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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  • Streetwind - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Yes, as far as I'm aware it's based on the Fan Xpert II software that's bundled with the Panther Point boards; it doesn't work directly from the UEFI.

    In fact, didn't Anand post a video earlier the year where an ASUS rep came over to you guys show off the fan control software in action?
    Reply
  • maximumGPU - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Yes they do, i have 7x Asus board and their fan control software is superb. it'll work with both PWM and non-PWM fans as in my case.
    It provides a lot of useful information too such as min and max rpm for each fan.
    the only thing missing is the ability to create a fan profile that could be linked to temperature other than cpu temp, like motherboard for example.

    Their software is what pushed me to chose their mobo instead of competitors.
    Reply
  • Iketh - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    oh come on, they are not rare at all Reply
  • danjw - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Yes, I believe that the Z7x's can also voltage control. But PWM usually have a better range then with standard fans, voltage controlled. Also, I believe the Corsair Link controller does voltage control as well. Reply
  • ckevin1 - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I have an Asus P8Z68-V Gen3, and last night I went through the pain of figuring out how to voltage control a 3-pin fan on it. It *can* be done.

    The CPU and SYS fan headers are PWM only, as I found, but the 4-pin Chassis fan header (near the slots & I/O panel) does support voltage control. Plain old fan XPert that they provide on the download site for my board can control it, and it can also be set up from the BIOS.
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    You say this, but I had an MSI board back in the Pentium III era that had completely independant fan control on all headers.

    I also had an Abit board with µguru that had completely independant fan header control, for Pentium 4.

    I also had an Abit board with µguru that had total control for Socket 775...

    Now I have an Asus P8Z68-V Pro, and before I had another 775 Asus board, I've never had worse fan control. The headers are shared, each are a certain type of control.. It's pathetic.

    In summary: abit had amazing fan control for many years, Asus is playing catch up, your comment is therefore amusing.
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Oh, and I wish I could edit, but I can't forget that the ASUS boards also prevent you from dropping the speed below a certain amount, which is awful. I had to fit resistors to my Corsair A70 and THEN fan control it to make it a reasonable noise level. I'd prefer to have the full range of speed available to me. Reply
  • ypsylon - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    InstaFAIL. By far most potent fans on the market. They combine supreme performance (120mm - 138.4m3=82CFM @ 1500rpm/26dB) with low noise and great price for performance. Running exclusively only AC Sharks now. Tested many fans, survived only 1 type.

    For liquid cooling solutions (even for such poor AIO kits) there is easy way to improve cooling a bit. Put spacer (gutted old fan or buy brand new one in shops trading LC things) between radiator and fan(s) on the intake side. That way radiator will be cooled equally on the entire surface. With default setup: fan straight to radiator, center of radiator is warmer than edges, simply because air straight below fan bearing cannot cool and move quickly enough.
    Reply
  • Stupido - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    The idea of the spacer is an excellent one!
    Thanks for that!
    Reply
  • JerWA - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Any hopes of you guys snagging one of these to add to the test results?

    Gelid Wing 12 PL, P/N: FN-FW12BPL-18.

    http://www.gelidsolutions.com/products/index.php?l...

    I'm using 2 as the push in a push/pull H100 setup, and it'd be nice to know if there's a better option and just how they measure up in comparison.
    Reply

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