Noctua NF-F12 PWM fans bring performance and silence to any cooler or radiator

Last November, Noctua introduced their new NF-F12 120mm Focused Flow fan. By teaming up eleven stator guide vanes with a specially designed seven blade impeller, the NF-F12’s Focused Flow system is said to create outstanding static pressure which focuses the airflow for superior performance with heatsinks and radiators.  This means that Noctua is no longer sacrificing cooling for quietness.

A wide range of advanced aerodynamic design measures, second generation SSO-Bearings and Noctua’s new, custom designed PWM IC for fully automatic control, just about guarantee quietness of operation.  Here it is professionally imaged, and it is not cheap at its suggested retail of $24.95 or for sale at Amazon.com for $19.79 plus shipping.

We are going to take a close look at this unique fan’s cooling abilities.  It’s ability to operate quietly is a given as that is what makes Noctua fans outstanding.  As you can see from the image above, the stators are notched to keep noisy turbulence minimized and even the fan’s corners have integrated rubber silicone anti-vibration pads.  Noctua designs all of their fans to operate as efficiently and as quietly as possible.  And of course, up until now, one has had to sacrifice something to get extraordinary quietness.

We have reviewed Noctua coolers and fans before – the Noctua NH-U12P Special Edition 2 CPU cooler and NF-P14 FLX 140mm fan – just over two years ago.  We gave it our Great Value award because it gives superb value for those looking for a really quiet cooling solution.  Our only negative was this one from our Conclusion:

  • Static pressure is slightly reduced (as is noise) by the vortex control notches.

The Noctua fans that we tested two years ago did not put out a lot of pressure at low rpm.  Although it worked great with the Noctua NH-U12P SE2 cooler, these fans had more difficulty pushing air through more densely-pack fins like those found in our AMD-branded Asetek liquid cooler radiator for FX-8150.

For this evaluation, we are going to try something different as we recently put our AMD-branded Asetek Liquid Cooler into our Thermaltake full-tower Chaser MK-I and we able to reach 4.8GHz with our FX-8150.  Unfortunately, this overclock was not OCCT stable and we have since backed it down to 4.6GHz.  This is a full +1GHz overclock over stock FX-8150 clocks and +200MHz higher than we were able to achieve when we reviewed Bulldozer with our ThermalRight UltraExtreme120 air cooler.  Besides the very hot CPU temperatures at our extreme overclock, the other problem we have is with the irritating noise from the two stock fans when they need to run on the extreme preset.

In fact, the stock Everflow fans were audible even at idle above the Chaser’s case fans on low while the stock HD 6950 was also mostly idling.  So our current test is to switch out the two Everflow fans for a pair of Noctua NF-F-12 PWM fans.  We expect that it will be much quieter.  The true test is to compare the CPU maximum temperatures to see how the new Noctua Focused Flow fans perform from silent to extreme.

“Our award-winning NF-P12 has become a standard choice for pressure demanding applications such as CPU coolers and radiators, but we’ve been striving to achieve even better performance in this domain, and this is how the NF-F12 was born”, explains Mag. Roland Mossig, Noctua’s CEO. “Due to the stator guide vanes focusing the airflow, it can push the air through dense fin stacks more effectively. This type of design has mostly been used for noisy high speed fans so far, so our engineers have put a lot of thought into keeping the noise in check.”

The above illustration is from the four-page fold-out of the fan packaging.  It goes to show the incredible amount of engineering that went into this fan design.  The NF-F12 is Noctua’s first PWM fan using their PWM IC with Smooth Communication Drive (SCD). The fan’s PWM IC smooths out the torque impulses to give a quieter fan at low rpm. The NF-F12 also uses approximately 0.6w at 0.05 amps which makes it twice as “green” compared to most standard fans.

The NF-F12 uses a wide range of aerodynamic optimizations in order to make it quieter.  To achieve this, the NF-F12’s stator guide vanes feature Vortex-Control Notches that are laid out in what is called, Varying Angular Distance.  The concept is to break up the noise into a broader frequency spectrum without the annoying whine many fans exhibit.  Noctua has also introduced their Stepped Inlet Design to reduce noise while increasing the static pressure.

Noctua has also introduced the second generation of Noctua’s SSO bearing as well as their custom-designed PWM IC for fully automatic PWM speed control in the NF-F12.  We will test out the new PWM management by letting the Asetek cooler’s control automatically work to control fan speed and temperature.

