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Noctua NH-U9B CPU Cooler Review

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AkG

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Noctua NH-U9B CPU Cooler Review




Manufacture Product Page: Noctua.at
Model Number: NH-U9B
Availability: Now
Price: Click Here To Compare Prices
Warranty: 6 years




In the fast paced world of CPU Air cooling, what was great yesterday may be a real dog today. Over the years we have seen this happen to many and several once - great companies have fallen into ill repute. We have also see many a great company just grow and grow until they are considered by many to be the dominant mover and shaker (or even THE company to beat). One never knows what is going to happen and when a new product is added to a company's line there is always that little voice saying “this too shall pass” as we look and see if they have pulled another rabbit out of their hat…or another Spruce Goose.

Over the past year Noctua has made quite the name for themselves with their ultra quiet, yet ultra efficient CPU cooling solutions, and can be considered by enthusiasts as one of the top manufacturers out there. This really is saying a lot as their rise to stardom has been down right meteoric.

Today we will be looking at another addition to Noctua’s award winning lineup: the NH-U9B. Unlike the other Noctuas we have put through their paces, the U9B is different from its brethren since it is actually quite small in comparison and uses a completely different fan size and design to keep its heatsink cool. It is geared towards those of you who do not want a massive heatsink in your HTPC (or standard ATX) case and seems to be released to compete with the Thermalright Ultima 90. It also looks like this Noctua heatsink is widely available from retailers and e-tailers throughout the country and goes for about $50.

The release of U9 really does point to a strategy of Noctua branching out and trying to saturate the market with a whole entire range of products all of which are designed to dominate in one area or another. It will be interesting to see exactly how this “smaller brother” with stack up against the relative giants we have reviewed in the past. We have come to expect a lot from Noctua coolers so the bar is going to be set awfully high for this little guy; and with a price point which is on the upper end of moderate it is going to be set even higher. Great expectation or not, I for one am looking forward to putting it through its paces and seeing if it lives up to the Noctua name….and find out if it is worth the price of admission.

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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications


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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories


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In typical Noctua fashion the only thing which separates this shipping container from its brethren is its size and label. It seems people either really like the colour scheme or hate, as there is no middle ground. Whether you like it or hate it, it is distinctive and you can tell who made it from across a room even if you have your beer goggles on. This distinctiveness is pure brand recognition and when you boil it all down to essentials this is the real purpose companies don’t just sell their products in brown paper bags (except for Thermalright but that is a different story all together.). As usual, the box contains all the necessary information that one would need to make an informed decision, but that is par for the course for any Noctua product.

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When you do open the box you are greeted once again to a classic Noctua design; a design which works very well and we were glad to see it used on the relatively diminutive U9. The protective design philosophy of all Noctua CPU cooler shipping boxes seems to be one of brute force simplicity. The cooler is engulfed in a thick trauma reducing cardboard and even the fan is used as a secondary protective barrier against damage to the heatsink itself.

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The accessory list that comes with the Noctua U9 is not only complete but is of typical high quality Noctua construction. You get all the necessary mounting equipment for both AMD and Intel 775 systems (including backplates), low noise and ultra low noise fan adapters, two instruction pamphlets (one for AMD and one for Intel 775 installations) enough wire brackets and vibration dampening material to mount two 92mm fans, a single NF-B9-1600 92mm Fan, a tube of Noctua branded TIM and (just like its bigger sibling the U12) we see the return of the long handled chrome screwdriver which is always a nice touch.
 
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AkG

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Heatsink Construction & Design

Heatsink Construction & Design


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On first glance one could easily mistake the U9B for its bigger brother the NH-U12P (or maybe even a Thermalright Ultima 90, but that is stretching things a bit), and it is only upon close inspection that the only real difference between the two becomes obvious. What we are alluding to is that while the U9 really does look like a scaled down U12, when you put them next to each other the difference in size becomes very noticeable. The U12 is a rather large and tall example of the tower style genre; whereas the U9 is down right pocket-sized in comparison. To be more specific the U9 is 33mm shorter (125 mm high), 31mm narrower (95 mm wide), 1mm shallower (70mm deep) and even weighs 140grams less (460 grams without the fan) than its bigger brother. While it may not be as big as the U12, it is by no means a small cooler and fitting it inside some of the smaller Small Form Factor / HTPC cases out there may be difficult (so if you are buying it for this reason, do your homework and make sure the case can handle it).

