Noctua Fan Lineup Review

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With me today I have some of the latest fans from Noctua in several different sizes including 40mm, 60mm, 92mm, 140mm and 150mm. They have also been kind enough to give us the ULNA, FLX and PWM versions of some of the fans. In addition to this, the 40mm fan also supports a system called OmniJoin which I will talk about further on in the review.

Noctua, founded in 2005, is a cooling company which offers some of the best solutions for the enthusiast and average consumer. With a strong history of providing quiet fans with decent performance, Noctua have certainly created a name for themselves in the short number of years they’ve been around.

With each of these fans having a different application I will be testing and making considerations under each scenario in which I feel they are best suited.

Looking at the packaging of the fans I must say that I’m very impressed – with the soft feel boxes they look and feel the part. The overall aesthetic on the box is very clean and professional with all the required information being present. On the rear of the box there is a small box which has all of the specifications of the fan and then a product description. On the front and back of the box there is a door which is secured by Velcro.

After opening the door on the front there is a window showing off the fan and rubber fan mounting plugs. On the inside of the door there is also some information and illustrations about the technologies used on the fan. The door on the rear shows a lot of information on the individual technologies used inside the fan.

After unboxing the fan (in this case the 150mm version) you can see the various accessories in the plastic tray. I will touch upon the specific accessories included in each model in the specific sections for each fan.

The packaging in terms of protection seems to be quite good for shock and keeping everything internally secure although the exterior is very much a retail box and wouldn’t withstand much of a beating during shipping.

Each of the fans shares a similar aesthetic in general with a beige and brown/red colour scheme which can be found on all Noctua fans to date. When looking closer at the fan there are several key areas which I would like to touch upon.

First is the rubber on the corner of the fans, this is designed to reduce vibration from the fan thus reducing some of the sound it emits. It’s a very good plan I feel and definitely is welcome on any fan in my eyes.

Next is the textured surface on the inside of the fan, this is intended to just generally increase efficiency in airflow, pressure and acoustic. Now I don’t know the science behind this but it certainly makes sense when given the extra thought.

The final thing I’d like to touch upon is the reduced motor size present in all of these fans, I think performance wise this is likely to be the biggest simply because logically more surface area should mean extra air flow.

PWM (Pulse Width Modulation)

PWM is a way of controlling fans from either a fan controller or motherboard header. What this achieves is very smooth fan speed control which is completely variable compared to a resistor for example which will limit it to a specific speed.

LNA (Low Noise Adapter)

This is simply a resistor to slow down the speed of the fan, thus reducing the noise. There is a performance hit to using the cable, it mostly depends on what you want more, silence or performance.

ULNA (Ultra Low Noise Adapter)

This is also a resistor which slows down the speed of the ran making the fan significantly slower, more so than your standard low noise adapter. There are even more thermal repercussions of using a ULNA adapter versus a LNA one but greater acoustic gains.

Extension Cable

This is exactly what it sounds like, it’s a 3 pin to 3 pin cable to add length so you can reach the further away fan headers or even aid with cable routing.

3 to 2 Pin

This converts the standard 3 pin connector to a 2 pin. 2 Pin adapters are not normally found within standard systems, so I’m very impressed to see its inclusion for those that may need it.

3 to 4 Pin (Molex)

This allows you to directly connect the fans to a molex plug from your power supply, however PWM or similar will not work when not plugged into a 4 pin fan connector on the motherboard or similar.

Rubber Plugs

These are to allow you to mount the fans without a screw driver and will also absorb some of the vibration generated by the fan itself.

m³/hr

This is a measurement of the air being pushed through the fan, higher air flow usually means higher performance but there is another factor – static pressure. To convert to CFM (Cubic Feet Per Minute) divide this figure by 1.7.

Static Pressure

This is a measurement of how much air pressure the fan can generate, fans with higher static pressure tend to do very well on dense heatsinks and radiators.

The first fan which I will be testing is the miniscule 40mm NF-A4x10 FLX. In general 40mm fans are targeted at either small form factor systems or servers; this fan excels in both scenarios being both very quiet and having an incredible static pressure meaning you can use quite a dense heatsink or radiator and it will still push air through.

