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Sharkoon SHARK Blades & SilverStone FQ121 120mm Fans

A look at two 120mm fans with divergent approaches: The menacing but low speed SHARK Blades, and the the high speed, high pressure FQ121.

June 20, 2014 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Sharkoon SHARK Blades 120 mm Fan
SilverStone FQ121 120 mm Fan
Manufacturer
SilverStone
Street Price
US$15~$19
US$20

So far the fan tests we’ve conducted using our current test methodology has revealed some interesting results. Obviously acoustic quality varies significantly from model to model but the performance figures we’ve generated have been surprising. There obviously are distinct winners and losers, but the spread at times has been surprising. At low fan speeds, cooling proficiency have differed by as much as 8°C between fans producing the same noise level. And despite all the data we’ve collected we’re still mostly in the dark with regard to what physical traits translates into good performance, so when a new fan shows up, more often than not, we have no idea how it will fare until it’s tested. Still, our fan performance chart filled out nicely thus far, including including multiple models from such acclaimed manufacturers as Scythe, Noiseblocker, Corsair, and Antec. Two more 120 mm variants will join their ranks today, the Sharkoon SHARK Blades and SilverStone FQ121.


The Sharkoon SHARK Blades and SilverStone FQ121.

If you’ve never heard of Sharkoon, we wouldn’t blame you, as it doesn’t have a strong North American presence at the moment. This Germany company has been in business for more than a decade, selling a variety of PC peripherals and accessories. Their lineup is strewn with items like cases, power supplies, fans, mice, headsets, and USB/network accessories. The SHARK Blades fan is easily their most distinctive product and it’s aptly named with both the packaging and the fan itself evoking the image of the stealthy ocean predator. This branding combined with its modest 1000 RPM speed brings up connotations that it’s silent but deadly.

SilverStone, on the other hand, hardly needs an introduction — they’ve been a giant in the chassis market for years and have had some success in the fan genre as well. Large versions of their Air Penetrator series are featured in many of their flagship products, namely the Raven and Fortress series of enthusiast towers. We’ve actually encountered the FQ121 before, or at least higher speed (2000+ RPM) versions, which have been included with some of their cooling solutions like the Argon heatsink series and the Tundra TD03 liquid cooler. It takes a different approach, an 1800 RPM PWM model designed with static pressure in mind, a desirable quality for dense coolers.

We were provided with three SHARK Blades and and four FQ121’s and all of them were checked for variance with regards to acoustics. For each model we selected a test sample that we felt best conveyed how a typical sample would sound if you randomly plucked one off a store shelf. In the interest of full disclosure, we made note of the subjective inconsistencies observed between the samples. It’s not a very scientific process but there’s little we can do without significantly larger sample sizes.

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


Our test setup.
  • 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 six inches 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 1500, 1100, 900, 700, and 550 RPM if possible (most fans can hit at least three or four of these speeds, giving us a nice cross-section for comparison). Lengthy 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 as 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.

Sharkoon SHARK Blades

Imbuing something so bland as a 120 mm case fan with animal-like properties doesn’t sound like an easy challenge but Sharkoon managed to do it with aplomb. The fan’s frame is molded with fin-like corners and each blade looks like a bite has been taken out of it on each side. Notched designs are nothing new but Sharkoon has taken it to the extreme. The fan is available with four different stripe colors, green, red, blue, and yellow, adding pizzazz without resorting to gaudy LEDs.


Our three SHARK Blades samples.

A closer look.

The construction of the fan is also interesting as the colored areas are thinner than the surrounding area, forming what Sharkoon describes as “air guides” that direct airflow through the blades which supposedly reduces turbulence, while the “teeth” decreases drag and prevents dust buildup. Additionally, a smooth, hard coating, almost like nail polish, has also been applied to the stripes.


Unboxed.

Accessories.

Packed in a formfitting thin plastic container, the SHARK Blades’ accessories include a short molex pass-through adapter if you prefer to power the fan directly with your system’s power supply, traditional steel screws, and a set of rubber bolts. Sharkoon cites this vibration-reducing soft mounting option and the fan’s fluid bearings to help back up a claim of “ultra-smooth operation.”


A head-on shot.

The considerable size of the notches and the thicker than usual frame translates into lower blade surface area. The blades are much shorter than usual, measuring only 106 mm from tip to tip, a good 5~6 mm less than most 120 mm fan models.