While both the U9 and U12 coolers come with four heatpipes, the U12 has its four heatpipes positioned at about a quarter of the way in from both edges but clustered tightly together into two groups; whereas the U9's heatpipes are clustered at the edges. Neither approach is right or wrong, per say, it just would have been nice to have seen the Noctua positioned their heatpipes a bit more staggered so more air actually hits all four heatpipes, instead of clustering them close together into groups of two.

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As mentioned, the Noctua NH-U9B is a fairly standard “double 4” heatpipe tower design cooler which is designed to accommodate a 92mm fan only. While some people would call the U9 an 8 heatpipe system, it is in reality only 4 large “U” shaped heatpipes that start at the top right side of the heatsink, go down and through the copper & aluminum base and then terminate at the top left side of the heatsink.

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As with many similarly designed coolers, the fins are made of aluminum to help radiate heat, yet keep overall weight to a manageable level. More importantly, the layout of the fins is just like the U12: they are tightly packed together. To overcome the inherent high static pressure of this design Noctua’s engineers have taken a page from other tower heatsinks and have given the fins a textured multi-faceted “face” with an indented center. This approach has been proven to help reduce back pressure allowing the fan to keep the air moving efficiently over the fins.

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Even though it may not look it, the base of the U9 is even but exhibits some of the most extensive tool marks we have seen in a while. Worse still, and just like the other Noctua CPU cooling solutions we have reviewed in the past, there were some minor tool marks that can’t easily be seen but are deep enough to be felt with your fingernail. Overall, it is certainly not the most polished base we have seen and while not the worst either, it was a little disappointing as this is a Noctua cooler and we have come to expect better than this from this high quality company. It will be interesting to see if this has a negative impact on its performance.
 
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AkG

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Fan Design

FAN DESIGN


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It really would not be fair of us to compare any SSO/ Fluid Dynamic Bearing 120mm fan with a 92mm fan, regardless of the technology being used in the 92mm. This is because a 120mm can move more air at much lower RPMs than any 92mm fan and thus the larger fan will usually be quieter. With all this being said, most people are going to make this comparison anyways; or at least they are when they compare a 120mm NF-P12-1300 equipped NH-U12 tower cooler with this NH-U9B with its smaller 92mm NF-B9-1600. To this end lets just say the Noctua B9 is a very quiet 92mm fan but it is not in the same league as the NF-P12 since it operates at significantly higher RPMs.

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As stated the fan which comes with the U9B is the NF-B9-1600. This fan is a 92mm, 7 bladed fan that is rated to spin at a maximum speed of 1600 rpm. At its top rated speed it can move about 37.85 cubic feet of air per minute and more importantly move that air with a static pressure of 1.61mmH20 (which is only 0.07mmH20 less than the NF-P12-1300). For a high speed 92mm fan this is definitely on the quiet end of the spectrum; but it does make a tonal hum sound which can be annoying and takes it out of the league of the NF-P12. This noise is not what you would call loud and in most cases it will be drowned out long before it reaches your ears, but on a open bench setup it was noticeable.

On the positive side, this humming sound is really only prevalent when the fan is running at full speed. At lower speeds, the NF-B9-1600 is one of the more well mannered 92mm fans it has been my pleasure to use. Of course, if the full speed noise does annoy you, you can always use the Low Noise Adapter which is included (or even the Ultra Low Noise adapter!). However, while this keeps the fan very quiet it also cuts its CFM to 30.9 and more importantly drops the static pressure way down to 1.09mmH2O. Luckily, we don’t see much need for the LNA/ULNA adapters as most of the time it was not rotating anywhere near its max speed.

What makes this fan truly different from most other high performance 92mm fans out there is the fact that its blades have an almost perpendicular pitch to them. This ensures as much air is moved with as few RPMs as possible but it also goes a long way to explaining the noise we were hearing.

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As for the construction of the fan, the Noctua NF-B9 uses a proprietary SSO bearing that is ultra quiet. What is an SSO bearing? In a nut shell take a Fluid Dynamic Bearing, add in some extra magnets to increase its stability, mix in a little bit of marketing spin and flavor with a few secret engineering techniques, let bake and when ready you have a revolutionary bearing that is ultra quiet, ultra stable and has a very long life expectancy.

