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Noise Shootout of 80mm Case Fans

Noise Shootout of 80mm Case Fans


By Dr. Michael

ABSTRACT

The relative noise levels of 28 different 80mm case fans are measured under the same conditions. Such data make the cross-brand comparison of noise levels for PC components possible. The results show that there is no direct correlation between the "quietness" of a case fan with its price. Some case fans labeled as "quiet" or having the low dBA value from the manufacturers may not be that quiet at all.

INTRODUCTION

Noise from a personal computer is getting more and more attention in the PC design and market place. Words such as "quiet", "silence", "whisper", "low-noise", and "noiseless" are increasingly used as a marketing tool on product labels by many component and system manufacturers. However, these words can be confusing and misleading for several reasons. (1) There is a lack of standard in how the noise from PC or PC components should be measured. (2) Most PC components do not show noise level as one of the specs. There is a large shortage of noise data. (3) The limited noise data that are available are made by different labs, using different equipment and methods. Such data are difficult to compare. (4) Most manufacturers list "absolute noise" level measured in a sound-prove lab. Such data are not realistic and difficult to use in real life. (5) The high number of component manufacturers and models makes it difficult to compare products across brands.

The purpose of this study is to introduce a comparative/relative measurement of noise levels of various PC components across multiple brands and models. Instead of having 20 different "ears" listening to these components at different times and places, well have only one "ear" listening to them all under roughly the same condition. Such data would make meaningful and reasonable comparison across brands and models possible. They will be valuable for people who would like to choose the components with the lowest noise level.

We chose 8cm case fans to start this study. Case fans are one of the noisiest components inside a PC. Eight centimeter is the most popular size among all case fans. Therefore, its natural for us to start with this product. Well gradually roll out results from similar studies on power supplies and CPU coolers as well as case fans in other sizes.

Directron.com is in a great position to do such studies because of the large number of different brands available to us. This study is however independent from any manufacturers. The results are factual and are not used in any way to promote any brand or model. We intend to make the data from this study as "evergreen". We would add noise level data from new products as they become available to us. We encourage manufacturers who would like to have their products tested and listed in this study send us samples to be included in future updates.

METHODOLOGY

A large number of 8cm case fans with different brands and models were collected. The noise levels of these case fans were measured using the same noise meter, in the same lab and by the same method. To make the measurements more representative we took two samples from each model/brand and only the average results were used. All case fans tested in this study are brand new. Some of them come in retail box while others come in bulk OEM pack.

A battery-operated digital noise meter was used to measure the noise level. The meter is rated at 35 to 130dB range with +/- 1.5dB accuracy and 0.1dB resolution. This low-cost meter may not be the most accurate noise meter on the market; however for such a comparative study, it served our purpose just fine.

The meter was set at "A frequency" (weighing) with slow response. "A weighing" would make the meter to respond as the human ear would with regard to frequency response. It is used for environmental measurements, OSHA regulatory testing, law enforcement, and workplace designs.

The distance between the microphone and the sample was kept short at one inch. The purpose is to artificially magnify the noise level to make the comparison easier. This is similar to a measurement with a larger scale of units. Typically audio noise level is measured with the microphone kept at one meter away from the object. In such an arrangement, the noise levels are "leveled" making it harder to distinguish noisy products from quiet ones. However, the magnified data do not represent the true noise level human ears perceive. They are relative measurements, and are used purely for the purpose of comparison.

A digital noise meter often gives fluctuating readouts. A waiting period was used to let the data stabilize for a few seconds before the data were taken. The average between the high and low readouts was taken.

Ambient noise level was measured first and last to ensure that the background noise level remained relatively the same throughout the experiment.

A case fan was kept vertical to the microphone to avoid the impact of the wind on the microphone. The arrangement of set up is shown below.

A very quiet ATX power supply was used to supply the voltage to the case fans. The power supply was connected to a power supply tester so that no motherboard or CPU was needed for this study.

The case fan, noise meter, and the power supply were placed on one-inch thick foam to reduce background noise from vibration. The power supply was separated from the case fan and the noise meter by a one-inch thick foam wall to isolate any interference from the power supply noise. The set up is shown in the picture below.

The measurements were done in ambient room temperature, typically at approximately 70F. If a case fan comes with a fan speed control, the control is set at the lowest level allowing the slowest fan operation.

RESULTS

The data are summarized in the spreadsheet in Table 1 and shown as a bar diagram in Figure 1.

