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SPCR’s Fan Roundup #4: 120mm Fans II

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In our second roundup of 120mm fans, we’ve tested several frequently requested models, including fans from Yate Loon, Global Win, SilenX and others often highly recommended by SPCR forum regulars. Despite the careful selection, we can only recommended one fan unconditionally. Which one? Read the article to find out.

May 14, 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.

Our last 120mm fan roundup uncovered two new quiet contenders — from Scythe
and Noctua — in addition to our longtime favorite, the Nexus. Things have
evolved since then. We’ve rethought
the way we test airflow
in response to questions raised about the real-world
performance of the Noctua, discovered some new, promising manufacturers in our
last 92mm fan roundup
, and the chorus urging us to prove our impartiality
by testing some SilenX fans has grown steadily louder.

This time around, the selection of fans chosen is a little less random than
our previous roundups. Most of the fans were chosen on the basis of user recommendations.
As a result, we expect the average fan quality in this review to be higher than
normal. To kick things off, we have a Yate Loon — an oft recommended alternative
to our favorite Nexus, not least because Yate Loon is Nexus’ original manufacturer.
Next up are two fans from brands that did well in our 92mm roundup: Fander,
and Noiseblocker. We also have fans from Global Win, Enermax, Arctic Cooling,
Acoustifan, and, yes, SilenX.

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. In practical terms, this ends up being the fan that sounds best
when undervolted to near inaudibility. Although we do a complete set of objective
measurements for both airflow and noise, we nearly always base our recommendations
on how the fans sound subjectively. Typically, there is too little variance
in the objective data to make clear distinctions on the basis of measurements
alone.

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.


A large pile of 120mm fans, not all of which made it into this test.

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 twice, 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 two 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).

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.

YATE LOON D12SM-12

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA.

BrandYate
Loon
Power Rating0.30A
ManufacturerYate
Loon
Airflow Rating70.5 CFM
Model NumberD12SM-12RPM Rating1,650 RPM
Retail AvailabilityYesNoise Rating33 dBA
Bearing TypeSleeveHeader Type2-pin PSU + RPM Header
Hub Size1.58"Starting Voltage2.9V
Frame Size120 x 120 x 25 mmNumber of Samples1
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
32 dBA@1m
1640 RPM
54 CFM
2.22W
9V
28 dBA@1m
1350 RPM
42 CFM
1.60W
7V
23 dBA@1m
1130 RPM
34 CFM
1.26W
5V
~20 dBA@1m
860 RPM
24 CFM
0.93W
@25 CFM (5.4V)
20 dBA@1m
880 RPM
25 CFM
1.01W
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
32 dBA@1m
1640 RPM
46 CFM
2.22W
9V
28 dBA@1m
1350 RPM
36 CFM
1.60W
7V
23 dBA@1m
1130 RPM
28 CFM
1.26W
5V
~20 dBA@1m
860 RPM
21 CFM
0.93W
@20 CFM (4.6V)
20 dBA@1m
760 RPM
20 CFM
0.86W

Yate Loon has long been favored among the most hardcore silencers who are willing
to go out of their way to get the best of the best. What sets it apart is not
its quality but its cost; because Yate Loon is a manufacturer, not a reseller,
it
can typically be found
for a fraction of the price of most retail fans.
The downside is availability; such low prices are possible because Yate Loon
ships only in bulk quantities, which means a retail outlet must be prepared
to hold a large inventory in stock. Few retailers are willing or able to do
this, and consequently, Yate Loons can be tough to find.

There’s more to their popularity than their cost, of course. Yate Loons owe
much of their popularity to the fact that they are essentially the same fan
as the Nexus Real Silent Case Fan 120.
Yate Loon manufactures a special bright orange model for Nexus, but the fans
are identical apart from their speed and color.

The sample that we examined was obtained from a first-revision Seasonic S-12
power supply. Consequently, it has an unusual two-pin fan header and an additional
RPM monitor cable. It also spins faster than the low speed version that is typically
favored by our users. It is designated as a medium speed fan, and it requires
undervolting to match the low noise of the low speed version. It is worth noting
that the S-12 line no longer uses Yate Loon fans; Seasonic switched suppliers
since the first S-12 revision, apparently because of quality control issues
with Yate Loon’s products.

Despite it’s excellent reputation and our own experience with Nexus fans, this
particular Yate Loon did not live up to our expectations. Though it wasn’t bad
compared to many lesser fans, it lacked the buttery smooth sound that made the
Nexus a standard-setter. It suffered from a muffled ticking that prevented it
from ever becoming inaudible, and the simple electronics in the hub produced
a faint whistling squeal. While neither of these issues were terrible, they
were enough to make us wonder whether our sample had been damaged at some point.
Unfortunately, it was impossible to obtain another sample due to the issues
with distribution noted above.

