First off let me start by saying I have been a huge fan of Noctua products since they sent me my first cooler to test so many years ago. In the time gone by, Noctua was one of the only companies driven to the perfection to search for a noise free user environment while still delivering some of the best cooling results on the market. To be bluntly obvious, there is only so long a company can utilize one basic concept before technology passes it by and they are no longer competitive. Well, Noctua thought ahead and really came up with a wonderful fan that is one of the most thought-out designs on the market today.
I know, the first thing you are going to say is that Noctua fans are ugly and the colors don't match the theme in your chassis. To that I say simply this, get over it already. These colors have made Noctua fans famous over the years and can be discerned in a crowd at long distances. The technology involved in designing a fan like this newest submission far outweighs the concern for color. Then again I am a function over form sort of guy and the only one to see my rigs is me, unless I choose to host images of it.
That being said I would give up a noisy working environment for some super performing fans that may not match and let's be honest, you can only see a couple through the window of your chassis and if you don't have a window in your chassis, then there isn't anything to complain about now, is there?
This is a first for us at TweakTown as we don't typically do a fan only review for anyone, but we made an exception when we saw what Noctua offers in the NF-F12 PWM Focused Flow fans they just brought to the market. I tried a bunch of testing ideas, some worked and some just looked lame once I got images and results in, so I decided with the approval of Noctua to go ahead and test like as if it were a cooler review. Since I was sent three of these fans for testing, I decided it best to strap them up to my Swiftech Edge H20-320 HD kit and see if there are any benefits to be had besides the incredibly low noise levels that we have all come to know and love about Noctua products.
Let's get through the specifications and see what these gems are going to cost you and just what sort of performance the NF-F12 PWM fans bring to the table.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
On the very basic level the NF-F12 is just a 25mm thick 120mm fan like most others. It rides on a SSO2 bearing with a metal shell. When the 4-pin fan header is connected to the motherboard, the NF-F12 uses a NE-FD1 PWM sensor to determine the fan speed for the temperature reading from the motherboard. The fan can spin with a rotational speed of up to 1500 RPM delivering 93.4 cubic meters of air through the fan per hour. For you who only know it by CFM, that is roughly 55 CFM. Pushing 2.61mm of water in static pressure while only registering 22.4 dBA isn't anything to pass up either. While the maximum voltage is set for 12V they do take only 5V to get them rotating, where previous Noctua fans took a little bit more to power them up.
On the more advanced level the NF-F12 PWM offers things that go above and beyond in fan design. There is something called Focused Flow that uses eleven stators to direct airflow through even the most demanding of cooling situations such as being bolted to a radiator. These stators are also designed with noise in mind so they are angled for the best flow to noise ratio possible. The blades of the fan use a Heptaperf impeller design that is specially designed to work with the stators to get all of that 55 CFM potential out of this fan.
Things like the stepped inlet and microstructures on the inside of the frame all work to disturb the air coming in so that it doesn't "just slide by" it is pulled into the impeller and utilized as far as technologically possible in this fan. There is a lot more involved as well, but I need to save some of the juicy information and features for the rest of the review.
As far as the availability of the NF-F12 PWM fans, I found over twenty listings via Google Shopping, so there are plenty of choices to locate these fans. As far as the pricing goes, well that depends on how brave you are. On the low end of the spectrum I found the NF-F14 at an Amazon web store for $19.93 through Cool Tech PC. For the less adventurous sorts out there be prepared to spend a fair bit more per fan. Looking at Amazon.com the fans are $23.79 and my personal favorite, Newegg, currently isn't even showing stock of these newest fans from Noctua.
In the end you just have to be prepared, excellence and quality components come at a price and from what I have seen of others, $20 a fan is really good for a fan that offers a six year warranty.
Packaging and Contents
As I mentioned I received three of the NF-F12 PWM fans to test with. The packaging is mainly taken up by the super close rendering of the fan included inside which can partially be seen through the cut-away window nest to the naming of the fan.
The back of the box offers a brief statement from Noctua about the features included with this fan design and why you should choose this fan over others hanging on the shelves. This is repeated in eight languages with a scope of delivery and a small specs chart at the very bottom.