Table 1. Noise Data of 80mm Case Fans
Brand, Model Model/Descriptio Type Note Spec Ave dB
Enermax, UC-001B-TC B011388, T control Ball Retail 0.17A 40.8
Directron Silencer     OEM   45.2
Papst, 8412NGL 8412NGL   OEM   47.5
Enermax UC-8FAB Compuman,PL80B12HH,T 2BB Retail 0.23A 49.6
Atalas Super Flower   Ball OEM   49.75
Cyber Cooler   Ball OEM 0.14A 50.1
Atlas   Ball OEM   50.5
Colorful,CF-128025MS CF-128025MS Brushless OEM 0.14A 51.2
Vantec Stealth SF8025L     Retail 0.10A 51.5
Global Fan S011388 Sleeve OEM 0.17A 51.9
Antec Smart Fan T control   Retail   52.0
Sunon,KD1208PTS2-6 KD1208PTS3-6   OEM 1.4w 52.0
NMB Minebea 3110GL-B4W-B24 Brushless OEM 0.14A 52.2
PowerLogic DL80S12M Brushless OEM 0.13A 52.4
Juster Cooler   Ball OEM   53.9
Panaflo,FBA08A12L1A FBA08A12L1A   OEM   54.0
Paniflo CFS-08A12M   Brushless OEM 0.16A 54.0
Topmotor, DF1208BB DF1208BB   OEM 0.2A 54.5
Delta AFB0812M   Brushless OEM 0.18A 56.0
T&T, MW-825M12S MW-825M12S   OEM 0.12A 56.4
Antec Case Fan unknown   OEM   56.8
Magic MGA8012MS-A20 MGA8012MS-A20   OEM 0.19A 57.3
Coloful, CF-12825MB CF-12825MB Brushless OEM 0.14A 57.3
CoolerMaster, AF8-25IM-74 BP802512M Ball Retail 0.16A 58.7
Sunon, KD1208PTB2 KD1208PTB2(2)-H   OEM 2.1w 60.4
Topmotor, DF1208BM DF1208BM Ball OEM 0.2A 60.5
Mechatronics F8025E12B   Ball OEM 0.24A 63.4


Figure 1. Noise Data Comparison


From Table 1, it seems that the noise level increases with increased current rating of the case fans. Since the current rating or current assumption is not a subjective measurement the correlation can only be an empirical observation.

Notes: (1) The data do not reflect the noise levels of brands but the specific models. Many manufacturers have multiple models of 80mm case fans of different specs. The noise levels of such different models from the same manufacturer may vary in a wide range. Not all models from various manufacturers were tested. The results represent only the models tested. (2) Sometimes there was 1-2 dBA difference between different fans of the same model. Therefore, if the difference in noise levels between two fans is about 1 or 2 dBA, the difference is negligible. Averaging had reduced the discrepancies. (3) Fans that come with fan grills are tested with the fan grills removed.

CONCLUSIONS

Cross-Brand Comparison

One fan stands out as the quietest among all the fans tested ?the Enermax SuperCool at 40.8 dBA. This fan comes with a temperature sensor for thermal control of the fan speed. Therefore, this fan is capable of running at a higher speed thus higher noise level if needed. Of course, you do not have to use the temperature control feature by simply cutting off the sensor or leave the sensor outside of your case. This fan is very favorably priced.

The runner-up of this shoot out is the Silencer at 45.2 dBA.

From the results in Table 1, its clear that the more expensive fans may not necessarily always be quieter. One such example is the Panaflo.

If you are truly interested in building a quiet PC, choose the Enermax SuperCool or the Silencer model. These give you the most quietness for the buck.

Some more expensive models that are often touted as the quietest fans on the market with very low noise ratings from the manufacturers turn out to be noisier than some of the less expensive ones when compared in the same lab. Do not choose a case fan by the label or the spec from the manufacture. Use this cross-model comparison chart instead.

Its interesting that the 24V Panaflo fan (Model FBA08A24H1A, 45.0 dBA, data not shown in the above Table or Figure) is much quieter than the 12V ones (54.0 dBA) when running at 12V. The 24V Panaflo run at 12V would have essentially the same quietness as the Silence. Because of the occasional market shortage of 12V Panaflo fans, it may be a very good alternative to use the 24V Panaflo. A fan rated at 24V would actually run at 12V as well, except at a slower speed. Because of availability issues, the data for the 24V Panaflo is not listed in the Table or Figure.

Quietness and Airflow

One has to sacrifice speed and airflow for quietness. The less noisy fans were obviously less effective in moving air. It was suspected that the fan noise level would be proportional to the airflow as measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM). We used the noise and CFM data from the Antec SmartFan spec sheet (Ref. 1) to demonstrate this concept as shown in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2.


Clearly the noise level is proportional to the airflow (CFM). These data were obtained from the same case fan. The result was confirmed with noise data from various different 80mm case fans as shown below:

Figure 3.


The larger variation in Figure 3 and thus reduced correlation is probably a result of the fact that such data were tested by different labs. Similar results were reported from 7Volts.com (Ref. 2).

Based on these results, its predicted that the case fans with low noise levels have low airflows. Therefore, low-noise case fans are not recommended for extreme-computing environment when excessive airflow is required such as in over-clocking.

One solution to the reduced airflow is temperature control. With temperature control, the speed and thus the noise level of the fan can be controlled in response to the temperature using a temperature sensor placed on the CPU or other spots inside a case. The fan can be run at very low noise levels when the temperature is relatively low. However, when the temperature is increased due to various reasons, the fan speed is proportionally increased to increase the airflow.

DISCUSSIONS

A simple and practical test was set up to compare the noise levels of case fans. This same methodology should also work on power supplies and CPU heat sink/fans (HSF). Well also use this setup to test and compare 60mm, 92mm, and 120mm case fans.

If you represent a manufacturer and have one or more case fan models that are not listed in Table 1 and would like to compare their noise levels to those on the list, please send the fans in duplicates to us. The fans will not be returned unless specifically requested. Only new fans are accepted.

Notes: (1) Please note that the above dB results are RELATIVE measurements. They should be used only for comparing data in this work. No one should care the absolute dB value with data from other sources.

REFERENCES

(1) Antec SmartFan spec sheet.
(2) 7Volts.com

Copyrights (C) 2002 Directron.com. All rights reserved.
First published 6-13-02

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