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SPCR’s Fan Round-Up #3: 92mm Fans

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Our latest fan round-up covers seven 92mm models. Familiar names include Nexus, AcoustiFan, Coolink, and Noiseblocker, but there’s some unfamiliar ones too: Pure Silence and Fander both submitted samples. It’s noise quality that matters the most. Can any of the contenders knock the Nexus 92 out of the top spot?

February 9, 2007 by Devon
Cooke

May 5, 2008
Our fan airflow measurement system has recently undergone a major
revision to improve accuracy and repeatability. We’ve updated airflow data
for some but not all fans; only fans that fared well acoustically were retested
with the new system. There will be a new methodology article coming soon.

A quiet computer starts with quiet fans. As the primary source of noise in
most computers, we’ve subjected a lot of fans to our scrutiny over the years.
However, most of them have been examined in the context of a larger product,
typically a heatsink or a case. It’s only recently that we’ve started looking
at fans in their own right. Thus far, we’ve reviewed a
dozen 80mm fans
plus six
more 120mm fans
, putting a small dent in the huge pile of fans we have waiting
for us as part of the Calling
All Good Fans
project
.

Now, it’s time at last to check out some 92mm fans. 92mm fans are not as common as 80mm or 120mm fans, and they are most commonly
found on heatsinks, not cases. Keep this in mind while you read; if you’re looking for a heatsink fan, remember that heatsink fans are usually subject to tougher thermal conditions and more frequent speed changes than other fans.

As usual, the selection of fans in the round-up is somewhat of a mish-mash. Part of the reason is that we’ve have fewer 92mm samples than either 80mm or 120mm, which reflects real market conditions. Our samples from major fan brands are either no longer available or simply too noisy to even consider. The Panaflo hydrowave bearing 92mm L and M models, for example, are no longer made, and never were anywhere as quiet as the 80mm version, for whatever reasons. Also, it’s easier and quicker for us to test smaller batches of fans and post roundups more frequently; we have another batch of samples that will be included in the next 92mm roundup.

The inclusion of our de facto reference, the Nexus Real Silent Case Fan, won’t surprise any of our regular readers, but the rest were chosen at random from our pile of potentials. There’s a couple well known names that specialize in low noise — AcoustiFan and Noiseblocker are both well-established in Europe.
Another low noise specialist (at least by name) — the UK’s Pure Silence — has also been tossed into the mix, though they are less well known than the others. The last two contenders come from Coolink — a Taiwanese company — and Fander — from… Poland?!??

This roundup is primarily a summary of our test results with a few interesting tidbits about each fan thrown in. We have kept theory to a minimum, so you do not need to know how a fan works to get the most out of this article. You need
to know two things:

  1. Fans are designed to push air — the faster the fan, the more air it pushes
  2. Fans produce noise — the faster the fan, the more noise it produces

For our purposes, the best fan is the one that pushes the most air for the
least noise. For users who are interested, a more technical discussion of fan
technologies can be found in our recent article, Anatomy
of A Silent Fan
. Users who want to know exactly how the fans were tested
should refer to our test methodology
article
. The rest of you: Sit back and enjoy! We hope you find our work
useful.

HOW TO USE THIS REVIEW

Each fan in this roundup has its own data table and write-up that summarizes
what we learned about it. Use these to find specific information about the fan
you’re looking for. In addition, every fan was recorded four times, according
to our standard Audio Recording
techniques
. These recordings can be used to make A/B comparisons between
fans to help illustrate the differences between them. The four recordings are
as follows:

  1. Alternating ambient noise and the fan running at 5V, 7V, 9V, and 12V,
    recorded at a distance of one meter.
  2. Alternating ambient noise and the fan running at 5V, 7V, 9V, and 12V,
    recorded at a distance of one foot (30 cm).
  3. Five seconds of ambient noise, followed by the fan running in the constant
    airflow test, recorded at a distance of one meter.
  4. Five seconds of ambient noise, followed by the fan running in the constant
    airflow test, recorded at a distance of one foot (30 cm).

As always, we recommend that you listen and compare the recordings in a specific way. The green box below describes how we make our recordings and what you’re supposed to do with them.

At the end of the roundup is a conclusion that summarizes the best and the
worst that we found. This is where to look if you just want to cut to the chase
and find out which fan we liked best.

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were
made with a high resolution, studio quality, digital recording system,
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. Two recordings of each noise level were made, one
from a distance of one meter, and another from one
foot
away.