Both sides have this dark blue band that offers the name of the fan, its dimensions, the included six year warranty and the site address.
The back panels of the box actually open once you break the grip of the Velcro keeping it shut. On this panel there are descriptions and examples of why all of the features and technology included in the design are beneficial to you.
The next panel you see offers an exploded diagram of the fan with all the features and parts labeled. They even go as far as to show both the PWM IC and the SSO2 bearing at the bottom of this image.
Splitting the back panel once again shows us even more information. This time it covers the bearing design, the anti-vibration pads, the Smooth Control Drive of the IC, the variances of the stators and ends with a chart of the noise levels with and without the VAD technology.
The last panel covers the things like the inner surface microstructures, where they are located and how they work. The bottom offers information on the power consumption, the cabling options, the included LNA and ends with the warranty include on the NF-F12 PWM.
Removing the contents you can see there is some paperwork that is slid down behind the clear plastic tray that Noctua uses for the inner packaging.
This inner packaging not only protects the fan from being damaged in transit, it also works to keep all of the parts separated and easy to locate once the package arrives to your door.
Noctua NF-F12 PWM
Noctua NF-F12 PWM "Focused Flow" Fans
At first glance you don't quite absorb all that went into making the NF-F12 PWM fans, but I will give it my best attempt in the following images to bring forth the features and briefly explain what it does.
In this image I want to address the stepped down corners of the frame on this fan. These are used to ruffle the air as it comes into contact with the outer edge of the fan blades as it enters the fan. These make it so the air passed over and gets picked up by the fans rather than passively sliding through the typical frame.
Each corner, including both sides of the fan, so eight in total, are these rubber anti-vibration pads. They can be simply removed by pulling them out of the frame, but really why would you want this fan to rub and cause noise on something?
After the air gets forced through the Heptaperf impeller the air is then addressed by these eleven stators. Noctua found in the designing that even spacing would deliver more noise, so these are slightly offset in their angles to help keep noise down yet forcing the air through whatever this fan is cooling.
Even with the angles considered, Noctua found a need to notch the stators this time versus the notches we got used to seeing in the fan blades.
The sticker on the back of the fan is actually a thin metal plaque that has been stuck on there. I removed it to see what was underneath of it and I was greeted by the brass outer covering of the SSO2 bearing. Being a sealed system, there will be no maintenance required from the end user.
It was hard to find a good angle to show off the microstructures that are inside of the frame to again disturb the air passing near it to allow the fan blades to scoop it up and force every bit of the flow possible through this fan. Seriously no surface was left untouched in this design.
From the fans frame to the 4-pin connector, there is 7.5 inches of black braided cable to get this fan plugged into the appropriate motherboard header. If you plan to install more than one of these on a cooler like I will be doing, Noctua offers all the wiring you will need to accomplish that as well.
Paperwork and Hardware
As far as reading materials go, most of the information you need is included on the outside of the box, but Noctua saw to it that even more literature was included with the NF-F12 PWM fan so that they made sure everything was covered very well.
This paperwork folds open to reveal how to install the NF-F12 with the proprietary clips and how to remove the anti-vibration pads from the fan if the installation requires that you do so. I recommend they stay on if at all possible.
The bottom two thirds of the same area covers how to connect the fan and what to expect when using the included LNA. It continues to explain that cleaning of the fan is needed to keep the performance levels up and the lack of need to mess with the bearing and doing so can void the warranty.
On the back side of the paperwork you get a signed congratulatory message on purchasing one of the best fans on the market in my opinion. It also goes on to tell you what you should expect during the life of the fan and that Roland Mossig (CEO of Noctua) stands behind them with his signature adorning every one of them.
As far as the wiring is concerned, Noctua includes everything they think you may need. There is the Low Noise adapter that limits the top speed and also the noise levels of the fan during its operation. There is also an extension cable to get the fans powered from any header on the motherboard with four pins to power and sense on the fan. If you plan to use more than one, there is a single 4-pin to dual 4-pin Y splitter to use in those instances.
