As an enthusiast it can be difficult to just "set it and forget it," to assemble a system and decree "this is as good as it's going to get." There's an inherent need to tweak and continue to tweak, to eke every last ounce of performance (within reason) out of our systems. Over the past few years, liquid cooling has become less the province of the extreme enthusiast and more accessible to the average user thanks to closed loop coolers manufactured by Asetek and CoolIT and brought to market by companies like Thermaltake, Antec, and Corsair.

The pump and radiator are only part of the equation, though; part of what makes even a decent closed loop cooling system tick is having a good fan configuration. Reading specs on the fan boxes helps a little, and visiting forums can certainly help, too, but we wanted something a little more definitive. After a couple of weeks of testing, we have results to share.

When dealing with fans being used for radiators, it's important to note that what makes a good case fan may not make a good radiator fan, and vice versa. We've gotten used to reading fan specifications that only list the maximum airflow of the fan, rated in CFM or "Cubic Feet per Minute." In the past couple of years, though, more and more manufacturers have been listing an additional specification, and this is the one we're interested in: static air pressure. Fans which produce high static air pressure are able to better focus and direct airflow, making them more ideal for forcing air through the densely packed fins of a liquid cooling radiator.

The propensity for manufacturers to list the air pressure specification over the past few years coincides with the increased popularity of closed loop liquid coolers, but during the same period of time we've also seen a gradual shift towards quieter computing. Builders place greater emphasis on having their systems run quietly, and why shouldn't they? If you can have good thermal performance with a minimal impact on ambient noise, why wouldn't you?

With these things in mind I've tested a collection of eight fans from Corsair, BitFenix, Nexus, NZXT, Cooler Master, and SilverStone to try and find the best balance between thermal performance and acoustics.

Testing Methodology
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  • ikaboo154 - Thursday, November 15, 2012 - link

    According to the graphs, the NZXT is as quiet as the Nexus.
    The NZXT also cools better than the Nexus.

    The conclusions says the Nexus is quieter than the NZXT, yet on the graph they both measure 30dB.

    Since, the NZXT is cheaper and cools better than the NEXUS, I'm going to buy the NZXT unless someone can reassure me that the Nexus is quieter.

    TLDR: Is the Nexus quieter than the NZXT? If so, is the graph just inaccurate?
  • Freezer64 - Saturday, February 22, 2014 - link

    So this was basically a ploy to market the H80, and boost sales @ Corsair. Maybe next time you run a test like this you'll use fans that people actually use instead of garbage you found @ Fry's. Terrible review, you should be fired!
  • cerealkeller - Wednesday, September 30, 2015 - link

    I have been using the Cooler Master Sickle Flow 120mm Fans for years and have been very satisfied with their performance. They run quiet and move a relatively good amount of air for $10 a piece. Based on this review I bought a set of the Corsair SP120s to replace my Cooler Masters on my 240x60mm radiator. I don't know why the hell your Cooler Masters ran 30C higher than the Corsairs because I only saw 2C drop in load temps and 1C drop in idle temps switching to the Corsairs at max RPM. I'm not impressed. I'm glad my temps dropped, but I was hoping for at least 5C. I'm planning to try the Noctua NF-F12 next. It's crazy expensive for a fan, but I would like to see my temps hit below 40C under load, they're at 52C atm with the SP120s. That is with push only, not push pull.

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