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.

The Fans We're Testing, Part 5 Conclusion: Who's King of the Hill?
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  • soloburrito - Monday, October 22, 2012 - link

    So yeah, there are a lot of fans you guys will obviously miss out on, but if given the opportunity, I wouldn't mind burning $10 or $15 to send a fan for you all to test straight from a distributor.

    That's the easy part. Whether you have enough time to put dozens more fans through their proper paces is another issue entirely.

    Just a thought.
    Reply
  • Adamantine - Monday, October 22, 2012 - link

    I would like to point out that you at least have an understanding of what specs are important for fan performance and that you spent quite a bit of time doing the review. The fans in the test, don't really have a problem with the results, although the review is not perfect. Hopefully, you're going with more of a database approach and just haven't gotten to the most highly regarded fans for radiators. Also, you should consider going with the higher speed fans since higher speed fans have more versatility when combined with fan controller. There are a couple models out there that make weird or annoying noises when combined with a fan controller, although sometimes the same model at a lower speed doesn't have the noise.

    Some of the highly regarded fans (most are based on Sony's fluid bearing):

    Gentle Typhoon 1850
    Scythe S-Flex
    Gelid NFB
    Cougar PWM 1500
    Cougar 1200
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, October 22, 2012 - link

    I'd also like to see at least one Yate-Loon fan. They're a popular budget model and seeing how they stack up with higher end fans would be beneficial. Reply
  • Juddog - Monday, October 22, 2012 - link

    Co-signed for Yate-Loon; all the fans in my quiet case are yate-loons and I love them, especially when tweaked with a fan-bay adapter.

    One other thing to note for future fan reviews is that some fans seem to perform ok with fan bay adapters whereas others have issues.
    Reply
  • Ananke - Monday, October 22, 2012 - link

    I have Yate-Loon. Bought on clearance from Microcenter three years ago for $2 each. That thing is amazing. Absolutely inaudible and OK airflow. In comparison to the 120 mm Yate-Loon, the Antec fans in this review at lowest speed are noisy. All the Cooler Masters I owned sound like jet - absolutely intolerable and tossed immediately.

    I agree, for low noise, people should just buy the SONY fluid bearings based solutions.
    Reply
  • sicofante - Sunday, October 28, 2012 - link

    Radiator fans don't need to just move air, they need a high air pressure. The Yate-Loons are great case fans, but not that great radiator fans. (Including them would prove that, but the point of a review like this is comparing radiator-friendly fans. Not discard those which aren't.) Reply
  • Streetwind - Monday, October 22, 2012 - link

    Poor Dustin, prodding the bees' nest again :D I think you can produce another 20 roundups like this and still not leave everyone happy. I'm saying this because I know a German reviewer who's so far looked at 130 different fans, only 120mm models, and he still doesn't have nearly all often-requested models either!

    Just shows what a big deal noise and thermals are to enthusiasts, who sadly often forget that the specific ranking among fans is influenced more than anything else by the specific testing method, and that different fans are designed for different jobs (for example, your beQuiet rep was right - the Silentwings series was never really meant to sit on a radiator).

    That said, I still thank you for the review and hope you'll do a few more despite the crazy comments they tend to induce. Like, have you seen Noiseblocker's new bionic loop fan? That might be worth testing just for the sheer "what the heck is this even" factor :D

    As an aside, some of the European brand fans seem to cost more than two times as much in the US, even after adjusting for currency conversion, if they can be found at all. I can only assume it's the same the other way around (for example, we don't get Rosewill fans at all over here). It's really a bit of a shame.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, October 22, 2012 - link

    Got a link to his reviews? Reply
  • Finally - Monday, October 22, 2012 - link

    THIS is the German site you mentioned:
    http://kdb.orthy.de/index.php?tablename=Luefter&am...

    I personally prefer Enermax T.B. Silence.
    It's extraordinarily quiet and I can plaster my whole PC with 3 of them for just 18€.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, October 22, 2012 - link

    Thanks. Am I overlooking it, or this reviewer only looking at noise levels and not cooling performance? Reply

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