Aside from the noise character, the Yate Loon proved unsurprisingly similar
to the Nexus. It has sleeve bearings which make it unsuitable for use in high
heat or horizontal situations, like power supplies <all eyes towards the
original revision of the S-12>. It also has a very low-torque motor; even
a modest amount of back pressure caused the rotation speed to drop by as much
as 300 RPM. We noticed this effect with several of the quietest fans we tested.
Perhaps the smoothness of the noise character that we like requires a tradeoff
in the design of the electrical motor?

Noise Recording

GLOBAL WIN 120mm FAN

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 19 dBA.

BrandGlobal
Win
Power Rating?
Manufacturer?Airflow Rating41.7 CFM
Model Number?RPM Rating1,300 RPM
Retail AvailabilityLimitedNoise Rating19 dBA
Bearing TypeNanometer Ceramic BearingHeader Type3-pin
Hub Size1.66"Starting Voltage4.0V
Frame Size120 x 120 x 25 mmNumber of Samples1
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
28 dBA@1m
1420 RPM
38 CFM
1.38W
9V
23 dBA@1m
1150 RPM
30 CFM
1.06W
7V
20 dBA@1m
940 RPM
24 CFM
0.85W
5V
<19 dBA@1m
690 RPM
16 CFM
0.66W
@25 CFM (7.4V)
20 dBA@1m
970 RPM
25 CFM
0.87W
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
1420 RPM
35 CFM
1.38W
9V
23 dBA@1m
1150 RPM
25 CFM
1.06W
7V
20 dBA@1m
940 RPM
21 CFM
1.85W
5V
<19 dBA@1m
690 RPM
16 CFM
0.66W
@20 CFM (6.5V)
20 dBA@1m
850 RPM
20 CFM
0.80W

The Global Win NCB fan is another favorite of the experienced crowd. Like the
Yate Loon, they can be a little hard to find, but it’s popular enough that it’s
been subject to several user
reviews in the SPCR forums. It’s
distinguishing characteristic is it’s "Nanometer Ceramic Bearing",
which appears to be a variety of sleeve bearing that uses exotic materials to
give it longer life than usual — a claimed MTBF of 80,000 hours. You can
dazzle yourself with the
technical details in this white paper / catalogue
if you want to know more.

However, past this point, things get a little strange. There appears to be
no record of the fan anywhere on Global
Win’s web site
— not even a model number. A limited number of fans
are listed in the hard-to-find brochure linked to above, but none comes
close to matching the specifications of the model that we examined. And, verifying
that we had correctly identified the fan proved even more difficult, since the
fan does not appear to have a model number; none is listed on the packaging,
and, while a few web sites listed some variant of "1202512L", which
is almost certainly wrong as the number belongs to the model numbering scheme
from the similarly named Globe
Fan
, not Global Win.

The lack of official, reliable information about this fan proved a problem
when trying to ascertain the fan’s specifications. None were listed on the package,
so we resorted to what secondhand information we could find on the internet.
The information listed above comes from SVC,
a major reseller whose information could be corroborated with other resellers
on the web. However, as noted above, the model number is almost certainly incorrect,
which casts the rest of the information in a similarly suspicious light.

Acoustically, the Global Win left nothing to complain about. At its best, the
noise character was as smooth and quiet as the best, and the fan became inaudible
below 6V. However, our sample had an intermittent rattle that seemed to get
worse when the fan was tilted slightly down, and the smooth motor hum seemed
to throb a bit occasionally. Once again, we suspected a damaged sample, and
were frustrated by the fact that we had only a single sample for comparison’s
sake.

The Global Win bore other similarities to the Yate Loon as well. It too lost
a lot of speed when the back pressure increased. The lineage of the Nanometer
Ceramic Bearing was also evident on occasion; like most other sleeve bearings,
the speed dropped slightly when blowing down.

Overall, the Global Win seemed very similar to the Nexus, with a similar noise
character, similar airflow, and similar questions about sample variance and
bearing damage. While the Nanometer Ceramic Bearings sound as though they should
give the Global Win an edge, it is a proprietary technology, so the claim of
longevity is at the mercy of Global Win’s corporate honesty. Given the severe
lack of official information about this fan, it’s difficult to give it our full
confidence.

Noise Recording

JUMP TO:

SILENX IXTREMA PRO IXP-74-11

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA.

