Noctua NF-F12 PWM Ultra-quiet 120mm Case Fan Review

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Noctua has, for quite some time, been one of the leaders in the ultra-quiet high end case fan market.  They are known for their distinctive coloring and high quality bearings coupled with advanced aerodynamics to continually push what a fan can do while remaining nearly-silent.  We'll be scoping out the Noctua NF-F12 PWM in more more detail, and see how it adds to Noctua's lineage.

 

Introduction

Teaming up eleven stator guide vanes with a specially conceived seven blade impeller, the NF-F12’s Focused Flow™ system creates outstanding static pressure and focuses the airflow for superior performance on heatsinks and radiators. At the same time, a wide range of advanced aerodynamic design measures, second generation SSO-Bearings and Noctua’s new, custom designed PWM IC  for fully automatic control guarantee astounding quietness of operation. The NF-F12 comes with modular cabling, integrated anti-vibration pads and two speed settings for full flexibility. Its commanding performance, exhaustive set of features and Noctua’s trusted premium quality make it an elite choice for use on air coolers, radiators and other pressure demanding applications.

 

Features

Focused Flow Focused Flow™ Frame
Designed for pressure demanding applications such as heatsinks and radiators, the Focused Flow™ frame features eleven stator guide vanes that straighten, channel and focus the airflow, which allows the NF-F12 to rival the performance of conventional fans running at much faster speeds.

Varying Angular Distance Varying Angular Distance and Vortex Control Notches
The NF-F12’s stator guide vanes are set out in Varying Angular Distance and feature Vortex-Control Notches. Both measures help to spread the noise emission over a broader frequency spectrum and thus make the fan’s sound pattern more agreeable to the human ear.

Heptaperf Heptaperf™ Impeller
Custom designed for the new Focused Flow™ frame and to work in tandem with the eleven stator guide vanes, the NF-F12’s seven blade Heptaperf™ impeller has been carefully optimised to achieve a perfect balance between power and quietness.

Stepped Inlet Design Stepped Inlet Design
Noctua’s Stepped Inlet Design adds turbulence to the influx in order to facilitate the transition from laminar flow to turbulent flow, which reduces tonal intake noise, improves flow attachment and increases suction capacity, especially in space restricted environments.

Inner Surface Microstructures Inner Surface Microstructures
With the tips of the fan blades ploughing through the boundary layer created by the Inner Surface Microstructures, flow separation from the suction side of the blades is significantly suppressed, which results in reduced blade passing noise and improved airflow and pressure efficiency.

Integrated Anti-Vibration Integrated Anti-Vibration Pads
Integrated Anti-Vibration Pads made from extra-soft silicone minimise the transmission of minute vibrations while maintaining full compatibility with all standard mounting systems and fan clips used on heatsinks.

SSO2 SSO2 Bearing
The NF-F12 is the first fan to feature the further optimised second generation of Noctua’s renowned, time-tested SSO bearing. With SSO2, the rear magnet is placed closer to the axis to provide even better stabilisation, precision and durability.

Metal Bearing Shell Metal bearing shell
In order to guarantee the highest possible degree of manufacturing precision, minimum tolerance and excellent long-term stability, the NF-F12 sports a CNC milled bearing shell made entirely from brass.

PWM Custom designed PWM IC with SCD
Supporting fully automatic PWM speed control, the NF-F12 uses Noctua’s novel, custom designed NE-FD1 PWM IC that integrates Smooth Commutation Drive (SCD) technology. By providing smoother torque impulses, SCD suppresses PWM switching noises and thus makes the fan quieter at lower speeds.

Low Power Consumption Ultra-Low Power Consumption
The NF-F12 draws only 0.6W, which is more than 50% less than many fans in the same speed range. This doesn’t only make it eco-friendly but also cuts down the electricity bill: Compared to a typical 2W fan, this allows you to save about half the price of the NF-F12 after 5 years of continuous use.

LNA Low-Noise Adaptor
The NF-F12 is supplied with a Low-Noise Adaptor (L.N.A.) that reduces the maximum fan speed from 1500 to 1200rpm. The L.N.A can be used either to run the fan at a fixed speed of 1200rpm or to cap the maximum speed when using automatic PWM control.