Looking at the individual packaging of the fan it’s very good, albeit comical to see such a big box with a small fan. Included inside the box is the fan, extension cable, LNA adapter, 3 to 2 pin adapter, 4 rubber mounting plugs, 4 mounting screws and an OmniJoin adapter kit. Overall this is very impressive and certainly very comprehensive.

One element I will touch upon is the OmniJoin adapter; this is mostly targeted at people who wish to upgrade the fans in an existing system as it makes you able to easily join a proprietary connector to the fan.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to test the OmniJoin system due to the fact that I do not own anything which uses a proprietary fan connector but the overall system does look very robust and I have every expectation that it would work correctly and easily.

I wasn’t able to test the fan on the performance side of things due to the fact that I didn’t have anything which fitted a 40mm fan. But based on the specification it should provide fantastic performance.

Acoustically the fan performed amazingly, when put inside my case it didn’t raise the sound levels whatsoever versus without the fan, this was with no case fans or CPU fans installed at the time.

Overall I’m very impressed with this fan, despite being unable to adequately test it due to a lack of equipment. The amount of air it moves for a fan so small is quite frankly surprising, and the fact that the fan was inaudible in my normal system when I tested it is amazing.

Looking at the specifications and personal experience I’d definitely think this would be more than capable in a HTPC or even home server where sound may be a problem. If using it in a more enterprise level server where noise isn’t a problem I don’t think it would be a good choice.

So for this fan I’d recommend it if it’s going in somewhere very noise sensitive otherwise I honestly don’t see much of a need for this level of acoustic performance in an environment which traditionally doesn’t particularly care about sound levels.

The next fan which I will be reviewing will be the 60mm NF-A6x25 FLX. For the most part 60mm fans are only really found within small form factor systems, servers, processor heat sinks and old cases. This fan is incredibly suited towards being used on a dense heatsink just because of the static pressure; in addition to the great performance the fan is also very quiet.

The packaging of the box is very much the same as all of the fans I’ve been given to review overall incredibly good. Included in the box for the 60mm fan it comes equipped very similarly to the 40mm with the fan, extension cable, LNA adapter, ULNA adapter, 3 to 4 pin (molex) adapter, 4 rubber mounting plugs and 4 mounting screws.

Again, as I was unable to find something adequate to test this fan in all I can go from is sound and the manufacturer specifications. Despite not being able to mount it for proper thermal testing, I was able to test it how loud the fan was. On this front I must say that once more I am very impressed as it certainly does perform in that regard being inaudible in my system when used with the ULNA, I was able to pick up sound without using the ULNA however, albeit very marginal.

Overall I feel like it could probably shift a little bit more air for the size but it still offers a rather large improvement over the 40mm fan, especially as its not unlikely to see these fans used in a similar situation. The only issue I see is that it does get a little but loud without the LNA or ULNA adapters. However, with that being said, the noise is still very amazing performance versus other brands so definitely don’t condemn this fan based on that fact that it’s louder than the silent 40mm fan.

I would recommend this fan in a heartbeat if it was possible to get radiators which can have 60mm fans installed to, but otherwise I can’t really see the niche where this fan fits in other than being a bigger brother to the 40mm which is no bad thing.

The next fan which I will be reviewing is the 92mm A9x14 PWM. This is the first fan which is a commonly used fan used in a myriad of situations ranging from case fans, radiators and heatsinks. This fan doesn’t focus on being the best performer in raw pressure and air flow; it aims to be a low profile option with a PWM motor for low noise when the system doesn’t require the additional speed.

Inside the box we have the fan, extension cable, LNA adapter, Y-Cable, rubber mounting plugs and mounting screws.

Once more I was unable to thermally test this fan due to having an inadequate system to install it within, however in this case I decided that I would mount it to my CPU cooler with an elastic band and report the results.

The fan feels just as robust as the previous ones; this is especially impressive due to the fact that this fan is a low profile version so there is less thickness to keep it from being as sturdy but I am pleased to report that its rock solid and can definitely survive the torcher of time.