BrandSilenXPower Rating0.16A / 1.92W
Manufacturer?Airflow Rating 43 CFM
Model NumberIXP-74-11RPM Rating1,100 RPM
Retail AvailabilityYesNoise Rating11 dBA
Bearing TypeHybrid ImmersionHeader Type3-pin & Molex Adapter
Hub Size1.29"Starting Voltage2.5V
Frame Size120 x 120 x 25 mmNumber of Samples2

Our thanks to Anitec
Computer Technology
for supplying these samples.
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
26 dBA@1m
1140 RPM
35 CFM
2.80W
9V
22 dBA@1m
960 RPM
29 CFM
2.13W
7V
20 dBA@1m
820 RPM
25 CFM
1.72W
5V
~19 dBA@1m
660 RPM
19 CFM
1.27W
@25 CFM (7.0V)
20 dBA@1m
820 RPM
25 CFM
1.72W
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
1140 RPM
35 CFM
2.80W
9V
22 dBA@1m
960 RPM
27 CFM
2.13W
7V
20 dBA@1m
820 RPM
23 CFM
1.72W
5V
~19 dBA@1m
660 RPM
19 CFM
1.27W
@20 CFM (5.6V)
20 dBA@1m
700 RPM
20 CFM
1.41W

May 5, 2008
The SilenX Ixtrema Pro was one of the few fans whose results went
up when we retested all of our fans. In light of the new results, it
now boasts one of the best airflow-per-rotation ratios that we’ve seen. It’s
unfortunate tendancy to resonate still hinders it, but it may be worth a second
look. Please evaluate the new results carefully.

A SilenX at last. A "proper" SilenX, not an
obscure 80mm model
. Those of you who aren’t regular readers are probably
wondering what the big deal is. To summarize a very long story:

  1. A SilenX spokesman was caught shilling his product by carrying on a conversation
    with himself on SPCR’s forums, reregistering himself several times after his
    fraudulent activities were exposed by SPCR staff.
  2. SilenX’ specifications are notoriously exaggerated, especially where noise
    is concerned.
  3. Thanks to widespread distribution and aggressive marketing (see point 2.),
    SilenX fans have a reputation for being quiet — but not on SPCR
  4. For a very long time, in part because of point 1., SPCR had never "officially"
    reviewed a SilenX product.

All of this has been water under the bridge for some time, but a reputation
once earned is hard to get rid of. And, every month or so, someone new asks
why SPCR hasn’t reviewed / approved any SilenX fans, and the whole thing gets
dragged out of the mud again.

All of this is really just a very long way of saying one thing: SilenX carries
baggage at SPCR. And so, by popular demand, here is an "official"
SPCR look at one of SilenX’ current 120mm fans.

Perhaps because SPCR has been so hard on them in the past, SilenX has gone
out of their way to prove the legitimacy of their noise specifications. They
are one of the very few manufacturers that specifies a measurement distance
along with their noise specification: "Measurements are taken in an
anechoic chamber from a distance of 1m along each of the 3 axes and a mean is
calculated from the readings"
. We’ve been talking ourselves blue in
the face about the importance of measurement distance, and SilenX is one of
the few manufacturers that seems to have listened.

Unfortunately, while SilenX appears to be doing everything right, we still
can’t reconcile our 26 dBA@1m reading with SilenX’ 11 dBA@1m. That’s
not a small difference. It’s hard to write that off as measurement variance,
even allowing for the fact that SPCR doesn’t have access to an ultra-quiet anechoic
chamber. Given how far above ambient our own measurement is, SilenX’ 11 dBA
noise spec just doesn’t wash.

Quibbles with specifications aside, the SilenX doesn’t sound too bad. It’s
probably smooth enough for most casual users, though enthusiasts will be less
pleased. The fancy "metallic" plastic used for the frame may look
flashy, but it’s terrible for sound. Lightweight and brittle, the material picks
up fan vibration easily and audibly, giving the fan a highly resonant character.
At slower speeds, the resonance manifests itself as a deep buzz or growl, while
at higher speeds it’s more like a pure tone. The resonance prevents what is
an otherwise low-noise fan from ever becoming truly inaudible, even at 5V.


Silicone grommets to help control vibration resonance.

It’s unfortunate that SilenX chose such a poor quality material, since they’ve
done several other things right. Most significantly, the retail package comes
with four silicone grommets that are intended to deal with the issue just raised:
Resonance. Such grommets can help prevent the transfer of vibration to the case,
but they do nothing for the resonance in the fan itself.

It’s also worth pointing out that SilenX has made an effort to force as much
airflow as possible out of the Ixtrema Pro. The center hub is unusually small,
apparently "for reduced air turbulence" and to allow slightly more
air to pass through the frame. As a result, the fan blades appear unusually
long and scooped. SilenX’ marketing material claims that this gives the fan
better pressure characteristics, but how much so is difficult to say. Our airflow
measurements did not uncover anything particularly special about the Ixtrema
Pro’s airflow characteristics… but we are unable to measure the effects of
pressure.

All in all, the Ixtrema Pro is an interesting fan that may be worth experimenting
with. Although it’s noise character is not perfect, it may be good enough to
work with while learning about what kind of airflow is produced by its unusual
blade design.

Noise Recording

ARCTIC COOLING ARCTIC FAN 12L

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA.