The one meter recording
is intended to give you an idea of how the subject of this review
sound 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. For best results, set your volume
control so that the ambient noise is just barely audible. 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 one foot recording
is designed to bring out the fine details of the noise. Use this recording
with caution! Although more detailed, it may not represent how the
subject sounds in actual use. It is best to listen to this recording
after you have listened to the one meter recording.

More details about how
we make these recordings can be found in our short article: Audio
Recording Methods Revised
.

THE FANS

The following fans were included in the roundup:

The Conclusion can be found on page 6.

NEXUS REAL SILENT CASE FAN DF1209SL-3

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA.

Brand Nexus Power Rating 0.25A / 0.96W
Manufacturer Dynatron Airflow Rating 27 CFM
Model Number DF1209-SL3 RPM Rating 1,500 RPM
Retail Availability Yes Noise Rating 19.2 dBA
Bearing Type Sleeve Header Type 3-pin & Molex
Hub Size 1.30" Starting Voltage 2.4V
Frame Size 92 x 92 x 25 mm Number of Samples 3

Our thanks to EndPC Noise for supplying these
samples.
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
21 dBA@1m
1380 RPM
28 CFM
0.87W
9V
19 dBA@1m
1060 RPM
22 CFM
0.68W
7V
<18 dBA@1m
820 RPM
17 CFM
0.57W
5V
<18 dBA@1m
570 RPM
11 CFM
0.45W
@15 CFM (6.8V)
<18 dBA@1m
790 RPM
15 CFM
0.55W
May 5, 2008
The updated airflow results here are the result of improvements
in our testing procedures. They are more accurate than the original results
above, but they are not directly comparable. Please compare these only with
fan reviews published after May 5, 2008 — or ones that have updated
results published in a box like this one.
12V
21 dBA@1m
1380 RPM
19 CFM
0.87W
9V
19 dBA@1m
1110 RPM
15 CFM
0.68W
7V
<18 dBA@1m
890 RPM
11 CFM
0.57W
5V
<18 dBA@1m
620 RPM
8 CFM
0.45W
@15 CFM (9.0V)
<18 dBA@1m
1110 RPM
15 CFM
0.68W

Nexus fans are quiet. They’re so quiet that, for a few years now, they’ve appeared
in our reviews as "reference" fans, the standard against which other
fans are judged. The 92mm version has the same smooth, low freqency noise character
as its brothers, and it disappears easily into the ambient noise when undervolted.
In SPCR’s test lab, this disappearing point is around 8V, judged from a listening
distance of one meter.

At full tilt, the noise level of the Nexus 92 is acceptable for most users
— the ones who don’t obsess over noise and can accept a fan that is quiet
but not silent. There is a small amount of motor hum, but it is so quiet that
it may be drowned out by other sources of noise in the system. This motor noise
drops off almost immediately below 12V, and the only noise from 8~11V is a low
growl that just lets you know the fan is spinning. As noted already, it is effectively
inaudible below 8V.

The Nexus is affected very little by orientation, which is a bit unusual for fan with sleeve bearings.
The rotation speed did not vary appreciably whether the fan was blowing up,
down, or sideways. Our usual caution is that sleeve bearings tend to be less tolerant of heat than ball bearings, and is usually not an ideal choice for a hot, heavily-used processor. However, sleeve breaing vary considerably in their design details and execution, and we have no way to ascertain longevity and heat resistance. We can say that a handful of 92mm Nexus samples have been in sporadic use in the lab for some time (read: at least a year or two), and no significant degradation or failure has come to any of them.

The starting voltage for our test sample was an impressively low 2.4V. We can’t
imagine why anyone would use such a low voltage, but it does make for a very
flexible fan. A fan that starts at 3V could potentially be powered by a pair
of AA batteries. We leave it to you to find a use for such a fan…

The only real question mark surrounding the Nexus is sample variance. Our look
at the 120mm Nexus revealed that some samples were definitely better than others,
although the 92mm comes from a different manufacturer. We looked at a total of three different
samples, one of which sounded slightly different from the others: It produced
a faint ticking that was absent in the other samples. The ticking was minor
enough that most people are unlikely to notice, but it does make us wonder whether
the fans could become noisier with time.

Noise Recordings

FANDER FX92-W

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA.

