First 140 mm Fan Roundup: Noctua, Phanteks, Xigmatek

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140 mm Fan Roundup: Noctua, Phanteks, Xigmatek

May 21, 2013 by Lawrence Lee

Last month we staged an epic shoot-out among some popular 120 mm fans. Some great sounding fans emerged but we were left a bit wanting. The best sounding fans performed poorly in our thermal test while some with forgettable or undesirable acoustics rose to the top in ccooling performance. Sadly, there was no magic bullet, no model that truly excelled both in cooling and acoustics. With 120 mm fans well covered, we move on to the 140 mm variety hoping for more better results. This time models from Noctua, Phanteks, and Xigmatek are represented.

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, #7.

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 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.

Noctua NF-P14 FLX (SPCR 140 mm reference fan)

We start with the Noctua NF-P14 FLX, which back in the day, was chosen as our reference model based on its excellent acoustics and the abundance of samples we had in hand (it's included in Noctua's premium dual fan heatsinks, the NH-D14 and NH-C14, of which we have several). Discontinued now in favor of Noctua's new A series, this classic can still be found on store shelves, though we can't say for how much longer.


The NF-P14 FLX is basically a larger version of the NF-P12 with a round frame.

The main design feature is the vortex control notches on each blade's trailing edge, purportedly to reduce turbulence, creating a smoother sounding fan. We can't argue with the end result, the NF-P14 is one of the best sounding fans we have in our arsenal.

There are nine gently curved blades in total. Like many 140 mm models, the housing offers 120 mm mounting holes for convenience and maximum compatibility.

Specifications: Noctua NF-P14 FLX
Manufacturer Noctua Power Rating 1.2 W
Model Number NF-P14 Airflow Rating 110.3 m³/h
83.7 m³/h with L.N.A.
71.2 m³/h with U.L.N.A
Bearing Type SSO2 Speed Rating 1,200 RPM
900 RPM with L.N.A.
750 RPM with U.L.N.A
Frame Size 140 x 140 x 25 mm
(120 mm holes)
Noise Rating 19.6 dBA
13.2 dBA with L.N.A.
10.1 dBA with U.L.N.A
Hub Size 41 mm Header Type 3-pin w/ molex adapter
Blade Diameter 130 mm Fan Mounts Isolators or screws
Cable Length 40 cm Weight 160 g
Starting Voltage < 4.0 V Number of Samples 4
Corner Type Open Retail Availability Yes
Accessories: LNA (low noise adapter), ULNA (ultra low noise adapter), molex adapter, metal reinforcements (140 mm mounting hole adapters), isolators, screws.


This is the screen capture of Fan Xpert 2's auto-analysis of the Noctua NF-P14 FLX.


Acoustic analysis of the Noctua NF-P14 FLX.

SPCR Test Results: Noctua NF-P14 FLX
Fan Speed (RPM)
1200
1100
900
700
550
SPL (dBA@1m)
26
23~24
17~18
13
11
Thermal Rise (°C)
19
19
21
23
27
Airflow in/out (FPM)
540/750
500/660
-
-
250/310

As we mentioned earlier the P14 was chosen as a reference due to its excellent acoustics. Our chosen sample exhibited very little tonality throughout its range, illustrated by the lack of tonal peaks in the spectrum. Though turbulent above 1,000 RPM, it became mostly smooth with a broadband profile at lower speeds. Its range gives it a degree of versatility. Users unconcerned with noise can run it at full speed for best cooling while those with a more delicate sensibilities will find the fan becomes quiet below 1,000 RPM.

We sampled four fans that originated from a pair of Noctua NH-C14 coolers. They all sounded quite similar though two varied slightly in pitch, one higher, the other lower. Even these "flawed" samples produced a pleasant sound.

The NF-P14 FLX was a good performer as well, generating fairly low temperatures until we dropped the speed to 700 RPM and below.



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