Temperatures, Noise, and Conclusion
|Processor||Intel Core i7-6800K|
|Motherboard||EVGA X99 Micro2|
|Memory||HyperX Fury 16GB (4x4GB) 2400 MHz DDR4|
|Graphics Card||XFX AMD Radeon 5450 (Fanless)|
|Storage||OCZ Vertex 460 120GB SSD|
|Power Supply||Corsair TX 650W PSU|
|OS||Windows 8.1 64-bit|
Load temperatures for these air coolers were generated using the x264 video encoding benchmark running in 64-bit mode. Stress temps were generated using the 64-bit version of the Prime95 benchmark, with the in-place large FFT torture test to force maximum power consumption.
As good as the Le Grand Macho RT performed, the Noctua NH-D14 cooler demonstrated why it has been a fantastic choice for quietly cooling heavy CPU loads for years now. I tested the Scythe Ninja 4 with fan at its "high" position, as this setting provides the best performance without a measurable increase in sound, and it finished just behind the leaders. Just a few degrees behind with the Hyper 212 EVO, which performs so well that it begs the question, why spend more?
Now we'll see how the coolers held up under more strenuous tests, with the Core i7-6800K increased to 4.0 GHz on all cores, with a 25mV voltage bump to stabilize the overclock.
The coolers finished in the same order, though the NH-D14 did extend its lead here with the more challenging loads. The Ninja 4 outperformed the Le Grand Macho RT under a standard x264 encoding benchmark load here, but fell to the larger cooler when pushed with Prime 95's torture test.
The Ninja 4 is remarkably quiet, failing to register over the noise floor even at the "high" fan setting. (See our review of this cooler here, which "broke" my sound test process with its ultra-quiet operation). It's followed very closely by the NH-D14 and Le Grand Macho RT, both of which produced just enough noise under load to hear, but only at close range. The Hyper 212 EVO obviously measures much louder, and it is; but the 42.8 dBA noise output under full load has a low tone (no fan 'whine') that, while very noticable on my open test bench, isn't annoying.
Test Winner: Noctua NH-D14
The venerable Noctua NH-D14 bested this group in both stock and overclocked temperature benchmarks, and was just a hair behind the ultra-quiet Scythe Ninja 4 in noise output. It could be argued that the NH-D14 had an advantage as the only dual-tower (and dual-fan) cooler in the roundup, and that should be taken into consideration when evaluating these results. I'll be curious to see if other larger coolers can best it in future tests (more air cooler reviews are coming soon).
The other coolers tested all performed extremely well, with Thermalright's Le Grand Macho RT proving that its i5-6600K results were no fluke, and the Scythe Ninja 4 proving that a virtually silent cooler can still tame very heavy CPU loads with the best of them. And, last but not least, we have the incredible value of the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO. This cooler, which has long been #1 on Amazon in this category, kept the i7-6800K cool enough in these benchmarks to convince me that $29 would actually be enough of an investment even for a $400 enthusiast processor; even if the noise levels under load are clearly going to be higher than the larger (and more expensive) coolers in this roundup.
The Noctua NH-D14 may have come out on top in this roundup, but all four of the coolers on test present their own argument for selection, given their various price-points (and all would receive my enthusiastic endorsement). The NH-D14 did have the advantage of being the only dual-fan option here (as mentioned above), and its price ($79.99 for this SE2011 version with PWM fans) ties it with the Le Grand Macho RT for most expensive cooler in the group. In sharp contrast, Cooler Master's $29 Hyper 212 EVO had a strong enough showing that on price alone it will remain at the top of the list for many buyers.
In the end, there can be only one winner. And though the NH-D14 was officially discontinued with Noctua's NH-D15 now available, it is still readily available in both the SE2011 version here, and the original, less-expensive model without PWM fans ($69.95, Amazon). But you really can't go wrong with any of the powerful coolers in this group, as they all kept the processor well below thermal limits even under the most unrealistic Prime95-induced extremes.