Brand Fander Power Rating 0.15A / 1.8W
Manufacturer Unknown Airflow Rating 15~35 CFM
Model Number FX92-W RPM Rating 800~2,000 RPM
Retail Availability Poland Noise Rating 13.9~26.2 dBA
Bearing Type Sleeve Header Type 3-pin
Hub Size 1.38" Starting Voltage 2.9V
Frame Size 92 x 92 x 25 mm Number of Samples 2

Our thanks to Fander
for supplying these samples.
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
28 dBA@1m
1900 RPM
45 CFM
1.35W
9V
23 dBA@1m
1530 RPM
36 CFM
0.96W
7V
19 dBA@1m
1230 RPM
27 CFM
0.73W
5V
<18 dBA@1m
870 RPM
19 CFM
0.50W
@15 CFM (4.4V)
<18 dBA@1m
750 RPM
15 CFM
0.43W
*All tests done with the fan controller set to maximum.
May 5, 2008
The updated airflow results here are the result of improvements
in our testing procedures. They are more accurate than the original results
above, but they are not directly comparable. Please compare these only with
fan reviews published after May 5, 2008 — or ones that have updated
results published in a box like this one.
12V
28 dBA@1m
1860 RPM
29 CFM
1.35W
9V
23 dBA@1m
1510RPM
22 CFM
0.96W
7V
19 dBA@1m
1220 RPM
18 CFM
0.73W
5V
<18 dBA@1m
900 RPM
13 CFM
0.50W
@15 CFM (5.8V)
<18 dBA@1m
1030 RPM
15 CFM
0.53W

Unless you happen to come from Poland, you’ve probably never heard of Fander.
We certainly hadn’t. That didn’t stop the Fander FX92-W from unexpectedly showing
up on our doorstep, followed shortly by a polite e-mail asking if we had received
it. We were a little suspicious — unsolicited review samples are almost
unheard of — but we had nothing to lose from turning it on and listening…
And we listened, and listened, and said to ourselves "hey, that’s pretty
good". And then we set it aside to wait for this round-up.

And then we tested it, looked at the numbers, and said "hey, that’s really
good!" In fact, its good enough to go head to head with the Nexus 92. It
even sounds the same: At lower speeds, the noise is a smooth, low hum that quickly
fades into the background. The Fander may be a touch sharper, but the difference
is tiny and probably irrelevant at slow speeds.

The Fander has a couple of advantages over the Nexus as well. For starters,
its default speed is faster. This may be irrelevant to those who won’t accept
any noise at all from a fan, but it’s good news for those who find the Nexus
just a tad too slow for their needs. It quickly develops motor whine
as it pushes above ~1,500 RPM, but even that is fairly smooth. However, its
main advantage is that it comes with its own fan controller, which allows adjustment
down to ~800 RPM — the equivalent of ~4.6V. At that level, the Fander was
effectively inaudible in the lab.


Comes with a fan controller built-in.

So, here it is: A fan with the best kind of noise character that can be completely
silent out of the box — with enough flexibility to set the fan to just
the right level without requiring a separate fan controller. Is there anything
that could make a more perfect fan than this?

Well, there’s a couple of drawbacks. The first is that the Fander is currently
unavailable outside of Poland. In fact, they don’t even have an English web
site. That could change in a hurry; their unsolicited donation to SPCR suggests
that they’re anxious to expand to the English-speaking world, and we’re sure
a few of our readers will be eager to import them. However, until Fander gets
an international distributor, a trip to Poland may be the only way to get your
hands on one of these babies.

A more serious concern is with the bearing and sample variance.
Of all the fans we tested, the Fander was affected most by orientation, slowing
by almost 15% when blowing downwards. The Fander also had a noticeable "warm-up" time: It started at about 1700 RPM and took two or three minutes to stabilize at maximum speed. One of the two samples had a slight buzz that made us wonder whether it had been damaged in transit.

That said, reliability is not easy to judge. We have no direct evidence that
the bearings do not wear well, and Fander’s reliability spec (presumably "Z.ywotnos’c’"
means MTBF) rates the fan for 80,000 hours — extremely high for a sleeve
bearing.

Quibbles of quality aside, we look forward to the time when these begin to
show up internationally. The Nexus could use some competition…

Noise Recordings

JUMP TO:

PURE SILENCE JF0925S1ES

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA.