If there is one area that is causes the most controversy when it comes to Noctua fans it has to be their colour scheme and this fan is certainly no exception. The B9-1600 is made from beige coloured plastic with brown fan blades and rotor housing. This color combination is certainly not for everyone; however, it is another classic example of product branding which loudly proclaims to all enthusiasts “I’m a GENUINE Noctua”. Some might say this is because no other company would be willing to take the risk on such an interesting colour combination, but trust us when we say after a while it does grow on you.

If you positively, absolutely can not imagine having these colors in your case, don’t worry! The mounting system consists of easy to install wire brackets which makes mounting any (most likely inferior) pretty fan you wish to the NH-U9B cooler very easy indeed.

Rather that rely on MTBF numbers, an easier and better way to get a “feel” for what the manufacturer thinks is the real length of time a product should last is to simply look at the length of warranty provided. The length of warranty has been calculated to be long enough so that customers feel secure in purchasing it BUT still short enough that it will be “out of warranty” when most fail. Taken for what it's worth (and like all its brethren), the Noctua NH-U9B comes with a 6 year warranty which certainly speaks well to the real world longevity expectations Noctua must have for all their products!

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Also on the positive side, the fan cable is nice and long and is completely sleeved. It is always nice when the manufacturers take the time to do this as it does make for a both a cleaner/neater install while also helping to keep air flow restrictions to a minimum.
 
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AkG

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Installation

Installation


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The installation process is one area where the U9 takes after the Noctua downdraft NH-C12 rather than its big brother the NH-U12. To us this is a good thing as the C12's installation procedure is the more refined of the two. Just as with the other two Noctua coolers you are required to first remove the motherboard from your case and remove the old heatsink before starting the installation process.

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The first thing you will have to do is install the four rubber washers to the corners of the mounting bracket. This takes a page from the C12 installation manual since there is pre-applied glue under the bracket so the washers actually stick to it. This means that all those delicate balancing acts to make sure the washers stay in place are a thing of the past.

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When those washers are all stuck firmly in place you literally just tilt the previously removed motherboard up on its side, position the backplate into place and then screw in one of the SecuFirm brackets. When you have both SecuFirm brackets in place you should then mount the two mounting brackets to the base of the NH-U9B. When this is accomplished all one has to do is place some TIM on your CPU (which should have been properly cleaned before starting this installation procedure.) and then gently move the heatsink into position. We like to give the cooler a good wiggle back and forth to help properly seat the thermal compound before tightening the two long spring tensioned screws that hold the NH-U9B in place.

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When the screws are fully tightened down, one simply has to place a vibration dampening strip on each end the heatsink face so you can mount the included fan. Just as with the U12 Noctua cooler you mount the fan by using the two included fan tensioning wires which go into groves along the sides of the heatsink itself. This is a fairly straight forward procedure as long as you take your time and do not lose your patience. Do one side and then do the other and you will have that fan mounted in no time. When this all accomplished all that is left to the installation is to plug in the fan & voila you are good to go.

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Overall, it is still a little bit tricky to install this CPU cooling solution since it takes a bit of dexterity to properly place the backplate and screw on the mounting brackets while balancing the motherboard on its side. However, the combination of self sticking washers and the fact that the U9B is small and easy to handle makes this installation as easy as the down draft C12, and that is high praise indeed. With a little bit of practice this installation process should take you about 10 minutes.
 
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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


To ensure that the results from one review to another are not only reproducible but actually pertinent to this review, the Testing Methodology will be the same throughout all reviews used. If something does change we will be sure to make a special note of it and explain why this change was done and more importantly why it had to be changed or altered.

Any all CPU Cooling Solutions which do not come with their own fan, a Noctua NF-P12-1300 will be used if it accepts 120mm fans, if it only accepts 92mm a Noctua NF-B9-1600 will be used.

Except where noted all comparison testing was done on an open bench with an ambient temperature of 20c. Recorded temps were as reported via CoreTemp's "Temp Log". Average load temps were taken after 15 minutes of running Prime95 v25.4 “small fft” and are taken directly from CoreTemp’s temperature text file. Excel was used to average the results of all cores. Idle temps were taken 15 minutes after Load testing ceased. Motherboard temperatures were recorded using SpeedFan. All CPU throttling technology was disabled in the BIOS; however all CPU fan speed control was not disabled. Since the Noctua fan is not PWM capable fan speed control was set to Voltage only.

