Noctua NF-S12 120mm Fan Review

by Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig     |     May 23, 2007

Noctua NF- S12 120mm Fan Review

Price: $18.99 at Directcanada
Availability: Now
Manufacturer Part Number: NF-S12-1200

Table of Contents
1- Packaging
2- The Fan
3- Benchmarks
4- Noise...what noise?
5- Conclusion

A little over a year ago a little-known company called Noctua literally burst onto the PC cooling scene following huge amounts of hype in the online community. They quickly expanded their distribution into North America and have quickly become a heavy-hitter in numerous categories from processor cooling to case cooling. In this review we will be taking a closer look at one of their fan offerings; the 120mm NF-S12. Here is what Noctua has to say about their flagship case fan:

The NF-S12 is the first fan employing a novel rotor which was developed by the Austrian Institute for Heat-Transmission and Fan Technology (Österreichisches Institut für Wärmeübertragung und Ventilatorentechnik, ÖIWV). Thanks to the special optimisation of the blade geometry towards ultra low noise application, it works more efficient than comparable products at low RPM.

"In order to make their products more silent, fan manufacturers usually simply reduce RPM without adapting the rotor design to the modified fluid dynamic parameters", explains Mag. Manfred Stadler MBA of the Austrian Institute for Heat-Transmission and Fan Technology. "Using a blade geometry specifically optimised for lower speed ranges like the Noctua Straight-Blade-Design allows for much better performance than simply reducing RPM."

Running at 1200rpm, the NF-S12-1200 provides a flow rate of 81m³/h at a noise level of only 17dB(A). Using the supplied Ultra-Low-Noise adaptor, the noise level can be reduced below 6dB(A).

Noctua seems to make some pretty bold claims regarding their product when they talk about nearly unheard-of noise reduction while moving a respectable amount of air. To put all this in easier to understand terms, this fan operates at 1200rpm while pushing 48CFM of air and the “Noise Adaptor” reduces the rpm to 600 while lowering output to about 25CFM.

This fan may be on the expensive side compared to its closest competitors but if its performance is all it is promised to be, this may be something you would want to put your money into. On the other hand, since there is no real “norm” for fan manufacturers to measure their fans to, some companies have put forward some pretty outrageous claims regarding extremely low noise coupled with massive air movement.

1- Packaging:

This is not an OEM fan package in any way, shape or form. The fan itself is wrapped in a very informative package with a TON of information plastered all over the back including noise values, air movement statistics and power usage.

Inside the main cardboard packaging lie the rigid protective plastic which holds the fan itself and the accessories. The NF-S12 some with every possible bang and whistle you will need to get it hooked up to your case; it comes with 4 screws, 4 silicone grommets, the “Low Noise Adaptor” and a 3-pin to Molex adaptor for those of you who have run out of fan headers on your motherboard.

The Ultra Low Noise Adaptor (or “U.L.N.A” as Noctua calls it) contains a simple resistor which works to reduce the fan’s operating speed from 1200rpm to a quieter 600rpm.

2- The Fan

The fan itself may look like nearly every other 7-blade fan design on the market but there are a few distinguishing factors. The first thing that people usually say when they first see a Noctua fan is “What’s up with the color?” The color can be something that bothers quite a few people but there are many more out there that care more for cooling performance than looks. Noctua equips the S12 with a 3-pin plug straight out of the box (the cable itself is completely sleeved) so if you want to hook it up to a Molex connector you will have to use the aforementioned adaptor.

The SSO Bearing

A lot of engineering know-how seems to be used in the design of these fans and the bearing used is something completely unique and needs mentioning. While most fans use ball, sleeve or fluid bearings Noctua has gone a different direction by using an SSO bearing.

