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

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NOISEBLOCKER BLACK SILENT FAN XL-1 REV. 2.0

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA.

Brand Noiseblocker Power Rating 0.11A / 1.8W
Manufacturer Noiseblocker Airflow Rating 33.5 CFM
Model Number NB-BlackSilentFan XL-1 Rev. 2.0 RPM Rating 1,000 ± 10% RPM
Retail Availability Yes Noise Rating 16 dBA
Bearing Type "Longlife" Sleeve Header Type 3-pin
Hub Size 1.56" Starting Voltage 5.0V
Frame Size 120 x 120 x 25 mm Number of Samples 3
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
22 dBA@1m
1100 RPM
34 CFM
0.92W
9V
20 dBA@1m
870 RPM
25 CFM
0.67W
7V
~19 dBA@1m
690 RPM
19 CFM
0.51W
5V
<18 dBA@1m
490 RPM
14 CFM
0.36W
@25 CFM (9.0V)
20 dBA@1m
870 RPM
25 CFM
0.67W
May 5, 2008
The updated airflow results here are the result of improvements in our testing procedures. They are more accurate than the original results above, but they are not directly comparable. Please compare these only with fan reviews published after May 5, 2008 — or ones that have updated results published in a box like this one.
12V
22 dBA@1m
1100 RPM
27 CFM
0.92W
9V
20 dBA@1m
870 RPM
22 CFM
0.67W
7V
~19 dBA@1m
690 RPM
18 CFM
0.51W
5V
<18 dBA@1m
490 RPM
12 CFM
0.36W
@20 CFM (8.2V)
20 dBA@1m
780 RPM
20 CFM
0.59W

Along with Fander, we discovered that Noiseblocker makes quiet fans in our last 92mm roundup And, unlike Fander, the 120mm Noiseblocker that we looked at — a Black Silent Fan XL-1 Rev. 2.0 — we had no issues with sample variance to ruin our impression of the manufacturer.

In some ways, this is a pity, as it leaves us with very little to say about the Noiseblocker, despite it's excellent quality. Of all the fans in this roundup, the XL-1 was the most consistently quiet, and it had the best noise signature. Be that as it may, there's little to be said about the XL-1 that we didn't already say about the 92mm XE-1. The XL-1 is basically the same fan in a 120mm form factor.

To summarize: It sounds very similar to a Nexus, with the same low, smooth noise character that disappears around ~7V. As with the XE-1, the noise character is a little more tonal, and can be heard at a slightly lower speed, but the difference is too small to be truly relevant. The "longlife" sleeve bearings do seem to be specified for longer than usual for sleeve bearings, but they suffer from the same orientation sensitive issues as any other sleeve bearing: Increased wear and decreased speed when mounted horizontally.

The only real difference is that the competition in the 120mm form factor is fiercer; Scythe's S-Flex and Noctua's NF-S12 series both provide tough competition, and, as always, Nexus' 120mm fan is a classic. The color of the Noiseblocker's blades may be the only thing that makes it stand out, but an unusual color makes for a pretty weak recommendation. Our conclusion: The XL-1 is definitely quiet enough to contend with the best, but there's no need to go looking for it if one of our other recommendations is available.

Noise Recording

ACOUSTIFAN AF120C / GLOBE FAN S1202512L-3M

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA.

ACOUSTIFAN AF120C
Brand Acousti Products Power Rating 0.18A / 2.16W
Manufacturer Globe Fan Airflow Rating 50 CFM
Model Number AF120C RPM Rating 2,000 RPM
Retail Availability Yes Noise Rating 34.0 dBA
Bearing Type Sleeve Header Type 3-pin
Hub Size 1.76" Starting Voltage 4.3V
Frame Size 120 x 120 x 25 mm Number of Samples 2
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
34 dBA@1m
1810 RPM
57 CFM
1.72W
9V
30 dBA@1m
1410 RPM
40 CFM
1.23W
7V
23 dBA@1m
1100 RPM
30 CFM
0.93W
5V
20 dBA@1m
670 RPM
18 CFM
0.64W
@25 CFM (6.5V)
22 dBA@1m
1020 RPM
25 CFM
0.87W
May 5, 2008
The updated airflow results here are the result of improvements in our testing procedures. They are more accurate than the original results above, but they are not directly comparable. Please compare these only with fan reviews published after May 5, 2008 — or ones that have updated results published in a box like this one.
12V
34 dBA@1m
1810 RPM
48 CFM
1.72W
9V
30 dBA@1m
1410 RPM
35 CFM
1.23W
7V
23 dBA@1m
1100 RPM
24 CFM
0.93W
5V
20 dBA@1m
670 RPM
17 CFM
0.64W
@20 CFM (5.8V)
22 dBA@1m
850 RPM
20 CFM
0.67W

AcoustiProducts is another brand that we saw in our 92mm roundup, but, unlike the Fander and the Noiseblocker, it wasn't quite up to snuff in the noise department. We include the 120mm version here because we happen to have two fans from Globe Fan that have the same model number. It's quite clear that Globe Fan manufactures the AF120C for AcoustiProducts. Not only is the model number identical, but the fans also feature an identical thermistor that varies the fan speed based on temperature. Even the style and color of the label is the same, though of course the logo and brand name are different.

