Question Installing a heavier heatsink like the Noctua DH15S, tips?

mikeymikec

Lifer
May 19, 2011
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Well, I just went ahead and placed a large components order for my new PC (slight anxiety going on due to this being double what I've paid before for my own PC).

I've had plenty of experience installing stock Intel and AMD coolers, and I've gone a bit further up in the range to the upright tower coolers like Be Quiet! Pure Rock 2, but I'm wondering whether my usual technique for a larger and heavier cooler like this is still sound. I've checked board/case/ram/cpu compatibility on the Noctua website, it all checks out.

Normally when building a PC, I take the board out of its anti-static bag, put the board on the bag, then I put a couple of layers of old anti-static bags beneath plus a very thin layer of foam beneath that, then use the motherboard box to work on. At this point I install the CPU, RAM, HSF and M2 storage, then I lift the whole lot into the case. For stock coolers, installing into the case is rarely any kind of feat because they're small and unobtrusive, but the tower-type coolers can be a little trickier.

My normal thinking about HSF first then install the board in the case is that any pressure I put on the board while installing the HSF is cushioned/supported by the layers beneath, whereas if I installed the board in the case then the HSF, there's more potential for the board to flex when I apply pressure.

Maybe my concerns about room to work in the case are unwarranted since most of my PC builds have been into mATX cases especially in recent years and the case I intend to use this time is ATX and bigger than the usual ATX case I normally work in.
 

Hans Gruber

Platinum Member
Dec 23, 2006
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There is no right or wrong way of doing things. I always put the motherboard in the case and screw down all the posts. Then I install the ram and m.2 drive. I install the CPU with the motherboard mounted in the case. I apply thermal paste with a razor blade or those plastic spoons that come with the thermal paste. I do not put a big drop of thermal grease and plot the heatsink on it and call it a day like some of these clowns. That method leads to hot spotting.

You always want to avoid static electricity and working on a motherboard without it being secured to a case or something that holds it in place can lead to accidents or static electricity.

I am not anti air cooling. I do really enjoy the space water cooling gives the interior of a case. With the big heatsinks, it becomes surgery. You may need extra long screwdrivers just to remove a heatsink. It depends on who makes them.

You want to apply your thermal paste so the entire CPU is covered before mounting the heatsink. You can twist the heatsink around and remove it to make sure the base of the HSF is contacting the entire CPU. I think a heavier HSF would be a good thing. Just realize you may have to plan ahead for removing components later after you install one of those big HSF from Noctua.
 

In2Photos

Golden Member
Mar 21, 2007
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I'm a firm believer in testing the system with CPU, RAM, SSD and GPU before placing it in to the case. I hate spending time having to undo things. And it doesn't matter how big the case is it's still easier to install that stuff onto the motherboard outside of the case. The larger air coolers don't really get in the way except for things like the 8 pin EPS and installing fans on the top/rear of the case. So if possible consider routing those things first. So builds for me go something like this:

- Install CPU, RAM, SSD (and GPU if there is no iGPU)
- Install the CPU cooler or a temporary cooler if using an AIO.
- Test the system making sure it boots and sees all of the RAM and the SSD
- Install any fans in the case and route the wires out of the way if there is no removable bracket
- If using a modular PSU connect the EPS cables to the motherboard if fans will be in the way, or considering installing the PSU now and routing the EPS cable
- Install the motherboard into the case
- Connect all of the front panel IO, fan cables, etc
- Install the PSU and connect the cables if not already installed during the earlier steps
- Install the GPU
 
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mikeymikec

Lifer
May 19, 2011
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There is no right or wrong way of doing things.
...
I do not put a big drop of thermal grease and plot the heatsink on it and call it a day like some of these clowns. That method leads to hot spotting.

This made me chuckle :D
 

bigboxes

Lifer
Apr 6, 2002
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I always prefer a larger case. More room to work around in more airflow. Plus, I like quiet. That means large case fans. Huge HSF. Here's from my build in 2021. Had to move fan for RAM clearance. And yes, install everything BEFORE you mount the heatsink. To access my 980 Pro, I'd have to take the NH-D15 back off. Not something I want to do unless I have to.

GCGFlR7.jpg
 
Dec 10, 2005
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I would just mount a larger heatsink like any of the other aftermarket ones you've used before.

My steps are generally: mount the backplate/brackets, install the CPU in the socket, install RAM and NVME drives, mount cooler, install in case, then finish assembly with PSU/fan/other connections, GPU installation.
 

mikeymikec

Lifer
May 19, 2011
17,670
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I did the main building work this evening, and @bigboxes is definitely correct but for a different reason than I expected. When I installed the NH-D15S, I thought I was being quite clever in taking off the cover for the M.2 slot near the CPU, thinking that it would be less of a faff to remove it first than after installing the HSF.