BrandArctic
Cooling
Power Rating0.15A
ManufacturerArctic Cooling?Airflow Rating37 CFM
Model NumberArctic Fan 12LRPM Rating1,000 RPM
Retail AvailabilityYesNoise Rating20.0 dBA / 0.3 Sone
Bearing TypeFDBHeader Type3-pin
Hub Size1.85"Starting Voltage5.3V
Frame Size120 x 120 x 25 mmNumber of Samples3
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
23 dBA@1m
1040 RPM
28 CFM
0.61W
9V
20 dBA@1m
820 RPM
20 CFM
0.49W
7V
~18 dBA@1m
650 RPM
17 CFM
0.41W
5V
<18 dBA@1m
480 RPM
11 CFM
0.35W
@25 CFM (11.0V)
21 dBA@1m
970 RPM
25 CFM
0.57W
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
23 dBA@1m
1040 RPM
26 CFM
0.61W
9V
20 dBA@1m
820 RPM
21 CFM
0.49W
7V
~18 dBA@1m
650 RPM
16 CFM
0.41W
5V
<18 dBA@1m
480 RPM
10 CFM
0.35W
@20 CFM (8.8V)
20 dBA@1m
810 RPM
20 CFM
0.47W

May 5, 2008
The questionable airflow results for Arctic Cooling’s fans was one
of the major reason for developing our new methodology. We are now much more
confident in the results for this fan — and its results move it up in the
rankings as well. Unfortunately, the change only brings it up to the middle
of the pack — it’s still not one of our favorite fans. Questions about
its ability to provide good air pressure remain.

Arctic Cooling has established itself as a tough little company with a reputation
for engineering inexpensive but elegant products. They were one of the first
companies to take noise seriously as a design issue, and some of their past
products have become favorites on SPCR.

Arctic Cooling has been experimenting with "frameless" fans for a
long while — first on their heatsinks, and then later as independent models.
The idea is to reduce air turbulence (and its corresponding noise), and, in
general, Arctic Cooling has done a good job of making quiet fans in the past.

The most recent incarnation of these fans retains the open design and adds
silicone grommets that are intended to reduce the amount of vibration conducted
through the frame to the case. The motor assembly and the frame are actually
separate pieces, held together by four silicone mounting posts. The silicone
is soft and pliable, and should do an excellent job of reducing vibration.


The entire motor assembly is soft-mounted with silicone grommets.

Measuring the Arctic Fan 12L fairly was a challenge; its unconventional design
caused serious issues with our original technique for measuring airflow. In
fact, the fan’s unusual characteristics were a factor in our recent decision
to update our airflow testing
methodology
, as our previous technique produced results that were unrealistically
low. Our new system of measurement brought the Arctic Fan 12L back in line with
our expectations, though it still seemed to produce slightly less airflow overall.
However, the difference was no more than 5~10% — not enough to worry about
from a thermal perspective.

The small disadvantage in airflow proved to be a larger disadvantage when the
fan was compared to other fans at 25 CFM. That 5~10% difference was enough to
make the Arctic Fan 12L clearly audible at 25 CFM where other fans managed to
disappear, since the Arctic Fan had to spin faster to produce the same amount
of airflow. Were it not for this disadvantage, the Arctic Fan would be worthy
of recommendation, but unfortunately, it doesn’t quite keep up.

The noise character was a low growling hum that got smoother as the fan speeded
up. The fan was inaudible from a distance of one meter below about 6V, but moving
closer the sound became clearly audible and was quite rough-sounding. Above
this level, the noise became smoother and more pleasant to listen to, but it
also increased in volume. It was difficult to find a balance between low volume
and good noise character.

The silicone grommets surprised us in that they didn’t seem to do much to stop
vibration. In fact, the Arctic Fan had more vibration that most of the other
fans. Ironically, this is likely a result of the frameless design. Generally,
fans with heavy, solid frames exhibit less vibration because they have more
inertia to resist motion. With such a lightweight frame, the Arctic Fan literally
hummed with motion, the grommets moving along with everything else. It’s possible
the fan would perform better when hard-mounted to a solid case, but our free-air
tests weren’t encouraging.

Noise Recording

JUMP TO:

FANDER FX-120

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA.

BrandFanderPower Rating0.18A
ManufacturerXinruilianAirflow Rating31~67 CFM
Model NumberFX-120WRPM Rating700~1,400 RPM
Retail AvailabilityLimited (Europe)Noise Rating14.9~23.7 dBA
Bearing TypeSleeveHeader Type3-pin & Molex Adapter
Hub Size1.87"Starting Voltage5.0V
Frame Size120 x 120 x 25 mmNumber of Samples2
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
26 dBA@1m
1400 RPM
46 CFM
1.21W
9V
22 dBA@1m
1040 RPM
32 CFM
0.90W
7V
20 dBA@1m
770 RPM
22 CFM
0.71W
5V
<18 dBA@1m
480 RPM
14 CFM
0.52W
@25 CFM (7.7V)
21 dBA@1m
840 RPM
25 CFM
0.86W
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
1400 RPM
39 CFM
1.21W
9V
22 dBA@1m
1040 RPM
27 CFM
0.90W
7V
20 dBA@1m
770 RPM
20 CFM
0.71W
5V
<18 dBA@1m
480 RPM
11 CFM
0.52W
@20 CFM (7.0V)
20 dBA@1m
760 RPM
20 CFM
0.71W

The last Fander model
we saw
made quite an impression. Though we’d never heard of Fander before,
this small Polish company produced a fan worthy of recommendation over any of
the other 92mm models we saw. It did this by being both quiet and flexible,
with an excellent noise signature and a built-in, variable speed fan controller.
On top of that, it was rated for long-term use with an MTBF of 80,000 hours.

