In the 90s, the words “low profile” and “cool” were most likely used to describe Johnny Depp or a modified sports car shod with Pirelli tires. In 2020, Depp will no longer be a marketable player and absurd amounts of computing power can be stuffed into a box the size of a toaster.
Today, it’s safe to say that we haven’t exceeded the expectations of most science fiction writers. We don’t live in a dystopia, androids don’t dream of electric sheep but big brother is watching (…so there’s that). Yet we live in marvelous times.
However, we want to focus on cases the size of a toaster.
Mini-ITX builds are not yet commonplace, although enough designers and case makers have made them that companies (specializing in thermoelectric computer cooling) are creating more specialized cooling options for them.
Stock CPU coolers are cool (for lack of a better word), but you might be looking for something with more efficient heat dispersion and lower noise generation. We found five coolers with these qualities.
Mini-ITX cases don’t have a lot of room, which somewhat limits your cooling options. You will find that all of the coolers featured in this guide are air-cooled, as low profile liquid coolers are rare and expensive.
Towards the end of the article, we’ve also included a short buying guide detailing some key points to consider when choosing a CPU cooler. So what is the best low profile CPU cooler for your MITX PC? We hope to answer that question in this guide.
Top 3 Best Low Profile CPU Coolers for your PC in 2023 – Reviews
1. Noctua NH-L9x65
Noctua makes most of its fans in a creamy brown and white color scheme. In fact, I like it. It reminds me of a salted chocolate and caramel mousse. I’m a huge dessert fan, but maybe you’re not. This is one of the reasons they are so unique. It’s not a big deal if you don’t intend to show the inside of your computer.https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N27QWFA/
The cooler is a bit bulky for a low profile cooler. It may not fit comfortably in your MITX case. Pay attention to the clearance specifications of your suitcase. You will need a clearance of at least 65mm.
During initial installation, the SecuFirm2 bracket may require you to completely remove your motherboard to screw the bracket in from the back. Some users may find this annoying, but once you insert and secure the mount, navigation will be smooth from there.
The mounting system makes it much easier to align the heatsink to the CPU. The bracket only requires two connections while most coolers will need four. Even with just two connections, the cooler feels secure and firm.
Noctua CPU coolers have a reputation for delivering high volumes. Along with the cooler you get the fan, a silent adapter, excellent high quality thermal paste, the mounting kit and a case badge.
It is compatible with a wide variety of CPUs. From 2020 it also comes with an AM4 mounting kit, whereas previously one had to be purchased separately. In terms of quality and performance, it surpasses all stock coolers. It’s a bit pricey for such a small cooler but well worth it.
2. Noctua NH-D15
Noctua is such a clever business name. You have to break grammatical rules just to spell it. However, you would be making a huge mistake if you judged them on their name alone.https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07Y87YHRH/
Noctua is a German company specializing in the production of power supplies, enclosures and cooling solutions for desktop computers. It has been around for over 16 years and has maintained a lead in the German power supply market since 2007.
We now know that be quiet! has a great reputation, but does Noctua NH-D15’s CPU cooler measure up? In terms of looks, the Noctua NH-D15 has an all-black finish. From the pipes to the heatsink bracket, he’s dressed like Wednesday Addams at a funeral. The only thing darker is Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3.
It seems important enough to complement any transparent case put together by a panel. Again, it is important to note that although this is a low profile cooler, it may not be suitable for all MITX or small form factor PCs due to its size.
You will need a clearance of around 170mm. It can also encroach on surrounding components, so you need to take that into consideration if you’re considering buying this cooler. The reason it is so bulky is that it has two fans (called wings) and two heat sinks. It’s like a heat sink sandwich or a fan slider.
You can leave out one of the fans though, but that would be a bit of a waste after spending so much money on it. In terms of delivery, the black TF includes a fan cable splitter, thermal paste, key, backing plates and spacers for ILM, AMD and LGA 2011 installations. The mounting kit uses standard screws instead of studs.
The difficulty of installation differs from socket to socket. For example, the AGL 2011 installations are much more complicated. Otherwise, this is a versatile and efficient cooler. A true testament to German engineering.
3. Noctua NH-L9i
Once again, the cooler features a dessert-colored fan with the latest self-stabilizing oil bearing (SSO2). This makes the fan run smoother and quieter than the competition. So it doesn’t just look like chocolate, it works like that too.
A common disclaimer you will see for low profile coolers is that they are not made for overclocking. CPU coolers of this size are not optimized for CPUs over 65W rated thermal power (TDP).
Due to a smaller heatsink, the NH-L9i is shorter than the NH-L9x65, which means it is compatible with more MITX cases and HTPCs. This thing is an almost perfect square. It does not encroach on or push into RAM or PCle slots.
It is fully compliant with AMD’s Safe Zone specifications. Although the NH-L9i supports more enclosures with less free space than the NH-L9x65, it does not have the same socket compatibility.
After all, it was designed for Intel LGA115x-based systems. Once again, you will discover the impressive range of possibilities offered by Noctua. Just like the NH-L9x65, it comes with an LNA, high quality thermal paste, mounting kit, fan screws and a metal case badge.
