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Fan Roundup #7: Antec, be quiet!, Corsair, GELID, Noiseblocker, SilverStone

It’s been a long wait since the last one, but here’s the latest in our ever popular series of fan roundups: Nine 120mm fans from Antec, bequiet!, Corsair, GELID, Noiseblocker, and SilverStone duke it out for acoustics and cooling performance.

April 24, 2013 by Lawrence Lee with Mike Chin

A year ago we fine-tuned our fan test methodology which focuses on noise level and quality as well as cooling performance in the form of a practical heatsink cooling test. We broke in the platform in with some of the more popular fans of the day with models from Scythe and Noiseblocker walking away with accolades. Since then the fans have been piling up, all the while giving us sad puppy dog looks as we tried to work on other things. Eventually the guilt built up to the point where our resolve broke, so today we let some of them out of their box cages. Nine 120 mm models from Antec, bequiet!, Corsair, GELID, Noiseblocker, and SilverStone have been given the opportunity to strut their stuff.


Nine different fans are represented in this roundup.

The following is a summary of our current fan testing methodology; for more information as to our reasoning behind all this, it’s described in great detail in our last fan roundup.

THE TEST HARDWARE

  • i7-1366 CPU die simulator with embedded T-type Thermocouple wire
    A generous contribution from Thermalright. It can handle up to 150W,
    but its heat distribution is somewhat more even than a typical CPU. The
    main thing is that it gets hot enough, with extreme consistency, and there
    are no worries about a CPU or motherboard breaking down.
  • Thermalright Archon heatsink — It’s a good performer like most Thermalright
    CPU heatsinks, and it can fit very large fans. It is also quite responsive
    to the size of fan used due to its big mating surface area for the fan. Given
    the same RPM, for example, a 140mm fan always results in lower temperature
    than a 120mm fan. For a fan test platform, this is as it should be.
  • Mastech
    6030D
    DC Regulated Power supply, 0-64V/3A — It heats up the
    CPU die simulator with power up to 137W.
  • For Voltage fan speed control, we use a custom built 0~12 VDC Regulated
    Voltage Fan Controller
    — The same one used for years and years. It is
    sometimes used for PWM fans when the lowest test speed is not achievable on
    the PWM fan controller.
  • For PWM fan speed control, Fan Xpert 2 utility in Asus P8Z77-V Pro motherboard — A great board to work with to test fans. You’ll appreciate the detailed data summary it generates. It also incorporates a voltage regulation circuit for its non-CPU 4-pin headers, which allows 3-pin non-PWM fans to be analyzed using its auto-tune function, and to run the entire test on the fan when appropriate. It has too conservative a definition of “safe starting speed”, which prevents many 3-pin fans from running at very low (but still safe) speeds.
  • Kanomax 6803 Vane Anemometer
    — ±1% accuracy rating, which is believable. This is by far the most
    accurate of the handful that we’ve acquired over the years. Ironically, it
    is used not as a primary tool, however, but a secondary one as we’re not concerned
    about airflow per se, but its thermal effects in a cooling system.
  • Mannix DT8852 Dual Input Thermometer (K, J or T Thermocouple input) —
    Supposedly 0.1% accurate. This is to monitor the temperature of the CPU
    die and the ambient air ~6″ in front of the fan intake
  • High accuracy general purpose Multimeter
  • Guangzhou Landtek Instruments Scroboscope DT2350P (primary tachometer) — This is supposed to be accurate to 0.1%.
  • Laser digital tachometer by Neiko Tools USA (alternate tachometer) — This is supposed to have 0.05% accuracy, but I don’t trust it as much as the strobe, it requires a reflective tape to be stuck on a blade, often gives false readings (like 9687 RPM when measuring a fan spinning at ~700 RPM)) and doesn’t work well with light colored fins.
  • SPCR hemi-anechoic chamber
    and audio analysis system.

THE TEST PROCEDURE

Our die simulator is heated up to maximum capacity and fans are strapped on and run at a variety of predetermined speeds. We record airflow, noise, and temperature rise, that is the difference between ambient temperature and the temperature of an object under thermal load. Better cooling results in lower temperature rise; worse cooling results in higher temperature rise. In this case, the ambient is the temperature of the air 6″ in front of the fan, and the thermal load temperature is that of the CPU die simulator.

The fans are tested at top speed and 2000, 1500, 1100, 900, 700, and 550 RPM if possible (most fans can hit at three or four of these speeds at the minimum, giving us a nice cross-section for comparison). Long experience has shown that neither noise nor cooling is affected by changes in fan speed that are lower than ~50 RPM. We did not sweat to make the targets exactly, but they were always better than 50 RPM within target, as measured by the stroboscope.

