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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  • StevoLincolnite - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    <3 Noctua.
  • Samus - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    The Noctua, although taller, has the best design. Inverting the fan is pretty smart.
  • StevoLincolnite - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    They also tend to be more expensive. But the cost is worth it in my opinion.
  • nagi603 - Thursday, January 19, 2017 - link

    Yes, they actually do provide far better workmanship and package. First Noctua I bought after Scythe blew me away, though it did cost twice the money.
  • nathanddrews - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    Great timing, AT! I was just looking at some low profile HSF solutions for a SFF AMD ITX system I have kicking around. The case I'm using has about 70mm clearance IIRC, so I was looking at the Noctua NH-L9a, but I'll have to see if the other dimensions of the Reeven will work in that space.
  • 80-wattHamster - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    Cryorig's C7 is a good ~100W option as well, speaking as an owner of one. The fan it shipped with did have some PWM noise, but Cryorig's CS was helpful and sent a replacement (which is flawless so far) with minimal fuss.
  • wolfemane - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    I've currently got a c7 in my Node 202 build cooling a 6600k. It barely does the job and after two replacement fans, I've finally given up on the fan side. I still use the base but I've custom mounted a 120mm sp fan to it and have seen much better temps. But still not that great. The L9i could t cut it either, which I had on prior to the c7. I've got a scythe big shuriken rev. B on the way to try out.
  • 80-wattHamster - Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - link

    A 6600K with an overclock definitely pushes a C7 pretty hard. It keeps mine under control at 4.0, though stress testing does start to push the thermal limit.
  • nathanddrews - Thursday, January 19, 2017 - link

    You guys talking about the AMD A8-6600K or the Intel i5-6600K?
  • 80-wattHamster - Thursday, January 19, 2017 - link

    Good question! Intel in my case.

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