Noctua has done a pretty good job of explaining how this type of bearing works:

The rotary motion of the axis generates pressure upon the special oil enclosed within the bearing. This causes the build-up of a dynamic pressure field that centres and stabilises the axis within the bearing shell. While conventional liquid bearings employ the principle of hydrodynamic pressure too, the SSO bearing is equipped with an additional magnet that supports the self-stabilisation of the rotor axis. This allows for a faster, more precise and more reliable centring of the rotor axis and thus increases the long-term stability and quietness of the bearing: When the fan starts, the dynamic pressure field of the liquid bearing needs to build up first, which results in an initial precession of the axis, the so called gyro effect. This amounts to an increased abrasion until the axis is stabilised through the build-up of the dynamic pressure field, which may by and by lead to increased noise emission and bearing defects. Because of this, the SSO bearing possesses a built in magnet, whose field ensures the immediate self-stabilisation of the rotor and hence reduces the gyro effect. In addition to the stabilisation during the start-up phase of the fan, the supporting magnet allows for a more exact centring of the axis within the bearing shell and thus further reduces bearing resistance, abrasion and noise emission.

The Blades

The engineering tour-de-force continues with the design of the unique fan blades which Noctua uses on the NF-S12. If you look at a normal case cooling fan, its blades are gently sloped (which is why it is called a “swept blade”) in order to keep noise down while increasing airflow. The blade design used on this fan is what Noctua calls their “straight blade” design and they claim this will increase airflow by up to 10% while keeping noise to an absolute minimum. While most companies rely on increasing the speed of their fans to promote better airflow, Noctua has taken a different path by completely reengineering a standard blade design. From every angle, the blades of this fan look as unique as the color.

3- Benchmarks:

System Used:
AMD X2 3800+ @ 2.6Ghz
Arctic Cooling Freezer 64Pro
2GB Corsair XMS @ 520Mhz
DFI Lanparty SLI-DR Expert
Samsung Spinpoint 250GB
OCZ GameXstream 700W PSU

3x Gigabyte R121225SL 120mm @ 900rpm
1x Zalman ZM F3 120mm @ 900rpm
4x Noctua NF-S12 @ 600 / 1200rpm

For these benchmarks, the exact same system was used as in the Gigabyte Aurora 570 review. The base system had 3 Gigabyte R121225SL 120mm fans operating at 900rpm installed in the stock locations. In addition, a Zalman ZM F3 120mm fan operating at 900rpm was mounted on the hard drive cage and pointed towards the 2 8800GTS cards.

For all benchmarks, ALL three stock case fans and the additional Zalman fan was replaced with four Noctua NF-S12 fans. All tests were run twice; once with the Noctuas running at 600rpm and once with them running at 1200rpm.

The test was run using a 15 minute loop of the Company of Heroes in-game benchmark and Orthos running in the background.

The room temperature was a steady 23.2°C

The performance results for these fans are absolutely amazing. While these fans were purring along at only 600rpm they were cooling off the case as well (and better in some areas) than the stock fans running at 900rpm. This goes to show how efficient blade design through engineering genius can increase airflow exponentially.

When the speed of the NF-S12 fans was increased to 1200rpm, the contest wasn’t even close. The Noctua fans completely overwhelmed the competition by decreasing some temperatures by as much as 7°C! It is absolutely shocking to see the temperature of an overclocked CPU drop by nearly 5°C just by changing to these Noctua fans.

Then again, it will all be pointless if the Noctua fans make an unholy racket…

4- Noise….what noise?

Two words come to mind when thinking of the noise level of the Noctua NF-S12: dead silent. When operating at 1200rpm the 4 Noctuas were actually quieter than the stock fans running at 900rpm. Even though the opinion about what constitutes noise and the amount one can hear varies from person to person, even those with the sharpest hearing will have trouble hearing these fans.

5- Conclusion

After running through the tests it is more than apparent that a lot of thought and state-of-the-art engineering went into the design of this Noctua fan. Not only did they operate at a lower noise level than the already-quiet stock case fans but they did so while pushing more air through the case. That is efficiency at its finest folks!

While the color and the initial cost might have some consumers running for the hills, the all-round performance this fan delivers is second to none so you can buy in confidence. And if you STILL don’t like the color, you can always close you eyes or loose the window on your computer case.

- Silent Operation
- Amazing cooling performance
- More accessories than you can shake a stick at

- Price

This product wins our Hardwarecanucks Dam Good Award. Bravo Noctua!!

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