Using RPM has an important, practical advantage: For
most computer users, RPM is the fan/cooling data that is most readily accessible,
and controllable
. Almost every fan in computerland these days offers
RPM data output, and every motherboard has the ability to monitor it. If you
set the speed of your selected fan at one of our test points, you know exactly
what noise level (within a decibel or so) will obtain. There are many ways to
adjust fan speed: Most motherboards are equipped with speed controllers for
their fan headers, and monitor fan speeds for any standard 3-pin fans or 4-pin
PWM fans, and the RPM can be displayed right on the desktop using any number
of fan and/or thermal utilities.

Antec TwoCool 120

Being one of the biggest case manufacturers in the world, a lot of users have been exposed to Antec fans. Though a few of their recent noise-conscious cases ship with TrueQuiets, which utilize soft rubber corners and noise isolators, most still sport fans with a more traditional design; the TriCool, and its successor, the TwoCool, are far more common.


The TwoCool 120 ships in a simple plastic box with minimal adornment. The fan is placed front and center, fully visible in the transparent package.

Aside from the two-speed switch, the design of the fan, like the package it comes in, is Spartan, including just a basic 3-pin to molex adapter and a set of standard fan screws. This is the one fan in our roundup that you might not be able pick out of a lineup if you ripped the sticker off, your old school, meat and potatoes black case fan.

With a small hub, the TwoCool’ offers quite a bit of extra real estate inside its frame but the gently curved blades are noticeably thin, taking up little of the available space.

 

Specifications: Antec TwoCool 120
Manufacturer Antec Power Rating 3.6 W
Model Number TwoCool 120 Airflow Rating 42.6 CFM
Bearing Type Sleeve Speed Rating 1,200 RPM
Frame Size 120 x 120 x 25 mm Noise Rating 23.7 dBA
Hub Size 33 mm Header Type 3-pin w/ molex adapter
Blade Diameter 112 mm Fan Mounts Screws
Cable Length 50 cm Weight 100 g
Starting Voltage 4.0 ~ 4.5 V Number of Samples 6
Corner Type Open Retail Availability Yes

Additional notes: high/low speed switch
(low ~450 RPM)

 


This is the screen capture of Fan Xpert 2’s auto-analysis of the Antec TwoCool 120 fan.

 


Acoustic analysis of the Antec TwoCool 120.

 

SPCR Test Results: Antec TwoCool 120
Fan Speed (RPM)
1100
900
700
550
SPL (dBA@1m)
17
14~15
12
11
Thermal Rise (°C)
22
26
31
34
Airflow in/out (FPM)
380/550
190/270

At its nominal speed, the TwoCool 120 was surprisingly quiet for a traditional style fan, topping out at only 17 dBA@1m. The noise generated was generally inoffensive, a typical combination of smooth turbulence and underlying bearing chatter that is more characteristic of ball bearing models. However, the fan’s acoustic quality degraded at lower speeds; the turbulence produced at higher speeds did a good job of hiding a clicky, low frequency underbelly, which became more and more prominent as the fan’s speed was reduced. The slower it spun, the worse it sounded.

All six samples we received sounded very similar at high speed but there was some variation at low speed. Two of the samples exhibited a stronger clicking characteristic while a third was a bit on the whiny side. The remaining three, which included the sample we used for testing, is probably more representative of what to expect.

At top speed, the TwoCool not only sounds best, but also performs optimally, with a 22°C thermal rise at 17 dBA@1m. This is about average compared to most of the fans we’ve tested. As the speed dropped, the performance deteriorated faster than most. Simply put, if you don’t plan on running the TwoCool at full speed, it’s not worth considering.

bequiet! Silent Wings 2

The German manufacturer with the forceful name has quickly garnered a following of enthusiasts with products like the Dark Rock 2, which features a 140 mm variant of the Silent Wings series. The fan had one of the more interesting designs we’ve come across, but we criticized the choice of housing as it deviated from the standard, preventing it from being interchangeable with other models without significant modification. For the boxed version, they offer a couple of different mounting options to get around this.


The Silent Wings 2 ships in a long but skinny cardboard box.

The package is best described as versatile. The molex adapter with 12V, 7V, and 5V options is included as are both a hard and soft mount option.

The most notable characteristic is the ripple pattern on both sides of the fan blades. The mounting frame is also oddly located around the center.

You can affix two different corner options, stiff rubber inserts or hard plastic ones. Pushpins are used to mount the former, standard screws for the latter.

Curved struts emanate from the large hub, forming very large angle with the blades which helps reduce tonality. The boxed version of the fan has a significantly different blade structure than the one included with the Dark Rock 2. These fins are anemic by comparison, leaving large gaps in-between.

