PWM fans

PWM Fan Roundup: Twenty-Four 120 mm Case Fans Tested

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PWM fans are used for lots of things now. A PWM fan can be used as a case fan, as a heatsink fan, or as a rad fan. AIO coolers simply expand the playing field for PWM fans. So I have collected twenty-four fans here for review in our 2016 case fan roundup.

The fans will be introduced, first, individually with descriptions and pictures. Next we see their specifications as a group. Then we shall look at their actual performance by comparing them with each other. So let’s get started.

00PWM Fans

Arctic Cooling

The Arctic F12 PWM is specified as making 0.5 Sone which, in theory, is somewhat over 30 dB. In fact, the fan is quieter than that, much quieter than that. This fan was obtained at retail, and represents an older fan with fluid dynamic bearings. Arctic’s PWM fans currently on offer are ball bearing fans, but they have the same specs as the old fan. One feature unique to Arctic PWM fans is PWM Sharing Technology – now called PST. This allows you to piggy-back on the PWM signal. At the same time, it has a separate RPM line, a 3-pin plug, for telling your motherboard how fast the fan is going.

Arctic F12 PWM

Arctic F12 PWM

Cooler Master

The Blade Master family of fans by Cooler Master have been around for some years. They have a wavy blade, and they’re pretty quiet. The two specimens in our testing were obtained at retail. Too bad they’re sleeve bearing fans. I won’t trust sleeve bearing fans on a heatsink.

On the other hand, Cooler Master has brought out the Jet Flo fans, in 120 mm and 140 mm. They have a POM bearing, where a combination of oil and plastic lubricate this fan. Given that the POM, which is like Teflon, forms the mainstay of this bearing, it seems safe to use this on your rads. Jet Flo fans come with red, white, blue, or no LEDs. The six examples here were provided by Cooler Master.

CM Blade Master

CM Blade Master

CM Jet Flo

Cooler Master Jet Flo

Coolink

Kolink International Corporation is a Taiwanese cooling specialist, one of their brands is called Coolink. Kolink says this about Coolink: “Kolink’s retail brand Coolink stands for an effective conjunction of no-frills performance, excellent quality and attractive pricing.” As of this writing it is unclear that Coolink still exists, but the fans are still for sale at various places.

The SWiF2 120: Coolink produced a fan with a unique impeller. It has a bullet hub and eleven blades. It came with vibration isolators as well, in electric green. The specimen here was bought at retail.

Coolink 120P

Coolink 120P

Corsair

The ML and ML Pro fans have been introduced recently by Corsair. ML stands for “magnetic levitation.” These I would trust on a heatsink or a rad. ML fans come in both 120 mm and 140 mm. ML Pro fans come in black (no LEDs) and with red, blue, and white LEDs. They have rubber inserts in their corners to reduce vibrations. Finally, the corner caps come off; they can be changed. The eight specimens in our tests were provided by Corsair.

Corsair ML120 B

Corsair ML Pro 120 B

Corsair ML120 W

Corsair ML Pro 120 W

Deepcool

All sorts of products from heatsinks to fans are made by Deepcool. Their GF120 fans have special airflow channels. We can only speculate what they might do for unrestricted airflow, but as you will see below these fans are surprisingly good at pushing air through a rad.

The Deepcool UF120 has been around since 2009. It is still for sale. This fan’s claim to fame is its rubber coating which attenuates vibrations. Further, it comes with four silicon vibration isolators. I have used most vibration isolators, and these are the best kind. Other accessories include a PWM-style 12 volt power tap (a so-called Molex adapter) and wires that shunt 12 volts and 5 volts together to get you a 7 volt Molex adapter. Both the GF120 and the UF120 were supplied by Deepcool.

Deepcool GF120

Deepcool GF120

Deepcool UF120

Deepcool UF120

Enermax

My, how time flies! Enermax released PWM fans with their three-position switches three years ago. We reviewed their fans then. I hauled two of those fans out of their case to compare them with other PWM fans. Although each of these fans has three speeds, we only test them with their switches in the H position, otherwise I’d never get done.