After installing the HSF I was thinking that actually there's not tonnes of room but enough for me to install the M.2 from my current PC later (I want to test the hell out of the new PC before I migrate my setup into it, and I'm re-using the SSDs from my current PC in this one).

However, what I didn't count on what that while the HSF is a chunky boy, it's the graphics card plus the HSF that creates a real problem: There's literally about 1cm clearance between the graphics card and the HSF. Not only that, but removing the graphics card at some point in the future is going to be tricky (I've also tried reaching around the fan side of the card to reach the PCIE retaining clip, I couldn't feel it).

In hindsight, I'd say that if one is using a heatsink this big, then (provided that the HSF install doesn't require tonnes of downforce, this one doesn't), install the board in the PC then install the heatsink, preferably after you've installed the CPU power connectors!

This PC has taken my blood sacrifice and I couldn't remove the blood stains easily from the HSF.

I think I'm going to have to settle for installing the gaming OS M.2 into one of the secondary M2 slots and non-optimal performance be damned... unless anyone has any tips for removing the graphics card (it's a 2.5 slot graphics card which is about the same width as the motherboard).
 

ch33zw1z

Lifer
Nov 4, 2004
37,759
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If you can’t reach the GPU release lever*, use a longish plastic something to pop the release. There’s laptop / mobile repair kits that have an adequate tool. I would not use a metal tool for this, as when the tool slips off the release lever it could damage other components

Overall, I agree there not a verified “right” way and we all have our methods.

I tend to install stuff in the case unless there’s an existing problem and testing outside a case is required.

Regarding thermal grease, there’s all sorts of methods and recommendations based on things like: how the IHS and HSF surfaces look, recommendations based on known core layouts, thermal compound being used.

For cpus with a IHS, I typically follow a pattern like on a game die. Like making a 5 with it, the bigger the IHS, the more dots there are. There were some intel cpus (server) where I needed like 12-15 dots. Applied like this, the HSF spreads it nice and even, and putting the correct amount on meant no spilling off the cpu.

For my noctua HSF, the HSF was finished to almost a mirror. It came like that. What’s this mean? Means the grease spreads even more, since there’s less micro voids for the grease to fill. So while I made the dot pattern, the dots themselves I made smaller cuz I knew what was gonna happen

Having a longer screwdriver around is pretty important also.

I tend to use something like this on a screwdriver that will take them, and what bit I need. Makes not dropping screws easier ;)

DEWALT DW2055B 6-Inch Magnetic Drive Guide, 3 Pack
https://a.co/d/9bF87Vj

So yea, there’s variables, but using some experience and knowledge can make it a bit better, less stressful
 
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BoomerD

No Lifer
Feb 26, 2006
62,830
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If you can’t reach the GPU release level, use a longish plastic something to pop the release. There’s laptop / mobile repair kits that have an adequate tool. I would not use a metal tool for this, as when the tool slips off the release lever it could damage other components

Overall, I agree there not a verified “right” way and we all have our methods.

I tend to install stuff in the case unless there’s an existing problem and testing outside a case is required.

Regarding thermal grease, there’s all sorts of methods and recommendations based on things like: how the IHS and HSF surfaces look, recommendations based on known core layouts, thermal compound being used.

For cpus with a IHS, I typically follow a pattern like on a game die. Like making a 5 with it, the bigger the IHS, the more dots there are. There were some intel cpus (server) where I needed like 12-15 dots. Applied like this, the HSF spreads it nice and even, and putting the correct amount on meant no spilling off the cpu.

For my noctua HSF, the HSF was finished to almost a mirror. It came like that. What’s this mean? Means the grease spreads even more, since there’s less micro voids for the grease to fill. So while I made the dot pattern, the dots themselves I made smaller cuz I knew what was gonna happen

Having a longer screwdriver around is pretty important also.

I tend to use something like this on a screwdriver that will take them, and what bit I need. Makes not dropping screws easier ;)

DEWALT DW2055B 6-Inch Magnetic Drive Guide, 3 Pack
https://a.co/d/9bF87Vj

So yea, there’s variables, but using some experience and knowledge can make it a bit better, less stressful

I'm a fan of the high-tech GPU release tools.