 

Specifications: bequiet! Silent Wings 2
Manufacturer bequiet! Power Rating 2.4 W
Model Number BQT T12025-MF-3 Airflow Rating 50.5 CFM
Bearing Type Fluid Dynamic Speed Rating 1,500 RPM
Frame Size 120 x 120 x 25 mm Noise Rating 15.7 dBA
Hub Size 44 mm Header Type 3-pin w/ 12V/7V/5V molex adapter
Blade Diameter 113 mm Fan Mounts Pushpins or screws
Cable Length 50 cm Weight 120 g
Corner Type Open Number of Samples 3
Starting Voltage < 3.0 V Retail Availability Yes

Additional notes:

 


This is the screen capture of Fan Xpert 2’s auto-analysis of the bequiet! Silent Wings 2.

 


Acoustic analysis of the bequiet! Silent Wings 2.

 

SPCR Test Results: bequiet! Silent Wings 2
Fan Speed (RPM)
1400
1100
900
700
550
SPL (dBA@1m)
17~18
13~14
11~12
11
11
Thermal Rise (°C)
22
25
27
34
38
Airflow in/out (FPM)
390/530
310/420
160/220

The Silent Wings 2 more or less lives up to its name. At each of our designated fan speed test points, bequiet!’s offering generated the least amount of noise. At our sample’s top speed of 1,400 RPM, it emitted only 17~18 dBA@1m, something most of the other fans in our roundup were only capable of at 1,100 RPM. At this speed the sound coming out was fairly benign, smooth with a bit of whininess. At lower speeds the acoustic signature became more complex with an uneven high frequency hum which gave it a bit of a wobbly sound and some buzzing started to manifest at 900 RPM. These effects were thankfully subdued and only audible at close proximity.

The three samples we examined had a greater degree of variation in top speed than the other fans but otherwise had very similar noise profiles. The sample we ended up using was in the middle speed-wise.

Cooling performance wasn’t particularly good but it wasn’t disappointing either. The fan produced less noise than most at a given speed but this also translated into a reduction in cooling proficiency. A significant drop off occurred below 900 RPM but at that point the Silent Wings 2 was all but in audible at a distance of one meter.

Corsair Air AF120 Performance & Quiet Edition

Starting off as a memory manufacturer, Corsair has used their enthusiast following to extend their sphere of influence into other areas like cases, power supplies, and CPU coolers. Their Air series of case fans are broken down into two lines, the AF120 and SP120, with one high and one low speed variant for each. AF120 is marketed for all purpose use.


Though you can buy them separately, the Air series also comes in dual packs.

A decorative crimson plastic ring runs around the frame of the AF120 but there is also a blue and white option inside the box. Fans screws are provided as is a curiously short 6 cm 3-pin extension cable.

A round frame with corners jutting out give the fan the traditional square profile. Rubber washers are secured around the mounting holes to help cut down on vibration. The nine blades of the AF120 are wispy, not unlike members of the Scythe Slip Stream series.

 

Specifications: Corsair Air AF120
Manufacturer Corsair Power Rating Perf: 3.96 W
Quiet: 2.28 W
Model Number Perf: CO-9050004-WW
Quiet: CO-9050002-WW
Airflow Rating Perf: 63.47 CFM
Quiet: 39.88 W
Bearing Type Hydraulic Speed Rating Perf: 1,650 RPM
Quiet: 1,100 RPM
Frame Size 120 x 120 x 25 mm Noise Rating Perf: 30 dBA
Quiet: 21 dBA
Hub Size 43 mm Header Type 3-pin
Blade Diameter 112 mm Fan Mounts Screws
Cable Length 30 cm, 6 cm extension cable Weight Perf: 150 g
Quiet: 140 g
Corner Type Open Number of Samples 2
Starting Voltage < 4.0 V Retail Availability Yes

Additional notes:

 


This is the screen capture of Fan Xpert 2’s auto-analysis of the Corsair Air AF120 Performance Edition.

 


Acoustic analysis of the Corsair Air AF120 Performance Edition.

 

SPCR Test Results: Corsair Air AF120 Performance Edition
Fan Speed (RPM)
1600
1500
1100
900
700
550
SPL (dBA@1m)
28
26
18
14~15
12
11~12
Thermal Rise (°C)
16
17
20
23
26
30
Airflow in/out (FPM)
610/930
420/660
210/320

Given its high rotational speed, it’s no surprise that the AF120 Performance Edition was one of the louder fans in this shoot-out but it also posted higher than average noise levels at most of the speeds at which it was tested and worse yet, it sounded lousy. At full speed its acoustic profile was dominated by turbulence but there was a high pitched buzzing that had an almost electrical twang to it. At 1,500 and 1,100 RPM a hum developed, turning into a steady dry tone at 900 RPM. At 700 and 550 RPM this was replaced by clicking and rattling. Spectral analysis revealed a mess: tonal peaks at multiple frequencies, more evident at lower speeds.