Brand Pure
Silence
Power Rating 0.10A / 0.96W
Manufacturer Jamicon Airflow Rating 32 CFM
Model Number JF0925S1ES RPM Rating 1,700 RPM
Retail Availability UK Noise Rating 15 dBA
Bearing Type Sleeve Header Type 3-pin & Molex adapter
Hub Size 1.29" Starting Voltage 3.1V
Frame Size 92 x 92 x 25 mm Number of Samples 2

Our thanks to Pure
Silence

for supplying these samples.
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
26 dBA@1m
1770 RPM
38 CFM
0.93W
9V
21 dBA@1m
1350 RPM
28 CFM
0.73W
7V
21 dBA@1m
1040 RPM
21 CFM
0.60W
5V
20 dBA@1m
710 RPM
13 CFM
0.46W
@15 CFM (5.6V)
20 dBA@1m
810 RPM
15 CFM
0.50W
May 5, 2008
The updated airflow results here are the result of improvements
in our testing procedures. They are more accurate than the original results
above, but they are not directly comparable. Please compare these only with
fan reviews published after May 5, 2008 — or ones that have updated
results published in a box like this one.
12V
26 dBA@1m
1770 RPM
24 CFM
0.93W
9V
21 dBA@1m
1350RPM
19 CFM
0.73W
7V
21 dBA@1m
1040 RPM
14 CFM
0.60W
5V
20 dBA@1m
710 RPM
9 CFM
0.46W
@15 CFM (7.2V)
21dBA@1m
1050 RPM
15 CFM
0.61W

Pure Silence is a tiny British company that specializes in low noise computer
components, modding accessories, and iPod skins. Oh, and for some reason it
also sells energy efficient lightbulbs, a 15m garden hose and an inflatable
pool. We don’t recommend using your computer in the pool, no matter how quiet
it is.

If you thought it was unlikely that a company that sells inflatable pools manufactures
their own line of fans, you’d be right; the model number identifies the original
manufacurer as Jamicon
— makers of an excellent line of quiet 80mm fans. The thin, fragile support
struts are a hallmark of Jamicon’s fan design, removing any lingering doubts
about where the fan’s origins.

Unfortunately, Jamicon’s reputation does not seem to have helped here, as the
noise character was too rough and unpleasant to compete with the Nexus. The
Pure Silence was always audible (never thought I’d write that sentence),
no matter how much we reduced the voltage. At 9V and above, the noise was a
mixed clatter of buzzing and clicking. The noise eventually dropped to a subdued
rumble as the reduced speed took the sharpness and intensity off of the sound.
A ringing overtone could also be heard between 7V and 10V. We would like to
be able to say that the low vibration exhibited by the Pure Silence is a good
sign for noise, but given how poor the rest of the noise character is, the low
vibration is irrelevant.

As expected for a sleeve bearing fan, the fan speed dropped slightly when blowing
downwards. Mounting the Pure Silence in this position (in a home theater case,
for example) is not recommended.

Noise Recordings

ACOUSTIFAN AF92CT

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA.

Brand AcoustiFan Power Rating 0.18A
Manufacturer Globefan Airflow Rating 41.7 CFM
Model Number AF92CT RPM Rating 2,000 RPM
Retail Availability Yes Noise Rating 25.9 dBA
Bearing Type Sleeve Header Type 3-pin
Hub Size 1.3" Starting Voltage 3.8V
Frame Size 92 x 92 x 25 mm Number of Samples 2

Our thanks to
AcoustiFan
for supplying these samples.
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
30 dBA@1m
1920 RPM
47 CFM
1.97W
9V
28 dBA@1m
1590 RPM
38 CFM
1.41W
7V
21 dBA@1m
1310 RPM
31 CFM
1.08W
5V
~19 dBA@1m
960 RPM
21 CFM
0.76W
@15 CFM (4.0V)
<18 dBA@1m
760 RPM
15 CFM
0.54W
May 5, 2008
The updated airflow results here are the result of improvements
in our testing procedures. They are more accurate than the original results
above, but they are not directly comparable. Please compare these only with
fan reviews published after May 5, 2008 — or ones that have updated
results published in a box like this one.
12V
30 dBA@1m
1920 RPM
30 CFM
1.97W
9V
28 dBA@1m
1590 RPM
23 CFM
1.41W
7V
21 dBA@1m
1310 RPM
19 CFM
1.08W
5V
~19 dBA@1m
960 RPM
14 CFM
0.76W
@15 CFM (5.3V)
~19 dBA@1m
1010 RPM
15 CFM
0.79W

AcoustiFan (or AcoustiProducts) is best known for their Acoustipack sound-proofing
material, which is some of the best available and comes pre-cut for several
popular cases. And, if a company built on sound-proofing doesn’t speak of a
devotion to low noise, we don’t know what does.