The first PWM fan to test is the Cluster (Advanced). Aside from its batwing blades, what is interesting about this fan is the cylindrical air passage. Also, there is a switch to turn the white LEDs on and off, a nice touch. The second Enermax PWM fan is the T.B. Vegas. You can pick a variety of light shows with this fan. Enermax supplied both fans.

Enermax Cluster Advanced

Enermax Cluster Advanced

Enermax T.B.Vegas

Enermax T.B.Vegas

Nidec

Nidec stands for Nihon Densan Kabushiki-gaisha. This huge company makes lots of electric motors, including the ones you find in fans. It was a sad day for computer enthusiasts when Scythe lost their contract with Nidec, but it paved the way for the PWM Gentle Typhoon. In the US you can purchase the PWM GT with a nominal speed of 1850 RPM. While I don’t have one of the PWM Gentle Typhoons offered for sale in the US, I do have a voltage-controlled GT with a nominal speed of 1850 RPM. Since the specs are the same, it seemed like a reasonable proxy for the commercially available GT. The model number is D1225C12B5AP-15.

The PWM fan we are examining came from Tao Bao in China. The model number is D1225C12B6ZPA44, with a nominal speed of 2150 RPM. The Gentle Typhoon is known for several things. One is the low amount of airflow compared to its high RPM. Another is that the fan is very quiet for the air it moves. It is also known for its high static pressure. We will see how this all turns out.

Nidec Gentle Typhoon

Nidec Gentle Typhoon

Noctua

Noctua is a partnership between Rascom, an Austrian company, and Kolink International, a Taiwanese corporation. Noctua products are legendary, with heatsinks for enthusiasts and industry, and fans with diameters of 40 mm up through 140 mm, also for enthusiasts and industry. In this review we are looking at a number of fans, two with Low Noise Adapters, which bring our total number of fan sets to 26.

The first picture shows you an NF-F12. This fan has relatively high static pressure compared to its nominal output. It should. It was invented to be a radiator fan. But then it entered a new life. It became an industrial fan, the NF-F12 industrialPPC. Noctua tells us:

Conceived for industrial heavy duty applications that require enhanced cooling performance and advanced ingress protection, Noctua’s industrialPPC (Protected Performance Cooling) line comprises ruggedized high-speed versions of the company’s award-winning retail models.

Noctua’s industrialPPC line also use a 3-phase motor. Most motors you see have four poles inside. These have six.

Noctua NF-F12

Noctua NF-F12

Noctua NF-F12 iPPC

Noctua NF-F12 iPPC

An older fan among the Noctua lineup is the NF-P12 PWM. It was designed to have higher static pressure than the S12 line. It provides a middle ground between the higher static pressure of the NF-F12 and the airflow-focused NF-S12A.

The NF-F12’s, the NF-F12 industrialPPC’s, and the NF-P12 were provided by Noctua.

Noctua NF-P12

Noctua NF-P12

Rosewill

Originally the house label for Newegg, Rosewill does offer their products for sale in other places these days. They produce a bewildering variety of fans. Not so bewildering are the Hyperborea fans, in 12 cm and 14 cm sizes. These have relatively low speeds, as if the makers were aiming at their being used for case fans, as well as on heatsinks and rads. The two units here were obtained retail.

Rosewill Hyperborea 12cm PWM fan

Rosewill Hyperborea 12cm

San Ace

Sanyo Denki produces a line of fans called San Ace. They are exclusively an industrial fan maker, and do not sell to consumers except through the Premier/Farnell/Newark/Mouser collection of companies. San Ace fans generally come with bare wires, so you have to put on your own terminals. The current collection of fans came from a vendor who had over-ordered for a customer. It was willing to let the odd lot go. Two of that batch are in use. The other six are tested here. The model number is 9S1212P4M011. The S stands for “Silent.” The P is for PWM, while the M stands for Medium speed class.