We had two samples on hand, both from the same dual pack but they there was no difference in noise as far as we could tell.

As for cooling, the AF120 Performance Edition turned out to be exemplary. It delivered tremendous cooling at high speeds and suffered only a mild decline as the speed was reduced. It also generated the highest airflow measurement at 1,100 RPM, though the link between airflow and cooling didn’t pan out for some of the other models we tested.


This is the screen capture of Fan Xpert 2’s auto-analysis of the Corsair Air AF120 Quiet Edition.

 


Acoustic analysis of the Corsair Air AF120 Quiet Edition.

 

SPCR Test Results: Corsair Air AF120 Quiet Edition
Fan Speed (RPM)
1100
900
700
550
SPL (dBA@1m)
16~17
13~14
12
11
Thermal Rise (°C)
20
23
26
30
Airflow in/out (FPM)
410/630
200/310

The Quiet Edition of the AF120 suffered from many of the same tonal effects as the Performance Edition, only to a lesser degree, resulting in a much cleaner sound that we would describe as average. Of course it may have simply be that the series doesn’t take well to reduced speeds and the AF120 didn’t have to slow down quite as much to hit our targets. The Quiet Edition was also measurably quieter at both 1,100 and 900 RPM.

The two samples we examined sounded similar except at low speed. At 900 RPM and below, the one we tested had a more buzzy character while the other was more clicky. This variance is unimportant as both characteristics are undesirable; neither really sounded better to our ears.

The Quiet Edition produced the same thermal rise as its high speed brother at each speed setting only with slightly lower noise levels. Factor in the superior sound quality and the Quiet Edition is clearly a better candidate.

Corsair Air SP120 Quiet Edition

The “SP” stands for static pressure, something sought after in watercooling circles. High static pressure is required to push air through the densely packed coils found in the radiators of water cooling systems. This fan naturally ships with many of Corsair’s Hydro series of self-contained liquid CPU coolers. Given the enthusiast undertones, there is no low speed variant; the Quiet Edition spins at 1,450 RPM while the Performance Edition is rated for a whopping 2,350 RPM. The SP120 ships in the exact same package and housing as the AF120, except the box and default ring color is blue rather red.


Compared to the AF120, the SP120 has substantially larger fins with very little empty space between them. The more substantial blades seem to necessitate the presence of a bigger motor.

 

Specifications: Corsair Air SP120
Manufacturer Corsair Power Rating Perf: 3.0 W
Quiet: 1.08 W
Model Number Perf: CO-9050008-WW
Quiet: CO-9050006-WW
Airflow Rating Perf: 62.47 CFM
Quiet: 37.85 W
Bearing Type Hydraulic Speed Rating Perf: 2,350 RPM
Quiet: 1,450 RPM
Frame Size 120 x 120 x 25 mm Noise Rating Perf: 35 dBA
Quiet: 23 dBA
Hub Size 47 mm Header Type 3-pin
Blade Diameter 113 mm Fan Mounts Screws
Cable Length 30 cm Weight 160 g
Corner Type Open Number of Samples 2
Starting Voltage < 4.0 V Retail Availability Yes

Additional notes:

 


This is the screen capture of Fan Xpert 2’s auto-analysis of the Corsair Air SP120 Quiet Edition.

 


Acoustic analysis of the Corsair Air SP120 Quiet Edition.

 

SPCR Test Results: Corsair Air SP120 Quiet Edition
Fan Speed (RPM)
1400
1100
900
700
550
SPL (dBA@1m)
19~20
14
12~13
11~12
11
Thermal Rise (°C)
21
22
24
29
32
Airflow in/out (FPM)
360/510
310/420
140/200

SP120 Quiet Edition is another poor sounding offering from Corsair. Compared to the AF120 series, it was lower pitch in general, producing a more dry sound like the bearings lacked lubrication. It was also the only fan in our roundup that we felt really had a vibration issues, sounding better grasped tightly in our hands than in our foam stand. Buzzing was evident at 1,400 and 1,000 RPM and it hummed at lower speeds, fading as the fan slowed.

The SP120 Quiet Edition came in a dual pack as well and we ended up testing the better sounding of the two; the other was generally buzzier with a slight but distinct tone at full speed, and increased bearing chatter at 1,100 RPM. With such a limited sample size it’s hard to guess exactly what you’re going to get.