The performance this fan had on my CPU cooler was a lot better than I expected it to be, I didn’t think it would make a real difference versus passive, naturally it wasn’t able to compete with the stock fans on my D14 CPU cooler, however it does give a good insight into what a difference even a fan as small as this one can make.

Overall I was impressed with the performance especially considering the less than ideal conditions in which it was mounted. The real winning formula of this fan however is the thermal performance when compared to the sound performance. Not only does it perform admirably on the thermal front when you take into consideration that this is a low profile fan, which are normally much louder than full thickness fans, the acoustic performance truly is phenomenal.

Another thing to take into account with this type of fan is the PWM, although the maximum sound levels can look quite high the PWM motor will keep the fan spinning only as fast as it needs to be. You can set up this functionality within the BIOS or with software within the operating system.

I would definitely recommend this to be used in any system which wants the extra space offered by the low profile design, but if the extra space is not needed then it would likely be a better bet to go for something thicker so you can have better overall performance.

On the 140mm front, Noctua have been kind enough to offer up 3 different versions to review including the NF-A14 ULN, NF-A14 PWM and NF-A14 FLX. Each fan is suited to different roles and purposes, but to make it easier for you to decide I’ve put all three together and will be comparing the results together.

Each of these fans have been targeted at a slightly different audience each time so everyone should be happy even if they want performance, middle of the road and silent style fans.

Testing Equipment:

  • CPU: i7 3770k @ stock
  • CPU Cooler: Noctua DH-14
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte Z77X-UD5H
  • RAM: Mushkin Blackline Ridgeback 16GB
  • PSU: Corsair HX750
  • Case: Lian Li A71FB

Unfortunately I was unable to test any of these fans on a CPU cooler so I am unable to give accurate temperature graphs, however I did mount each fan with an elastic band to test acoustically – I did try temperature testing but found the results to vary too much making the results void in my eyes.

NF-A14 ULN

The first 140mm fan which I will be looking at is the ULN version. This version is focused on acoustic performance as opposed to having impressive air pressure or air flow figures; this is not to say that it doesn’t perform well in those areas.

Inside the box it comes with the fan, extension cable, ULNA adapter, 3 to 4 pin (molex) adapter, 4 rubber mounting plugs and 4 mounting screws

Out of all three this was the fan I was anticipating reviewing the most, as I love a quiet PC. Eager to get to it I strapped the fan to my heatsink and began the testing which is when I got the most shocking of results. The fan, much like the 92mm did not increase the ambient level of sound within my case. This is especially impressive when taken into account that the LNA adapter was not used for this testing.

The thermal performance although the worst out of this particular trio was still very impressive looking at the specifications, especially when considering it is no louder than my system.

Overall I’d recommend this fan be put in any system which focuses upon acoustic performance as a priority as this is the area where it was designed to excel, and certainly does.

NF-A14 FLX

The second 140mm fan which I will be looking at is the FLX version. This version is the all-rounder type of fan offering decent acoustical, air flow and pressure performance; however this is definitely a jack of all trades master of none sort of situation, as it’s neither the best performer nor the worst in all categories.

Inside the box it comes with the fan, extension cable, ULNA adapter, 3 to 4 pin (molex) adapter, 4 rubber mounting plugs and 4 mounting screws.

This being the middle of the road style of fan offered by Noctua I was quite excited to see how it performed in general, although I wasn’t able to do accurate thermal testing I did do acoustic testing which was rather impressive if I do say so myself as the fan was unable to increase the ambient sound when measured from 15cm away from the case. For testing purposes all other fans were disabled, the only things running inside of my system were my HDDs and PSU.

This alone is enough to recommend the product as normally I’d say my system is rather quiet but this put it into a league of its own.

Overall I’m impressed with acoustic performance and the thermal performance is so-so, neither bad nor good when compared to the rest of the fans.

NF-A14 PWM

And last but not least we have the final 140mm fan which is the PWM version. This is the more performance orientated of the trio of fans boasting the highest pressure and air flow, but also the loudest noise; to mitigate the noise there is the PWM motor which will slow down the fan so the extra air flow is used when needed.