Specifications: Sharkoon SHARK Blades
Manufacturer Sharkoon Power Rating 1.2 W
Model Number N/A Airflow Rating 33 CFM
Bearing Type Fluid Dynamic Sleeve Speed Rating 1000 RPM
Frame Size 120 x 120 x 25 mm Noise Rating 19 dBA
Hub Size 40 mm Header Type 3-pin / 4-pin with molex adapter
Blade Diameter 106 mm Fan Mounts Screws, rubber bolts
Cable Length 50 cm Weight 120 g
Starting Voltage 4.5 ~ 5.0 V Number of Samples 3
Corner Type Open Retail Availability Yes

Extras: 5 cm molex adapter, rubber bolts and washers.

While the fan has an aggressive look, its rated for just 1000 RPM, putting it in the quiet category (sharks are stealth predators after all). Sharkoon pegs the noise level at just 19 dBA and airflow at a modest 33 CFM.


A screen capture of Fan Xpert 2’s auto-analysis of the Sharkoon SHARK Blades.

Being a 3-pin fan, the SHARK Blades’ speed can only be adjusted using traditional DC control. As its starting voltage is relatively low (below 5V), it can reliably start at about half speed (500 RPM).

SPCR Test Results: Sharkoon SHARK Blades
Fan Speed (RPM)
550
700
900
1000
SPL (dBA@1m)
11
12
14
16
Thermal Rise (°C)
39
32
28
26
Airflow in/out (FPM)
190/290
370/550

The SHARK Blades’ performance was awful at lower speeds. Prior to this round of testing, the highest thermal rise we’ve ever recorded was 35°C — the SHARK Blades lowered the bar by 4°C at 550 RPM. Significant improvements were observed at 700 RPM and above, but overall, the results were below average. On the bright side, the fan was very quiet, measuring just 16 dBA@1m at full speed, well below the specification.


Acoustic analysis of the Sharkoon SHARK Blades.

Acoustically, the SHARK Blades was pleasant but it suffered from a common issue with fluid bearing models. At top speed it had a smooth, breezy quality, but there was a noticeable underlying clickiness when observed at close proximity. As the fan speed was reduced, the turbulence masking this defect dissipated as well, making it more audible. It’s not something you would notice inside a PC case unless you have very sensitive ears, but it’s definitely there. We also observed a slight high-pitched ~2 KHz whine at 900 RPM and above, but again, under normal conditions, it should be difficult to detect.

Of the three samples provided to us, we ended up using the yellow model for our testing. The red and yellow variants sounded similar but the blue sample’s clickiness had a clearly lower pitch.

SilverStone FQ121

The SilverStone FQ121 looks exactly like fan included with the Argon AR01/AR03 except the colors have been reversed with a less attractive blue impeller and white casing rather than the other way around. The blades are long and heavily curved in a style reminiscent of the Scythe Gentle Typhoon, which incidentally occupies one of the top spots on our fan performance chart.


Package contents.

A closer look at the fan blades.

Compared to the large notches of the SHARK Blades, the FQ121 utilizes a subtler approach, carving short shallow slits the fins forming what SilverStone refers to as “air-inlets.” Though the design is less dramatic, they essentially serve the same function, to minimize air turbulence. The FQ121 is positioned more as a CPU fan, so there is no soft-mounting option included, just a set of steel screws and a short molex adapter.


A head-on shot.

As the blades are tightly spaced and are more uniform in thickness from start to tip, they take up significantly more space inside the casing than the SHARK Blades. The more distinctive curves also form a more optimal angle with the struts which can be a factor in reducing tonality.

Specifications: SilverStone FQ121
Manufacturer SilverStone Power Rating 2.76 W
Model Number SST-FQ121 (AS1225H12) Airflow Rating 67.5 CFM
Bearing Type Powder Copper Fluid Speed Rating 1800 RPM
Frame Size 120 x 120 x 25 mm Noise Rating 24 dBA
Hub Size 42 mm Header Type 4-pin w/ molex adapter
Blade Diameter 111 mm Fan Mounts Screws
Cable Length 30 cm Weight 140 g
Starting Voltage 4.5 ~ 5.0 V Number of Samples 4
Corner Type Open Retail Availability Yes

Extras: 10 cm molex adapter.

The FQ121 is a tad heavier than most but the rest of its measurements are unremarkable for a 120 mm model. Like the SHARK Blades, it uses a form of fluid bearings and has a starting voltage below 5V.


A screen capture of Fan Xpert 2’s auto-analysis of the Sharkoon SHARK Blades.

PWM support is often advantageous because it can allow some fans to be run at very low speeds but this wasn’t the case with the FQ121. On PWM control, our fan test motherboard could not bring the speed down below 1000 RPM. DC control bottomed out at about 850 RPM so we had to hook it up to a manual controller to get a data point at the 700 RPM level (approximately 5V).

