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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  • mm0zct - Thursday, January 19, 2017 - link

    Came to the comments to say just this. I've been running my Phenom-II 1055t (95W) in a mini-ITX system with the Shuriken Big for almost 6 years now, very happily and quietly.
  • edzieba - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    For a low-profile cooler roundup, it seems odd to include the NH-C14S (at double the Z-height of the other coolers tested) but not the NH-L9i or even the NH-L9x65.
  • 80-wattHamster - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    One works with the samples one has, presumably.
  • jabber - Thursday, January 19, 2017 - link

    Yeah I always love folks that seem to think sites have every cooler, ram module, case, CPU, GPU under the sun to test against each other. If you have an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters...
  • jtd871 - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    These may not be tall coolers, but they're not all super low-profile either. I'd be interested in seeing reviews of the Cryorig C7 and Silverstone AR-05.
  • jtd871 - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    Could you guys please update Bench with all these results?!
  • Great_Scott - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    It should happen pretty soon. Hey, Bench was updated with the new Core i3 results and there isn't even a review out yet!
  • dreamcat4 - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    Its worth noting that while this review doesn't seem to mention the Raijintek Pallas or the CRYORIG C1... shouldn't assume those are unworthy of pretty serious consideration also.
  • creed3020 - Thursday, January 19, 2017 - link

    Yeah the review is not apples to apples. In the world of SFF coolers there are the very tiny and larger solutions. The Noctua should be compared to coolers like the ones you mentioned.
  • b4bblefish - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    I'm really confused why the Noctua L9 or L9x65 wasn't used here since those would have been more relevant to this shootout?

    Basically instead of 3 comparable fans it's just 2 low profile ones and a large cooler which really shouldn't be compared to the other 2...

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