Our first glimpse of the AcoustiFan was promising. In addition to the fan itself,
the package included a little plastic baggie with silicone grommets and a 56?
inline fan resistor to cut the voltage to 7.5V (we measured 8.5V). The fan is
controlled thermally by a thermistor than can be positioned wherever the user
sees fit. As a result, the fan spun at ~1,250 RPM at room temperature (21°C),
or 910 RPM with the inline resistor in place. This corresponds to an operating
noise level of 19~20 dBA@1m, which is certainly very quiet.


Silencing accessories include silicone grommets (hard) and an inline fan
resistor.

For testing purposes, the thermistor was short-circuited, disabling thermal
control and effectively running the fan at full speed. We could then test the
fan like we do any other, using voltage to change speed without worrying about
how temperature would affect things.


A thermistor helps keep the default noise level quite low.

The noise character of the Acoustifan is smooth enough, though not quite on
par with the Nexus or the Fander. At higher speeds, the noise is full of ringing
and thrumming that seems to be a result of the plastic frame resonating. This quality has been noted before with other clear plastic fans. As a result, the Acoustifan is slightly louder than it could be and it never quite disappears into the background the way the Nexus and the Fander do.

Even so, the difference is not large, and many people will find that it suits
their needs. The Acoustifan product
page
is full of testimonials from satisfied customers. Perhaps their
line of black plastic dust-proof fans does
not suffer from this resonance issue.

Noise Recordings

JUMP TO:

COOLINK X9 SERIES

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 19 dBA.

Fast Version: X9-1900
Brand Coolink Power Rating 0.10A
Manufacturer Kolink Airflow Rating 40.2 CFM
Model Number X9-1900 RPM Rating 1,900 RPM
Retail Availability Yes Noise Rating 23 dBA
Bearing Type Dual Ball Bearing Header Type 3-pin
Hub Size 1.27" Starting Voltage 3.1V
Frame Size 92 x 92 x 25 mm Number of Samples 2

Our thanks to
Coolink
for supplying these samples.
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
30 dBA@1m
2010 RPM
45 CFM
0.93W
9V
24 dBA@1m
1580 RPM
34 CFM
0.72W
7V
21 dBA@1m
1230 RPM
27 CFM
0.61W
5V
~20 dBA@1m
900 RPM
18 CFM
0.48W
@15 CFM (4.4V)
~19 dBA@1m
790 RPM
15 CFM
0.44W
May 5, 2008
The updated airflow results here are the result of improvements
in our testing procedures. They are more accurate than the original results
above, but they are not directly comparable. Please compare these only with
fan reviews published after May 5, 2008 — or ones that have updated
results published in a box like this one.
12V
30 dBA@1m
2010 RPM
29 CFM
0.93W
9V
24 dBA@1m
1580 RPM
22 CFM
0.72W
7V
21 dBA@1m
1230 RPM
18 CFM
0.61W
5V
~20 dBA@1m
900 RPM
13 CFM
0.48W
@15 CFM (5.8V)
20 dBA@1m
1040 RPM
15 CFM
0.55W

Regular readers may remember these Coolink fans from our review of the
Nocuta NH-U9 / Coolink U8-92-1900 heatsink
. For the most part, they didn’t
impress, but we did give the 1,100 RPM version special mention for being so
quiet at the stock 12V. Our assessment now hasn’t changed: If you’re looking
for a reasonably quiet fan and you refuse to use any form of fan control, the
X9-1100 might be worth a look. If that’s not your situation, find something
else.

The green-fins-in-a-clear-frame may look cool, but they’re definitely not good
for noise. The X9 series suffers from the same problem as the Acoustifan: The frame is brittle and highly resonant. The result is a noise character that
is louder and harsher than it would be otherwise. And, unlike the Acoustifan,
the X9 series has a nasty buzz that is amplified by the resonance.

Things do not improve with undervolting. As the speed drops, the buzz and resonance
drop away, only to be replaced by a sharp, scratchy hissing, which prevents
the X9’s from ever becoming inaudible. This might be acceptable for a while
if there are other undamped sources of noise in the system, but any serious
silencer will find themselves frustrated with these fans.

The high speed X9-1900 is also available as the VS9-1900, which bundles
a variable fan controller with the same basic fan. It’s a nice package, with
a nickel-plated PCI slot cover and a brushed aluminum knob, but, unfortunately,
the range of adjustment is 6.4~11.3V — just barely low enough to match
the stock 1,100 RPM speed of the X9-1100. That’s not low enough for a model
with a fan controller.

