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.
Introduction The Fans We're Testing, Part 3
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  • Samus - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Fans are entirely subjective outside of these thorough AT tests. Obviously most fans won't be reviewed here (every fan in every single one of my workstations is NOT reviewed but I am happy with all of them)

    But one thing is for certain. Using a non-PWM fan is nonsense these days. Constant RPM fans spend most of their life needlessly consuming power, producing noise, and increasing dust.
    Reply
  • Impulses - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Plenty of mobo's allow adjusting the voltage for non-PWM fans in order to adjust their speed... I think most boards only have one or two PWM headers and 2-4 voltage adjusted headers no? Not nearly as many people with fan controllers and rheobus as people with mobos equipped to do the fame thing already... It's more of a personal choice/individual setup kinda thing. Reply
  • Mr. Pedantic - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    No GTs, no Panaflos, no Deltas. You're not really testing any of the fans that I would feel confident in buying as radiator fans, and because you haven't, I STILL don't feel comfortable buying any of the fans in this review. Reply
  • Strulf - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Could you do a test with 120mm slim fans (12mm height instead of 25mm)? That'd be cool since I will need slim fans for my new ultra compact enclosure. Reply
  • Occasional Visitor - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    The Sickle Flow fan is not advertised primarily for radiator cooling. This is an excerpt from the official CM website about the features of that fan, verbatim:

    "Silent operation as an excellent choice for case cooling"

    It says "..excellent choice for case cooling", not for radiator cooling. Even the sample photos published over there show it is paired with an air cooler, which doesn't have the exact design as a typical liquid radiator.

    Well, to be fair, maybe some sellers are 'raving how fantastic' its performance is when paired up with a radiator just to sell it, or maybe on the packaging it is written otherwise??

    Anyhow, what i don't understand is, why all the negative/abrasive remarks were made about the sickle flow fan, and also cooler master for that matter, since the previous review and in this updated one. I believe a good technical review like this roundup should always remain free from unnecessary personal preferences with accompanying harsh words against certain brand/product which serves no purpose but just to stir up some needless dust. A good technical review should generally encourage positive reaction from the readers which will lead to a healthy further discussion on the subject.

    Nevertheless, tq for technical analysis, data and effort...sure it did bring light to certain areas of my knowledge on pc cooling.
    Reply
  • coolhund - Sunday, October 28, 2012 - link

    The bearing is just genius. I have been running 4 of them for 4 years at least 16/7 now and they are still completely free of mechanical noise as on the first day. Additionally I have bought over 25 of them for other computers and they all still run perfectly.
    Dozens of others have broke in that time frame, even the very expensive Noiseblockers.
    When I get a fan with conventional bearing that cant be changed to an Enermax fan, I always have a bad feeling. Like in January this year I bought a new CPU cooler with integrated fan. It made a slight bearing noise from the start, nothing unusual for conventional fans, but I still felt bad about it. And guess what, after 3 months it started getting louder and louder and now its unbearable. I guess I will now buy an 80mm Enermax and just glue it in instead.
    It really sucks that they dont make smaller ones than 80mm or thin versions. :(
    For some reason I dont think Enermax even realizes what awesome fans they build, since the variety isnt that huge.
    Reply
  • coolhund - Sunday, October 28, 2012 - link

    The bearing is just genius. I have been running 4 of them for 4 years at least 16/7 now and they are still completely free of mechanical noise as on the first day. Additionally I have bought over 25 of them for other computers and they all still run perfectly.
    Dozens of others have broke in that time frame, even the very expensive Noiseblockers.
    When I get a fan with conventional bearing that cant be changed to an Enermax fan, I always have a bad feeling. Like in January this year I bought a new CPU cooler with integrated fan. It made a slight bearing noise from the start, nothing unusual for conventional fans, but I still felt bad about it. And guess what, after 3 months it started getting louder and louder and now its unbearable. I guess I will now buy an 80mm Enermax and just glue it in instead.
    It really sucks that they dont make smaller ones than 80mm or thin versions. :(
    For some reason I dont think Enermax even realizes what awesome fans they build, since the variety isnt that huge.
    Reply
  • Daggarhawk - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    note on idiom use. the phrase refers to unpolished diamonds. diamonds in a qualitative state called rough, not diamonds in a place called "the rough." Reply
  • nleksan - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    While I am not going to straight out request that you test anything, I just wanted to point out two (well, three, errr... 2 and a half?) fans that I have found to be absolutely unbeatable for price:performance on radiators, or even as powerful case fans. Granted, they are "performance enthusiast" fans, not "quiet PC enthusiast" fans, but I have yet to find anything that even comes close...

