
  • genzai - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    Can you add a bit more pertinent info? Like full socket compatibility. (2011.3?)
    Also can you talk about Rack U height as that is another place LP coolers are used. What is the minimum RU these coolers would fit?
  • Ranger1065 - Thursday, January 19, 2017 - link

    Good heavens Anandtech, a new article! Don't overdo it now. It seems to me more effort is expended on Tweets these days. Interesting read though.
  • colonelclaw - Thursday, January 19, 2017 - link

    A word of caution to those of you putting together a mini-ITX build - I had to return 3 coolers as they wouldn't fit on an Asus MAXIMUS VIII IMPACT. In all 3 cases, it wasn't because the cooler was too tall (I did measure the height available), but because the cooling pipes or whatnot would hit components on the motherboard.
    I can't speak for other motherboards, but the components on the Asus are so tightly packed in and all around the CPU socket, that available width is just as important.
  • zodiacfml - Thursday, January 19, 2017 - link

    awesome performance but too big and pricey. the Reeven seems to be good value here as it is tiny compared to a Hyper 212 evo.
  • Voldenuit - Thursday, January 19, 2017 - link

    Any VRM temperature measurements? And comparison to tower coolers? One of the advantages of top down coolers compared to conventional towers is their cooling of motherboard components, so would be interested to see.
  • losonn - Saturday, January 21, 2017 - link

    Any chance of updating this roundup with results from the significantly more relevant Noctua NH-L9x65?

    The NH-L9x65 is a comparable size / weight / height / price to both the Reeven & Phanteks coolers featured here where the NH-C14S is *double* the height and price of the other coolers...

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