San Ace Silent PWM

San Ace Silent

Scythe

Among computer enthusiasts, Scythe is a famous name. We have reviewed the Ninja 4 and the Fuma heatsinks here. We have also reviewed the Slip Stream DB fans here. Slip Stream and GlideStream fans focus on airflow, but they can push air through a rad. The Slip Stream PWM was part of a Mugen 2 that was bought retail. The Slip Stream DB fans were provided directly by Scythe. Only the PWM model is tested here.

The GlideStream PWM fan was supplied indirectly by Scythe when they provided the Ninja 4 for testing. The Glidestream has a 3-way switch, but the switch was left in H when the GlideStream was tested.

Scythe Slip Stream DB PWM

Scythe Slip Stream DB PWM

Scythe GlideStream 3way PWM

Scythe GlideStream 3-Way PWM

Spire

I cannot find the Spire BlueStar LED PWM fan on their website. But the shape of its blades remind me of many other fans, so it had to get tested with the rest. This fan was obtained retail.

Spire BlueStar LED PWM

Spire BlueStar LED PWM

Titan

Titan makes many fans, among which is the Kukri, which looks too much like a Gentle Typhoon for it to be an accident. The tested fan was purchased retail.

Titan Kukri (PWM fan)

Titan Kukri

Testing Setup

First the fans were placed in a test stand, where their free air RPM was observed. Then the fans’ noise was assessed. The standard proxy for what you can hear is the Sound Pressure Level (SPL), measured in decibels and given a type A weighting (dBA). A silent room is about 30 dBA.

The ambient noise for the current testing was 30 dBA. To measure noise levels that were softer than that, the sound pressure level was measured 10 cm from each fan. The sound pressure level was adjusted to 1 meter by subtracting 20 dB. The sound pressure meter was a Tenma 72-942. This fan tester has a microphone that is not accurate under 30 dBA. That means an adjusted measurement of 10 – 15 dBA is not accurate; the fan could easily be quieter than that. But this is the limit of all but the most expensive SPL meters.

Test Stand

Test Stand

Next, the airflow was assessed using a standard measure, cubic feet per minute, or CFM. The air entered a sealed 8 x 8 x 8 box (200 mm on a side) where it was allowed to mix. It would leave the box through an exhaust port, where it was measured with the vane head of an Extech AN100 anemometer, which averaged 10 readings per fan setting. In the picture below you can just see the handle of the vane head peeking out from the back of the box.

UF120 on Rad with Anemometer

UF120 on Rad with Anemometer

Group Specifications

You may wish to compare the specifications to the results, so I placed the table near the chart. The first column identifies the fan. The second says what kind of bearing it has. The third column tells the current draw in amps. SP means Static Pressure, which is stated in mm H2O.

The next column shows the nominal fan speed in RPM. The next to the last column tells you how much noise the fan makes, the Sound Pressure Level at 1 meter, stated in decibels with an A weighting (dBA) which is reasonably close to what you might hear. And finally, the last column shows the airflow the fan produces, stated in cubic feet per minute, or CFM.

An explanation of the bearing types:

FDB = Fluid Dynamic Bearing, a patented evolution of the sleeve bearing which causes the lubricating fluid to be recirculated within the bearing.

Sleeve bearing = the fan shaft is held in place by a diaphragm. The lubricant is held in place by a plug or the label. See here for a photo essay.

POM bearing = explained in the section. See here for a photo essay.

HDB = Hydro-Dynamic Bearing, a non-patented version of the FDB.

ML = Magnetic Levitation.

Ball = ball bearings.

Twister = a form of magnetically levitated bearing. The first such bearing.

SSO2 = variant of FDB proprietary to Noctua.

SSO = 1st Noctua bearing.

HD = Hydro Dynamic bearing; a non-patented version of the FDB.

Z = Z axis bearing; not explained.

