SPCR's Fan Roundup #4: 120mm Fans II

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May 14, 2007 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.

Our last 120mm fan roundup uncovered two new quiet contenders — from Scythe and Noctua — in addition to our longtime favorite, the Nexus. Things have evolved since then. We've rethought the way we test airflow in response to questions raised about the real-world performance of the Noctua, discovered some new, promising manufacturers in our last 92mm fan roundup, and the chorus urging us to prove our impartiality by testing some SilenX fans has grown steadily louder.

This time around, the selection of fans chosen is a little less random than our previous roundups. Most of the fans were chosen on the basis of user recommendations. As a result, we expect the average fan quality in this review to be higher than normal. To kick things off, we have a Yate Loon — an oft recommended alternative to our favorite Nexus, not least because Yate Loon is Nexus' original manufacturer. Next up are two fans from brands that did well in our 92mm roundup: Fander, and Noiseblocker. We also have fans from Global Win, Enermax, Arctic Cooling, Acoustifan, and, yes, SilenX.

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. In practical terms, this ends up being the fan that sounds best when undervolted to near inaudibility. Although we do a complete set of objective measurements for both airflow and noise, we nearly always base our recommendations on how the fans sound subjectively. Typically, there is too little variance in the objective data to make clear distinctions on the basis of measurements alone.

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 twice, 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 two 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).

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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