The NF-F12 comes with modular cabling, integrated anti-vibration pads and two speed settings.  Everything you need is included and is shown below.

Price and availability

The NF-F12 available at a recommended retail price of EUR 19.90 / USD 24.90 and you can get it at Amazon for about $25 shipped.

Links

Here are links to Noctua’s website which even include video of the NF F-12 PWM fans

Specifications

From Noctua’s web site:

 

Size 120x120x25 mm
Connector 4-pin PWM
Bearing SSO2
Blade Geometry Heptaperf™
Frame Technology Focused Flow™
Rotational Speed (+/- 10%) 1500 RPM
Rotational Speed with L.N.A. (+/- 10%) 1200 RPM
Min. Rotational Speed (PWM) 300 RPM
Airflow 93,4 m³/h
Airflow with L.N.A. 74,3 m³/h
Acoustical Noise 22,4 dB(A)
Acoustical Noise with L.N.A. 18,6 dB(A)
Static Pressure 2,61 mm H2O
Static Pressure with L.N.A. 1,83 mm H2O
Max. Input Power 0,6 W
Max. Input Current 0,05 A
Voltage 12 V
MTBF > 150.000 h
Scope of Delivery
  • Low-Noise Adapter (L.N.A.)
  • 4-Pin Y-Cable
  • 30cm Extension Cable
  • 4 Vibration-Compensators
  • 4 Fan Screws
Warranty 6 years

Noctua’s warranty is outstanding – 6 years – and the MTBF (mean time before failure) is greater than 150,000 hours.  The specifications look great so let’s unbox our fans and run the test.

–~~~~~~~~~~~~–

Unboxing and the Test

The only thing better than a single Noctua fan is two.  We received two from Noctua even though we requested one for evaluation.  And as it turned out, it was perfect for extreme testing of two fans in push-pull configuration on our watercooler’s radiator!

The Noctua NF-F12 PWN fan comes boxed for retail sales and it includes 4 pages of specifications and features that fold out from the cover.  The packaging is nice and one hates to throw it away.

The fan comes safely packaged in plastic and the instructions are clearly written.

And here is the contents set next to an unopened box.

All of the Noctua fans have a very unique look that sets them apart from other fans.  The two-tone colors are a love-it or hate-it thing for some; we like it as it is different from the generic black.  However, if we have a suggestion, it might be for Noctua to offer a color choice.

Well, we have unboxed our NF-F12 PWM fans, we see the excellent specifications and we note the care that Noctua has used in creating them to be powerful, focused, and yet quiet and energy-efficient.  All that there is left to do is to test them using our AMD-branded Asetek Liquid Cooling Radiator against the stock fans that come with it.  We expect the Noctua fans to be quiet.  Can they also provide the same level of cooling or better than the stock fans?

The Test

Here is the AMD-branded Asetek cooler from the Asetek website:

We used our hard-to-cool test system with our FX-8150 overclocked to 4.6GHz.  We used the stock AMD-branded Asetek Liquid Cooling system with the stock 120 mm Everflow fans.  After we measured the temperatures running benches, we replaced the stock fans with the Noctua NF-F12 PWN fans and reran our benches.  The most extreme test which heated up our CPU most consistently is OCCT and we used version 4.1.

Here is the AMD-branded Asetek Liquid cooling system with a side of the radiator visible sandwiched in-between two stock Everflow fans in push-pull configuration.  The LED behind the AMD logo can be changed from red to blue to white in the software’s control panel.

Replacing the stock fans with the Noctua NF-F12 PWN fans was simple but the screws were barely long enough to reach the radiator because of the slight extra thickness of the anti-vibration pads.  Of course, before this simple change of fans, we ran our overclocked FX-8150 test with OCCT first with the stock fans and stock liquid cooling configuration at the extreme preset.  We almost achieved near-stability at 4.8GHz but could not pass OCCT, so we settled on 4.6GHz as a solid +1GHz overclock of our FX-8150 and a good test of any cooler’s ability to cool a very hot overclocked CPU.

