We’ve been testing a variety of 80mm, 92mm and 120mm fans. The goal was to find the fans that moved the most amount of air while making the least amount of noise. We also only looked at PWM fans so we could dial in cooling performance while minimizing the overall decibel level of the fans. We highly recommend PWM fans if your motherboard supports it. It’s a much better way to dial in the optimal settings to maximize cooling while minimizing noise.

For example, a motherboard may offer 4 classes of cooling performance such as low noise, balanced, performance and full speed. In balanced mode you’ll start hearing the fans but it’s usually unobtrusive. As you ramp up to performance speeds and above it can get very loud, especially with more robust designs that are rated at higher RPMs.

We’ve found that well designed fans that rotate at 2700RPM or lower are generally unobtrusive and quiet. So, if you don’t have the ability to control the fan speed and will be using 3 pin connectors and noise is an issue, you should keep this in mind.

All of the fans we looked at were capable of high RPMs and if not controlled properly will operate at the highest speed. We don’t recommend this approach as it leads to more noise and more airflow than is necessary for proper cooling.

For example, when we boot a Supermicro workstation with a 92mm Delta exhaust fans, 2 Nidec CPU fans and 4 Sanyo Denki mid-case fans it sounds like a small aircraft. However, once the system completes the boot sequence and launches windows it fades into the background as the fans are operating well below the maximum rated output.

If your PC case can accommodate a 120mm fan you’re in luck because the larger the fan, the lower the RPM required to move the same amount of air compared to a smaller fan. So, generally, large 120mm fans are pretty quiet. Even when operating at high RPMs these fans do not produce the whine of smaller fans.

However, not all fans are created equal. There are ball bearing fans and sleeve bearing fans, plus various fin and housing parts that can all be tweaked for maximum performance with the least amount of noise. Ball bearing designs tend to be the most robust whle sleeve bearing designs can be quieter. There are some other design considerations but overall we were happy with the ball bearing designs from our preferred vendors.

When choosing a case fan we recommend the following brands for maximum performance and robust designs: Nidec, Delta, Skythe, Sanyo Denko and Cooljag/Everflow. These are the same suppliers you’ll find in high end workstations and telecommunications gear. The parts cost a little more but it’s worth it. You’ll get better CFM ratings with lower decibel levels and higher MTBF ratings. And that’s what we want. Lots of air, less noise, longer life.

FrozenCPU and SuperBiiz are just a couple of online sellers we’ve had a good experience with. They both offer a wide variety of parts at reasonable prices and SuperBiiz often includes shipping.

Good luck and keep it cool!


Visit Scythe for more information.
Visit Nidec for more information.
Visit Delta for more information.
Vist Sanyo Denki for more information.
Cooljag/Everflow for more information.