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

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CONCLUSIONS

There appears to be quite a bit of competition for the title of quietest 120mm fan. Of the six fan series that we tested, three are good enough for an SPCR recommendation, and the only real stinkers were the ARX fans.

In fact, there was enough competition that our longstanding favorite — the Nexus — was only the third best fan that we encountered, although the three top fans were so close that a 1-2-3 ranking isn't really fair.

The best fan of the bunch was the Noctua, which overcame our skepticism and lived up to its hype by producing more airflow at lower speeds. Its airflow-to-noise ratio is its best feature, which gives it enough of an edge to make up for its slightly rougher noise character. The Noctua has seen recommendations around the web, and we have no qualms about adding our own to the list.

Ranked in terms of noise, the Nexus and the Kama Flow / S-Flex should probably tie for second, but the better quality S-FDB bearings in Scythe's fans and the specter of sample variance for the Nexus are enough to secure second place for Scythe fans. We'll call the Nexus a close third.

Although the ebmPapst and Antec fans are not of the same noise caliber as the top three picks, they are close enough that some users will probably find other reasons to buy them. The Antec TriCool is a very good choice for casual users, as it is very widely distributed and its "Low" setting is good enough for systems that don't need to be inaudible. EbmPapst's 4412 series sounds good enough to redeem the company after the noisy 80mm fans that we looked at, and their reputation for quality and reliability is unparalleled. If security and reliability are requirements on par with noise and cost is of no object, the 4412 is your fan. Don't bother shelling out for the low speed 4412 F/2GLL though... the faster FGL model is just as quiet when undervolted, and sounds smoother to boot.

With so many good quality fans to choose from, we are sure that all will develop followings of their own. Although we have ranked them here, the rankings are based mostly on judgment calls and subjective impressions, and we have no doubt that some people will disagree with our ranking. Such was the nature of this comparison; almost all of the fans were "good enough", and it was only fine differences that allowed choices between the fans to be made.

Many thanks to all the readers, contributors and manufacturers who donated fans so this project could happen.

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SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
SPCR's 80mm Fan Roundup #1
SPCR's Fan Testing Methodology
Anatomy of the Silent Fan
SPCR's Recommended Fans
Simple Fan Controllers from Zalman
Get 5V, 7V, or 12V for your Fans

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