The best thing that can be said about the X9 Series is that they have double
ball bearings, which should make them more durable under hot conditions. Since every other fan
in this round-up uses sleeve bearings, this is worth pointing out.
However, with such a poor noise signature, we are not about to recommend them
on the basis of their bearings. Presumably, there are other, quiter fans out
there that use double ball bearings; we hope to look at some in future reviews.


The fan controller is slick, but that isn’t quite enough to save a noisy
fan…

Medium Version: X9-1500
Brand Coolink Power Rating 0.10A
Manufacturer Kolink Airflow Rating 31.7 CFM
Model Number X9-1500 RPM Rating 1,500 RPM
Retail Availability Yes Noise Rating 19 dBA
Bearing Type Dual Ball Bearing Header Type 3-pin
Hub Size 1.27" Starting Voltage 3.4V
Frame Size 92 x 92 x 25 mm Number of Samples 1
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
24 dBA@1m
1540 RPM
34 CFM
0.60W
9V
20 dBA@1m
1200 RPM
26 CFM
0.49W
7V
~20 dBA@1m
930 RPM
19 CFM
0.43W
5V
<19 dBA@1m
650 RPM
12 CFM
0.36W
@15 CFM (6.0V)
~19 dBA@1m
790 RPM
15 CFM
0.39W
May 5, 2008
The updated airflow results here are the result of improvements
in our testing procedures. They are more accurate than the original results
above, but they are not directly comparable. Please compare these only with
fan reviews published after May 5, 2008 — or ones that have updated
results published in a box like this one.
12V
24 dBA@1m
1540 RPM
21 CFM
0.60W
9V
20 dBA@1m
1200 RPM
17 CFM
0.49W
7V
~20 dBA@1m
930 RPM
13 CFM
0.43W
5V
<19 dBA@1m
650 RPM
8 CFM
0.36W
@15 CFM (8.1V)
20 dBA@1m
1050 RPM
15 CFM
0.46W
Slow Version: X9-1100
Brand Coolink Power Rating 0.10A
Manufacturer Kolink Airflow Rating 23.3 CFM
Model Number X9-1100 RPM Rating 1,100 RPM
Retail Availability Yes Noise Rating 14 dBA
Bearing Type Dual Ball Bearing Header Type 3-pin
Hub Size 1.27" Starting Voltage 6.2V
Frame Size 92 x 92 x 25 mm Number of Samples 1
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
20 dBA@1m
1140 RPM
24 CFM
0.46W
9V
~19 dBA@1m
870 RPM
18 CFM
0.39W
7V
<19 dBA@1m
670 RPM
12 CFM
0.35W
5V
<19 dBA@1m
430 RPM
6 CFM
0.31W
@15 CFM (8.1V)
~19 dBA@1m
790 RPM
15 CFM
0.37W
May 5, 2008
The updated airflow results here are the result of improvements
in our testing procedures. They are more accurate than the original results
above, but they are not directly comparable. Please compare these only with
fan reviews published after May 5, 2008 — or ones that have updated
results published in a box like this one.
12V
20 dBA@1m
1140 RPM
17 CFM
0.46W
9V
~19 dBA@1m
870 RPM
11 CFM
0.39W
7V
<19 dBA@1m
670 RPM
9 CFM
0.35W
5V
<19 dBA@1m
430 RPM
4 CFM
0.31W
@15 CFM (11.3V)
20 dBA@1m
1060 RPM
15 CFM
0.42W

Noise Recordings

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NOISEBLOCKER ULTRA SILENT FAN SE2 AND BLACK SILENT
FAN XE1

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA.

Ultra Silent Fan SE2 (NB-USF SE2)
Brand Noiseblocker Power Rating 0.13A
Manufacturer Y. S. Tech. Airflow Rating 38 CFM
Model Number NB-USF SE2 RPM Rating 1,850 RPM
Retail Availability Yes Noise Rating 22 dBA
Bearing Type Double Ball Bearing Header Type 3-pin
Hub Size 1.27" Starting Voltage 3.9V
Frame Size 92 x 92 x 25 Number of Samples 2

