Testing Methodology

If you've been keeping up with our case reviews, our testing methodology for the fans here is going to seem relatively similar in some ways. Our test system may seem a bit unusual in more than a few ways, but stick with me and I'll explain why I put it together and tested it the way I did.

Fan and Radiator Testing Configuration
CPU Intel Core i7-2700K overclocked to 4.4GHz @ 1.4V
Motherboard Zotac Z77-ITX WiFi
Graphics Intel HD 3000 IGP
Memory 2x4GB Corsair Value Select DDR3-1333
Drives Kingston SSDNow V+ 100 64GB SSD
CPU Cooler Corsair H80
Power Supply Corsair CX500
Enclosure BitFenix Prodigy with 200mm BitFenix Spectre Pro intake @ 5V

The processor, with its healthy voltage boost and overclock, throws a pretty substantial amount of heat at our cooling system. Testing with an i7-2700K at stock speeds would defeat the purpose; Intel's own stock cooler can handle that, we want to "separate the men from the boys" so to speak.

So why use a closed enclosure, and a Mini-ITX one no doubt? As it turns out, my experience in testing Origin's Chronos LAN box suggested that this might actually be ideal. Removing the middle drive cage allows for a straight shot between the Prodigy's intake and the radiator fan, allowing us the opportunity to test how quietly and efficiently the fans can run in a closed system with no real acoustic baffling, while the 200mm Spectre Pro attenuated to 5V runs both quietly enough to not significantly impact results while providing enough airflow to ensure the radiator fans can do their job. Using a larger enclosure felt like it might complicate things with too many variables; the small and wonderfully efficient BitFenix Prodigy felt perfect for the job.

Since a dedicated GPU wasn't needed, one wasn't used. This prevents a graphics card from generating additional heat or noise or deflecting airflow.

Finally, for the closed-loop cooler we used Corsair's H80. Our own testing proved this was a solid performer and fairly representative of 120mm closed-loop units. The H80 includes a thick, beefy 120mm radiator as well as having dual fan headers built into the waterblock that run non-PWM fans at a constant 12V. I elected against testing in a push-pull configuration, though, to isolate individual fan performance; test results are in a push configuration only.

Thermal and acoustic test cycles were done the same way as our case reviews. First, the system is left powered and idle for fifteen minutes. At this point the sound level is tested, room ambient temperature is recorded, and idle temperatures are recorded. Then eight threads of small FFTs in Prime95 are run for fifteen minutes, and load temperatures are recorded; since the block runs the fans at a constant 12V, the only fan that changes speed (and thus noise) is the stock H80 fan, so the noise level for that fan is recorded again during the Prime95 run.

Thank You!

Before moving on, we'd like to thank the following vendors for providing us with the hardware used in our roundup.

  • Thank you to iBuyPower for providing us with the Intel Core i7-2700K.
  • Thank you to Zotac for providing us with the Z77-ITX WiFi motherboard.
  • Thank you to Kingston for providing us with the SSDNow V+ 100 SSD.
  • Thank you to Corsair for providing us with the H80, the SP120 fans, and CX500 power supply.
  • Thank you to SilverStone for providing us with the Air Penetrator AP121 120mm fan.
  • Thank you to BitFenix for providing us with the Prodigy enclosure and Spectre Pro 120mm fan.
Introduction The Fans We're Testing, Part 1
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  • Zap - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

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

    LOUDER = BETTER COOLING

    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.
    Reply
  • 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 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uUXt7mE6Qg&fea... 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. =)
    Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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! Reply
  • 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
    Reply
  • freespace303 - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    These articles is why this site is on my favorites bar. Thank you! Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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. :-) Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • flowrush - Thursday, August 30, 2012 - link

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

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