Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/6391/120mm-radiator-fan-roundup-part-2-fan-harder



Introduction

It's funny, when I did the first 120mm radiator fan roundup two months ago, I wasn't expecting quite the response it got. It was an interesting exercise that seemed worth sharing with the rest of you, and as it turned out, I was mostly right. What I wasn't prepared for was the avalanche of responses from both you and from vendors about the fans that were tested, or more appropriately, the fans that weren't tested. It was obvious there needed to be another run of fans, and that's just what I've done.

Ten new contenders; some pulled from my own stock, one pulled from retail, and some graciously and generously sent by vendors. The results from these fans will be added to what will wind up being absolutely massive comparison charts. There's an entrant from Scythe, Noctua's gold standard NF-F12, the Enermax Magma, and even a couple contenders from Cooler Master and Rosewill. Is there something available that's a better choice for Corsair's H80 120mm radiator, or are the stock fans still the most well-rounded option?

A lot of testing went into this round. Results are still comparable with the older results (and they most definitely will be compared with the older results), but the batch of fans I have available now are an even more eclectic blend. I'll tell you now that there are some results that turned out pretty much as expected, but some surprises and hidden gems here too.

Before we go on it's worth getting a refresher on the previous article. While the next page has the testing methodology again in its entirety, all but the most fundamental information on the original eight fans I tested with will be omitted for the sake of brevity.



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.
  • Thank you to CoolerMaster for providing us with the Excalibur and Turbine Master 120mm fans.
  • Thank you to Noctua for providing us with the NF-F12 120mm fan.
  • Thank you to be quiet! for providing us with the Silent Wings 2 120mm fan.


(For a look at parts one and two of the fans we're testing (or actually have tested) you'll want to go back and check here.)

Enermax Magma

 

Airflow (in CFM) Static Pressure (in mm/H2O) RPM Rated dBA
69.15 1.4 1500 18

The Enermax Magma has pretty generous ratings, but it's also been one of the fans I've seen repeatedly pop up on forums as a solid choice for a 120mm radiator fan. Enermax's advertising materials promote the fact that it can run silently even at exceedingly high temperatures, but it'll be interesting to see if this fan is really all it's cracked up to be.

$13.99 at NewEgg

CoolerMaster Excalibur

Airflow (in CFM) Static Pressure (in mm/H2O) RPM Rated dBA
26.4-85.6 0.75-3.53 600-2000 13-30

The first of CoolerMaster's two entrants, the Excalibur is also one of the only PWM fans we have on hand for testing. Interestingly, both of CoolerMaster's fans look to have placed an emphasis on blingy design, but the Excalibur at least doesn't seem to have the same grossly exaggerated "miracle fan" ratings than the Sickle Flow from the last review had. And while the Sickle Flow was just grabbed off the shelf at a Fry's Electronics, the Excalibur and Turbine Master were both handpicked by CoolerMaster for this roundup.

$18.99 at NewEgg

CoolerMaster Turbine Master MACH 1.8

Airflow (in CFM) Static Pressure (in mm/H2O) RPM Rated dBA
80.3 1.96 1800 30.5

There are actually two models of Turbine Master; the MACH 1.8 is the faster of the two and designed for high performance rather than silence (in much the same way that Corsair has both silent and performance models of their 120mm fans). I'll say this for CoolerMaster; they can produce an interesting looking fan. The Turbine Master has more blades than any other fan in either roundup and comes with a nifty little removable dome for the fan hub.

$16.99 at NewEgg

Noctua NF-F12

Airflow (in CFM) Static Pressure (in mm/H2O) RPM Rated dBA
55 2.61 1500 22.4

I'll admit this is the fan I was most interested in checking out. The ratings listed on the packaging aren't particularly exciting, but Noctua has seen fit to equip the NF-F12 with a PWM connector as well as boxing it with a low noise adaptor. The whole package was actually pretty fancy, and while I'm not sure I'm a fan of the "chai latte" coloring I definitely got the impression that this was going to be a strong contender. Of course, for the price, it had better be.

$29.99 at NewEgg



Scythe Slipstream ST1225SL12L

Airflow (in CFM) Static Pressure (in mm/H2O) RPM Rated dBA
40.17 none given 800 10.7

This fan in particular was one I picked up some time ago on a recommendation from Silent PC Review. I was looking for a fan that delivered a good blend of performance and acoustics, and this looked to be it. As it turns out, the Slipstream has served me well for a fairly long time. It's barely inaudible but it does move a decent amount of air (I used a pair on a CoolerMaster Hyper 212+ heatsink). With my history on hand, I was curious to see if it really was as good as I thought.