    First, for 120mm Radiators: the Koolance 120x25mm 2600rpm Fan. Rated for a, quite honestly conservative, 107.4cfm and 5.4mmH2O, this fan uses double-ball bearings for its motor and costs just $7 a piece.
    If you have the room and would prefer even more static pressure/airflow, the exact same fan is available in the thicker 120x38mm form factor, with steeper blades as one would expect, producing 118.3cfm and 6.5mmH2O static pressure at the same 2600rpm (same motor, dual ball bearings). Also, same price!
    Both of these fans have outperformed everything outside of the high-speed Delta/San-Ace fans that I've tried, using an Alphacool NeXXos UT60 240 with push-pull, and produced a 2.1C lower Delta-T than four equally-priced Scythe Ultra Kaze 3000rpm fans that use junky sleeve bearings and are not only significantly louder, they don't undervolt anywhere close to as well as the Koolance fans do. Running them at 50% via BitFenix Hydra Pro fan controller, with all four fans on one channel, they are inaudible and still outperform most fans cranked to full. Even when at their full 2600rpm they are NOT "loud", there is simply a "whoosh" of air that is noticeable but far from irritating.

    For 140mm Radiators: the Bgears B-Blasters 140mm 1800rpm Fan. Rated at 103cfm and 3.5mmH2O, it is the single highest static pressure fan south of $60, well south in fact as it costs just $9-12 depending on the retailer. Like the Koolance twins, Bgears employed dual ball bearings: a smart move knowing that most radiators are mounted horizontally, and how big a role static pressure plays in liquid cooling fans. I have 6 of these in push-pull on an EX420 and I have yet to find anything that can come close to their performance, with the 2nd place fan not only being quite a bit louder, much worse at undervolting (well, the Bgears is in fact EXCELLENT anywhere from 50-100%, although it is almost completely silent at 80% and below!), and resulted in a Delta-T of a full 2C higher. Compared to 6 Gentle Typhoons, specifically the 1850rpm models (AP-15's), which were setup identically except for the use of the (ironically?) Bgears 120mm-to-140mm fan adapters. This is important to note because these are not exactly shallow adapters, and I have seen a significant "shroud effect" from many fans, either using 120's on a 140 rad or vice-versa.
    Still, even at full speed, and with the benefits of their shrouds, the AP-15's were at a disadvantage to the Bgears by a consistent 2.2C.

    A few runners-up for "best fans for the money for radiators", in my opinion:
    - XSPC 120mm 2000rpm "Xinrullian" Fans $6-8/ea
    - Akasa Viper 120/140 PWM Fans $11-16/ea
    - Rosewill Hyperborea 120/140 Fans $7-9/ea *Note: These are in fact re-branded Akasa fans*
    - Yate Loon D12SM/D12SH/D14SM 120/140 Fans $5-8/ea
    - Scythe Ultra Kaze 120x38 2Krpm/3Krpm $9-13/ea *LOUD*

    I tested using the following:
    3930K @ 4.4Ghz with Swiftech Apogee HD White CPU Block
    Rampage 4 Extreme with Active VRM Cooling
    16GB G.Skill DDR3-2133cl9 @ 2400 9-11-10-30 with 2x RAM Coolers ("RAM fans")
    EVGA GTX670FTW 2GB @ 1380core/7920mem w HeatKiller GTX680 "Hole Edition" Block+Backplate
    Samsung 830 256GB SSD
    XSPC EX420 Radiator
    Alphacool NeXXos UT60 240 Radiator
    2x Swiftech MCP35X PWM Pumps at 20%, 35%, 50%, and 100% (above 50% the speed doesn't change, but for completeness)
    BitFenix Hydra Pro Fan Controller
    3x Laboratory-Grade Thermometers calibrated to within 0.001C (1 for ambient, other two for air in/water out)
    1/2"x3/4" Tubing with Bitspower Compression Fittings

    My testing was performed with an Ambient of 18.2-18.9C, and the processor was run at 4.4Ghz with HT enabled, all C-states disabled, minimum state set to 100%, and the GPU overclocked to a healthy 1380core/7920mem (it does not throttle at those clocks, ever).
    I ran Intel Burn-In Test for 60min and looped 3dMark11 at the same time on a second display, both are 1920x1080 (2560x1600/1440 seemed to represent far too few people to be proper for testing, and the higher resolution certainly can affect things).
    The Delta-T's are an average of minutes 10-50 over 10 runs (5 per fan set) with 2 hours between tests to regain it's normal idle d-T of 1.658C for the loop (normal full-load with my ten fans plus 5x122cfm case fans feeding them is a d-T of 4.925-5.1975C).
    Reply
  • SpoonLarry - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    i would like to see the Akasa fans put to the test, they claim some pretty nice numbers, and they aren't too expensive. The two that I'm looking at are the AK-FN073 and the AK-FN072.

    http://www.akasa.com.tw/update.php?tpl=product/pro...

    http://www.akasa.com.tw/update.php?tpl=product/pro...
    Reply

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