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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  • Rocket321 - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I appreciated this review and would also like to see a round two, thanks Dustin! Reply
  • krumme - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    So people want 100 different coolers tested in 1000 different combinations, all with a spectrum analyzer plot.

    Sounds like tax payers demand for public service

    May i remind you about the conlusion.

    Stock cooler works fine

    Sorry to hurt upgrade feelings and the eternal upgrade identity :)

    Another excellent, spot on, work by Dustin.
    Reply
  • ehume - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I've done my own share of fan-testing. One is available in the AT forums, but the fuller cite is on OCN - The Well-Dressed Megahalems. I did an update on Vortez.net last month with 60 fans. My R4 Sickleflow does not fail the way this one did. It never even got warm, and performed pretty well. So I think Dustin got a bum copy.

    Actually, I have 2 CM Sickleflow 2000's. They both run around 2000 rpm. Dustin, check your fan speed. If it is not running about 2K, it's not working properly.

    On Sickleflow specs: even CM has admitted that it only runs 19 dB if it is slowed down. Now, as to why they have not corrected their "typo" . . .

    Overall, this is a nice beginning. I would suggest noting someplace that your setup is stable at various ambient temps. If you can leave the block bolted to the cpu you can return to it later to test other fans.

    Over at OCN in the water cooling section Martinm210 did a bunch of fan-testing on rads, both 120mm and 140mm. Worth looking at. As for individual fans on a rad, I believe the Gentle Typhoon Ap-15 is the standard benchmark.
    Reply
  • sirizak - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I remember signing upto OCN to thank you for that article ehume.

    Thank you again, that was how you a fan roundup!

    I posted a link to the original article earlier in the comments.

    Can we get a link to the Vortez.net article please?
    Reply
  • szimm - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    I would have rather seen a review using the PWM version of the 120mm Bitfenix Spectre Pro, which is clearly built for radiator use - it has more than twice the static pressure of the non-PWM version. Reply
  • jabber - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    They appear to work a treat. No complaints.

    I just looked for the one listed with the highest CFM for a set dB limit.

    Not disappointed.
    Reply
  • cyberguyz - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    this review totally overlooked all the 120x38mm fans out there.
    Forget the CFM numbers. When dealing with a radiator it is the ability of the fan to force air through tghe radiator - particularly double-core radiators that counts.

    CFM numbers are obtains from open-air movement with no restrictions. Many of the 25mm thick fans fall off really fast as soon as you restrict the output side of that airflow. A 38mm thick fan can use a steeper blade pitch to push that air harder through dense radiator fins.

    I run a pair of Panaflow 'Ultra fast' fans with 115 cfm + 0.313 in H2O, 7.95 mm H2O, (78.0 Pa) on an H100 radiator.

    While dang loud at full speed I can dial them back to 7v and keep my computer relatively sane-sounding. If things get a little warm I can speed them up as needed. Never had to take them to 100% (12v) though.
    Reply
  • softdrinkviking - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    I liked this comparison, but curious to see Sanyo Denki in the mix because they are pretty awesome fans. I think they may be a little high on acoustics, but they are extremely durable and very effective. (in personal experience)

    Also, my enermax fan has been really amazing in my current rig, I think it has a great balance of cool/noise.

    I guess I think you need a wider test base. While it's great that your tests show that fans matter, there are just so many more options out there that there can't be a clear recommendation based on this article.
    Reply
  • bigbluerobo - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    if this review was posted 2 months sooner i would have saved 18 bucks with the CM sickle flows :( Reply
  • orclordrh - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    The H80 has a fan speed feature, but for those of us with lesser rads (H-60 in my case) a PWM fan or fans are preferable for noise. I've been searching for two (push-pull) since replacing my CPU with a 3770k, and finding that it's a major meltdown waiting to happen. I tried a pair of Noctua F12s, nice design, shame about the airflow, now serving as case fans. I also tried a Coolermaster or two. I'm back with the stock Corsair on the outside, backed with a Coolermaster Excalibur, which is at least keeping the 3770 cool, but has little headroom for overclocking. At least it's quiet unless it's under load. Reply

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