Arctic Cooling MX-2 thermal paste was used for all coolers during these tests unless otherwise noted. Application of thermal paste for the U9B was in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions; and while not necessary, the TIM was allowed to cure for 48 hours under moderate to high loads (with periods of low loads) prior to testing.

All tests were run a minimum of 4 times and only best results are represented.

Please Note: When viewing the results of the Q6600 and the e4600 please understand that in this instance the quad @ 1.45 volts actually is a cooler running chip than the relatively bad overclocker chip e4600 used. This is usually not the way it works but due to the variable nature of overclocking we happened to get a "good" quad and a bad "dual"; in that the quad is a good cool running chip when extra voltage is applied where as the dual heats up very quickly as extra voltage is applied. It would not surprise us if 1.4 volts is significantly shortening the life of the dual e4600 and that it will die a lot earlier than the quad q6600.

Please Note: To keep the motherboard chipsets from overheating a single 40mm Scythe Ultra Kaze was used, but was orientated in such a way as to not interfere with nor help the CPU cooler (i.e. it was basically on top of the South Bridge and pointed down). The 120mm Scythe E on the side of the open test bench was unplugged during temperature testing.

Notes about Overclocking:

For Q6600’s I consider 1.45 volts to be the most that I would seriously consider for a moderate-to-long term overclock.

For E4600’s I consider 1.4 volts to be the most that I would seriously consider for a moderate-to-long term overclock.

Yes you can go much higher but the longevity of the CPU is then called into question. Just as importantly the CPU should average out at LESS than 65c as this is also what I consider the safest, maximum long term overclocking temp. For the purposes of these tests I was willing to overlook temperatures as long as they averaged below 70c and did not peak over 75c. If 75c was displayed for more than 10seconds in CoreTemp all testing was stopped and that test run was considered a fail.

With these two general guidelines I overclocked both systems until either one (or both) of these "rules" was needed to be broken to continue.

Overclocking was accomplished by increasing FSB speed and then Vcore (only if necessary).

Before testing for idle and max temperatures Orthos was run for 1 hour to make sure that it was stable at a given overclock and voltage. If both finished with no errors SuperPi set to 32m was run twice. After the stability testing was accomplished the given system was allowed to sit idle for 30minutes before starting the official tests. IF both of the above stated guidelines were not broken then testing continued with an increased overclock. These steps were then repeated until 1 or both of the general guidelines were broken.

As they have no bearing on these tests the RAM’s voltage and timings are not recorded, the RAM was set to run at or as close to as possible PC-6400 speeds by running various CPU : memory dividers. Please do not consider this a full “how to” review on overclocking or “safe guidelines” for overclocking nor even an indicator on how well a given CPU will overclock. IF you are interested in OC’ing your system, and use these guidelines we at HWC take no responsibility for the results. Bad Things can happen if you are not careful.


Complete Test System:

Processor: Q6600 & E4600
Motherboard: Gigabyte p35 DS4
Memory: 4GB Mushkin HP2 PC6400
Graphics card: XFX 7200gt 128mb
Hard Drives: 1x Western Digital Se16 320GB (single platter)
Power Supply: Seasonic S12 600W
 
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E4600 Performance Results

E4600 Performance Results


2.4GHz

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When it comes to idle temperatures, the U9 posts some pretty decent temperatures; and this trend continues onto the average load temperatures. The temperatures might not be the best (and certainly are not going to give the Vendetta 2 or Xigmatek S1283 anything to worry about) but it is better than most of the other sub 120mm fan based coolers we have tested in the past and in fact it easily beats the Thermaltake Big Typhoon’s scores. Even better than the temperature results is the fact the 92mm fan was extremely well mannered at this speed and was hardly noticeable during this round. Other than the Asus we tested a while ago this is the only 92mm based cooler we can say that about.


3.2GHz

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At this speed and temperature zone, the dual fans of the DuOrb help power it past the U9 and this while not all together unexpected is a little disappointing as the noise levels of the U9 were becoming noticeable during the load testing phase. On the positive side it is still easily beating the Big Typhoon and is still posting very decent idle temperatures.


3.5GHz

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This is where we separate the pretenders from the contenders (so to speak). This dual core processor runs extremely hot at this frequency and the results the U9 posts are very impressive indeed. With results like this, we have to keep telling our selves it is ONLY a 92mm setup and that while it may not be as good as the other Noctuas we have tested, in literally destroys all the other 92mm heatsinks we have tested in the past.
 