We also had two samples of the Performance Edition of the SP120 but we deemed both to be poor candidates for a quiet system and unworthy of a full test run-down. A cursory examination revealed an odd little flutter (as if the motor was slightly off balance) at 1,500 RPM not present in the Quiet Edition, and at 900 RPM it had more pronounced tonal elements.

Despite being designed for radiators, the SP120 Quiet Edition handled our heatsink-based test rather well, putting up numbers on par with the AF120’s except at lower speeds. There was a sizable spike in thermal rise going from 900 to 700 RPM making it less suitable for low airflow cooling.

GELID Wing 12

GELID’s fan lineup is extremely colorful, appealing to that certain demographic that is fond of such things as UV lighting, blazingly bright LEDs, and presumably, strobe lights. The Wing 12 is their flagship fan, and while undeniably flashy, its physical design is downright conservative compared to some of the models included in today’s shoot-out.


The package is incredibly glossy and only offers a glimpse as to what’s inside.

The Wing 12 is the most colorful entrant in our roundup. with bright UV reactive neon green blades and soft rubber isolators. Completing the package is an in-line fan controller with double-sided tape to help affix it to the location of your choice.

The provided fan controller is very much a clone of the iconic Zalman Fan Mate. That’s not a bad thing.

The intake side of the fan blades are tipped, protruding backwards like a shark’s fin.

Aside from the color and translucence, the Wing 12 design is fairly conventional. The fan employs straight struts and nine, moderately-sized, low curvature blades.

 

Specifications: GELID Wing 12
Manufacturer GELID Solutions Power Rating 2.64 W
Model Number A1212025M(L)-F Airflow Rating 64.3 W
Bearing Type Nanoflux (magnetic) Speed Rating 1,500 RPM
Frame Size 120 x 120 x 25 mm Noise Rating 25 dBA
Hub Size 40 mm Header Type 3-pin w
Blade Diameter 110 mm Fan Mounts Isolators
Cable Length 50 cm Weight 110 g
Corner Type Open Number of Samples 1
Starting Voltage 4.0 ~ 4.5 V Retail Availability Yes

Additional notes: Variable fan speed controller included.

 


This is the screen capture of Fan Xpert 2’s auto-analysis of the GELID Wing 12.

 


Acoustic analysis of the GELID Wing 12.

 

SPCR Test Results: GELID Wing 12
Fan Speed (RPM)
1600
1500
1100
900
700
550
SPL (dBA@1m)
27
26
17
14
Thermal Rise (°C)
18
19
22
26
Airflow in/out (FPM)
540/810
370/590

While the GELID Wing 12 was one of the loudest fans tested today at top speed, the sound it was produced was among the best. Its profile was smooth throughout its range except for some minor underlying buzzing which dissipated below 1,000 RPM.

Unfortunately we had only one sample to examine but the last Wing 12 we encountered (paired with the GX-7 CPU cooler) was equally excellent. Thus, we’re inclined to believe this quality of sound is the norm.

The Wing 12’s overall thermal performance was a bit weak compared the others and it would not start up reliably at lower fan speeds. However, even at 900 RPM, it should be more than quiet enough for most users.

Noiseblocker NB-eLoop B12

Noiseblocker is a relative unknown in the international world of DIY PC cooling,
but it is a German company so serious about fans, they sell nothing else. Noiseblocker
produced one of the best sounding and performing fans in our last fan roundup,
the M12-S1, so we’re happy to see more of their products. The MultiFrame series
featured detachable silicone rubber corners that fight vibration but the rest
of the fan structure was fairly conventional. The eLoop series, on the other
hand, has a radical design, quite different from anything we’ve seen before.


Six different versions are available, four 3-pin, and two PWM, with speeds varying from 800 to 2,400 RPM. We elected to test the two middle-of-the-pack variants, the B12-2 and B12-PS.

This is just about the oddest fan we’ve ever laid eyes on. The fins
are not really fins at all, joined together at the tips forming scoop-like
structures. The design is reminiscent of the Antec
TrueQuiet Pro 120
, which joined all the trailing edges with a circular
ring that replaced the usual circular structure which is part of the frame.
The eLoop goes further: Blade edges have teeth and the corners are padded
with rubber half-ovals. The cable is also absurdly short, meant to be
joined with either (or both) of the two included extension cables. The
fan is secured with nuts and bolts, but rubber washers are also provided
to dampen vibration further.

The intake side of the fan is smooth.

The struts are oddly curved, like they’ve been partially melted. The
hub is surprisingly small for a motor that has to spin the extra fan blade
mass which extends 116 mm across from tip to tip, almost touching the
frame. The mounting holes are closer to the corners than most fans because
only the center ring, which juts out slightly, is what measures 120 x
120 mm.