Naturally, we expect great things of the 120mm version, which is more or less
the same as its smaller cousin. And, sure enough, when we powered it up for
a casual test, it sounded just as good. It came with the same fan controller,
giving it an operational range of 590~1400 RPM without requiring any modding
at all. And, just like the 92mm version, it is rated for a high MTBF of 80,000
hours.


External fan controller not required.

Fast forward a few weeks, and we were finally ready to run it through some
more rigorous testing. However, when we powered up the fan this time, it had
developed a distinct chuffing that ruined its formerly smooth noise signature.
The rhythm and volume of the chuffing varied considerably depending on the orientation
of the fan, but the problem was too prevalent to get rid of just by adjusting
the fan’s position. Both of our test samples were affected, yet we could find
no reason why the fans should suddenly develop this problem. We can only conclude
that our rough handling somehow damaged the bearings.

Without the chuffing the noise was smooth and quiet enough to become inaudible
below ~6V (roughly the same as setting the controller to minimum). Like the
92mm version, the noise character was very similar to the equivalent Nexus fan,
which is to say, among the best we’ve heard.

The FX-120W certainly has the potential to be one of the top 120mm fans. With
an undamaged sample, the wide speed range and control offered by the fan controller
give it more flexibility than almost any other fan we can think of. On the other
hand, if our two damaged samples are anything to judge by, the FX-120W may not
be durable or consistent enough to beat out the other contestants in the field.

Noise Recording

ENERMAX MARATHON UC12EB

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA.

BrandEnermaxPower Rating0.20A
ManufacturerEnermax?Airflow Rating44 CFM
Model NumberUC12EBRPM Rating1,000±10% RPM
Retail AvailabilityYesNoise Rating17 dBA
Bearing TypeEnlobalHeader Type3-pin & Molex Adapter
Hub Size1.77"Starting Voltage6.6V*
Frame Size120 x 120 x 25 mmNumber of Samples1
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
28 dBA@1m
950 RPM
25 CFM
0.53W
9V
20 dBA@1m
710 RPM
18 CFM
0.45W
7V
20 dBA@1m
540 RPM
14 CFM
0.39W
5V
~19 dBA@1m
340 RPM
9 CFM
0.35W
@25 CFM (12.0V)
28 dBA@1m
950 RPM
25 CFM
0.53W
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
950 RPM
22 CFM
0.53W
9V
20 dBA@1m
710 RPM
16 CFM
0.45W
7V
20 dBA@1m
540 RPM
11 CFM
0.39W
5V
~19 dBA@1m
340 RPM
6 CFM
0.35W
@20 CFM (11.3V)
28 dBA@1m
860 RPM
20 CFM
0.50W

One of the methods fan makers like to use to set their fans apart is to invent
a new bearing type that is better than the traditional ball or sleeve bearings
in some way. Most of the time, what’s new is not the whole bearing but an improvement
to some aspect of one of these two traditional designs (see Global
Win’s Nanometer Ceramic Bearings
above). Enermax’ Enlobal bearing is different.
While it does share some traits with other bearing types, it stands apart from
ball or sleeve bearings in a very fundamental way.

A bearing is designed to reduce friction between moving parts. Ball bearings
do this by letting the parts roll on balls between the two parts, like wheels
on a car letting the car roll forward without dragging on the ground. Sleeve
bearings achieve the same thing by using a liquid between the two parts instead
of solid balls — usually some kind of oil. This is like putting soap and
water on a plastic sheet in the summer so you and your kids can slide down a
hill.

Neither of these two examples apply to the Enlobal bearing, which uses a magnetic
field in place of balls or oil. The Enlobal bearing is like a
maglev train
, in which the train is suspended on a magnetic cushion above
the track, with only air between the two. Thus, friction between the moving
parts is greatly reduced, since most of the time they are only in contact with
the air, not each other. (That said, it is worth pointing out that at least
one SPCR user has found that oiling
the Enlobal bearing improved both vibration and noise dramatically
).

The advantages of reduced friction are not hard to recognize: Less wear, reduced
power requirements, less heat produced — and less noise. And, indeed,
these are exactly the benefits that Enermax uses to sell the fans that use Enlobal
bearings, including the Marathon that we looked at. The question is, how much
do these theoretical benefits actually come out in practice? Have Enermax’ engineers
done a good job implementing the technology? Is it cost effective?