Cabling Options Extensive Cabling Options
The fan’s short 20cm primary cable minimises cable clutter in typical applications while the supplied 30cm extension provides extended reach when necessary. Both cables are fully sleeved and a 4-pin y-cable allows to connect a second NF-F12 fan to the same PWM fan header for automatic control.

Warranty 6 years manufacturer’s warranty
Noctua fans are renowned for their impeccable quality and outstanding longevity. Like all Noctua fans, the NF-F12 features an MTBF rating of more than 150.000 hours and comes with a full 6 years manufacturer’s warranty.

 

Specifications

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Noctua has extensive documentation on its various technologies, check out the NF-F12 PWM Product Page for more information.


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Typical of Noctua's packaging, the NF-F12 PWM comes in a white box with CAD drawings creating a subtle background, and a window allows you a glimpse at what is contained inside.  The NF-F12 PWM has a book-style center section which details the various technologies and features found on their new fan.

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The NF-F12 PWM also comes with a few accessories in addition to its user manual.  A 30cm extension cable, a 4-pin Y-cable, and the low-noise adapter which reduces fan speed for even quieter operation.  We can see Noctua's distinctive brown color running through its documentation, as well as the brown/beige color scheme seen on all of their fans.

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The primary unique feature of the NF-F12 PWM is the "Focused Flow" stator guide vanes on the exhaust side of the fan.  These stators are designed to straighten the highly-turbulent flow generated by the spinning blades.  This aspect allows the flow to become more "focused" directly out in front of the blades, which means you'll have less flow spillage around the sides of the fan enclosure or the cooler you have the NF-F12 PWM attached to.  This directly results in greater static pressures, which are critical to maximizing the flow between the fins of a heatsink or radiator.  The stator vanes are also pitched at various angles so that each vane reacts to the flow differently, which may seem strange at first.  Their reasoning isn't what you might first expect either, but given Noctua's reputation for making some of the quietest fans money can buy, it makes sense.  The vanes are pitched differently so that each vane creates noise at a different frequency, meaning each frequency will have a lower overall amplitude, and you'll have quieter sound at a wider range of frequencies.  This is a very unique approach by Noctua, and demonstrates their aggressive attitude to reduce noise as opposed to "only" optimizing the flow performance.

The vanes also feature what Noctua calls "Vortex Control Notches," which server a similar purpose to the stator guide vanes.  The notches actually induce several smaller vortices, which "controls" the vortices which result on the tips of the blades, which also have the highest velocity.  The vortices on the end of the spinning blades of a helicopter interacting with the other blades are what create the "chop-chop-chop" sound which gave helicopters the nickname "choppers."  The same principle applies to case fans, and although it's less drastic because the enclosure helps to reduce the vortices on the blade tips, these vortices are still one of the primary sound sources.  By using the notches to induce several smaller vortices, you allow each vortex to have a lower noise amplitude, and due to the changing interactions and radial distance from the hub, each notch will have slightly different tonal frequencies, distributing noise over a wider range of frequencies, each at a lower amplitude, leading to lower perceived noise.

The fan blades themselves use a proven design Noctua has used in the past, and the blade design is highly optimized for quiet operation.  Noctua's renowned SSO2 bearings also mean you'll have low vibration, quiet operation, and also very long lifetimes, as would be expected being backed by a 6-year warranty.  The corners of the fan chassis also have rubber anti-vibration pads, further evidence of the obsessive chase for a minimal acoustic footprint from Noctua.

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Noctua's fan cables always come sleeved in a slick rubberized sleeving which is different than the fibrous sleeving you're probably used to.  It's more of a hybrid rubber shroud which is heatshrinked to the cable ends.  The sleeving looks very clean, but it is also a bit stiffer than traditional sleeving methods, but we believe the rubber sleeving should be more durable as well.


