120mm Fan Roundup

Cooling/VGA & Other Cooling by jmke @ 2006-01-10

We test 6 different fans from Titan, Acousti, Arctic Cooling, Coolink, Antec and Papst. Using a Scythe Ninja in a closed case we?re set to find out which fan will act as the best heat exhaust.

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Test Setup & Results

Test setup and Methodology

Here’s our test setup

JMke's Test Setup
CPU A64 3200+ @ 2200Mhz – 1.5v vcore
Mainboard DFI NF3 Lanparty
Memory 1 * 256Mb PC3700 OCZ
  • Antec Sonata II
  • ATI R9000 Passive Cooling
  • Silverstone EFN-300 300W Passive Cooled PSU
  • Maxtor 120GB IDE HDD

  • in-take temperature was measured at 22°C for all tests, but temp fluctuations and user error can account up to 1-2°C of inaccuracy in the obtained results. Please keep this in mind when looking at the results. Each fan was tested repeatedly; if we got questionable results the test was restarted.
  • Noise was recorded with SmartSensor SL4001A, the sensor was placed ~30cm away from the case. The lowest dBA reading in the test room was 32.5dBA with everything turned off!
  • System was stressed by running K7 CPU Burn for 30min (after Thermal Compound’s burn-in); this application pushes the temperature higher then any other application or game we’ve yet encountered. Speedfan was used to log maximum obtained temperatures.
  • Arctic Silver kindly send us their “Lumière” thermal testing compound which has the same colour as Ceramique, but only a break in time of 30min!

    What was measured?

  • The CPU temperature was measured with SpeedFan and highest value recorded
  • Temperature of air coming into to the case at the front
  • PWM temperature through SpeedFan, this represent the area around the CPU socket, the power management caps which you see on a motherboard, they are there to make sure the power which is fed into the motherboard coming from the PSU is filtered and delivered to the CPU and other components. Too high temperature will cause Vcore fluctuations which in turn causes system instability.

    We will test all fan configured as case fans in the rear of an Antec Sonata II (no in-take 120mm fan). The CPU heatsink used is considered as one of the best for this type of cooling configuration. The Scythe Ninja is a huge heat pipe powered tower which aligns perfectly with the rear 120mm fan.

    Madshrimps (c) Madshrimps (c) Madshrimps (c)

    Performance results

    We used the AcoustiFan’s speed control to feed each fan 12/7.5/5v. The Titan fan could not be run with the speed control at 7.5v so no results for that fan, at that speed. Antec’s own Tri-speed was used to set H/M/L as there was no 3-pin connector on the fan.

    If you have read our last HSF Roundup you’ll know that we are using the same test setup here. We moved the dBA meter closer (30cm vs 50cm) to be able to record the fan noises more accurately, because noise levels for the most fans @ 5v was so low you could NOT hear them at all at 50cm away.

    Just as a small reminder: Noise level system off: 32.5dBA, with system on and no fan’s spinning: 33.5dBA (courtesy of the Maxtor HDD).

    How to read the charts below: We have had some inquiries about how we displayed our temperature and noise results using the charts in Excel, we put dBA and °C on the same bar to improve the easiness of reference between noise and performance. Never would we consider adding °C to dBA to obtain a valid number which we use to deduct overall performance from. However our aim is to give some kind of relation between the two and we color code them differently so you can easily make out what FAN is making what noise, and at the same time, know how much air it is pushing.

    The Charts are sorted by CPU temp (High to Low), and while this does represent the pure performance side of things, you should not neglect the dBA bars in the charts if you are searching for a silent fan.

    We start of with all fans at 12V

    Madshrimps (c)

    We immediately see that the official specifications from the different manufactures were actually quite accurate; the Coolink and Papst perform similar, and the Acoustifan and Arctic Fan 12 also. The Titan dominates in CPU temperature, but at 64dBA it’s twice as loud as the Antec, which in turn is also at least twice as loud as the remaining 4.

    Madshrimps (c)

    At 7.5V the ranking remains the same temperature wise, the Papst is showing a clear CPU temp advantage over the Coolink although it’s more silent. The AcoustiFan is quite louder than the other silent fans at 7.5V. The Antec has only a 2°C temp improvement with a 5dBA increase in noise over the next in line.

    Madshrimps (c)

    Our last chart with the fans at 5V separates the contestants quite a bit when looking at the temperature result. The Coolink and Papst perform on par again; the AcoustiFan and AF12 offer good performance at very low noise levels. The Antec is bearable at 5v with only 37dBA, while the Titan remains loud at 52dBA.

    Conclusive thoughts

    If you want the best performing fan and don’t care about noise, the answer is simple: Titan. If however you like to hear yourself think it requires a bit more data analysis to know what fan is best.

    At 12V the Papst and Coolink offer the best performance/noise ratio, while they can still be heard, they already have one leg in the “silent territory”. The AcoustiFan and Arctic Fan 12 are very well matched also, but both can be clearly heard at ~45dBA. The Antec is unbearably loud at this speed.

    At 7v the playing field opens up with more contestants running at almost identical noise levels; The Coolink trails the pack while the AcoustiFan is louder than the rest at 7.5V (except for the Antec).

    At 5v we again see a change as the AcoustiFan is now a bit more silent than the Arctic Fan 12 and they both out perform the Coolink/Papst fans.

    So there you have it! All fans tested on noise generation and performance, features compared and details listed. That’s it then for us?

    No quite, you see while splitting up the results per voltage setting may be easy to check performance; it also hides a few facts which come to light when you put all results in one graph:

    Madshrimps (c)

    This is what the chart reveals, from top to bottom:
  • Antec 3speed @ 5v equals performance and noise of Coolink @ 7.5
  • Arctic Fan 12 @ 7.5v is better than Coolink @ 12v
  • AcoustiFan @ 7.5v is better than Papst @ 12v
  • AcoustiFan and Arctic Fan 12 @ 12v offer a lot better balance of noise/performance than Titan and Antec @ 12v

    We hope you found this roundup useful and remember to send us your suggestions on other interesting 120mm fans which you feel belong in this roundup!

    Part 2 of our 120mm roundup is online here comparing 17! fans

    Questions/Comments: forum thread
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