PWM Fan Specifications

Bearing

Amps

SP

RPM

dBA

CFM

Arctic F12 PWM

FDB

0.15

na

1350

*

57

CM Blade Master

sleeve

0.36

3.9

2000

32

77

Cooler Master Jet Flo 120

POM

0.42

2.7

2000

36

95

Coolink SwiF2 120P

HBD

0.33

na

1700

27.1

75

Corsair ML120 PRO

ML

0.225

4.2

2400

37

75

Deepcool GF120

FDB

0.14

na

1800

32.5

80

Deepcool UF120

ball

0.13

na

1500

30

74

Enermax Cluster – H

Twister

0.35

2.4

1800

8

87

Enermax T.B.Vegas – H

Twister

0.5

2.3

1800

25

76

Nidec Gentle Typhoon 1850

ball

0.045

2.1

1850

26

58

Nidec Gentle Typhoon PWM

ball

0.123

2.9

2150

30

69

Noctua NF-F12 PWM

SSO2

0.05

2.6

1500

18.6

44

Noctua NF-F12 PWM + LNA

SSO2

0.05

1.8

1200

18.6

44

Noctua NF-F12 iPPC-3000

SSO2

0.18

7.6

3000

43.4

110

Noctua NF-F12 iPPC-2000

SSO2

0.07

3.9

2000

29.7

72

Noctua F12 24V-3000, 12v

SSO2

0.18

2.9

1600

24

59

Noctua F12 24V-2000, 12v

SSO2

0.07

1.5

1050

15.8

38

Noctua NF-P12 PWM

SSO

0.05

1.7

1300

19.8

54

Noctua NF-P12 PWM + LNA

SSO

0.05

1.2

900

12.6

37

Rosewill Hyperborea 12cm

HD

0.33

2.6

1300

16.05

58

San Ace “Silent” M – PWM

ball

0.13

2.3

1850

24

59

Scythe Slip Stream PWM

sleeve

0.18

na

1300

26.5

74

— Slip Stream 120 DB PWM

ball

0.17

1.0

1300

26.5

74

— GlideStream 120 PWM H

sleeve

0.22

1.8

1500

29.5

85

Spire Blue BlueStar LED

sleeve

na

na

1800

19.34

67

Titan Kukri

Z

0.32

3.6

2200

35

67

Results of Testing 120 mm PWM Fans

All the outputs all turned out to be underestimates, to one degree or another. The SPL varied. In some instances the fan made fewer dBA than specified.

The first chart shows the output of the fans in order of their unobstructed output.

120mm Fans Unobstructed

The next chart shows the same results but in order of their CFM through the rad.

120mm Fans Through 30 FPI

Finally, the fans are arrayed by how much noise they made.

120mm Fans by dBA

Conclusions on 120 mm PWM Fans

There were two clear winners here, the Nidec Gentle Typhoon PWM and the Medium speed San Ace “Silent” PWM fans. It is too bad that these fans are among the hardest to get.

The Winners - Exhaust

The Deepcool GF120 was a fine runner-up. Notice how much quieter the two winners were than their neighbors. They also pushed a lot more air through the restrictive rad than fans of similar unobstructed output. What made the Deepcool fan a runner-up and not one of the winners was the fact that it was a lot noisier than they were.

The Arctic F12 PWM rates a special mention because it was so quiet and put out a lot of unobstructed air.

Based on your need for silence or cooling, you ought to be able to choose a good 120 mm PWM fan from a collection like this. Comparisons like this one hold for the relative noise or CFM a fan produces. You can’t usually compare the numbers in one review with numbers from another. Only if you find the same fan in separate reviews can you compare the fans in those two reviews.

Last: these readings are approximate. Even when they are building the same model of fan, factories inevitably introduce variations in the fans they make. So having a larger number of the same model of fan to test means that those variations average out. We were lucky to get six to eight specimens each of the Jet Flo, the ML Pro, and the San Ace “Silent” fans. Where we had only sinlges and doubles to test, remember your fan may have a somewhat higher or lower airflow than the ones tested here.

Remembering all of these caveats you should be able to make an intelligent decision on which PWM fans to get. Thanks for reading our case fan roundup. Let us know your favorite PWM fans in the comments below.

The Winners -- Intake

ehume (Ed Hume)

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Discussion
  1. Never got any of those PWM ones. :\. I also sold a GT AP-13 to a friend for 10 bucks... Bad mistake haha. 1150rpm I think is a good place to be, though my noiseblockers are at 800rpm
    Mjolnir
    So, in short. I should treasure my GT AP-15's (I have.. 3? Or maybe 2) and my GT AP-13 at 1150rpm and never let them go. Even after all this time, they still seem to outperform the pack.