 

Testing

I can usually tell how loud (or quiet) a fan will be before ever spinning it up.  One of the first indicators is what I call the "free spin" test, where the blades are spun by hand and observe a couple aspects of the resulting motion of the blades.  First, it's usually clear how well balanced the blades and bearings are.  We've seen relatively poor fans come through before which would wobble and oscillate a fair amount during the free spin test because they had cheap, high-tolerance bearings.  Not surprisingly, since experience with past Noctua fans gives quite an indication, the fans spin buttery smooth.  Their SSO2 bearing system is precise and keeps vibrations at bay.  The other aspect of this test is to see how long the fan will spin, which gives indications of the bearing quality (and how long the lifetimes will be), as well as the motor quality.  Many cheaper fans have a noticeable "bump" when you turn the blades by hand, and these fans often need alot of push to keep them spinning, which generally means louder operation.  Once again, Noctua's premium fans offer premium performance, and the fan blades spun freely for a very long time with a light push of my finger.  There is very little perceived "bump" in as the inductors brush past the motor magnets, which are all good results, albeit expected from past experiences with Noctua's fans.

 Examining the aerodynamic design also usually provides several clues about the fan's noise, however I didn't exactly know what to expect with Noctua's new stator guide vane design.  The vortex control notches should allow quiet operation, but I wondered about the immediate reactions of the stator vanes with the swirling turbulent flow coming off of the blades, and wondered if that would also induce noise.  As we mentioned before, Noctua's blade design is based upon their previously-proven designs, and on its own should translate into quiet operation.

 The fans were tested in an isolated box by use of a long fan cable extension to eliminate the noise from other system fans.

Until we obtain a more accurate decibel-meter, we'll have to make comparisons based upon a subjective comparison.  At the lowest operational speed, the NF-F12 PWM is really as close to silent as you could ask for in a fan.  In a passive system that needs a bit of an airflow boost, the NF-F12 PWM would be a great choice, as its combination of ultra-quiet operation and focused airflow should do the trick nicely.  With the fan at its maximum speed, from 5 feet away the noise is barely audible as the faintest whisper, and it's not until you listen immediately next to the fan that the constant noise is easily heard.  The perceived difference between the NF-F12 PWM and past Noctua fans we've covered is essentially negligible, and the stator vanes don't seem to add any noticeable noise.

 The forward static pressure definitely appears to benefit from the stator guide vanes of the Focused Flow system, as it feels much more directed, as was intended.  The difference is especially noticeable at a distance ~5 feet where the airflow is much more constant and less fleeting than other fans which feel very "whispy" and faint.  The static pressure feels great, and as an ultra-quiet heatsink fan solution, the NF-F12 PWM seems like a fantastic choice to really drive air through the heatsink or radiator fins without being obtrusively loud.

 

Final Thoughts

Noctua has a tough game to play with itself as they've continually set a very solid standard with their previous case fans, so how do they make them better and maybe a bit different?  Well, one answer to that is the NF-F12 PWM, which takes their proven technologies, and tailors it to a specific purpose with another added piece of technology, the stator guide vanes.  The NF-F12 PWM maintains the ultra-quiet operation you'd expect from Noctua's high-end fans, but really dials up the static pressure necessary for ideal heatsink operation.  Noctua's use of advanced aerodynamic design continues to pay off, as does their high quality SSO2 bearings, which ensure long lifetimes.

 And speaking of lifetimes, one deterrent from buying the NF-F12 PWM might be its relatively hefty price tag for a case fan, which can currently be found at ~$20-25.  But, as I've stated in previous reviews of Noctua's fans, the overall cost is likely not nearly as high, as their bearings really do shine above most others out there, and at 150,000 hours of rated lifetime, you'll be able to keep these around for a long time.  Even the cheap fans which I've gone through quickly in the past run around ~$10, which you may go through two or three before needing to replace the NF-F12 PWM, without the other benefits of its quiet operation.  Will Noctua's premium fans win any bang-for-your-buck contests?  Probably not, but if you're looking for a fan which goes to all lengths to remain as quiet as possible while still delivering for intensive applications like a heatsink or radiator, then the NF-F12 PWM is for you.

Pros:

  • Ultra-quiet
  • Smooth, high quality bearings
  • High static pressure, focused airflow

Cons:

  • Price ($20-25)

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