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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  • softdrinkviking - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    Sanyo Ace has wide range of fans, some of which are optimized for noise.
    w w w .
  • mantikos - Sunday, August 26, 2012 - link

    Sanyo Denki has fans that are damn near silent to leaf blowers...and in either category they are the best. Although a little hard to find.
    I have a Sanyo Denki hooked up to my radiator and I can tell you this thing is awesome!
  • Beenthere - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    ...this type of testing doesn't provide much useful data as the results are only applicable to the hardware tested, i.e. the exact PC case, CPU/cooler, and peripherals as installed in this particular PC case.

    The advertised airflow and static pressure mean absolutely NOTHING unless tested under the exact same industry standards by one source, on the same test equipment all at the same time. In addition how these fans actually perform in real use can be completely different than the advertised performance specs as the case/cooler/peripherals ALL influence the fans performance.

    The reality is the only way to determine how any fan will actual perform in your PC is to test it. Chances are you won't find much difference between the top 5-10 fans that operate at approx. the same speed and with similar airflow, so you might as well just pick the one that makes you happy and forget it unless you want to test for entertainment purposes.
  • prophet001 - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Akasa Viper PWM fans is the best one I've used.

    Noctua is good but they don't have the ability to output high CFM when necessary.
  • Narg - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I love that case, other than it's only ITX. Does anyone know if there is something similar in a Micro ATX or any ATX for that matter?
  • C'DaleRider - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Go to Xtremesystems, liquid cooling sub-forum, then the testing sticky. Inside you'll find Martin210's test of over 50 fans tested on a Swiftech MCR-120 rad. Further testing on higher density finned rads are also there, conducted by Vapor.

    Sad this site tried to do with 8 fans what has been done with 50 fans, and counting.
  • SantaAna12 - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Nice! I was ready for something straight ahead. I would like to see the Noctua included too. I own some, and found that them to be noisy. Coolermaster slapped down! Hardly a big surprise get what you pay for....mostly. I ended up using Nexus....but would like to see a better cfm flow option that is truly quiet. Good review!
  • 996GT2 - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Why was the Gentle Typhoon line (especially the AP-15) not tested?

    The AP-15 is one of the go-to fans for radiators. Not only does it have good static pressure, but it has a very acoustically pleasing noise characteristic.
  • maximumGPU - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    I got an GT-AP after after all the praise they got, and i was underwhelmed. They push a good amount of air but i certainly didn't find their noise "acoustically pleasing".
    I hoped for better.
    Of all the fans i tried, the best so far has been the TY-140 from thermalright.. But they're 140mm and look hideous.
  • 996GT2 - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    In my own testing the AP-15 @ about 1800 RPM sounded like my FDB bearing Scythe S-Flexes at about 14-1500 RPM. The AP-15 is inaudible to me at ~1000 RPM from a normal distance.

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