Introduction

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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  • StevoLincolnite - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I would have loved to have seen the Noctua NF-F12, Noctua are a high-quality (Albeit expensive) brand that allot of enthusiasts go for, myself included on the Corsair H100.
    I spent as much on the 4x Noctua fans as the Corsair H100 cost itself. :)
    Reply
  • jwilliams4200 - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I was going to say the same thing. The Noctua NF-F12 (not to be confused with the NF-P12) is the perfect fan for cooling a radiator with relatively low noise. Reply
  • kidsafe - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I own a lot of fans including the NF-F12s, Gentle Typhoon AP-14s, Kama Flow 2s, etc. The NF-F12 has above average static pressure, but it is not even remotely quiet. The plastic stators make the fan noisier than both other fans mentioned above at normalized temperatures. It also makes the fan louder than the S12 and P12. Reply
  • jwilliams4200 - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Quietness is relative. My guess is the the NF-F12 at 1500rpm would cool as well as the H80 Stock at medium, while being quieter than the H80.

    Also, the NF-F12 comes with a "low-noise adapter" that brings the speed down to 1200rpm. With the LNA, I guess the NF-F12 would perform as well as the NZXT Performance, while being quieter.
    Reply
  • A1phabeta - Friday, March 28, 2014 - link

    Actually, the static pressure of the NF-F12 with the low-noise adaptor is still 1.61 mmH2O, which is amazing considering that the fan's running at just 1200 rpm. Reply
  • StevoLincolnite - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I actually can't hear my Noctua's over the crappy Asus Sabertooth X79's chipset fan, so they can't be that noisy. Reply
  • sirizak - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Have a look at Noctuas specifications for static pressure on the NF-F12, its 2.61 mm/H2O. Not even in the ball park of the H80's 7.7 mm/H2O, my bet is the H80 is based on a tried and true Yate Loon D12SH-12, look them up. Reply
  • BlueReason - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    True enough, but the H80's fan is also running at 2600rpm as opposed to the Noc's 1500, so that really isn't an accomplishment. Try running the stock fan at 1500 and see what happens. I'll spoil the surprise: It will still be louder than the Noc, and won't cool as well. Also there's more to rad-cooling than SP. Reply
  • Sapiens - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Same here, disappointed that Noctua was left out of the list. Reply
  • This Guy - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I like NF-P12's. In push-pull on a heat sink they killed both an exhaust and an intake fan in an Antec Sonata III. In another case, one exhaust fan pulls more air in through the mesh front that the 120mm intake fan down the bottom. Great fans. Reply

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