393 80/92/120/140mm case fans reviewed

Air displacement vs noise



393. That's the magic number of case fans we've tested at the Hardware.Info testing lab for this review. One result is that we can now say that we can answer the question which casefan you should buy. Another result is that we have seen and had enough of them for a while...


During Computex in June 2011 we were very impressed by the booth of Austrian company Noctua. The Noctua reps were so enthusiastic about one special kind of case fan that half an hour flew by. This goes to show that you can tell a pretty interesting story about virtually everything, even case fans. To most people, however, case fans are two-dimensional things - they move air and they make noise, and if you’re lucky, they’ll do more of the former than the latter.


The two demands we place on a case fan - to displace as much air as possible while producing the least amount of noise - are inherently mutually exclusive. In order to move more air, a fan needs to rotate faster, which produces more sound. The easiest way to make a fan more silent is to make it turn slower, but this will of course influence the amount of air it displaces.

This is where smart designers come into the picture. Case fan manufacturers try to increase the volume of displaced air by changing the design and number of the blades. We have seen a wide variety of designs: fan blades with notches like a golf ball, blades with a slant, and serrated blades. Nothing is too crazy to try. For each new attempt the manufacturer has a (vaguely) scientific foundation of why that particular design is better. In the end, it’s the performance that counts.

The same applies to the bearings used in the fans, something we've examined previously. In addition to the tried-and-proven ball bearings and sleeve bearings there are now exotic derivations such as rifle bearings, twister bearings, and so on. The goal is always the same - less noise. Again, it’s not the design but the end result that is important.


390 products discussed in this review

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