$10.99 at NewEgg

Thermaltake TT-1225

Airflow (in CFM) Static Pressure (in mm/H2O) RPM Rated dBA
41.6 none given 1400 21

This one's kind of an oddball. It's ratings are lowish and you can't find it in retail anymore, but it saw inclusion in a lot of different cases over the years. It wouldn't be surprising if some enthusiasts had one or two laying around. Since I had one, I figured I'd test it too.

NOT AVAILABLE

Antec TwoCool 120

Airflow (in CFM) Static Pressure (in mm/H2O) RPM Rated dBA
21.3/42.6 0.24/0.96 600/1200 17/23.7

Antec's TwoCool 120 isn't readily available in retail on its own, but is included with the popular P280 enclosure as well as a few other models. I was actually using a pair of these briefly to cool a 240mm radiator. If you have an Antec case that uses these, it may be worth seeing if they're a decent alternative to the stock fans that come with your radiator or cooler.

NOT AVAILABLE



Rosewill Hyperborea

Airflow (in CFM) Static Pressure (in mm/H2O) RPM Rated dBA
57.53 2.64 600-1300 6.9-16.05

When I contacted the Rosewill rep about sending fans for review she was a bit hesitant, but I wasn't convinced there wasn't something good hiding out in their lineup. Rosewill often provides good products at reasonable prices, so I felt like their lines were worth investigating. I received this fan, which is actually a PWM fan (despite having virtually no dynamic ratings), and the next one...

$6.99 on NewEgg

Rosewill RFX-120BL Blue LED

Airflow (in CFM) Static Pressure (in mm/H2O) RPM Rated dBA
87.5 none given 2200 38.15

The other Rosewill representative is a more basic, garden variety case fan with no qualms about running full tilt. It bears mentioning that this model does include an additional fan controller bracket that may make it at least a little more attractive (though personally I'm more interested in the fan controller bracket than the fan), but this should at least be a good representation of a generic case fan.

$6.99 on NewEgg

be quiet! Silent Wings 2

Airflow (in CFM) Static Pressure (in mm/H2O) RPM Rated dBA
50.5 1.63 1500 15.7

The Silent Wings 2 is be quiet!'s top of the line fan. While our rep (who amusingly enough is my predecessor here for case reviews) wasn't super bullish on it as a radiator fan, the staggeringly low decibel rating and decent airflow and static pressure at least make the Silent Wings 2 a compelling entrant worth checking out. be quiet! as a company has been slowly making waves lately so I've been anxious to test some of their products.

be quiet! is still young yet and like BitFenix they're very slowly making inroads in American markets. As a result the Silent Wings 2 isn't widely available yet, but a quick visit to Google Shopping can find the Silent Wings 2 for a healthy $40.



Test Results

These are going to be...big charts. For comparison's sake I'm including a basic table first that has the stats for the previous fans I tested along with the ten new fans I tested in this roundup. That should give you a pretty solid refresher. Note that the PWM fans will be tested at the Corsair H80's low, medium, and high fan settings while the standard 3-pin voltage-driven fans are stuck at their highest setting. The exception is the Antec TwoCool 120 which has a built in speed switch that toggles between low and high speeds.

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
Enermax Magma 69.15 1.4 1500 18
CoolerMaster Excalibur 26.4-85.6 0.75-3.53 600-2000 13-30
CoolerMaster TM MACH 1.8 80.3 1.96 1800 30.5
Noctua NF-F12 55 2.61 1500 22.4
Scythe Slipstream 40.17 N/A 800 10.7
Thermaltake TT-1225 41.6 N/A 1400 21
Antec TwoCool 120 21.3/42.6 0.24/0.96 600/1200 17/23.7
Rosewill Hyperborea 57.53 2.64 600-1300 6.9-16.05
Rosewill RFX-120BL 87.5 N/A 2200 38.15
be quiet! Silent Wings 2 50.5 1.63 1500 15.7

As you can see, a lot of the vendors...like to flatter themselves. In fact, of the entire lineup only five are rated for noise above the noise floor of most commonly available consumer and even prosumer sound meters (that being 30dBA.) The best fan just from looking at the ratings would be the CoolerMaster SickleFlow 120 with its high static pressure, air flow, and low rated noise, but that fan turned out to be the worst fan in our last roundup by a long shot. Bottom line: don't believe everything you read on the packaging.