    My favorite among the Scythe GT fans is the 800rpm AP-12's. My favorite GT is the 2150rpm PWM. If you can find any of those, they are a treasure.
    So, in short. I should treasure my GT AP-15's (I have.. 3? Or maybe 2) and my GT AP-13 at 1150rpm and never let them go. Even after all this time, they still seem to outperform the pack.
    ehume
    My guess is that the Swiftech Helix is the same fan as the Titan Kukri. Compare photos and official specs.


    Wow. Same bearing, look of the blade design, etc. Just the higher spec'd data on the Titan throws me off. lol
    GTXJackBauer
    Great read! :salute: Thanks for taking the time and putting up a roundup like this since I feel its been a while since one was done. Once again, this validates the king of the hill is still, the king of the hill! :clap:

    I know there's tons of fans out there but wished the Swfitech Helix 120s were included in the testing because I was possibly thinking of changing all my 9 budgeted Helix 120 fans for those PWM AP-15s. I've gotten mixed messages by a few that told me there was really not much of a difference from owning both so I've been on the fence about that.

    Thanks again!


    My guess is that the Swiftech Helix is the same fan as the Titan Kukri. Compare photos and official specs.
    Great read! :salute: Thanks for taking the time and putting up a roundup like this since I feel its been a while since one was done. Once again, this validates the king of the hill is still, the king of the hill! :clap:

    I know there's tons of fans out there but wished the Swfitech Helix 120s were included in the testing because I was possibly thinking of changing all my 9 budgeted Helix 120 fans for those PWM AP-15s. I've gotten mixed messages by a few that told me there was really not much of a difference from owning both so I've been on the fence about that.

    Thanks again!
    One is brand new, bought it to replace the xigmatek regular thickness exhaust fan in my case (thermaltake core v71 windowed).

    I think I've had 2 for at least a year with no issues, and another 2 bought in the last year. At certain rpm's my heatsink would make these tinny noises but a couple cardboard shims between the fan and the heatsink cured that, it's not too loud but it is audible because it moves alot of air, I think I have 19 fans including 3 on each vid card in use right now in my case but it's room temp idle, nothing is hot except cpu and nb. The 5 silverstone are all mounted vertical with horizontal airflow.

    The custom cardboard tube is a prototype, I haven't had a chance to pick up any new material to craft a better one but it works, keeps air going straight through, going to mod properly maybe at some point in the future.
    One is brand new, bought it to replace the xigmatek regular thickness exhaust fan in my case (thermaltake core v71 windowed).

    I think I've had 2 for at least a year with no issues, and another 2 bought in the last year. At certain rpm's my heatsink would make these tinny noises but a couple cardboard shims between the fan and the heatsink cured that, it's not too loud but it is audible because it moves alot of air, I think I have 19 fans including 3 on each vid card in use right now in my case but it's room temp idle, nothing is hot except cpu and nb. The 5 silverstone are all mounted vertical with horizontal airflow.
    oobymach
    I would recommend SilverStone FHP141's if you have room and don't mind a bit of noise, they're 38mm thick by 140mm with 120mm mounting holes and have 171cfm @ less than 40db. With 5 of them in my case at 1700ish rpm the noise is less than my air purifier on medium and everything is cooled far better than any previous fan setups including a case full of CM Jetflo's (though the jetflos were a bit quieter).


    How long have you had the FHP141's? How well have they held out? Have the RPM switches continued to work?
    I would recommend SilverStone FHP141's if you have room and don't mind a bit of noise, they're 38mm thick by 140mm with 120mm mounting holes and have 171cfm @ less than 40db. With 5 of them in my case at 1700ish rpm the noise is less than my air purifier on medium and everything is cooled far better than any previous fan setups including a case full of CM Jetflo's (though the jetflos were a bit quieter).
    FTC
    Hi, nice article. Would have liked however also to see in the test the noiseblocker offering (http://www.blacknoise.com/site/de/startseite.php) I am currently using two 80mm multiframes and one 120mm nb-eLoop and they certainly are very quiet fans, with a more than decent flow. By the way, I just ditched a 120mm jetflo because of the high pitched noise at high RPMs, and this article just confirms that they are noisy.