 

Specifications: Noiseblocker NB-eLoop Series
Manufacturer Noiseblocker Power Rating B12-2: 0.85 W
B12-PS: 0.95 W
Model Number B12-2
B12-PS
Airflow Rating B12-2: 51.1 CFM
B12-PS: 58.1 W
Bearing Type NB-NanoSLI (magenetic) Speed Rating B12-2: 1,300 RPM
B12-PS: 1,500 RPM
Frame Size 120 x 120 x 25 mm Noise Rating B12-2: 16.7 dBA
B12-PS: 21.2 dBA
Hub Size 32 mm Header Type B12-2: 3-pin
B12-PS: 4-pin PWM
Blade Diameter 116 mm Fan Mounts Nuts, bolts, and rubber grommets
Cable Length 2 cm, 20 and 45 cm extensions Weight 130 g
Corner Type Open Number of Samples 3 of each model
Starting Voltage 3.0 ~ 3.5 V Retail Availability Yes

Additional notes:


Noiseblocker B12-2:


This is the screen capture of Fan Xpert 2’s auto-analysis of the Noiseblocker NB-eLoop B12-2.

Acoustic analysis of the Noiseblocker NB-eLoop B12-2.

 

SPCR Test Results: Noiseblocker NB-eLoop B12-2
Fan Speed (RPM)
1200
1100
900
700
550
SPL (dBA@1m)
15~16
15
12
11
Thermal Rise (°C)
20
20
23
28
Airflow in/out (FPM)
400/450
390/430

The B12-2 unfortunately lacked the broadband quality of the M12 series. At 1,200 and 1,100 RPM the fan droned somewhat, while at 900 RPM, a slightly dull buzz was noticeable. At 700 RPM, some tonal elements centered at ~90 Hz crept in. This combination of characteristics is undesirable but in the B12-2’s case, they were fairly muted. The overall sound was acceptable.

Of all the fans tested, the B12-2 displayed the least amount of variation amongst its samples. We tried out three of them and while there were some differences, they were so subtle that we found it exceedingly difficult telling them apart or whether one sounded better or worse than another.

We also have to mention the models we opted not to test, as Noiseblocker sent us samples from their entire line, four different 3-pin SKU’s in total. The B12-1 had a low rotational speed of just 800 RPM so it only would’ve have been good for two data points and we found that the B12-2, when slowed to the same speed, sounded comparable. The B12-3 and B12-4 were simply too fast, 1,900 and 2,400 RPM respectively, though the former had similar acoustics to the B12-2 when set to an equivalent speed.

Noiseblocker B12-PS:


This is the screen capture of Fan Xpert 2’s auto-analysis of the Noiseblocker NB-eLoop B12-PS.

 


Acoustic analysis of the Noiseblocker NB-eLoop B12-PS.

 

SPCR Test Results: Noiseblocker NB-eLoop B12-PS
Fan Speed (RPM)
1400
1100
900
700
550
SPL (dBA@1m)
21~22
18
14
12
11
Thermal Rise (°C)
19
21
24
28
30
Airflow in/out (FPM)
430/550
350/450
170/230

Visually, the B12-PS is identical to the B12-2 but we noticed an immediate difference the moment it was turned on. The B12-PS was easily the worst sounding fan of the roundup. It was a buffet of all the sounds you don’t want to hear in a fan. At top speed, it whined, buzzed, and hummed, all simultaneously, and from there it just got worse. At 1,100 RPM the fan slowed to the point where a very strong, dirty tone revealed itself. As we slowed the fan further, this tone started to fluctuate, vacillating in frequency. We thought at first that there was something wrong with our motherboard’s PWM controller so we tried it on another motherboard and a voltage controller but it sounded the same.

The three samples we had on hand exhibited slight differences from one another. If you consider the one we tested as the norm, the second fan had some extra clicking at 1,100 RPM, while the third was whinier at 1,400 RPM. At other speeds, the trio all sounded very similar.

We also had a triple set of the B12-P, a second PWM version that spins at 2,000 RPM. It had a similar character but when dialed down to speeds equivalent to the B12-PS, it developed an odd rattle. This, combined with its high optimal speed made it a unsuitable test candidate.

The B12-PS turned out to be slightly more effective than the B12-2 at the same speeds, but the increased noise level and poorer acoustic quality really hurt its effectiveness. We strongly recommend avoiding B12’s PWM variants; the 3-pin B12-2 is far superior, as are presumably the 800 RPM B12-1 and 1,900 RPM B12-3.