Inside the box it comes with the fan, extension cable, LNA adapter, Y-Cable, 4 rubber mounting plugs and 4 mounting screws.

The best I can do when testing the actual air flow is to look at the manufacturer specifications. My only bet is to trust that the figures they provide are accurate; I must say based on the feel of the actual air flow it seems to be all in order. One thing I did notice is how good the PWM feature is when I was putting my system under load. The fan speed changes were very obvious and smooth. Normally PWM fans feel jittery but this one definitely felt smooth it was quite a strange thing to be holding as the motion was incredibly fluid.

One thing I will touch upon is the rubber corners, they don’t seem quite as well made as the ones on the other fans, but they are completely removable whereas the others are not, so this may simply be a trade-off where accessibility meets build quality, either way if you’re too bothered there’s always super glue.

Overall I would love to have a full set of Noctua’s PWM fans inside my case and on my cooler. But there are some faults, being unable to mount 140mm fans on a cooler which supports that size and is made by the same company is quite frankly wrong, admittedly this one is marketed more towards radiators but would still be a fantastic buy for the added performance anywhere in a system. I’m impressed with the actual fan but the usability was something to be desired for me personally. If I was installing just inside a case or on a radiator there wouldn’t have been a problem.

Acoustic Benchmarks

For the final fan of the entire series we have the 150mm NF-A15 PWM. This fan is targeted solely at CPU coolers; the aim of the fan is offer better performance on certain coolers such as the Noctua NF-D14 and Thermalright Silver Arrow by putting this fan in between the two heatsinks.

Inside the box it comes with the fan, extension cable, LNA adapter, Y-Cable, 4 rubber mounting plugs and 4 mounting screws.

After opening the box this fan was the strangest to look at, as it wasn’t as typical your traditional fan, this is due to the bizarre rectangular style as opposed to the normal square design. In addition to this it also bulges around the edges to accommodate for the additional size.

The first thing I attempted to do was transfer the mounting wire from my stock DH-14 to this fan, unfortunately it was not a match to be. This left me with no way of actually mounting the fan on my CPU other than with an elastic band which proved to give very inconsistent thermal results as such I opted to once more only do acoustic results. One thing I want Noctua to offer is the option to at least mount these fans on their own products let alone others.

The performance side of things looks good with a very impressive acoustic reading measuring in at the exact same as the 140mm counterpart. Although looking at the specs this fan actually quite significantly better than the 140mm version at least on the air flow front – I would like to see an improvement on the static pressure of this fan mainly due to the fact that in a situation when its sandwiched between two heatsinks I can see the additional pressure increasing performance by a quite nice margin.

Overall I’m just as impressed as the rest of these fans, with little to no faults other than being unable to mount them on a cooler which should support them.

After looking at and testing all of the fans in this series I can say without a doubt that Noctua are one of the top cooling companies for a reason, with superior cable selections offered and many things to aid in general use it certainly helps mitigate a fair amount of the cost of the fans which are quite pricey.

The only area I’m disappointed with is being unable to mount the 140mm fans to my DH-14 which should support them, and when holding the fan to the heatsink they certainly fit within the dimensions of the cooler. Even if Noctua only offered their fan mounting system for the cooler it would make a world of difference to the end user as it left me with a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth on top of an otherwise very impressive experience.

Next is the performance, now they all perform amazingly on the acoustic front and for the levels of sound the actual thermal implications are very good but I would like to see Noctua offering some more brutish fan designs which aim to provide a large amount of air flow or pressure at the cost of noise levels. Right now even the loudest of fans offered by the company are still considered to be one of the quietest among competitors.

Overall it was a great experience with fantastic packaging, comprehensive accessories and a very high level of build quality. I can also comment on Noctua’s customer service first hand having had a few good experiences in the past, I wouldn’t have an issue recommending the brand in general on this front. If they were to improve the compatibility with coolers etcetera I’d be likely to give these fans a perfect score in every regard except for value as they are not cheap – that being said with a 6 year warranty and MTBF in excess of 150,000 hours.

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