Our thanks to Noiseblocker
for supplying
these samples.
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
28 dBA@1m
1780 RPM
41 CFM
0.80W
9V
23 dBA@1m
1330 RPM
31 CFM
0.62W
7V
21 dBA@1m
1030 RPM
23 CFM
0.50W
5V
~19 dBA@1m
690 RPM
13 CFM
0.40W
@15 CFM (5.4V)
~20 dBA@1m
750 RPM
15 CFM
0.42W
May 5, 2008
The updated airflow results here are the result of improvements
in our testing procedures. They are more accurate than the original results
above, but they are not directly comparable. Please compare these only with
fan reviews published after May 5, 2008 — or ones that have updated
results published in a box like this one.
12V
28 dBA@1m
1780 RPM
26 CFM
0.80W
9V
23 dBA@1m
1330 RPM
20 CFM
0.62W
7V
21 dBA@1m
1030 RPM
16 CFM
0.50W
5V
~19 dBA@1m
690 RPM
10 CFM
0.40W
@15 CFM (6.8V)
~20 dBA@1m
980 RPM
15 CFM
0.48W

The Noiseblocker SE2 is barely worthy of note. It is included here mainly because
it is identical to the Coolink X9 series,
with the following "important" differences:

  • It has blue fins instead of green
  • It has a Noiseblocker label
  • The retail package includes silicone grommets and a fan controller

We refer you to the previous page
to find out why we don’t think it worthy of further comment.

Black Silent Fan XE1
Brand Noiseblocker Power Rating 0.10A
Manufacturer Noiseblocker Airflow Rating 28.9 CFM
Model Number Black Silent Fan XE1 RPM Rating 1,400 RPM
Retail Availability Yes Noise Rating 17 dBA
Bearing Type Sleeve Header Type 3-pin
Hub Size 1.37" Starting Voltage 3.9V
Frame Size 92 x 92 x 25 mm Number of Samples 3

Our thanks to Noiseblocker
for supplying
these samples.
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
21 dBA@1m
1490 RPM
34 CFM
1.11W
9V
~19 dBA@1m
1180 RPM
26 CFM
0.81W
7V
~19 dBA@1m
930 RPM
20 CFM
0.64W
5V
<18 dBA@1m
630 RPM
12 CFM
0.45W
@15 CFM (5.8V)
<18 dBA@1m
760 RPM
15 CFM
0.52W
May 5, 2008
The updated airflow results here are the result of improvements
in our testing procedures. They are more accurate than the original results
above, but they are not directly comparable. Please compare these only with
fan reviews published after May 5, 2008 — or ones that have updated
results published in a box like this one.
12V
21 dBA@1m
1490 RPM
22 CFM
1.11W
9V
~19 dBA@1m
1180 RPM
18 CFM
0.81W
7V
~19 dBA@1m
930 RPM
14 CFM
0.64W
5V
<18 dBA@1m
630 RPM
9 CFM
0.45W
@15 CFM (7.7V)
<18 dBA@1m
1040 RPM
15 CFM
0.70W

The Black Silent Fan XE1, on the other hand, is a very different beast, despite
having similar semi-transparent blue fins. If somebody recommends you a Noiseblocker
fan, it’s probably this one, not the previous one that he’s talking about. Aside
from the blue fins, it’s fairly evident that the manufacturers for the XE1 and
the SE2 are not the same. Differences in blade style, frame shape, and, most
importantly, noise character all prove that these are two very different beasts.

The XE1 sounds almost identical to the Nexus. It’s very smooth, and it is inaudible
below about ~7V. In fact, until we started breaking down the data and doing
comparisons on the basis of noise for airflow, we were hard pressed to call
a victor between the two. However, when airflow is taken into account, it’s
clear that the Nexus has a tiny edge. The difference is not much — we really
had to hunt for it — but it does seem to be there.

The main difference is in the tonal quality of the noise. While both fans sound
smooth and fairly low pitched, the XE1 seems just a little harsher than the
Nexus. It also has a small range (9~10V) where it produces a quiet overtone,
giving the noise a harmonic "two-tone" quality. This is only of real
concern if the fan is thermally controlled; it’s easy enough to avoid the 9~10V
range if the fan’s speed is adjusted once and set for good.

The XE1 also seems to stay audible for slightly longer than the Nexus. The
threshold of audibility for the Nexus is roughly ~21 CFM, while the XE1 didn’t
disappear until ~18 CFM. This is not a large difference though; it’s unlikely
to amount to more than a single degree difference in cooling power — and
that mounted directly on a heatsink. In the context of a case fan, the difference
is irrelevant.