SilverStone Air Penetrator AP123

The Air Penetrator series has logged some pretty big miles for SilverStone
over the years and continues to make appearances in several of their high-end
cases. An AP is easily recognized by what amounts to its own built-in fan grill,
a myriad of struts littering the exhaust side. This is meant to straighten the
air flow and keep it more focuse in a staright line. The latest 120 mm variant
has an even weirder appearance thanks to the use of three different size of
blades.


SilverStone wins the award for simplest packaging. No plastic anywhere, just a thin cardboard box no larger than required.

The accessories included are also basic, a set of screws and isolators, but the design of the fan is anything but.

The AP123’s nine blades alternate among three different sizes. SilverStone
claims this results in oise reduction when placed against a case’s intake
grill. We suspect they lower the amplitude and broaden the Q of any tonal
peaks for a more broadband sound quality. The blade tips also flare outward
slightly.

The strut curvature creates an ideal, almost perpendicular angle with the fins. All these struts undoubtedly impede airflow but it might be worthwhile if it truly breaks up the tonality that plagues almost all case fans.

 

Specifications: SilverStone AP123
Manufacturer SilverStone Power Rating 3.96 W
Model Number HA1225SL12SF-Z Airflow Rating 31.4 CFM
Bearing Type Fluid Dynamic Speed Rating 1,500 RPM
Frame Size 120 x 120 x 25 mm Noise Rating 31.4 dBA
Hub Size 40 mm Header Type 3-pin
Blade Diameter 112 mm Fan Mounts Isolators or screws
Cable Length 50 cm Weight 150 g
Corner Type Open Number of Samples 3
Starting Voltage < 3.5 V Retail Availability Yes

Additional notes:

 


This is the screen capture of Fan Xpert 2’s auto-analysis of the SilverStone AP123.

 


Acoustic analysis of the SilverStone AP123.

 

SPCR Test Results: SilverStone AP123
Fan Speed (RPM)
1500
1100
900
700
550
SPL (dBA@1m)
28~29
20
15
12
Thermal Rise (°C)
21
24
27
31
Airflow in/out (FPM)
400/490
280/360

In this case, we’ve definitely saved the best for last. The noise emitted by
the AP123 was simply sublime, almost completely broadband. Even placing the
fan right up to our ears, there was no hint of tonality. At high speed, it exhibited
just a touch of whine but far less than most models. At 1,100 RPM and below,
it was completely smooth sailing. One consequence of the design is a higher
noise output compared to the other fans in our roundup running at the same speeds.
At 1,500 RPM it was 2~3 dB louder than competing models, while at 1,100 RPM
the difference ranged from 2 to 6 dB.

We received three samples from SilverStone, all of which had similar characteristics. Quality control seems to good for this model/batch.

While the AP123 sounded terrific, the temperature rises we recorded were unflattering.
The higher noise levels seemed to skew the results toward the bottom. SilverStone
even admits on their website that this model generates more noise (in SPL?)
than previous Air Penetrators but that it runs quieter when utilized as an intake
fan with a fan grill against its back. At the 1,100 RPM level it also produced
the least amount of measured airflow of all the fans tested today.

MP3 SOUND RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high
resolution, lab quality, digital recording system
inside SPCR’s
own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber
, then converted to LAME 128kbps
encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation
from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of
what we heard during the review.

These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds
in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer
or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient
noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. Be aware
that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn’t hear it from
one meter, chances are we couldn’t record it either!

The recording starts with 5 second segments of room ambiance, then the fan
at various levels. For the most realistic results, set the volume so that
the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then don’t change the volume
setting again.

  • Antec TwoCool 120
    — 550 RPM (11 dBA@1m)
    — 700 RPM (12 dBA@1m)
    — 900 RPM (14~15 dBA@1m)
    — 1,100 RPM (17 dBA@1m)
  • bequiet! Silent Wings 2
    — 550 RPM (11 dBA@1m)
    — 700 RPM (11 dBA@1m)
    — 900 RPM (11~12 dBA@1m)
    — 1,100 RPM (13~14 dBA@1m)
    — 1,400 RPM (17~18 dBA@1m)
  • Corsair Air AF120 Performance Edition
    — 550 RPM (11~12 dBA@1m)
    — 700 RPM (12 dBA@1m)
    — 900 RPM (14~15 dBA@1m)
    — 1,100 RPM (18 dBA@1m)
    — 1,500 RPM (26 dBA@1m)
    — 1,600 RPM (28 dBA@1m)
  • Corsair Air SP120 Quiet Edition
    — 550 RPM (11 dBA@1m)
    — 700 RPM (11~12 dBA@1m)
    — 900 RPM (12~13 dBA@1m)
    — 1,100 RPM (14 dBA@1m)
    — 1,400 RPM (19~20 dBA@1m)
  • GELID Wing 12
    — 900 RPM (14 dBA@1m)
    — 1,100 RPM (17 dBA@1m)
    — 1,500 RPM (26 dBA@1m)
  • Noiseblocker NB-eLoop B12-PS
    — 550 RPM (11 dBA@1m)
    — 700 RPM (12 dBA@1m)
    — 900 RPM (14 dBA@1m)
    — 1,100 RPM (18 dBA@1m)
    — 1,400 RPM (21~22 dBA@1m)