The only real differences between the two fans are the type of plastic used for the housing (the AcoustiFan is clear), and the fact that AcoustiFan bundles the fan with silicone grommets and a resistor that drops a 12V input down to ~7.5V. Oh, and presumably Acoustifan marks up the price, though it proved difficult to find either of the fans for sale online.

The thermal control is more of a gimmick than a useful feature. The thermal curve that determines the speed of the fan cannot be set externally, which means that, although the fan does change speed according to temperature, it is nearly impossible to set the fan at the right speed for a given temperature. On top of that, a constant speed fan is nearly always preferable to one that changes speed, since a changing noise is much more readily noticed than a steady one.

Despite being thermally controlled, the fan spins quite quickly at room temperature in the SPCR lab (20°C). This is cooler than many places in the world, and it's definitely cooler than the 35°C+ that is typical inside a computer case. The minimum speed we saw was 1,400 RPM, leaving just 600 RPM of adjustment range below the fan's rated speed of 2,000 RPM. Given that we rarely recommend running a 120mm fan above 1,000 RPM, we consider the AcoustiFan unsuitably fast unless the included resistor is used. Even then, the speed hovers around ~1,000 RPM at 20°C, which suggests that it would still be running too fast in an actual system.

For testing purposes, we short-circuited the thermistor and then proceeded to test the fan in our usual way. As always, we were interested mostly in how the fan sounded at slow speeds, which in this case meant less than 7V.

The acoustic difference between the opaque Globe fan and the transparent AcoustiFan was quite remarkable. We've often said that transparent plastic is unsuitable for use in quiet computers, and listening to the two fans side-by-side demonstrated why. Both fans demonstrated the same underlying growl that increased in pitch and volume as the speed increased, but the transparent AcoustiFan also had a ringing overtone: The sound of the brittle transparent plastic resonating. At higher speeds, the noise was especially intrusive, since it developed a throbbing or thrumming that drew attention to itself. This effect can be heard clearly in the recordings linked to below.

Unfortunately, our impression of the 120mm AcoustiFan was much the same as the 92mm version that we saw. The fan spins too fast, and the noise character is too rough to give this fan serious consideration. And, while the resistor and the thermal control are nice gestures towards silencing, they're not all that useful in the grand scheme of things. The resistor lacks the flexibility of a variable fan controller (such as the one Fander builds into their fans), while thermal control is too often a hindrance rather than a help when it comes to silencing.

GLOBE FAN S1202512L-3M
Brand Globe Fan Power Rating 0.18A / 2.16W
Manufacturer Globe Fan Airflow Rating 67.28 CFM
Model Number S1202512L-3M RPM Rating 2,000 RPM
Retail Availability Limited Noise Rating 34.0 dBA
Bearing Type Sleeve Header Type 3-pin
Hub Size 1.76" Starting Voltage 4.3V
Frame Size 120 x 120 x 25 mm Number of Samples 2
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
36 dBA@1m
1810 RPM
57 CFM
1.72W
9V
29 dBA@1m
1410 RPM
40 CFM
1.23W
7V
23 dBA@1m
1100 RPM
30 CFM
0.93W
5V
20 dBA@1m
670 RPM
18 CFM
0.64W
@25 CFM (6.5V)
22 dBA@1m
1020 RPM
25 CFM
0.87W
May 5, 2008
The updated airflow results here are the result of improvements in our testing procedures. They are more accurate than the original results above, but they are not directly comparable. Please compare these only with fan reviews published after May 5, 2008 — or ones that have updated results published in a box like this one.
12V
34 dBA@1m
1810 RPM
51 CFM
1.72W
9V
30 dBA@1m
1410 RPM
38 CFM
1.23W
7V
23 dBA@1m
1100 RPM
27 CFM
0.93W
5V
20 dBA@1m
670 RPM
19 CFM
0.64W
@20 CFM (5.2V)
22 dBA@1m
800 RPM
20 CFM
0.67W

Noise Recordings

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