 

DrMrLordX

Lifer
Apr 27, 2000
21,612
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Last time I inatalled an NH-D15S, I installed everything but the CPU + HSF and GPU into the case. It's been awhile so I don't remember if I had to swap the backplate (I think I did), and if so obviously I did that before installing the board in the case. With a big, heavy HSF you probably won't want to install the HSF first because handling that is going to be really awkward while securing the board, and it might bend the board a bit depending on how beefy it is.

edit: also if I recall I installed the GPU last.
 
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mikeymikec

Lifer
May 19, 2011
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A chopstick it is then :D Thx.

Yup, I've got a decent set of screwdrivers for my work so even when I had about an inch's clearance to tighten the board screws north of the heatsink I still could. I'm glad I didn't have to use the one that came with the Noctua heatsink, that didn't look like fun to use at all.
 
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mikeymikec

Lifer
May 19, 2011
17,670
9,508
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@DrMrLordX

I'm half-inclined to agree with you, but I do wonder whether such a large heatsink is problematic regardless because once you've installed the heatsink and you need to do anything that involves inserting a screw in future and you drop it near the HSF, that's going to be that much less fun that usual trying to get it out again. Another thing that's tricky is lifting a board (to put into the case) in a way that supports it reasonably when it weighs that much more than usual as well as having one's fingers in the right places to ensure that the board can be placed properly.
 

ch33zw1z

Lifer
Nov 4, 2004
37,759
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A chopstick it is then :D Thx.

Yup, I've got a decent set of screwdrivers for my work so even when I had about an inch's clearance to tighten the board screws north of the heatsink I still could. I'm glad I didn't have to use the one that came with the Noctua heatsink, that didn't look like fine to use at all.

I was impressed they even included it. Also, I’m running Ryzen and my temps were higher than I’m comfortable with. I picked up some high performance noctua fans but the retention clips didn’t fit. On recommendation of members here, I reached out to noctua and they sent me clips that fit, for free. I’ve been very impressed with noctua in general
 

mikeymikec

Lifer
May 19, 2011
17,670
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I was impressed they even included it. Also, I’m running Ryzen and my temps were higher than I’m comfortable with. I picked up some high performance noctua fans but the retention clips didn’t fit. On recommendation of members here, I reached out to noctua and they sent me clips that fit, for free. I’ve been very impressed with noctua in general
Yeah, I'm not complaining about it per se. I think it was included out of necessity though, because there's nothing about PC building that says one has to have a >12inch screwdriver knocking around. If they hadn't included one then there could be a lot frustrated users out there probably sending back unusable HSFs.
 

ch33zw1z

Lifer
Nov 4, 2004
37,759
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Yeah, I'm not complaining about it per se. I think it was included out of necessity though, because there's nothing about PC building that says one has to have a >12inch screwdriver knocking around. If they hadn't included one then there could be a lot frustrated users out there probably sending back unusable HSFs.

Could be, but since I don’t have another monster HS to compare packaging with, and I’m way too indifferent to watch unboxing videos, I just don't know what other vendors are doing. It would be kinda funny if pc builders were returning $100 HS’s because they didn’t have a $10 tool tho. Lol

Edit: I should add that I was likely more prepared than others tool-wise since i had been working on 4U servers for 15 years. Something that just popped into my head. Perspective;)
 
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mikeymikec

Lifer
May 19, 2011
17,670
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Could be, but since I don’t have another monster HS to compare packaging with, and I’m way too indifferent to watch unboxing videos, I just don't know what other vendors are doing. It would be kinda funny if pc builders were returning $100 HS’s because they didn’t have a $10 tool tho. Lol

Frustration is a thing :) Also bear in mind that there's a lot of posers in the desktop market these days.

Also, screwdrivers are definitely one of those tools that are not created equal and you can't just go by length; the one that did the job for me was still wide enough at the handle to knock between the side of the case and the HSF every time it went through a revolution to secure the board to the case.

Having said all of this, I hate having to shop for new screwdrivers.
 
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ch33zw1z

Lifer
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Frustration is a thing :) Also bear in mind that there's a lot of posers in the desktop market these days.

Also, screwdrivers are definitely one of those tools that are not created equal and you can't just go by length; the one that did the job for me was still wide enough at the handle to knock between the side of the case and the HSF every time it went through a revolution to secure the board to the case.

Having said all of this, I hate having to shop for new screwdrivers.

I like shopping for nerd wands :D
 
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mikeymikec

Lifer
May 19, 2011
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In other news, it looks like this PC has accepted my blood sacrifice and everything is apparently working first time. There are blood stains on a few of the heatsink fins. I'll wonder if I'll remember that as the reason in a few years' time.

