As an enthusiast it can be difficult to just "set it and forget it," to assemble a system and decree "this is as good as it's going to get." There's an inherent need to tweak and continue to tweak, to eke every last ounce of performance (within reason) out of our systems. Over the past few years, liquid cooling has become less the province of the extreme enthusiast and more accessible to the average user thanks to closed loop coolers manufactured by Asetek and CoolIT and brought to market by companies like Thermaltake, Antec, and Corsair.

The pump and radiator are only part of the equation, though; part of what makes even a decent closed loop cooling system tick is having a good fan configuration. Reading specs on the fan boxes helps a little, and visiting forums can certainly help, too, but we wanted something a little more definitive. After a couple of weeks of testing, we have results to share.

When dealing with fans being used for radiators, it's important to note that what makes a good case fan may not make a good radiator fan, and vice versa. We've gotten used to reading fan specifications that only list the maximum airflow of the fan, rated in CFM or "Cubic Feet per Minute." In the past couple of years, though, more and more manufacturers have been listing an additional specification, and this is the one we're interested in: static air pressure. Fans which produce high static air pressure are able to better focus and direct airflow, making them more ideal for forcing air through the densely packed fins of a liquid cooling radiator.

The propensity for manufacturers to list the air pressure specification over the past few years coincides with the increased popularity of closed loop liquid coolers, but during the same period of time we've also seen a gradual shift towards quieter computing. Builders place greater emphasis on having their systems run quietly, and why shouldn't they? If you can have good thermal performance with a minimal impact on ambient noise, why wouldn't you?

With these things in mind I've tested a collection of eight fans from Corsair, BitFenix, Nexus, NZXT, Cooler Master, and SilverStone to try and find the best balance between thermal performance and acoustics.

Testing Methodology
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  • Zap - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    IMO the most important revelation of this review/roundup is:


    All else being equal, that is a fundamental fact that cannot be avoided. Sure you can push results one way or another with smart fan choice, but the fact remains that higher airflow (with static pressure, when used with restrictive rads) makes for better cooling as well as higher noise.
  • BlueReason - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    "What may be most disappointing about this lineup, though, is the unfortunate fact that there may be no magic bullet radiator fan that's able to produce stellar thermals with low noise."

    With all due respect... You tested six fans. Six. The Corsairs count as one, Captain Fan Control. Worse yet, only one of the models was actually designed for heatsink application, in a market where there are numerous others.

    Oh yeah, the Silverstone's spiral grill is designed to PROJECT AIR ACROSS A DISTANCE. It's a case intake fan. C'mon.

    Love ya, Dustin. Really. Do some research, gather some appropriate fans designed for or at least with a strong reputation for hsf use, and ask around about modern test methodology. Fan reviewing is a pain, I know. There's no convenient benchmark program for it. Here's one tip: Get access to a LongWin machine. If Linus at NCIX can get to one ( so can the web's preeminent computing site (that's you guys, bro). If you want credible fan analysis, you need data from professional equipment meant for it, not "Grandma's Blog" style guesswork.

    Yes, fans matter, a lot; a fact that is being increasingly recognized. Thanks for getting on board. =)
  • vectorm12 - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    As many have already pointed out I would really have liked to see some of Noctua's fans in the roundup as well as a couple of the Be Quiet! fans which at least on paper look pretty good. From a price perspective they seem to be in the same league as Noctua.
  • DustoMan - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    Thank you for doing this roundup. When corsair came out with those fans, I through about swapping out the stock fans on my H80. Now I know to just save the time and money!
  • MeanBruce - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    Anyone that is using the NF-F12s with the LNAs 12v drop down inline attenuators is completely missing the entire boat here.
    The NF-F12s are PWM fans, in PWM mode with a PWM fan controller either outboard or installed, will run a full range of 1200rpm way down to an inaudible to the human ear 300rpm or any other thermal/rpm profile the user wishes it to be.
    Do some homework, then trial and error before posting, and Anand not including these fans is outrageous. Why come here.
    1200rpm – 300 rpm. Mix it up and love your rig much more.
    Get them airbrushed RED and BLACK, to avoid the hidden brown ad nauseam.
    This just in from Noctua:
    “The best way to adjust the speed of your pwm fans will be to either connect them to a 4pin mainboard fan header or to use an external fan speed controller that supports 4pin pwm fans. Because while it is possible to reduce the fan speed by lowering the voltage, only using them in pwm mode will allow you to get the fan speed as low as 300rpm.”

    Kind regards,
    Alexander Dyszewski
    Noctua support team

    “I'm sorry, but I can't recommend you a specific fan controller.
    However it might be possible to use multiple splitters (included with the fans) to connect your 3 fans to one channel/controller. Our NF-F12 fan is rated at 0,05A or 0,6W, which is quite low compared to other fans and therefore the fan controller should be able to handle 3 fans with in total 0,15A or 1,8W; but please check this with the fan controller specs or manual to be on the safe side.”

    Kind regards,
    Alexander Dyszewski
    Noctua support team

    “At 300rpms for the NF-F12s, 6 to 8dB sounds about right, we didn't publish the values for minimum fan speed, because it gets difficult to make reliable measurements at such low noise levels. In real world terms the NF-F12 is inaudible when spinning at minimum fan speed.”

    Kind regards,
    Alexander Dyszewski
    Noctua support team
  • freespace303 - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    These articles is why this site is on my favorites bar. Thank you!
  • Capt Proton - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    I finf this review unworthy of the usually high standards Anandtech has represented to me. Not including such obvious choices as Gentle Typhoons and Noctua's is an extremely puzzling choice. If one follows threads on fans for either air or water cooling, it is obvious that the Gentle Typhoon's are certainly one of the most popular. Not to include them opens the possibility of a hidden agenda, though I am not sure what that may be.
  • random2 - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    It always amazes me when I see reviewers overlook very good and very popular products. Yes, I'm another damned Noctua fan. No pun intended. :-)
  • n13L5 - Sunday, August 26, 2012 - link

    Its a very small selection of fans to start... fans are cheap, could have really gotten some more, including the Noctua, Alpenfoehn, Thermalright, Noiseblocker, Phanteks, Papst, BeQuiet, Xilence...

    And then, why oh why are you calling 30 dB your noise floor???

    In my room, which has some sound damping, but is still far from an anechoic chamber, I've measured down to ~10 dB.

    When people set up their systems with enough fans and well tuned automated fan control, they can get a gaming system that's below 15 dB during office work and still stays around 20 dB during gaming, given the right GPU choice, like Gigabyte's 3 fan OC Windforce series.
  • flowrush - Thursday, August 30, 2012 - link

    Would also liked to have seen my lovely Silent Eagle by Sharkoon. Dimples ftw!

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