COMPARISONS & FINAL THOUGHTS

To compare the test results collected, the following table has been assembled indicating the temperature rise each fan produced at noise levels of 22 dBA@1m and below. The fans have been arranged roughly from best to worst from top to bottom.

120 mm Fan Comparison: Thermal Rise (°C)
SPL (dBA @1m)
22
21
20
19
18
17
16
15
14
13
12
11
Noiseblocker B12-2
20
20
23
28
Scythe Gentle Typhoon 120-12
24
27
Noiseblocker M12-S1
25
29
Corsair AF120 Quiet
20
23
26
30
Corsair AF120 Performance
20
23
26
Scythe Gentle Typhoon 120-14
19
22
24
27
Nexus
22
24
26
33
Noiseblocker B12-PS
19
21
24
28
30
Corsair SP120 Quiet
21
22
24
29
32
bequiet! Silent Wings 2
22
25
27
34
Noiseblocker M12-S2
23
25
29
33
Antec TrueQuiet 120
23
24
26
29
34
Noiseblocker M12-P
22
25
31
GELID Wing 12
22
26
Antec TrueQuiet 120 Pro
23
24
27
30
35
Antec TwoCool 120
22
26
31
34
SilverStone AP123
24
27
31
Green box indicates a win, blue box indicates second place.

Much to our dismay, the fans that sounded the best didn’t provide the best
cooling performance.

The SilverStone AP123, one of the nicest sounding fans we’ve had the pleasure
of listening to, tragically placed dead last, though you could interchange any
of the bottom five as they are separated by a just degree or two at most. It
is quite possible that the air flow straightener integral to the AP123 is responsible
for some of the poor cooling performance; we were tempted to cut away the flow
straightener but decided to wait for SilverStone to offer a version without
it.

The GELID Wing 12 is also generally pleasing to the ear but it doesn’t fare
much better than the SilverStone. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either to
those keen on silence as long as they keep in mind the possible thermal sacrifice.

Our third favorite sounding model, the bequiet! Silent Wings 2, thankfully
manages to hold its own, offering a strong balance of cooling proficiency and
acoustic quality.

The Antec TwoCool 120 is a bit of a letdown after our experience with its cousins, the TrueQuiet and TrueQuiet Pro. The TrueQuiets are easily the best-sounding fans Antec has ever produced, making their relatively poor performance easily forgivable. The TwoCool fails to surpass them in either regard, and really only delivers competitive efficiency at full speed. This lack of versatility relegates it to a unitasker role with limited appeal.

The Corsair AF120 impressed us with its cooling capabilities, the Quiet Edition more so, as it also has the best acoustics of all the Corsair fans we sampled. That’s not really saying much though as the entire AF120 and SP120 series have a rougher, more tonal character than many of the competing models. The SP120 Quiet Edition is a middle-of-the-road performer though we weren’t expecting much from it, seeing as it’s a specialized product designed for cooling radiators.

The clear standout of the fans tested today was the Noiseblocker NB-eLoop B12-2,
which went toe-to-toe with the winner from our last roundup, the Scythe
Gentle Typhoon
120-12. Still, we prefer the sound quality of the Gentle
Typhoon and Noiseblocker
M12
as they have more innocuous, broadband profiles. The B12-2 is an
extremely effective fan for cooling but its acoustics are only average.

Oddly, though it has the same structure and design, the B12-PS (PWM version)
lagged behind the B12-2 in cooling by several degrees and the noise it produced
was a maddening assault on our ears; avoid at all costs.

Great thanks to Thermalright for sponsoring the CPU thermal simulator and the heatsink and fan samples.
Thanks also to the fan sample suppliers: Antec, bequiet!, Corsair, GELID Solutions, Noiseblocker, and SilverStone.

* * *

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:

Fan Roundup #6: Scythe, Noiseblocker, Antec, Nexus, Thermalright
Fan Roundup #5: Attack of the 120 Scythes
Fan Test System, SPCR 2010
Fan Test Methodology V.3
Anatomy of the Silent Fan
SPCR’s Recommended Fans

* * *

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