To mount the NF-F12 PWM, Noctua includes a set of four of the proprietary, rubber, anti-vibration, fan mounts, along with a set of four screws to install them into any 120mm hole in a chassis.
After talking with Noctua a bit, they agreed that an appropriate test would be top run them against a stock fan with a water cooling solution. They had an AIO solution in mind, but with none on hand I looked at the next best thing, my Swiftech Edge H20-320 kit that I have been keeping on the shelf for reasons such as this.
In order to get my results, I used the PWM feature as it is shipped. By this I mean that I didn't mess with the voltage settings as I typically would, I let the IC built into the fan do all the work to see just what this fan can deliver in its natural state. In the charts you will see an air cooler just for reference against the water cooling numbers used to determine the fans effects. I have also included the runs to incorporate AVX support in the runs of Intel Burn Test, so there should be fewer complaints about the heat loads, but it does mean that I have to start a new chart now.
As you can see I highlighted both the Swiftech kits as they ship from the factory and the Noctua NF-F12 PWM fans results on the same chart for an easy head to head comparison. To tell you the truth, I was shocked to see that after twenty minutes or so of leaving the PC to idle out all the processes, the Noctua fans were able to bring the CPU right down to ambient temperatures.
Even more shocking is the fact that the Swiftech fans included in the kit are near 80 CFM in their rating and even so, the near 55 CFM of the Noctua prevailed due to the design and engineering involved with using every last molecule of air within grasp of the NF-F12 PWM resulting in yet another full degree drop over the original after fifty passes of the IBT testing in both the stock and overclocked results.
The sound levels recorded during these tests was near impossible to measure.
The sound of the pump was definitely now the loudest part of this cooling arrangement. So what I did was to use on the Enermax cooler at both stock while idling for the idle results. With the PWM IC in full charge of the fans speed, I really couldn't hear the fan operating and as the reading on the meter showed, 25 dB at this level is really great results.
Since the Enermax cooler was reaching eighty degrees I figured it was a much better test for the higher end of the PWM scale and with verification of the fans speed in AIDA64 I saw I was running at 1276 RPM and at this point I was hearing a slight whine from the fan, but still it was able to keep the level down to 45 dB at this end of the spectrum.
This is very impressive for a 120mm fan and it shows that Noctua even improved on their own numbers from previous fans they have designed thus far.
For those who follow my reviews, you know right off that if there was in fact something to go wrong with a product, I am sure to get the sample that has an issue or I can filter out the nonsense and bring up something that will detract from a products overall points and my personal recommendations. With the NF-F12 PWM fans, there just isn't anything at all to complain about.
All I am left with is a great performing fan under even the toughest conditions of being bolted right next to a radiator. That being said, the lower powered and seriously well designed NF-F12 PWM fans took on something rated much better than they are and overtook them without breaking a sweat or causing much if any noise pollution to the environment. What more can you ask for in a fan?
When I say that every surface of the fan has been touched with some sort of redesign, I am not stretching that in any way. From the edges of the frame, to the inside walls, even down to the stators that support the frame and direct the air flow, every aspect of the frame was taken into consideration. As for the fan blades, well this time they have developed the Heptaperf impellers that work specifically with the stators and the angles and notches used in them to deliver some really impressive results. On top of that you are getting a fully sealed bearing with the SSO2 and a six year warranty saying this fan will be running in that time frame or it will be replaced for you.
I know you can find plenty of $5 or $10 fans on the market and yes they may even be a better fit for the theme of your case, but you are going to be hard pressed to get a fan that delivers what Noctua is offering in that price range, or in most others for that matter. I know it is a tough pill to swallow for some with the choice of colors Noctua uses and the fact that the NF-F12 PWM fans do require near $20 to obtain one of them. Even with that in mind, I say that everyone should own at least one Noctua fan in their lifetime and get a personal sense of what they offer you.
With the release of the NF-F12 PWM fans from Noctua, I will be recommending these to everyone who asks me about a new fan and has silence in mind with the desire for top tier performance. They are that good.
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