Test Results

Before we get into the performance results, a refresher: all eight fans on one chart for comparison. Note that if we're not taking noise into account, the highest static pressure fan should theoretically be the best performer. Our H80's fan settings are also only active with the stock fan; all others run at the full twelve volts.

Fan Airflow (in CFM) Static Pressure (in mm/H2O) RPM Rated dBA
H80 Stock 46-92 1.6-7.7 1300-2500 22-39
SP120 Quiet

37.85

1.29 1450 23
SP120 High Performance 62.74 3.1 2350 35
SilverStone AP121 35.36 1.71 1500 22.4
BitFenix Spectre Pro 56.22 1.24 1200 18.9
Nexus Real Silent D12SL-12 36.87 1.2 1000 18
CoolerMaster SickleFlow 120 69.69 2.94 2000 19
NZXT Performance 47.27 0.95 1300 25.35

As far as static pressure goes, most of these fans are hanging out in about the same neighborhood. Acoustically, only Corsair's SP120 High Performance and stock H80 fan are even rated to go above the noise floor of our sound meter, though it's clear the stock fan is designed to move heat as fast as humanly possible. Let's see how all of these theoreticals worked out in practice, though.

Ambient temperatures ranged between 24C and 26C, and the margin for error in results is roughly 1C.

Thermal Performance

Thermally, if we ignore the H80's stock fan, the SickleFlow should've eaten the competition alive, but as it turns out CoolerMaster's specifications were more than just a little optimistic, as it was hands down the worst radiator fan we tested by a wide margin. If we organize the fans by rated static air pressure, they'd rank from best to worst: SP120 High Performance, SickleFlow 120, SilverStone AP121, SP120 Quiet, BitFenix Spectre Pro, Nexus Real Silent, and dead last, the NZXT Performance. As it turns out, though, only the SP120 High Performance really performs in line with its specifications; the rest just bunch up while the SickleFlow 120 is clearly the worst.

So how about acoustic performance?

Acoustic Performance

Well, at least CoolerMaster's fan is quiet while it cooks your processor. To get that great thermal performance from the SP120 and H80 stock fan, though, you're going to have to put up with some noise. Note that these are load noise readings; the H80 stock fan idles at or below our sound meter's 30dB threshold at Low and Medium settings while sitting at 34.3 dB at High.

Interestingly enough, despite having among the worst rated specs, NZXT's Performance fan seems to find the best balance between thermal performance and acoustics; Corsair's SP120 Quiet does little to justify itself over the stock H80 fan. Corsair's engineers also turned out to be mostly right on the money: the H80 stock fan by and large seems to be the best choice, at least for the H80 itself. Its Low setting is competitive with the other fans both thermally and acoustically, while its Medium setting is competitive with the SP120 High Performance fan. The High setting is essentially unnecessary.

The Fans We're Testing, Part 2 Conclusion: Fans Can Matter
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  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    That at least half of you have a fan you're upset wasn't included, and they're almost all completely different fans. There was no way I was going to be able to cover all of them (although the Yate Loon, Noctua, and Scythe are admittedly pretty big omissions, especially the Noctua), but I seem to have opened Pandora's Box with this one.

    This roundup is a little unusual for us (but then I'm the unusual review guy at this point), so if it does well I'll look into updating it with a second part in a month or two with a second set of fans. Noctua's reached out to me, so the possibility is there.
    Reply
  • NeXTguy2 - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    If you do a second round you might want to consider the following fans, too. Looks like Austria (Noctua) and Germany (Noiseblocker, be quiet!) have a bit of a fan industry going...

    http://www.bequiet.com/en/casefans/270
    http://www.noiseblocker.de/en/BlackSilentPro120.ph...

    The people at Noiseblocker have also just released a new fan series based on research funded by the German ministry of technology. Basically, the blades are connected on the outside to a ring that rotates in the chassis. So far, they don't even seem to have a page in English about it:

    http://noiseblocker.de/eLoop120.php

    I'm using the low-speed ones as case fans, but that's beside the point I guess.
    Reply
  • maximumGPU - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    It was great seeing Anandtech reviewing fans, especially since the which "which fan is best " discussion is certainly fiercly debated by enthusiasts on forums.
    Great first step and definetly +1 for a second round up with more fans!!
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Personally I find Arctic Cooling fans to be a solid choice. Not sure how they're available in the US, though. Reply
  • sicofante - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Maybe research a little bit what makes a fan have good pressure, then proceed.

    Usually, many fins with little space in between say "high pressure"...
    Reply
  • sanityvoid - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Dustin,

    I posted another reply as I didn't see your reply right away. I appreciate the hell out of you trying this in the first place. I love reading Anandtech and come here most for builds, advice, or to browse the forums to see what everyone is doing with their rig's.

    I think you did indeed open Pandora's box, but having said that I think a different poster is correct in saying that this is a welcome addition to other articles here at Anandtech. Much needed and many people do prefer water over air. I, myself, just bought and installed a H80 with my recent upgrade to my rig.

    Keep up the good work and I certainly look forward to a part 2 of this.

    Cheers!
    Reply
  • sanityvoid - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I would also mention based on the sheer numbers of comments there is a definite reason to do a part 2 as so many people seem passionate about this area. Least you could pitch that to your editor that way!!! Reply
  • nubnubbins - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I think the issue is that you have a random hodgepodge of fans included while passing over fans widely regarded as some of the best for radiators. As a baseline, you should have had a Yate Loon and Scythe Gentle Typhoon AP15. Yates are widely regarded as the best budget fan and AP15s the best lower noise rad fan. After that, the Cougar Vortex, Aerocool Shark, Gelid Wing, Noiseblockers, Noctua NF-P12 and NF-F12, and XSPC Xinrulian fans are all regarded as great radiator fans by the likes of MartinsLiquidLabs and those in the water cooling community.

    It's nice to see some fan reviews, I think people are just disappointed that the staple radiator fans were left out and you had a disproportionate number of Corsair fans instead.
    Reply
  • Streetwind - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Geez guys, calm down a bit! ;) Testing every fan on the market is more or less impossible. While I personally would have loved to see the Scythe/Nidec Servo GentleTyphoon make an appearance (especially since they're somewhat more obscure than they deserve), but the purpose of this article is not to crown "the best fan ever".

    It is supposed to showcase "a good fan" for the job. Clearly there will be other good fans. Some may even be a little better. But so long as you're giving a customer a recommendation that's in the top 20% of products on the market, backed up by hard data, that's already going to help that customer a whole lot than forum posts stating "I can guarantee you that fan XYZ is the best, I have been using it for years". Because all that a post like that states is "I have not compared my fan to others in years and actually have no idea how good the competition is".
    Reply
  • Aikouka - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    There's nothing wrong with people mentioning fans. In fact, it can be helpful as it gives Anandtech an idea of what people would like to see. They can take the mentioned devices, review their stats (and maybe even existing reviews) and possibly create another line-up.

    Although, frothing rage is never appreciated, but I think people have been pretty civil. =)
    Reply

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