I'll be pitting the Noctua NH-L12 up against the factory AMD Black Edition copper heatpipe cooler, along with the following hardware configuration:
AMD Phenom II 555 X2 BE
2x2Gb Crucial Ballistix Tracer DDR3-1600
250Gb Hitachi 2½" HDD
ASUS EAH5870 V2 1G
Zalman VF3000A Cooler
NZXT HALE90 750W
Silverstone Precision PS07 Micro-ATX Case
While not necessarily an HTPC case, the PS07 is a recently-reviewed micro-ATX chassis that will make a good test bed for these diminutive coolers.
The NH-L12 installs very similar to other Noctua heatsinks using the AMD platform. Utilizing the stock motherboard backplate, the top retention bracket is replaced with the provided standoffs. The heatsink is then attached to these by inserting the included tool through holes in the cooler and tightening the screws onto the threaded posts. Although the heatpipes and bank of fins comes close in its overhang of the memory slots and voltage sinks, there were no interference problems, thanks in part to the smaller 92mm fan used on the bottom.
Using the low-noise adapters with PWM controlled fans makes little difference in sound, especially at idle. There is a couple degrees difference in temperature, but once a load is put on the CPU and the fans spin up, the temps even out and actually end up topping out at exactly the same spot. Either configuration beats out the AMD high-end cooler by a few degrees at load.
Noctua doesn't recommend the NH-L12 for high TDP processors, or overclocking for that matter, but of course we couldn't just leave well enough alone. Bumping the processor up to 4Ghz and upping the voltage an extra .15v might be a problem for some coolers, but the Noctua barely breaks a sweat. In fact, the load temp only goes up 4°C. The AMD cooler on the other hand, allows temps to spiral up as high as 50°C before causing the computer to crash. And the small, high-pitched AMD fan makes a lot more noise than both of the silent Noctua fans combined.
Let's wrap things up with some final thoughts and conclusion.