Ambient temperature during testing hovered between 23C and 25C. California has very strange weather. The margin for error on results is roughly 1C, and I'd strongly encourage you to mostly ignore the idle readings, which seem to show a little more variance and less reliability than the burned in load readings. I include them only for completeness' sake.

Thermal Performance

Corsair's solutions continue to be among the best performing if you're not at all concerned with noise. The H80's stock fan at its highest setting still remains essentially unstoppable and in fact offers excellent performance even at its medium setting. Interestingly, it turns out my wonderfully quiet Scythe Slipstream 800rpm fan barely moves any air; there are other fans that are nearly as quiet but produce substantially better thermal performance. Ultimately what we really need to beat is the H80 stock fan, though, and that seems to be easier said than done. Now let's see the noise levels under load.

Acoustic Performance

As much as I'd like to say there's a pretty clear relationship between noise and thermal performance, there are still nuances to tease out. The CoolerMaster fans, for example, perform louder than the H80 stock fan while being less efficient.

There are a couple of data points I do want to tease out. First, the Enermax Magma is for the most part readily available in retail, reasonably priced, and may actually be the best balanced fan in the roundup. It lacks PWM control, but it offers performance near the top of the performance chart at only 32dB; that's about 5dB lower than all of the other fans above it. The Magma is popular on forums and with these results in hand it's easy to see why.

Out of the sub-31dB club, though, there's a surprise victory: the Rosewill Hyperborea PWM fan. The Hyperborea isn't really capable of producing much better performance at higher speeds, making its PWM capability mostly for show, but if you're looking for an aftermarket fan it's basically competitive with both the stock H80 fan and the NZXT Performance fan.

And what about the much ballyhooed Noctua? As it turns out, if you run the NF-F12 at a low speed it's able to produce nearly competitive performance with Enermax's option. The draw here is that the NF-F12 is much easier to get to run quieter and the character of its noise is actually less intrusive than many of the other fans; it's a fancier fan with more control, but you do pay handsomely for the privilege of owning one.

Past these notables, everything kind of blurs together.



Conclusion: Who's King of the Hill?

Yes, undoubtedly I have omitted someone's favorite fan. The fact is that while these are fun tests to do, teasing out differences between fans is only really useful when you find an odd outlier that's either an exceptional performer and an exceptionally poor performer. I'm not of the impression that you can really get too much better than the ones at the tippy top of our lineup.

With all that said, with this many more data points, I feel much more comfortable making serious recommendations. For most users, at least of the Corsair H80, the stock fan is going to be mostly acceptable although I'd probably leave it on its "Low" setting. That stock fan is a surprisingly good inclusion and speaks well to Corsair's quality control. On the other hand, if you have a different 120mm radiator or if you want a notable difference in performance, there are some recommendations to make.

First, if you're on the cheap and need a good fan, your buck pretty much starts and stops at Rosewill's Hyperborea. Exactly like I suspected, there was a diamond floating around in Rosewill's rough, so bargain hunters or people who need to replace their stock fan for whatever reason are going to be extremely well served by the Hyperborea. At $6.99 apiece it's really kind of hard to go wrong here, and it may very well be an excellent replacement fan for even a garden variety tower heatsink.

Next, if you want performance at all costs then my recommendation from the last roundup holds true again here: Corsair's SP120 High Performance is basically it. This isn't a quiet fan by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not the noise machine that many of the other entrants are. You can nab a single for $17.99 which is admittedly a little pricey, but Corsair also makes available handy two-packs for just $23.99, and that's a totally reasonable deal.

Finally, if you want a proper balance of noise and performance, I'm mostly pleased to report that some of the common wisdom on forums is actually true: Noctua's NF-F12 and Enermax's Magma are both excellent fans. I think the Enermax Magma overall has to get my best in show award for producing performance that typically takes a much louder fan to achieve, and at $13.99 it's a pretty wicked deal. It's not perfect but it's mighty close.

Now, with that said, which one would I actually choose to put in my own system if money were no object? Honestly I'd probably go with the Noctua NF-F12. The NF-F12 is a more flexible fan with a pleasant noise character and excellent performance. That $29.99 sticker price is vicious, though. For most users, I'd strongly recommend sticking with the Enermax Magma for the best blend of performance and price.

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