By – John Williamson

Noctua Fans Review

Noctua is a premium brand synonymous with air cooling solutions and have consistently dominated the high end market due to their extensive research and development programme.  Products such as the NH-D14 rivalled water cooling options and offered overclocking headroom whilst maintaining silent operation.  Noctua’s ethos revolves around creating a substantial amount of airflow without making the fans audible in a quiet rig.  Consumers are now bombarded with so many options in regards to aftermarket fans. Noctua’s main competition comes from the Corsair SP120 Quiet Edition fans which perform admirably and adopt a more aesthetically pleasing colour scheme.  However, the Noctua NF-S12A are cooler and quieter than their competition and have an impeccable build quality unlike any other fan on the market.

Included in each package is the fan, traditional screws, 4 Vibration Compensators, Installation Manual, Y Cable, 30cm Extension Cable and Low Noise Adapters for reducing the overall rpm value.  Noctua has excelled itself with the bundled accessories and eradicated the need to look online for additional cables which are often needed to power multi fan configurations in high end machines.  It’s important to reiterate that most manufacturers do not include these extras.  For example, the Corsair AF140s only come with the fan and 4 screws.

As a result, Noctua does provide an incentive to pay the premium price as you get a lot more for your money.  The NF-S12A comes in three forms which offer varying levels of fan speeds.  The FLX model operates at 1200rpm, 900rpm via the Low Noise Adapter and 700rpm with the Ultra Low Noise Adapter. Another version is the ULN and this spins at 800rpm and 600rpm with the included adapter. Finally, the PWM fan runs at speeds between 300-1200rpm and is controlled by your motherboard’s PWM capabilities.

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Test System:

  • Intel 4770K @ 4.4Ghz (1.25v)
  • Swiftech H320 Water Cooling CPU Cooler
  • 16GB Corsair 2133mhz Cl9 Dominator Platinum Memory
  • Sapphire AMD 290 Tri-X OC
  • Gigabyte GA-Z87X-OC
  • Seagate 480GB SSD
  • Western Digital 3TB Red NAS Drive
  • Corsair AF140 LED Fans
  • Corsair Air 540 White Case

Installation is a breeze and aided by the excellent instruction manual which helps you at every step through visual diagrams.  You can use the vibration compensators or traditional screws to mount the fans into your case.  I would strongly recommend using the vibration compensators as they reduce rattling and eliminate any interference between the fan and its mounting system.  To install the fan, you must position the compensators into the appropriate screw holes and carefully place the rubber joints through 4 holes.  When the fan is attached to all 4 sockets, you need to firmly pull the compensators whilst gently holding onto the unit.  Once the rubber pins have been feeded through, your fan will be secure and ready to be connected.  Then all you have to do is hook up the fan to a 3 pin system header and boot the system.

The wide range of fan speeds relates to varying thermal performance and noise levels. The FLX fan reports an airflow of 107,5 m³/h, 83,2 m³/h (LNA) and  65,8 m³/h (ULNA) whilst attaining an acoustics level of 17,8 dB(A),10,7 dB(A) and  7,4 dB(A).  Using the PWM model will give you the same results but has the option to run sub 600rpm at the user’s discretion.  As expected, the ULN fan runs significantly quieter and would be suitable for machines running at stock speeds.  The airflow for this fan is 74,3 m³/h and 57,5 m³/h with a acoustical noise of 8,6 dB(A) and 6,7 dB(A).  During testing, I noticed the differentiation in thermal temperatures was only 2C between the ULN and PWM at idle and 4C under load.

I compared the Noctuas against a number of rival offerings including the SP120s, AF120 Quiet Editions and the Swiftech Helix fans.  According to Hardware Monitor, the NF-S12A reduced my system temperatures at idle from 28 to 26 and 48 to 45 under heavy load using OCCT.  The previous fans I was using were the AF120s which had an airflow of 39.88CFM and produced 21dB (A) at 1100rpm.

