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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  • Kougar - Sunday, September 02, 2012 - link

    I have to second this. The P12's are known for their silence yet, amongst other things, are specifically stated to deliver higher pressure for radiator use.

    Comparing the F12 against the P12 would be even better though, of course.
    Reply
  • JPForums - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Great review.
    Leaves me wanting more.
    I vote for a follow up.

    I would have loved to have seen the Noctua NF-F12, ...


    I second this. Noctua's fans specify pretty reasonable noise, airflow, and static pressure. By what I've heard, they may live up to their specs.
    Also, like below, I'd be interested to see if Noiseblocker's excellent case fans make good radiator fans.
    While we are at it, throw Thermaltake's Hydrodynamic bearing fans on the list to see if they are really as good as thermaltake claims. The versions pair with Thermaltake coolers should be ideal.
    Finally, an old school Thermaltake Thunderblade would be a good point of comparison to see how far they've progressed.
    Reply
  • Guspaz - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    Yeah, the very first thing I thought when I opened this article was "Wait, there's no Noctua fans in that picture, where are they?"

    A 120mm fan review without a Noctua fan in it is certainly incomplete.
    Reply
  • sam1337 - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    i agree, wheres the nf-f12 and scythe GT :P Reply
  • OCedHrt - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/coolers/display/1...

    The SickleFlow comes nowhere near 69.69 CFM. Though even at 33 CFM it performs quite poorly here.
    Reply
  • jackstar7 - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I'm using Noiseblocker fans and find that in normal conditions they perform very well and keep quiet. Mine are on an H60. I believe Idontcare might have some stats in the forums about their performance. Reply
  • Grooveriding - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Really surprised not to see Scythe GTs included. Reply
  • Mr. Pedantic - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I would have really liked to see how the Gentle Typhoons stack up as well. Reply
  • Rick83 - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Yes, after all often they are claimed to be -the- fan for radiators (and many other applications) Reply
  • sicofante - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Absolutely. It kind of discredits the whole review, when the GTs are considered the best for this task almost everywhere. Reply

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