Noiseblocker lists the bearing type as a "longlife" sleeve bearing,
but it’s not at all clear what "longlife" means or how it is achieved.
The MTBF specification is listed at <68,000 hours, which puts the 20,000
hour rating of the Nexus’ sleeve bearing (see Dynatron’s
web site
) to shame. On the other hand, the Fander FX92-W is rated for 80,000
hours. Given how much controversy there is around the MTBF, we suggest taking
all of these numbers with a grain of salt. However, we do recommend paying attention
to the way the XE1 is mounted; our testing showed that the rotation speed dropped
by ~7% when the XE1 was blowing downwards.

The XE1 and the Nexus share one other trait: We examined three samples of both,
and in both cases found one sample that had a slight ticking. It seems that
Noiseblocker is not immune from sample variance…

Noise Recordings

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CONCLUSIONS

We’re not sure what it is about Europe, but the quietest fans have to come from European brands. The top three 92mm fans that we saw all
come from continental Europe: The Nexus, the Fander, and the Noiseblocker XE1,
from the Netherlands, Poland, and Germany, respectively. Two British companies, Pure Silence and AcoustiFan, were also in the
mix, though neither could produce a true challenger. Considering that the majority
of electronics brands are based in either the US or Asia, this European dominance
is quite an achievement. Of course, all of these fans are manufactured in China.

In terms of noise, the Nexus and the Fander FX92-W are the quietest
92mm fans we know of, though the Noiseblocker XE1 (not the SE2) trails
by just a hair. We can confidently recommend any of these three fans for use
in a computer that is not just quiet but silent.

Since these three fans sound very similar, it comes down to
other features to decide between them. We pick the Fander as our new favorite
fan. Its built-in fan controller makes it ideal for low-noise systems and
makes it stand out from the crowd. The large speed reduction when blowing downwards
and its unusually long "warm-up" period is a little odd. However, its biggest problem is that it is unavailable outside
of Poland. There’s a business opportunity here for one of our Polish readers
(we know you’re out there).

Although it’s not as quiet as the others mentioned, the Acoustifan
is also worthy of mention, either for its ease of use (it doesn’t require undervolting)
or its flexibility (it includes a simple means to do so). Although it is thermally
controlled, most users will probably not want to hear this fan if it speeds
up. Our recommendation is to leave the thermistor at room temperature outside
of the case, and use the inline resistor to get a fan that is potentially ~19
dBA@1m out of the box. For some, that simplicity may be worth the small trade-off
in noise quality. (Of course, the Fander does this as well, so AcoustiFan will
have to watch out once the Fander becomes more widespread…)

The remaining fans in the round-up are not worth considering.
The Coolink X9 series (and it’s cousin, the Noiseblocker SE2) was far too buzzy
and resonant to take seriously, while the Pure Silence JF0925S1ES never measured
below 20 dBA@1m.

Three very quiet fans out of seven tested is a pretty good ratio,
so we’re quite pleased with the results. Nevertheless, we did notice that all
of the fans we tested used sleeve bearings, which makes us wonder: How suitable
are these fans for use on a heatsink? We know that ball bearings tend to last
longer in high heat conditions, but so much depends on the quality of
the bearings that it’s difficult to draw any firm conclusions. A good quality
sleeve bearing can easily last longer than a poor quality ball bearing. The MTBF rating is one indicator of logevity, but as we’ve discussed elsewhere, the way this spec is defined varies, and it is very difficult for anyone to confirm.

So, what is a concerned user to do? One approach is simply to
take the plunge and not worry about failure. Based on the number of complaints
we see on our forums, problems with failed fans are far less common than, say,
problems with faulty motherboards or power supplies. A more cautious approach
might be to simply replace the fans periodically (two years, three — choose your period) as a matter of routine maintenance. The reality is that unless your system is running too close to thermal overload or under constant high load (as in a server for a busy office, enterprise or web site), one dead fan is not likely to cause instant catastrophe. When a fan fails, system misbehavior (crashes, freezes, etc) will usually alert the user to a possible hardware problem before heat kills other components.

Last but not least, you could always wait to see what new fans are
discovered in the next SPCR Fan Round-Up…

Many thanks to all the readers, contributors and manufacturers
who donated fans so this project could happen.

*

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
SPCR’s Fan Roundup #2: 120mm Fans
SPCR’s 80mm Fan Roundup #1
SPCR’s Fan Testing Methodology
Anatomy of the Silent Fan
SPCR’s Recommended Fans
Simple Fan Controllers from Zalman
Get 5V, 7V, or 12V for your Fans

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this article in the SPCR Forums
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