It’s not too expensive and you get what you pay for here. If you are looking to replace your stock cooler then this is a definite improvement.
Low Profile CPU Coolers: Buying Guide
In most cases, you can just keep your stock cool, but if you’re looking for better performance and something a little quieter, it may be worth replacing it with a third-party cooler. Even some of the best gaming CPU manufacturers have stopped packing their CPUs with a cooler because most users swap them out anyway.
It is not necessary to understand the basics of thermodynamics to choose a good chiller (although this knowledge is a plus). However, it gets a little trickier if you’re trying to buy one for a MITX or compact setup. In this buying guide, we hope to iron out a few terms that may be confusing to you and help you discover new ones.
Scope of Benefit: What do you get?
The scope of delivery refers to what you receive in the package. This may include or refer to the product itself and its accessories.
PWM Pulse Width Modulation: Smarter Cooling
PWM fans use an integrated circuit to help dictate fan speed based on how much cooling a chip (GPU or CPU) needs. This method is more energy efficient and also generates less noise and vibration, especially at low speeds. It also means that your fan will last longer because the bearings will be less stressed.
To take advantage of this feature, you need to make sure your motherboard has a PWM header and, in most cases, the correct software to control it. On average, your motherboard comes with at least one 4-pin PWM header. High-end models usually have a maximum of six.
Fan Bearings: How Long Will Your Fan Last?
Most modern coolers are HSFs (Heat Sinks and Fans) and your fan does most of the work. The bearing(s) of the fan determine the lifespan and smoothness of the fan’s operation. When it comes to PC cooling, there are five types of bearings you might encounter:
- Ball bearings: You will find that most cooling fans use these. They are also used in toys and everyday household appliances. Their use is widespread because they are cheap and easy to manufacture. They use oil-based lubrication to reduce friction at high speeds. They will last you over 30,000 hours at an average temperature of 50°C. They are relatively quiet, especially at low revs.
- Ball Bearings: These bearings are popular due to their replaceability and ease of repair. They last longer than sleeve bearings. They can also withstand higher temperatures than sleeve bearings. However, they are much louder than sleeve bearings, especially over time. They are also generally more expensive.
- Rifle Bearings: These are no different than ball bearings, but they are quieter and have nearly the same lifespan.
- Fluid bearings: These are the quietest due to the use of fluid cycle technology. They are also the most durable, with an estimated maximum lifespan of 300,000 hours.
- Magnetic bearings (also called maglev): In this type of bearing, a fan is rotated or repelled by magnetic levitation. This has many advantages. For example, low friction, which means your fans wear less over time. You will rarely find this type of bearing in low profile fans. They are not cheap to make and sell.
Plug Compatibility – Can it fit your MOBO?
This should be the first thing you look at when choosing your cooler. As a cooler is not designed to fit all sockets and processors, you need to make sure your cooler is compatible. It’s more common to find Intel-only coolers than AMD-specific coolers. Currently the most common Intel sockets are: LGA 775, LGA 1156, LGA 1366 and LGA 1155. The most common AMD sockets are: AM2/AM2+/AM3/AM3 and F/FM1/FM2.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do processors need coolers?
CPUs need coolers, even if you don’t plan to overclock them. They usually come with their own stock coolers. There is no need to replace the original cooler unless you plan to overclock the CPU or just want a quieter cooler. A CPU without a cooler can overheat and burn out. A chiller is absolutely necessary.
If you’re looking for a cooler that isn’t inconspicuous, you should definitely check out our best CPU coolers guide. It offers a wide range of coolers, from downflow coolers to liquid coolers and tower coolers.
Do AMD processors come with coolers?
Yes, most AMD processors come with coolers. For example, the Ryzen 3 2200g comes with AMD’s Wraith Stealth cooler, which is a pretty decent cooler. It is in our list of the best AMD processors for gaming. If you are looking for a great processor, be sure to check out this guide.
Is liquid cooling better?
Liquid cooling is better than air cooling. It is more efficient at moving heat because it uses water/liquid which has better thermal conductivity than air. It’s also much quieter, but much more expensive.
If you’re interested in what we just mentioned, we recommend reading our Corsair H60 review. Although not as quiet as some of the models on this list, it is definitely worth considering.
Can I use any CPU cooler?
Unfortunately, you can’t use just any CPU cooler. It should be compatible with your motherboard’s socket type and CPU. Your cooler must also comply with the clearance level of your case and motherboard.
If you’ve ever worked in a cramped, poorly ventilated area, you need to understand how the components of an HTPC feel when they’re insufficiently cooled. In this guide, we’ve explored the best low-profile CPU coolers you could get for your compact and small form factor PCs. The more popular small compact constructions become, the more the market will diversify.
You can expect to find a wider variety of cooling options for MITX cases in the years to come. Hopefully there will be more options for overclocking. But for now, in terms of low profile coolers, these are the best options you have. I hope you found this guide useful. Thank you for reading it.