All of these are open questions, and not all are easy to address in a short
review. For example, we cannot evaluate longevity or reliability, and Enermax’
documentation conspicuously omits any hard numbers in this respect. Even a ballpark
MTBF number would be welcome here. What we can examine are things like
power, airflow and noise, and our hands-on review showed the Marathon to be
unusual in a number of ways.

One things that surprised us initially was how little power it required —
and how little the power consumption changed when we adjusted the input voltage.
In fact, it required less power per rotation than any other 120mm fan we’ve
tested — and not by a small amount! This stands to reason; with less friction
to deal with, the fan’s electric motor would not need to work as hard.

The quality of noise behaved similarly: It was low and changed very little
with speed. This is markedly different from how fans usually behave; as a general
rule speed and noise are strongly correlated, but the Marathon varied more based
on listening angle than rotation speed. Unfortunately for the Marathon, it happened
to be loudest at the angle that we typically measure from — 45° off
the exhaust side — so our noise measurements and recordings are worst case,
not typical. At this angle, the noise was a constant droning hum. Instead of
becoming louder when the fan speed increased, the noise became rougher and more
intrusive. In addition to the drone, a pure tone — most likely the sound
of the blade assembly resonating — could be heard. At full speed, this
resonance dominated the noise signature, but turning the fan down by even one
volt dropped the tone drastically.

The best position to listen to the fan was directly beside it. From here, the
Marathon was more or less inaudible below 9V (!), and even at 12V the pure tone
did not distract too much. If we could guarantee that the fan was only heard
from this position, we would offer it our wholehearted endorsement. But, thanks
to the hugely directional noise pattern, the best we can say is that it might
be worth experimenting with.

The fan exhibited a couple of other oddities as well. For reasons that never
became apparent, the Marathon did not move as much air per rotation as many
of the other fans we tested. Like the Arctic Fan 12L, the Marathon seemed to
lag about 5~10% behind the airflow produced by other fans. But, while the Arctic
Fan could probably attribute this to its frameless design, the Marathon doesn’t
have this excuse. While this isn’t a large difference, it does bear thinking
about and perhaps also some further testing at a later date.

Another oddity was the way the Marathon started up. Given a sudden burst of
voltage (our usual method for testing starting voltage), the fan started reliably
at 6.6V. However, if the voltage was increased gradually, the fan wouldn’t start
until a full 12V was reached. This could pose a problem if the Marathon ever
stalls when undervolted. When the fan was stopped forcibly, it had trouble restarting
unless the input voltage was close to 12V.

All in all, the Marathon (and presumably Enermax’ other Enlobal fans) is a
very interesting fan, but until some of its quirks are worked out, it won’t
stand out in the crowd as much as Enermax might like. For us, the biggest issue
was the highly directional, resonant pure tone that made judging the noise character
so difficult. Perhaps Enermax would do better to choose a less resonant (read:
non-transparent) material for the blade assembly? However, it’s worth pointing
out that other users have had issued with vibration and quality control. It
may be that fixing these issues is as simple as lubricating the bearing a bit,
but we can’t recommend a product that requires maintenance out of the box. Like
the SilenX Ixtrema Pro, it is worth experimenting with, but hard to recommend
unconditionally.

Noise Recording

JUMP TO:



NOISEBLOCKER BLACK SILENT FAN XL-1 REV. 2.0

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA.

BrandNoiseblockerPower Rating0.11A / 1.8W
ManufacturerNoiseblockerAirflow Rating33.5 CFM
Model NumberNB-BlackSilentFan XL-1 Rev. 2.0RPM Rating1,000 ± 10% RPM
Retail AvailabilityYesNoise Rating16 dBA
Bearing Type"Longlife" SleeveHeader Type3-pin
Hub Size1.56"Starting Voltage5.0V
Frame Size120 x 120 x 25 mmNumber of Samples3
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
22 dBA@1m
1100 RPM
34 CFM
0.92W
9V
20 dBA@1m
870 RPM
25 CFM
0.67W
7V
~19 dBA@1m
690 RPM
19 CFM
0.51W
5V
<18 dBA@1m
490 RPM
14 CFM
0.36W
@25 CFM (9.0V)
20 dBA@1m
870 RPM
25 CFM
0.67W
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
22 dBA@1m
1100 RPM
27 CFM
0.92W
9V
20 dBA@1m
870 RPM
22 CFM
0.67W
7V
~19 dBA@1m
690 RPM
18 CFM
0.51W
5V
<18 dBA@1m
490 RPM
12 CFM
0.36W
@20 CFM (8.2V)
20 dBA@1m
780 RPM
20 CFM
0.59W

Along with Fander, we discovered that Noiseblocker makes quiet fans in our
last 92mm roundup
And, unlike Fander, the 120mm Noiseblocker that we looked
at — a Black Silent Fan XL-1 Rev. 2.0 — we had no issues with sample
variance to ruin our impression of the manufacturer.