    Thanks. Since my wife's edict ("You will buy no more fans!") I can only review what the OEMs send me to review.

    Jetflo's are screamers, but they do move air. In my fixed-speed fan review I covered those fans with their fixed-speed quiet adapters. Quiter. And still moving air.
    Hi, nice article. Would have liked however also to see in the test the noiseblocker offering (http://www.blacknoise.com/site/de/startseite.php) I am currently using two 80mm multiframes and one 120mm nb-eLoop and they certainly are very quiet fans, with a more than decent flow. By the way, I just ditched a 120mm jetflo because of the high pitched noise at high RPMs, and this article just confirms that they are noisy.
    I don't find the Nidec Gentle Typhoon 2150rpm PWM hard to find but they are pricey. I run six on my case and thinking of picking up another two more since they do great even for a air cool case like the Thermaltake Core X9 case. Plus they are very quite as well unless you max their speed up then you can hear them. I also love the build quality and I feel I don't have to replace these fans any time soon as they should last me a very long time.
    i've been through lots of fans but of course haven't tried them all. after changing over to 100% noctua redux and ppc pwm I finally want for nothing. they spin down nice and low during idle with no weird clicks or hums whatsoever and should last forever if noctua is honest.
    Every time on of my old faithful Yate Loons starts clicking, I really think about swapping them out. Then a quick case slap seems to quite the fan down and I quickly put off my upgrade.

    But at the same time, That Sanyo Sun Ace is looking nice

    Newark is a min order of 30 at a time, Mouser sells in singles. However EBay has the best price.
    ehume
    Answers to comments: SPL I can measure and put numbers to. The "tone" of a fan is highly subjective. Ask Noctua and Nidec.

    SPL testing on a rad might be misleading because fans -- even when mounted on a rad -- can use the CFM box as a sounding board. I have thought about building a testing chamber out of something large and stiff, but I would have no place to put it . . . and there would still be no assurance that fans did not use it to make a sounding board. Think guitar or violin to get a notion.


    Eliminate the box? As it is, the rad would redirect the flowing air in one direction, much like the box would. High density and very thick MDF could also be used to build a box if you really need a box. It's what I'm using and have used for a couple boxes that needed silencing of fans and air flow.
    Answers to comments: SPL I can measure and put numbers to. The "tone" of a fan is highly subjective. Ask Noctua and Nidec.

    I would love to review Noiseblocker eloops. Maybe we can get an editor to reach out to them. Same with Deepcool's TF fans. For a comprehensive review of 120mm and 140mm Corsair ML fans, you will have to look at my review on another website.

    SPL testing on a rad might be misleading because fans -- even when mounted on a rad -- can use the CFM box as a sounding board. I have thought about building a testing chamber out of something large and stiff, but I would have no place to put it . . . and there would still be no assurance that fans did not use it to make a sounding board. Think guitar or violin to get a notion.

    PWM fans can be used with PWM splitters, where they all get their power directly from the PSU while tghey get speed control from the motherboard.

    I thought I would never do it again, but soon I expect to see non-PWM voltage-controlled 120mm fans for review. It seems that OEM's still make them.Well, I got my Noctua NF-S12A fans tested, with their various resistor wires. Next come the Scythe Slip Stream 120DB's, the San Ace 9S fans, and a variety of oldies but goodies. I really didn't know I had so many!
    Culbrelai
    So to be clear, PWM fans are the ones with 4 pins, not 3? Every fan I have ever bought seem to have been 3 pin, and they control via mobo and fan controller just fine... erm. What is the appeal of PWM fans?


    Better control. Your 3-pin fans are voltage controlled. These 4-pin fans receive 12V all the time, but have an extra signal line coming in to tell them how fast to spin.

    You can go WAY lower on speed, consistently, with PWM than voltage.