 

Test Configuration – Hardware

  • AMD FX-8150 (reference 3.6 GHz; overclocked to 4.6 GHz), supplied by AMD
  • ASUS CrossHair V ROG AM3+  (latest BIOS, PCIe 3.0 specification; CrossFire/SLI 16x+16x; onboard audio), supplied by AMD.
  • Kingston HyperX 4 GB DDR3-PC1600 RAM (2×2 GB), supplied by Kingston
  • AMD HD 6950 (2 GB, reference clocked at 800/1250MHz), supplied by AMD
  • AMD Liquid Cooling CPU cooler, supplied by AMD
  • Two Noctua NF-F12 PWN fans (in push-pull) as a replacement for the stock Everflow fans; supplied by Noctua
  • 500 GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 hard drive
  • Philips DVD writer
  • 850 OCZ PSU
  • Thermaltake Chaser MK-I (Supplied by Thermaltake)

The test and the results

Well, we started our test first with the stock fans and used the extreme preset in our watercooling control panel so the fans would kick up high enough to keep our overclocked-to-4.6GHz FX-8150 cool enough to run this extremely demanding test. We also let the AMD stock power management control the fan’s rpm and ultimately the temperatures.  We are going to withhold comment about noise until after we present both results.

Next we switched out our stock fans for the Noctua NF-F12 PWN fans.  Check out the results:

First of all, it is important to note that both sets of fans kept the stressed FX-8150 CPU cool enough to pass the OCCT torture test without errors at 4.6GHz with VCore pulling nearly 1.5V.  Both saw absolute peaks of temperatures at 82C and both averaged about the same 68C with the liquid temps ranging from high 30sC to lows 40sC, depending on the power management software that is included with the AMD Liquid Cooler.

The main difference was that the Noctua fans although definitely noticeable were not annoying like the stock fans.  The stock fans at maximum rpm sounded like something was trying to claw its way out of the case while the Noctua fans, although not silent, were pushing a lot of air without being intrusive.  Take a look at the respective fan speeds – the Noctua FX-F12 PWM fans are on the right.

The Noctua fans can spin slower and remain much quieter at 1500 rpm than the stock fans at 2340 rpm.  There was absolutely no comparison, only contrast with these two kinds of fans when the CPU is under maximum load.  At “silent” preset, the Noctua fans barely breathed above the HD 6950 at idle and the Thermaltake case fans on low.  The stock fans were not much louder.  But once the rpm was kicked way up, the stock fans became absolutely intolerable while the Noctua fans although more noticeable on extreme, were not irritating.  Noctua has come much closer to their goal of very quiet fans and very good static pressure with the NF-F12 PWM fan.

Now that we have run our tests in an extreme situation, let’s head for our conclusion

–~~~~~~~~~~~~–

Conclusion

We’re impressed with Noctua’s first PWM fan, the NF-F12.  It has allowed us to reach the highest possible overclock of our very hot-running FX-8150 and we are OCCT-stable at 4.6GHz without destroying our hearing and our sanity with the stock fans.  Both set of fans required a very high rpm at the extreme preset for this +1GHz overclock.  The alternative to using the Noctua fans would be to lower our overclock with the stock fans as the stock fans were completely intolerable.

Noctua 120mm NF-F12 PWM fan

Pros:

  • Noctua’a NF-F12 PWM fan is a quiet, no-compromise cooling solution for a CPU cooler with dense fins or for a watercooler’s radiator.
  • In normal situations a single or a pair of Noctua NF-F12 PWM fans provide superb near-silent cooling and the PWM works perfectly; even at maximum rpm, the fans although audible are not annoying.
  • Everything is included for installation – just have a Philips screwdriver handy.

Cons:

  • It is a little pricey at around $25.  But then hearing (almost nothing) is priceless.

We give this unique and improved fan our ABT’s Editor’s Choice Award.  The Noctua NF-F12 PWM fans have saved our sanity and our hearing in benching our FX-8150 stably, contrasted with the stock fans of the AMD Liquid Cooler which were noisy and very irritating at the maximum rpm of the extreme preset.

If you want quiet and performance, the Noctua NF-F12 PWM fan comes highly recommended based on our experience with a pair of them.

Our next evaluation is of the ViewSonic V3D231 23″ display featuring Passive 3D and we will give a comparison with 3D Vision.  After that review, next up are two Thermaltake coolers – the Frio and FrioOCK which we are going to compare with our liquid cooler.  We may also have a surprise for you with a new section devoted to Smartphones and the mobile world in the form of a new ABT Contributing Editor.  In the meantime, check out ABT’s forums where we have the best tech discussions – anywhere!

 

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apoppin

Founder and Senior Editor of ABT.

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