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.
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.
- Smooth, high quality bearings
- High static pressure, focused airflow
- Price ($20-25)
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