Fan Roundup #7: Antec, be quiet!, Corsair, GELID, Noiseblocker, SilverStone

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Fan Roundup #7: Antec, be quiet!, Corsair, GELID, Noiseblocker, SilverStone

April 24, 2013 by Lawrence Lee with Mike Chin

A year ago we fine-tuned our fan test methodology which focuses on noise level and quality as well as cooling performance in the form of a practical heatsink cooling test. We broke in the platform in with some of the more popular fans of the day with models from Scythe and Noiseblocker walking away with accolades. Since then the fans have been piling up, all the while giving us sad puppy dog looks as we tried to work on other things. Eventually the guilt built up to the point where our resolve broke, so today we let some of them out of their box cages. Nine 120 mm models from Antec, bequiet!, Corsair, GELID, Noiseblocker, and SilverStone have been given the opportunity to strut their stuff.


Nine different fans are represented in this roundup.

The following is a summary of our current fan testing methodology; for more information as to our reasoning behind all this, it's described in great detail in our last fan roundup.

THE TEST HARDWARE

  • i7-1366 CPU die simulator with embedded T-type Thermocouple wire -- A generous contribution from Thermalright. It can handle up to 150W, but its heat distribution is somewhat more even than a typical CPU. The main thing is that it gets hot enough, with extreme consistency, and there are no worries about a CPU or motherboard breaking down.
  • Thermalright Archon heatsink -- It's a good performer like most Thermalright CPU heatsinks, and it can fit very large fans. It is also quite responsive to the size of fan used due to its big mating surface area for the fan. Given the same RPM, for example, a 140mm fan always results in lower temperature than a 120mm fan. For a fan test platform, this is as it should be.
  • Mastech 6030D DC Regulated Power supply, 0-64V/3A -- It heats up the CPU die simulator with power up to 137W.
  • For Voltage fan speed control, we use a custom built 0~12 VDC Regulated Voltage Fan Controller -- The same one used for years and years. It is sometimes used for PWM fans when the lowest test speed is not achievable on the PWM fan controller.
  • For PWM fan speed control, Fan Xpert 2 utility in Asus P8Z77-V Pro motherboard -- A great board to work with to test fans. You'll appreciate the detailed data summary it generates. It also incorporates a voltage regulation circuit for its non-CPU 4-pin headers, which allows 3-pin non-PWM fans to be analyzed using its auto-tune function, and to run the entire test on the fan when appropriate. It has too conservative a definition of "safe starting speed", which prevents many 3-pin fans from running at very low (but still safe) speeds.
  • Kanomax 6803 Vane Anemometer -- ±1% accuracy rating, which is believable. This is by far the most accurate of the handful that we've acquired over the years. Ironically, it is used not as a primary tool, however, but a secondary one as we're not concerned about airflow per se, but its thermal effects in a cooling system.
  • Mannix DT8852 Dual Input Thermometer (K, J or T Thermocouple input) -- Supposedly 0.1% accurate. This is to monitor the temperature of the CPU die and the ambient air ~6" in front of the fan intake
  • High accuracy general purpose Multimeter
  • Guangzhou Landtek Instruments Scroboscope DT2350P (primary tachometer) -- This is supposed to be accurate to 0.1%.
  • Laser digital tachometer by Neiko Tools USA (alternate tachometer) -- This is supposed to have 0.05% accuracy, but I don't trust it as much as the strobe, it requires a reflective tape to be stuck on a blade, often gives false readings (like 9687 RPM when measuring a fan spinning at ~700 RPM)) and doesn't work well with light colored fins.
  • SPCR hemi-anechoic chamber and audio analysis system.

THE TEST PROCEDURE

Our die simulator is heated up to maximum capacity and fans are strapped on and run at a variety of predetermined speeds. We record airflow, noise, and temperature rise, that is the difference between ambient temperature and the temperature of an object under thermal load. Better cooling results in lower temperature rise; worse cooling results in higher temperature rise. In this case, the ambient is the temperature of the air 6" in front of the fan, and the thermal load temperature is that of the CPU die simulator.

The fans are tested at top speed and 2000, 1500, 1100, 900, 700, and 550 RPM if possible (most fans can hit at three or four of these speeds at the minimum, giving us a nice cross-section for comparison). Long experience has shown that neither noise nor cooling is affected by changes in fan speed that are lower than ~50 RPM. We did not sweat to make the targets exactly, but they were always better than 50 RPM within target, as measured by the stroboscope.

Using RPM has an important, practical advantage: For most computer users, RPM is the fan/cooling data that is most readily accessible, and controllable. Almost every fan in computerland these days offers RPM data output, and every motherboard has the ability to monitor it. If you set the speed of your selected fan at one of our test points, you know exactly what noise level (within a decibel or so) will obtain. There are many ways to adjust fan speed: Most motherboards are equipped with speed controllers for their fan headers, and monitor fan speeds for any standard 3-pin fans or 4-pin PWM fans, and the RPM can be displayed right on the desktop using any number of fan and/or thermal utilities.



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