Noctua NF-R8 (80mm) and NF-S12 (120mm) Fans
Reviewed by: hardnrg
Reviewed on: March 14, 2007
Price: £11 (NF-R8) / £14 (NF-S12-800, NF-S12-1200)
If you've been keeping up with high-end air-cooling lately, you've probably heard about the range of CPU coolers from Noctua being amongst the best heatsinks currently available. While for many of us the highest performance means the highest overclocks, the most efficient heatsinks can also be used with quiet fans to make the PC virtually (or literally) inaudible. By using silent fans around the entire case, it can be very difficult to determine whether the computer is even turned on if you can't see the power or hard drive LEDs!
This review will be looking at three fans from Noctua. The NF-R8 is an 80mm model and the NF-S12 is a 120mm model that comes in two variants: the 800 and 1200 (which denotes the nominal RPM at 12V). Since the 120mm models only differ in speed, only one is shown in the review photos since in visual appearance they are identical.
Back of the box
The back of the box explains the technological advances in rotor and blade design (developed by the Austrian Institute for Heat-Transmission and Fan Technology) and how these benefit the Noctua fans. Also, the bearing type is described as "a magnetically centered, self lubricating oil-pressure bearing" which sounds similar to Panaflo's "hydrowave" approach, which is well-known for its superiority over standard ball or sleeve bearings. At the bottom, a detailed specification table is provided which includes figures at different speeds.
Inside the box
Each box is laid out the same with the Vibration Compensators (rubber grommets) arranged vertically on the right, and the fan cable, fan screws and various adapters at the top. On closer inspection, you can see that the 80mm fan comes with two speed reduction adapters (non-identical) and the 120mm fans only come with one speed reduction adapter. Both come with the four rubber grommets and standard self-tapping fan screws.
Straight away, you can see something very different going on with the 120mm blades. They look sort of skinny and straight compared to the "usual" design.
The 80mm fan looks slightly different, but I think the difference must be more subtle because I can't quite place why it looks different. Maybe the blades are slightly bigger or curved a little more.
Nice to see that even though the blades and rotor are different than normal, the frame of the fans are quite standard. There is no daft tube joining the fan mounting holes, so you can mount these fans on heatsinks with spring clips, like much of the Thermalright series, without any issues.
Ok, so I installed the fans but then quickly realized that I wouldn't be able to test them for noise levels at all due to the noise from the PSU, hard drives, and the ambient noise level in my computer room.
There was no way in hell I'd be able to do any sort of testing with the fans installed. So I took them out of the case and into the lounge, as this is the quietest room in the house, and decided to set up a test-bench.
Noctua NF-S12-1200 and NF-S12-800 specs
> 150,000 h
* extrapolated values
U.L.N.A. = Ultra Low Noise Adaptor
Noctua NF-R8 specs
L.N.A. = Low Noise Adaptor
U.L.N.A. = Ultra Low Noise Adaptor
I took the liberty to convert the m³/h airflow values into CFM as most of the world primarily uses CFM, even if the measuring system is predominantly metric. The Ultra Low Noise Adapter is the in-line speed reduction adapter that comes with each one of the fans. The Low Noise Adapter is the additional in-line speed reduction adapter that reduces the fan speed/noise less than the U.L.N.A.
- 12V 500mA AC/DC power supply
- DC in-line socket -to- female Molex adaptor
- Digital Multimeter
- iRiver IFP-899 mp3 player with Creative desktop microphone and Koss PortaPro headphones
- Noctua 120mm NF-S12-1200
- Noctua 120mm NF-S12-800
- Noctua 80mm NF-R8
- Delta 120mm WFB1212M
- Panaflo FBA12G12M1A
- SuperFlower 80mm Tri-Color LED
- LNA and ULNA in-line fan-speed reduction adaptors
I gathered some spare fans I had laying around for comparison and soldered up an in-line DC socket to a molex connector to provide 12 Vdc from an AC/DC adapter.
In the photo above, you can see the test subjects (fans), a Creative desktop microphone connected to an iRiver IFP-899 MP3 player for recording, and a digital multimeter for measuring voltages. The prototype circuit on the breadboard is a PWM (pulse width modulation) fan controller that worked briefly until I overloaded it with a Tornado! So I didn't use it, nor any additional fan controllers apart from the supplied LNA and ULNA in-line speed reduction adapters.
For recording, I kept the microphone 6cm away from the corner and at a slight angle so the fan wasn't blowing directly into the microphone pickup.
It should be made clear here that the noise levels are not weighted, nor were they measured with specialist recording equipment. It is simply to give a relative noise level for the Noctua fans against each other and against other brands of fans. You can see that Noctua's second 120mm fan and the 80mm fan are the quietest in the group, and Noctua's first 120mm fan is about as quiet as the SuperFlower 80mm LED fan!!
Pure numbers in a graph don't really give a good enough impression of the different sound of each fan, so I've included some MP3s that I recorded for each of the fans in this test. Note that there is some quick periodic "squeaking" and a clock ticking in the background. I have no idea what the squeaking noise is, but it was some form of electromagnetic interference being picked up by the microphone.
