Noctua's DH-14: Air Cooling Keeps Up With Liquid?

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System Setup, Stock Performance

Test Methodology:  All tests were conducted using Intel's Core i7-3960X hexa-core Sandy Bridge-E CPU and DX79SI Siler motherboard. Windows 7 was set to 'Balanced' power mode. Idle temperatures were measured after allowing the system to sit post-boot for 10 minutes. Load temperatures were measured after running Intel's stress test as included in the company's Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) for one hour. Peak temperatures were taken while running Prime95 for two hours, with that utility configured for maximum heat and power consumption.

We used a Corsair 800D chassis to test mounting and fittings, but left the chassis open. Testing was conducted with the stock fans (labeled as the DH-14) and with two NF-F12 PWM fans installed.

Intel's stress test appears to load the CPU nearly as well as Prime95, but since it's not widely available, we went with Prime as a generally known and easily replicable test.

Our stock speed and 4.13GHz comparisons were done with the Corsair coolers in 'Quiet' mode (lowest setting).  Our 4.5Ghz test required us to increase fan speeds; so we brought both coolers up to the 'Performance' preset (highest setting). Note that Intel's cooler uses a four-pin fan and default BIOS settings that focus more on quiet operation than maximum performance. During our stock test, the RTS2011LC's fan never spun faster than ~875 RPM.

We tested the Noctua DH-14's fans at 50% for Stock and 4.13GHz and increased them to 75% for the 3.5GHz test. Here's what stock performance looked like:

At stock speeds, the DH-14 is just as capable as the Corsair H80 and outperforms the Intel RTS2011. Only the H100, at $119, offers better performance. The NF-F12 fans essentially tie the default options. What happens when we start overclocking?

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