SPCR Test Results: SilverStone FQ121
Fan Speed (RPM)
700
900
1100
1500
1900
SPL (dBA@1m)
11
12~13
15
22~23
29
Thermal Rise (°C)
31
28
23
20
19
Airflow in/out (FPM)
270/480
480/830

Compared to the SHARK Blades, the FQ121 produced similar thermal results at the 700 and 900 RPM levels but the measurable noise was slightly better. The sweet spot was encountered at 1100 RPM as a significant cooling improvement was observed coupled with a modest increase in noise compared to lower tested speeds.


Acoustic analysis of the SilverStone FQ121.

At top speed, the FQ121 exhibited an unremarkable mix of turbulent noise and faint whining, and this persisted down to about 1300~1400 RPM. At this level the sound started to change, giving it a mostly smooth demeanor with some chuffing, and a slight tone at ~700 Hz. At 1000 RPM and below, the chuffing was replaced by a low pitched buzz. Its acoustics were more complex and less desirable than the SHARK Blades, but thankfully, the abnormalities became negligible with distance. From one meter away a single FQ121 is unlikely to bother anyone.

Choosing a sample to represent the FQ121 was difficult. The four we had on hand had differing degrees of chuffing and buzzing, and often this varied at different speeds as well. As neither characteristic is pleasant, despite the differences, we were unable to judge whether any one sample sounded better than another. In the end, we simply picked one at random.

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 5~10 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.

  • Sharkoon SHARK Blades
    — 550 RPM (11 dBA@1m)
    — 700 RPM (12 dBA@1m)— 900 RPM (14 dBA@1m)
    — 1000 RPM (16 dBA@1m)
  • SilverStone FQ121
    — 700 RPM (11 dBA@1m)
    — 900 RPM (12~13 dBA@1m)
    — 1100 RPM (15 dBA@1m)
    — 1500 RPM (22~23 dBA@1m)
    — 1900 RPM (29 dBA@1m)

COMPARISONS & FINAL THOUGHTS

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 loosely 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
23
28
Scythe Gentle Typhoon AP12
24
27
Scythe Slip Stream 120-M
21
23
26
Noiseblocker M12-S1
25
29
Corsair AF120 Quiet
20
23
26
30
Scythe GlideStream 120-LM
21
23
26
Corsair AF120 Performance
20
23
26
Scythe Gentle Typhoon AP14
19
22
24
27
Scythe GlideStream 120-MP
21
23
28
Nexus Real Silent
22
24
26
33
Noiseblocker B12-PS
19
21
24
28
30
Corsair SP120 Quiet
21
22
29
bequiet! Silent Wings 2 120
22
25
27
SilverStone FQ121
23
28
31
Noiseblocker M12-S2
23
25
29
33
Scythe Grand Flex-SH-P
21
25
31
Scythe Grand Flex-M
23
26
30
Noiseblocker M12-P
22
25
31
GELID Wing 12
22
26
Antec TrueQuiet 120
24
26
29
34
Antec TrueQuiet 120 Pro
24
27
29
35
Antec TwoCool 120
22
26
31
34
SilverStone AP123
24
27
31
Sharkoon SHARK Blades
26
28
32
39
Green box indicates a win, blue box indicates second place.

While the Sharkoon SHARK Blades generated more agreeable acoustics than the FQ121, as performance goes, it was dreadful, landing dead-last on our 120 mm fan chart. It claimed this dubious honor with distinction, producing bottom of the barrel results at every tested level: 16, 14, 12, and 11 dBA. It’s a handsome looking fan but it seems like some of the design elements used to achieve its aesthetic appeal squashed its cooling potential. It’s a classic case of style over substance.

Overall, the SilverStone FQ121 placed near the center of the pack but that doesn’t tell the whole story. At the 15 dBA@1m level (1100 RPM), its result matched those in the top third of the field — its cooling capacity (relative to the competition) only tailed off at lower speeds. If you’re using it with PWM control, it’s never going to drop below 1000 RPM, and additionally, no knowledgeable user would consider purchasing such a high RPM fan for low speed operation. The FQ121 isn’t a standout, but for a high speed model, it seems decent enough to warrant consideration.

Our thanks to mnpctech.com and SilverStone for supplying the fans tested in this review and Thermalright
for providing the CPU thermal simulator and the heatsink sample used in our test setup.

* * *

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:

Scythe GlideStream, Slip Stream XT, and Grand Flex Fans
Second 140 mm Fan Roundup: Antec, bequiet!, Corsair, Scythe
First 140 mm Fan Roundup: Noctua, Phanteks, Xigmatek
Fan Roundup #7: Antec, bequiet!, Corsair, GELID, Noiseblocker, SilverStone
Fan Roundup #6: Scythe, Noiseblocker, Antec, Nexus, Thermalright
SPCR’s Recommended Fans

* * *

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