In some ways, this is a pity, as it leaves us with very little to say about
the Noiseblocker, despite it’s excellent quality. Of all the fans in this roundup,
the XL-1 was the most consistently quiet, and it had the best noise signature.
Be that as it may, there’s little to be said about the XL-1 that we
didn’t already say about the 92mm XE-1
. The XL-1 is basically the same fan
in a 120mm form factor.

To summarize: It sounds very similar to a Nexus, with the same low, smooth
noise character that disappears around ~7V. As with the XE-1, the noise character
is a little more tonal, and can be heard at a slightly lower speed, but the
difference is too small to be truly relevant. The "longlife" sleeve
bearings do seem to be specified for longer than usual for sleeve bearings,
but they suffer from the same orientation sensitive issues as any other sleeve
bearing: Increased wear and decreased speed when mounted horizontally.

The only real difference is that the competition in the 120mm form factor is
fiercer; Scythe’s S-Flex and Noctua’s NF-S12 series both provide tough competition,
and, as always, Nexus’ 120mm fan is a classic. The color of the Noiseblocker’s
blades may be the only thing that makes it stand out, but an unusual color makes
for a pretty weak recommendation. Our conclusion: The XL-1 is definitely quiet
enough to contend with the best, but there’s no need to go looking for it if
one of our other recommendations is available.

Noise Recording

ACOUSTIFAN AF120C / GLOBE FAN S1202512L-3M

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA.

ACOUSTIFAN AF120C
BrandAcousti
Products
Power Rating0.18A / 2.16W
ManufacturerGlobe
Fan
Airflow Rating50 CFM
Model NumberAF120CRPM Rating2,000 RPM
Retail AvailabilityYesNoise Rating34.0 dBA
Bearing TypeSleeveHeader Type3-pin
Hub Size1.76"Starting Voltage4.3V
Frame Size120 x 120 x 25 mmNumber of Samples2
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
34 dBA@1m
1810 RPM
57 CFM
1.72W
9V
30 dBA@1m
1410 RPM
40 CFM
1.23W
7V
23 dBA@1m
1100 RPM
30 CFM
0.93W
5V
20 dBA@1m
670 RPM
18 CFM
0.64W
@25 CFM (6.5V)
22 dBA@1m
1020 RPM
25 CFM
0.87W
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
34 dBA@1m
1810 RPM
48 CFM
1.72W
9V
30 dBA@1m
1410 RPM
35 CFM
1.23W
7V
23 dBA@1m
1100 RPM
24 CFM
0.93W
5V
20 dBA@1m
670 RPM
17 CFM
0.64W
@20 CFM (5.8V)
22 dBA@1m
850 RPM
20 CFM
0.67W

AcoustiProducts is another brand that we saw in our
92mm roundup
, but, unlike the Fander and the Noiseblocker, it wasn’t quite
up to snuff in the noise department. We include the 120mm version here because
we happen to have two fans from Globe
Fan
that have the same model number. It’s quite clear that Globe Fan manufactures
the AF120C for AcoustiProducts. Not only is the model number identical, but
the fans also feature an identical thermistor that varies the fan speed based
on temperature. Even the style and color of the label is the same, though of
course the logo and brand name are different.

The only real differences between the two fans are the type of plastic used
for the housing (the AcoustiFan is clear), and the fact that AcoustiFan bundles
the fan with silicone grommets and a resistor that drops a 12V input down to
~7.5V. Oh, and presumably Acoustifan marks up the price, though it proved difficult
to find either of the fans for sale online.

The thermal control is more of a gimmick than a useful feature. The thermal
curve that determines the speed of the fan cannot be set externally, which means
that, although the fan does change speed according to temperature, it is nearly
impossible to set the fan at the right speed for a given temperature.
On top of that, a constant speed fan is nearly always preferable to one that
changes speed, since a changing noise is much more readily noticed than a steady
one.

Despite being thermally controlled, the fan spins quite quickly at room temperature
in the SPCR lab (20°C). This is cooler than many places in the world, and
it’s definitely cooler than the 35°C+ that is typical inside a computer
case. The minimum speed we saw was 1,400 RPM, leaving just 600 RPM of adjustment
range below the fan’s rated speed of 2,000 RPM. Given that we rarely recommend
running a 120mm fan above 1,000 RPM, we consider the AcoustiFan unsuitably fast
unless the included resistor is used. Even then, the speed hovers around ~1,000
RPM at 20°C, which suggests that it would still be running too fast in an
actual system.

For testing purposes, we short-circuited the thermistor and then proceeded
to test the fan in our usual way. As always, we were interested mostly in how
the fan sounded at slow speeds, which in this case meant less than 7V.

