SPCR's Fan Round-Up #3: 92mm Fans

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CONCLUSIONS

We're not sure what it is about Europe, but the quietest fans have to come from European brands. The top three 92mm fans that we saw all come from continental Europe: The Nexus, the Fander, and the Noiseblocker XE1, from the Netherlands, Poland, and Germany, respectively. Two British companies, Pure Silence and AcoustiFan, were also in the mix, though neither could produce a true challenger. Considering that the majority of electronics brands are based in either the US or Asia, this European dominance is quite an achievement. Of course, all of these fans are manufactured in China.

In terms of noise, the Nexus and the Fander FX92-W are the quietest 92mm fans we know of, though the Noiseblocker XE1 (not the SE2) trails by just a hair. We can confidently recommend any of these three fans for use in a computer that is not just quiet but silent.

Since these three fans sound very similar, it comes down to other features to decide between them. We pick the Fander as our new favorite fan. Its built-in fan controller makes it ideal for low-noise systems and makes it stand out from the crowd. The large speed reduction when blowing downwards and its unusually long "warm-up" period is a little odd. However, its biggest problem is that it is unavailable outside of Poland. There's a business opportunity here for one of our Polish readers (we know you're out there).

Although it's not as quiet as the others mentioned, the Acoustifan is also worthy of mention, either for its ease of use (it doesn't require undervolting) or its flexibility (it includes a simple means to do so). Although it is thermally controlled, most users will probably not want to hear this fan if it speeds up. Our recommendation is to leave the thermistor at room temperature outside of the case, and use the inline resistor to get a fan that is potentially ~19 dBA@1m out of the box. For some, that simplicity may be worth the small trade-off in noise quality. (Of course, the Fander does this as well, so AcoustiFan will have to watch out once the Fander becomes more widespread...)

The remaining fans in the round-up are not worth considering. The Coolink X9 series (and it's cousin, the Noiseblocker SE2) was far too buzzy and resonant to take seriously, while the Pure Silence JF0925S1ES never measured below 20 dBA@1m.

Three very quiet fans out of seven tested is a pretty good ratio, so we're quite pleased with the results. Nevertheless, we did notice that all of the fans we tested used sleeve bearings, which makes us wonder: How suitable are these fans for use on a heatsink? We know that ball bearings tend to last longer in high heat conditions, but so much depends on the quality of the bearings that it's difficult to draw any firm conclusions. A good quality sleeve bearing can easily last longer than a poor quality ball bearing. The MTBF rating is one indicator of logevity, but as we've discussed elsewhere, the way this spec is defined varies, and it is very difficult for anyone to confirm.

So, what is a concerned user to do? One approach is simply to take the plunge and not worry about failure. Based on the number of complaints we see on our forums, problems with failed fans are far less common than, say, problems with faulty motherboards or power supplies. A more cautious approach might be to simply replace the fans periodically (two years, three -- choose your period) as a matter of routine maintenance. The reality is that unless your system is running too close to thermal overload or under constant high load (as in a server for a busy office, enterprise or web site), one dead fan is not likely to cause instant catastrophe. When a fan fails, system misbehavior (crashes, freezes, etc) will usually alert the user to a possible hardware problem before heat kills other components.

Last but not least, you could always wait to see what new fans are discovered in the next SPCR Fan Round-Up...

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 Fan Roundup #2: 120mm Fans
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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Discuss this article in the SPCR Forums.

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