I didn't even notice I had done it, I noticed the blood on the heatsink first and wondered if maybe it was some kind of packaging I had missed. Then I noticed the blood making its way from my little finger knuckle around the other side of my hand :)
 

DrMrLordX

Lifer
Apr 27, 2000
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@DrMrLordX

I'm half-inclined to agree with you, but I do wonder whether such a large heatsink is problematic regardless because once you've installed the heatsink and you need to do anything that involves inserting a screw in future and you drop it near the HSF, that's going to be that much less fun that usual trying to get it out again. Another thing that's tricky is lifting a board (to put into the case) in a way that supports it reasonably when it weighs that much more than usual as well as having one's fingers in the right places to ensure that the board can be placed properly.

Dropping screws around an NH-D15S would be a huge pita. Which is why I would have everything else installed except the video card before installing one, and why it would be the second thing I would remove during a complete teardown (first being the dGPU). As for moving the board, you can actually lift it by the HSF if you're confident in your mount. The securing mechanism is pretty good. But putting it down anywhere without having the motherboard cushioned or fully secured in a motherboard tray would be just asking for the board to bend.
 

BoomerD

No Lifer
Feb 26, 2006
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FWIW, Noctua's mounting system is pretty robust. In 2010, I built a system with the i5-760 and used a Noctua NH-U12P SE2 cooler. In late 2012, I moved about 1000 miles. Used a bit of fine wire to support the cooler to the case...double checked it when we arrived in WA, didn't appear to have moved or loosened.
Moved twice more in the next couple of years...same bit of wire from the cooler to the case...no problems.
Granted, the NH-U12P SE2 is pretty small compared to the ND-D15 series, but it's still a sizeable chunk of hardware hanging on a motherboard.

1700967458101.png
 

nOOky

Platinum Member
Aug 17, 2004
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One of the reasons I went with an AIO for the CPU in my recent build. I wanted the area around the memory and nvme slots clear. My old system has the Noctua on it, and it performs great for cooling, it's just a pita accessing stuff with that monster hanging off the motherboard. The downside of the AIO was it made cable management tougher as it covers some of the pathways in my case.
 

akugami

Diamond Member
Feb 14, 2005
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Long screwdrivers are a must for some case builds when dealing with a hsf that big.

Also, keep in mind the price of Noctua hsf's is partially for the warranty. I recently upgraded a rig with a Noctua NH-D15 hsf to a newer CPU and mobo. Contacted Noctua support, and sent them proof of purchase and they sent me a new mounting bracket for the new mobo socket. It does take time to get here, but as long as you can wait a week or two before upgrading, you're good to go.
 

BoomerD

No Lifer
Feb 26, 2006
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Long screwdrivers are a must for some case builds when dealing with a hsf that big.

Also, keep in mind the price of Noctua hsf's is partially for the warranty. I recently upgraded a rig with a Noctua NH-D15 hsf to a newer CPU and mobo. Contacted Noctua support, and sent them proof of purchase and they sent me a new mounting bracket for the new mobo socket. It does take time to get here, but as long as you can wait a week or two before upgrading, you're good to go.

Agreed. The NH-U12P SE2 cooler I posted above was never meant for the i5-13600K LGA 1700 CPU I have now...so I contacted Noctua, provided proof of purchase, they sent me the appropriate mounting hardware. (I still haven't installed it.)
 

ch33zw1z

Lifer
Nov 4, 2004
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Long screwdrivers are a must for some case builds when dealing with a hsf that big.

Also, keep in mind the price of Noctua hsf's is partially for the warranty. I recently upgraded a rig with a Noctua NH-D15 hsf to a newer CPU and mobo. Contacted Noctua support, and sent them proof of purchase and they sent me a new mounting bracket for the new mobo socket. It does take time to get here, but as long as you can wait a week or two before upgrading, you're good to go.

Extra parts aren’t typically considered part of the warranty, but this is good to hear. Just another example of noctua stepping up
 
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akugami

Diamond Member
Feb 14, 2005
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Extra parts aren’t typically considered part of the warranty, but this is good to hear. Just another example of noctua stepping up

I deal with customer support issues at my work, we provide B2B services and products, so I kind of roll in after-sales-support in a catch-all with warranty. But point taken.

Either way, a lot of people don't realize Noctua provides excellent support after you have purchased the product. Many of the cheaper HSF's may be 20-30% less, but you're left either needing to purchase an upgraded bracket for any new socket types, or needing to buy a whole new HSF. And I had a HSF from another brand and needed upgraded brackets for a new mobo, but the brackets were perpetually out of stock, so I couldn't even buy the upgraded brackets.