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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  • Rocket321 - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I appreciated this review and would also like to see a round two, thanks Dustin!
  • krumme - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    So people want 100 different coolers tested in 1000 different combinations, all with a spectrum analyzer plot.

    Sounds like tax payers demand for public service

    May i remind you about the conlusion.

    Stock cooler works fine

    Sorry to hurt upgrade feelings and the eternal upgrade identity :)

    Another excellent, spot on, work by Dustin.
  • ehume - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I've done my own share of fan-testing. One is available in the AT forums, but the fuller cite is on OCN - The Well-Dressed Megahalems. I did an update on last month with 60 fans. My R4 Sickleflow does not fail the way this one did. It never even got warm, and performed pretty well. So I think Dustin got a bum copy.

    Actually, I have 2 CM Sickleflow 2000's. They both run around 2000 rpm. Dustin, check your fan speed. If it is not running about 2K, it's not working properly.

    On Sickleflow specs: even CM has admitted that it only runs 19 dB if it is slowed down. Now, as to why they have not corrected their "typo" . . .

    Overall, this is a nice beginning. I would suggest noting someplace that your setup is stable at various ambient temps. If you can leave the block bolted to the cpu you can return to it later to test other fans.

    Over at OCN in the water cooling section Martinm210 did a bunch of fan-testing on rads, both 120mm and 140mm. Worth looking at. As for individual fans on a rad, I believe the Gentle Typhoon Ap-15 is the standard benchmark.
  • sirizak - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I remember signing upto OCN to thank you for that article ehume.

    Thank you again, that was how you a fan roundup!

    I posted a link to the original article earlier in the comments.

    Can we get a link to the article please?
  • szimm - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    I would have rather seen a review using the PWM version of the 120mm Bitfenix Spectre Pro, which is clearly built for radiator use - it has more than twice the static pressure of the non-PWM version.
  • jabber - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    They appear to work a treat. No complaints.

    I just looked for the one listed with the highest CFM for a set dB limit.

    Not disappointed.
  • cyberguyz - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    this review totally overlooked all the 120x38mm fans out there.
    Forget the CFM numbers. When dealing with a radiator it is the ability of the fan to force air through tghe radiator - particularly double-core radiators that counts.

    CFM numbers are obtains from open-air movement with no restrictions. Many of the 25mm thick fans fall off really fast as soon as you restrict the output side of that airflow. A 38mm thick fan can use a steeper blade pitch to push that air harder through dense radiator fins.

    I run a pair of Panaflow 'Ultra fast' fans with 115 cfm + 0.313 in H2O, 7.95 mm H2O, (78.0 Pa) on an H100 radiator.

    While dang loud at full speed I can dial them back to 7v and keep my computer relatively sane-sounding. If things get a little warm I can speed them up as needed. Never had to take them to 100% (12v) though.
  • softdrinkviking - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    I liked this comparison, but curious to see Sanyo Denki in the mix because they are pretty awesome fans. I think they may be a little high on acoustics, but they are extremely durable and very effective. (in personal experience)

    Also, my enermax fan has been really amazing in my current rig, I think it has a great balance of cool/noise.

    I guess I think you need a wider test base. While it's great that your tests show that fans matter, there are just so many more options out there that there can't be a clear recommendation based on this article.
  • bigbluerobo - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    if this review was posted 2 months sooner i would have saved 18 bucks with the CM sickle flows :(
  • orclordrh - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    The H80 has a fan speed feature, but for those of us with lesser rads (H-60 in my case) a PWM fan or fans are preferable for noise. I've been searching for two (push-pull) since replacing my CPU with a 3770k, and finding that it's a major meltdown waiting to happen. I tried a pair of Noctua F12s, nice design, shame about the airflow, now serving as case fans. I also tried a Coolermaster or two. I'm back with the stock Corsair on the outside, backed with a Coolermaster Excalibur, which is at least keeping the 3770 cool, but has little headroom for overclocking. At least it's quiet unless it's under load.

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