Noctua 120mm NF-S12-1200 listen
Noctua 120mm NF-S12-800 listen
Noctua 80mm NF-R8 listen
Delta 120mm WFB1212M listen
Panaflo FBA12G12M1A listen
SuperFlower 80mm Tri-Color LED listen
After listening to the Noctua NF-R8 and the SuperFlower Tri-Color LED fan, I think that the Noctua is a much softer and non-intrusive sound. Subjectively, the Noctua fans were all quieter than I expected and were pretty much inaudible at a distance of half a meter from my ear. This distance was the point at which it was hard to tell if I could hear the fan or not. Promising start then. Next was to see what effect the supplied fan speed reduction adapters have on each of the fans.
ULNA speed reduction
Noctua 120mm NF-S12-1200 with ULNA (4.83 V) listen (I'm saying: "fans on now... now it's off... now it's on... now it's off")
Noctua 120mm NF-S12-800 with ULNA (7.11 V) listen (I'm saying: "okay, giving the fan power now... power off... power on... power off")
Noctua 80mm NF-R8 with ULNA (5.29 V) (so quiet it didn't register over the background noise)
Delta 120mm WFB1212M with ULNA (not enough voltage to spin)
LNA speed reduction
Noctua 120mm NF-S12-1200 with LNA (7.05 V) listen (I'm saying: "okay, this is the Noctua 12-1200 on the red [LNA]... and off")
Noctua 120mm NF-S12-800 with LNA (9.16 V) listen (I'm saying: "right, this is the Noctua 12-800 on the red [LNA]... and off")
Noctua 80mm NF-R8 with LNA (7.49 V) (so quiet it didn't register over the background noise)
Delta 120mm WFB1212M with LNA listen (I'm saying: "okay this now is the Delta on the .. red reduction thing [LNA] I think .. yup .. *chuckle*..")
Again, the ULNA adapter comes with all three fans, but only the 80mm NF-R8 fan comes with the LNA adaptor. I merely used the LNA adapter on the 120mm fans to observe the difference.
I'm not sure why only the 80mm version comes with the two different speed reduction adapters and the 120mm fans only come with the ULNA adapter. It's incredibly difficult to hear the 120mm fans with the LNA and I think it would be a good idea to include both adapters with each fan so that the user can decide just how quiet they need the fans to be.
I had no way of measuring the airflow, but using the old "fan toward the cheek" test, I was surprised how much air was coming from these inaudible fans! With the speed reduction adapters installed, I could only hear the fans if I put my ear so close to the fan it was almost skimming the skin of my ears. That's why you can hear me murmuring when the fan is getting power and then turned off because I wasn't sure if it would even register on the recording.
Despite producing less airflow than the noisy Delta and Panaflo performance fans, I was blown away by the sound of near-silence! It is so hard to hear these fans that even at the full 12 volts, they are quieter than ANY of the fans in all of my computers. They're so quiet that all I could think of while testing them was "wouldn't it be nice to switch out all the fans in my music PC (digital audio workstation) for Noctua fans throughout".
I've bought quiet fans from Papst and Zalman before, and also get to test fans at work like the Akasa Amber series, and nothing comes close to these Noctua fans. The blade design of the 120mm fans strays from the norm and certainly would appear to benefit the low noise levels in operation. The 80mm fan is only moderately different in blade design, but nevertheless, you can also hear the difference it makes compared to a regular 80mm fan.
These fans are a must for anyone who wants to make their PC not only quiet but inaudible. You might think I'm exaggerating or deaf, but I'm dead serious. These fans are what you are after for a HTPC, a silent office PC, or a bedroom PC that won't disturb you or others in the middle of the night if you leave it on 24/7...
But...it has to be asked: why are these fans beige and brown?! Of all the colors, what was Noctua thinking when it came up with this two-tone combination? What's wrong with black and black? Like shoes, black goes with everything. Beige and brown shoes? Am I going bowling? Am I wearing my dad's shoes from the 70's? Haha. Ok, jokes aside, I think it was a bold move by Noctua to choose such a color combo as it may well put people off buying fans that will clash with the rest of the case. For a typical media center PC (HTPC), the fans are out of sight, so it doesn't matter. Maybe this is what Noctua was thinking: "the fans will be out of sight, so let's make them beige and brown, that'll show 'em". The thing is though, many people take pride on the inside of their computers and will have a side panel window, maybe even a clear acrylic case, and then these beige/brown fans will stick out like a sore thumb.
The colors are the only thing I can fault about these fans...perhaps the price as well. At somewhere around £11-14 a fan, things can add up quite quickly if you have 6 or 7 120mm fans in your case like I have in my main rig. But I've already learned that lesson because the Panaflo fans I bought were about the same price and they are much, much louder than the Noctua fans.
- Possibly the quietest fans available
- Maintain impressive airflow even at low speed
- Supplied speed reduction adapters allows you to select between quiet and inaudible
- If that's still not silent enough, the Vibration Compensators (rubber grommets) will eliminate noise transmitted to the case chassis
- The two-tone beige/brown colour combo may clash with the case colour-scheme if the fans are visible
- The best comes at a price