The acoustic difference between the opaque Globe fan and the transparent AcoustiFan
was quite remarkable. We’ve often said that transparent plastic is unsuitable
for use in quiet computers, and listening to the two fans side-by-side demonstrated
why. Both fans demonstrated the same underlying growl that increased in pitch
and volume as the speed increased, but the transparent AcoustiFan also had a
ringing overtone: The sound of the brittle transparent plastic resonating. At
higher speeds, the noise was especially intrusive, since it developed a throbbing
or thrumming that drew attention to itself. This effect can be heard clearly
in the recordings linked to below.

Unfortunately, our impression of the 120mm AcoustiFan was much the same as
the 92mm version that we saw. The fan spins too fast, and the noise character
is too rough to give this fan serious consideration. And, while the resistor
and the thermal control are nice gestures towards silencing, they’re not all
that useful in the grand scheme of things. The resistor lacks the flexibility
of a variable fan controller (such as the one Fander builds into their fans),
while thermal control is too often a hindrance rather than a help when it comes
to silencing.

GLOBE FAN S1202512L-3M
BrandGlobe
Fan
Power Rating0.18A / 2.16W
ManufacturerGlobe
Fan
Airflow Rating67.28 CFM
Model NumberS1202512L-3MRPM Rating2,000 RPM
Retail AvailabilityLimitedNoise Rating34.0 dBA
Bearing TypeSleeveHeader Type3-pin
Hub Size1.76"Starting Voltage4.3V
Frame Size120 x 120 x 25 mmNumber of Samples2
Voltage
Noise
RPM
CFM
Power
12V
36 dBA@1m
1810 RPM
57 CFM
1.72W
9V
29 dBA@1m
1410 RPM
40 CFM
1.23W
7V
23 dBA@1m
1100 RPM
30 CFM
0.93W
5V
20 dBA@1m
670 RPM
18 CFM
0.64W
@25 CFM (6.5V)
22 dBA@1m
1020 RPM
25 CFM
0.87W
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
34 dBA@1m
1810 RPM
51 CFM
1.72W
9V
30 dBA@1m
1410 RPM
38 CFM
1.23W
7V
23 dBA@1m
1100 RPM
27 CFM
0.93W
5V
20 dBA@1m
670 RPM
19 CFM
0.64W
@20 CFM (5.2V)
22 dBA@1m
800 RPM
20 CFM
0.67W

Noise Recordings

JUMP TO:


CONCLUSIONS

Despite our high expectations, our roundup of carefully selected
fans did not produce as many winners as we had hoped. The only fan we can unconditionally
recommend is the Noiseblocker XL-1, and even that has tough competition in the
Scythe S-Flex and the Noctua that we saw in our
last 120mm roundup

Three of the fans we tested showed promise, only to stumble when
it came to bearing noise. The Yate Loon, the Global Win and the Fander all have
the potential to challenge our current favorites, but all three showed signs
of bearing damage. A lack of multiple samples frustrated our attempts to discover
what the fans sound like at their best and whether such damage is common or
not. In the case of the Yate Loon and the Global Win, the testimonial of certain
respected SPCR forum members gives us enough confidence to recommend them —
but only with the warning that the fans may be easily damaged. In the case of
the Fander, we know from firsthand experience that they can be very quiet, but
the sudden development of bearing noise makes us wonder how reliable they are.

A couple of other fans are worth experimenting with: Both the
SilenX Ixtrema Pro and the Enermax Marathon showed promise, and could probably
be put to good use in the hands of an experienced user. However, both fans suffered
from the same problem: A resonant noise character that can probably be attributed
to the light, brittle plastic used in their construction. At very low speeds,
such resonance may not be noticeable, and both had other characteristics to
make up for their flaws. However, where SPCR is concerned, noise is the primary
concern, and both the SilenX and the Enermax fall short in this respect.

The Arctic Fan 12L also proved interesting. It’s ambitious frameless
design showed much promise, but though it looked good on paper, the real thing
didn’t seem to be significantly better than any existing designs. While the
silicone grommets seem like an excellent idea, the lower mass of the frame ended
up rendering the grommets irrelevant in practice, as the lighter mass of the
frame rendered the fan more prone to vibration.

The only real loser was the AcoustiFan. Here again, the resonance
of lightweight, transparent plastic showed up, but, unlike the SilenX or the
Enermax, the AcoustiFan had few redeeming or unusual qualities of interest.
Even worse, comparing the transparent AcoustiFan directly against the equivalent
opaque model from Globe fan has us seriously questioning the design choice that
AcoustiProducts made. Clearly, the fan is available in a better-sounding form;
why did AcoustiProducts choose not to sell it?

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

*

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
A New Way of Testing Fan Airflow

SPCR’s Fan Roundup #3: 92mm Fans
SPCR’s Fan Roundup #2: 120mm Fans
SPCR’s Fan Roundup #1: 80mm Fans
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

* * *

Discuss
this article in the SPCR Forums
.

* * *

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