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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  • sanityvoid - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I agree the Scythes AP-15's and Noctua F12's should have been included. I just spent 1 week going over different forums reading up on which worked best and which didn't. I'm also angling for low noise but even so the Noctua and Scythe still come up time and time again. Any google search on H80 best fans will return those two fans in the tops threads a real shame they were not included.

    Expensive and somewhat hard to find I agree but I just bought the F12's off Amazon last night.

    Disappointing that a Google search could bear more fruit than a article about this subject.
  • versesuvius - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    " eke every last ounce of performance (within reason) out of our systems."

    Shouldn't that be (without reason) ?
  • todlerix - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    another vote for noctua
  • sirizak - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Great review, for the products tested and for the scope I thought it was a good article.

    I can understand some wishing for other fans to be tested but the amount of fans on the market today make this mostly impossible.

    If you would like to see a massively broad range of fans tested in a controlled environment I recommend this thread. Slightly different application, being a Megahalems air cooler, but the range of fans and thorough testing can't be faulted.

    Highly recommended if a little dated article, check out the Yate Loons.
  • Runamok81 - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    As others have pointed out, this review is lacking some key contenders for the rad fan crown. This will not stand Dustin! I demand a recount! Please do either another rad fan article, or atleast an update to this article. I trust Anandtech, and I'm desperate for my favorite review site to put its... spin on the rad fan debates swirling across the internet forums. Rad cooling is indeed a hot topic.

    I'll admit, having purchased an H100 and fans yesterday, your article was perfectly timed but educationally lacking. I don't know how you can do a rad fan roundup without the enthusiast champ - Scythe AP15s, the ugly betty - Noctuas, or the newest darkhorse - Cougars peppering in a comparison. C'mon man, you are better than that! I want.. no .. I NEED Anandtech's opinion on these fans!
  • macmuchmore - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I definitely would have liked to see the Noctua fans included. However, this leads me to request a follow up article that includes a more comprehensive review which has additional fans from other manufacturers as well as a "quality of noise" rating. I know some people say that noctuas are not silent - and I don't disagree. I do believe that they are "nearly" silent and that the sound they make is the least annoying of any fan I have used. Thanks!
  • will1220 - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    why would you test such under-performing 120mm fans? At least include the highest rated 120mm fan on the market: Scythe Ultra Kaze
  • iceveiled - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I'm a little confused how these fans will work with the H80 unit. The stock fans are rated at 3 different RPMs which the system designates as low/med/high, yet most of the fans here are rated at only a single RPM value.

    Does that mean that the fans will only spin up at their rated RPM regardless of how hot or cool the liquid in the H80 gets? So for example regardless if the H80 fan profile setting is set low, medium or high, the corsair quiet editions fans will only spin at 1450 RPM, or can the corsair unit actually make them spin faster or slower?

    Great article BTW..a little disappointed to see you only test in push configuration. The H80 is meant for push/pull and I'm sure the test results are completely different in push/pull. How many people get the H80 and only use one fan?
  • mantikos - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    If you haven't included a Sanyo Denki San Ace fan in your testing, your fan test is incomplete. These fans will blow your socks off.
  • Runamok81 - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I've heard the Sanyo Denki San Ace is one of the best performing fans on the market. If you have NO concern about the noise level.

    Video and sound of a Sanyo Denki Ace

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