SPCR's Fan Round-Up #2: 120mm Fans

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November 28, 2006 by Devon Cooke

May 5, 2008
Our fan airflow measurement system has recently undergone a major revision to improve accuracy and repeatability. We've updated airflow data for some but not all fans; only fans that fared well acoustically were retested with the new system. There will be a new methodology article coming soon.

Although 120mm fans are now commonplace, it wasn't long ago that 80mm fans were standard and a case that accepted larger fans was worthy of note on a sticky in our forums. The advantage of the larger size should come as no surprise to most: A larger fan produces more airflow. A larger fan means that hot components can be kept cooler, allowing greater headroom for overclocking. Or, from a silencing perspective, a larger fan can provide the same cooling at a lower speed, and thus a lower noise level.

We usually recommend using a 120mm fan if possible — but which one to choose? Our first fan round-up was published about two weeks ago, but that only looked at 80mm fans. Now, we've examined another half dozen (or a dozen, depending on how you count) fans, a surprising number of which are suitable for a quiet system.

As with the last roundup, we started with the Nexus that has been our fan of choice for the past two years. We also looked at an Antec Tri-Cool (which comes stock in many Antec cases), some much hyped fans from Scythe and Noctua, a highly reputed Papst, and a couple dark horses from ARX.

This roundup is primarily a summary of our test results with a few interesting tidbits about each fan thrown in. We have kept theory to a minimum, so you do not need to know how a fan works to get the most out of this article. You need to know two things:

  1. Fans are designed to push air — the faster the fan, the more air it pushes
  2. Fans produce noise — the faster the fan, the more noise it produces

For our purposes, the best fan is the one that pushes the most air for the least noise. For users who are interested, a more technical discussion of fan technologies can be found in our recent article, Anatomy of A Silent Fan. Users who want to know exactly how the fans were tested should refer to our test methodology article. The rest of you: Sit back and enjoy! We hope you find our work useful.


A large pile of 120mm fans, not all of which made it into this test.

HOW TO USE THIS REVIEW

Each fan in this roundup has its own data table and write-up that summarizes what we learned about it. Use these to find specific information about the fan you're looking for. In addition, every fan was recorded four times, according to our standard Audio Recording techniques. These recordings can be used to make A/B comparisons between fans to help illustrate the differences between them. The four recordings are as follows:

  1. Alternating ambient noise and the fan running at 5V, 7V, 9V, and 12V, recorded at a distance of one meter.
  2. Alternating ambient noise and the fan running at 5V, 7V, 9V, and 12V, recorded at a distance of one foot (30 cm).
  3. Five seconds of ambient noise, followed by the fan running in the constant airflow test, recorded at a distance of one meter.
  4. Five seconds of ambient noise, followed by the fan running in the constant airflow test, recorded at a distance of one foot (30 cm).

As always, we recommend that you listen and compare the recordings in a specific way. The green box below describes how we make our recordings and what you're supposed to do with them.

At the end of the roundup is a conclusion that summarizes the best and the worst that we found. This is where to look if you just want to cut to the chase and find out which fan we liked best.

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made with a high resolution, studio quality, digital recording system, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review. Two recordings of each noise level were made, one from a distance of one meter, and another from one foot away.

The one meter recording is intended to give you an idea of how the subject of this review sound in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. For best results, set your volume control so that the ambient noise is just barely audible. Be aware that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn't hear it from one meter, chances are we couldn't record it either!

The one foot recording is designed to bring out the fine details of the noise. Use this recording with caution! Although more detailed, it may not represent how the subject sounds in actual use. It is best to listen to this recording after you have listened to the one meter recording.

More details about how we make these recordings can be found in our short article: Audio Recording Methods Revised.

THE FANS

The following fans were included in the roundup:

The Conclusion can be found on page 6.



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