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Q6600 Performance Results

Q6600 Performance Results


2.4GHz

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At stock speeds things are not quiet as rosy as they were on the dual core setup. The numbers the U9 posted are not bad per say, but the Falcon 92, Igloo Silent and the DuOrb (all 92mm based CPU coolers) easily beat the U9. This is most likely do to the fact that: A) the DuOrb and Igloo both use two 92mm fans vs. the U9s one and B) the Flacon was darn near running flat out the whole time due to an improperly placed thermistor (for more details you should (re)read our review of the Falcon 92). With all these things going against the U9 its results are actually not terrible, not great but not terrible either. As a side note, the U9's fan was very well behaved and it is doubtful if it would have been audible if used inside a closed case.


3.0GHz

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Now this is interesting. As the temperature rises, the superior design of the U9 starts to become the deciding factor. Yes all the CPU cooling solutions which use 120mm fans beat it but only the dual 92mm Igloo can say the same thing, and the U9 is closing the gap between the two. It will be interesting to see when we turn the heat WAY up how both the U9 and other 92mm coolers fare in comparison.


3.4GHz

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One thing is for sure: this cooler does run hot on idle! Though, as we have said in the past idle scores only tell a little bit of the story and it is all about the average load temperatures. In the case of the Noctua NH-U9B, it easily puts all the other smaller 92mm fan based CPU cooling solutions to shame. Heck, this little guy not only beat the Thermalright Big Typhoon it comes within 2.5°C of tying the Coolink Silentator. This really does show that bigger is not always better and a rock solid design can come in a small(er) package!
 
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Value

Value



The term “Value” is such an amorphous term that it truly has different meanings for different people. For some a CPU cooler is only as good as it overclocking potential, for others it is how quiet it does its job; for others still it’s how effective it is for its cost. We here at HWC try to provide as many answers as possible for the term “Value”. Hopefully by this point in the review people looking at OC potential or loudness levels will have a fairly good idea of what its Value is. For the “best bang for the buck” crowd we have included a chart below showing how much each 1*c less costs when compared to Intel’s FREE stock cooler. No consideration has been made for noise levels, “looks” or any other extraneous factors; this is just raw performance vs. monetary cost.

For any cooler which performs worse than the Intel stock cooler a rating of “FAIL” will be given. For any cooler which has a “Value” of more than $10 per 1*C a rating of “FAIL” will be used in the graph but the chart will list its actual “value”.

All prices are based on either their MSRP (if no e-tailer prices were available at review time) or the online price they sold for at the time of their review. IF a CPU cooler does not include a fan the price of a Scythe F has been included ($12).

To make it as easy as possible for you to modify this ratio we have also included the various coolers temperature difference so if you do come across one of them on sale you can easily modify its “Value” rating. We here at HWC are in no way saying this is the definitive answer to “Value”, rather it should be considered another tool to help you make your final decision. After all something is only as “valuable” as what you consider it to be.


E4600 Cooling Value

Please note: This chart has be calculated based upon the differences between Intel stock cooler’s average load at its highest OC on a e4600 @3.2GHz versus various after market coolers average load temperatures (in their stock configuration with MX-2 TIM) also on a e4600 @ 3.2GHz.

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Dollar for dollar this little cooler not only blows away all the other smaller coolers we have tested in the past it also comes awfully darn close to tying its bigger brother the NH-U12 for value. As it stands, a 4th place finish for such a (relatively) small product is impressive and you should not discount its performance without first giving it some hard thought. After all not everyone wants a behemoth hanging off their motherboard and the combination of lighter weight, a great backplate system and really good value make a pretty convincing argument in favor of this mighty little cooler.


Q6600 Cooling Value

Please note: This chart has be calculated based upon the differences between Intel stock cooler’s average load at its highest OC on a Q6600 @3.0GHz versus various after market coolers average load temperatures (in their stock configuration with stock TIM) also on a Q6600 @ 3.0GHz.

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Ouch. When it comes to cooling quad cores at relatively mild overclocks the U9 is certainly not the best bang for your buck. However, as we have said in the past: quality costs, and making it a low noise solution costs even more. So unless monetary concerns are your only main concern the U9 can in certain instances be considered a good value…it all depends on what you are looking for in a after market Air based CPU cooling solution.
 
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