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In simple terms, the Noctuas dramatically reduced fan noise and transformed my system from a semi-loud rig to an ultra silent dream machine.  I cannot emphasize enough how quiet these fans are even without the adapters. The Swiftech Helix fans are another alternative but these performed poorly at lower RPM levels and became very loud when you try to run them at their maximum capacity.  The Swiftechs operate at 1800rpm (PWM) with an airflow of 55 CFM and volume of < 33 dB(A).  Another statistic which illustrates the domination of Noctua within this field is MTBF life and warranty period.

The NF-S12A has an absurd lifespan MTBF of  > 150,000 hours.  In comparison to this, the Swiftech has only 60,000 hours and I couldn’t find any information appropriate data on the Corsair range.  Also, Noctua products are backed by a 6 year warranty which is almost triple the length of their competition.  Corsair only offer a 2 year basic warranty on their fans and this creates the impression they aren’t built to Noctua’s exemplary standard.

This also gives the customer peace of mind that they are investing in a premium product that is designed to last for 24/7 operation. From a hypothetical point of view, if a Corsair fan died every 2 years, you would need to buy 3 fans at £10/$10 more than the Noctua’s original purchase price to replace them during a 6 year period.

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The biggest complaint from system builders and hardware enthusiasts is Noctua’s burgundy colour scheme. There is a valid argument that they don’t fit particularly well with certain builds and look out of place.  However, they accompany machines with a white chassis and look superb alongside white or blue LED strips which highlight the fans through a subtle hint of colour.  Also, if you don’t have a case window, then the aesthetics won’t be an issue whatsoever.  The Noctua NF-S12A contains a host of unique and innovative features designed to eliminate residual noise. For example, there are integrated Anti-Vibration pads that eradicate even the smallest of vibrations to maintain a consistent volume level.  The human ear is more attuned to hearing large differences in noise so this is a wonderful addition.

Noctua has also invented the Advanced Acoustic Optimization frame and this includes Inner Surface Microstructures which decreases the flow separation between the blades and interior fan structure.  The blades themselves are a feat of modern engineering and contain a high angle of attack to maximize airflow.

This often causes an unwanted delay in most fans of this type as there is a flow separation and lack of efficiency.  Thankfully, Noctua have resolved this issue with the implementation of Anti-Stall knobs.  These are grooves in the blades that streamline and speed up airflow during the peak moment of performance. I could easily discuss the marvelous attributes of these fans in great length, but this article will end up being 4000 words.  What I have discussed so far, gives a brief insight into the level of quality you are getting for the price point.

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Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

Even with the high asking price of £18/$30, the Noctua NF-S12A is without question the crème de la crème of system fans.  Noctua confidently backs these products with a hassle-free 6 year warranty and will assist you with any technical queries within 48 hours.  This Austrian-based company deserves your support as their manufacturing process is built on reliable, industry defining products whilst maintaining a customer focused approach.  With Noctua, you aren’t paying for gimmicks or marketing spiel.  All you get is a sublime product which will transform your computer into a virtually silent rig.

Noctua NF-S12A Summary:

  • Time Used – 14 days
  • Games/Software Used – Metro 2033, Crysis 3, OCCT, HWMonitor, CPU-Z, 3DMark
  • System Specs – Intel i7 4770k, 16GB RAM, Sapphire 290 4GB OC
  • Acquisition Method – Review Unit
  • Availability – Newegg, Amazon, TigerDirect
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  • stika

    I’m actually surprised at how cheap they are considering the quality. I might just get a couple of these!

    • John Williamson

      Yep, they are definitely worth the extra and as you say don’t really cost that much when you take into account the build quality and 6 year warranty. Get yourself some of these fans and it will make your PC a joy to use!

    • AdamAmes

      From the looks of this review, I would pay the extra cash to ensure silent running. Usually in the hardware market, you get what you pay for.

    • David Queener

      I was having cooling issues on a machine last year, I got one of these, used from a friend. It lowered my temperature by 20 degrees celsius on the processor, and my system was actually quieter by a noteworthy amount (I replaced an existing fan – and my wife appreciated it).

      • Guest

        Which heatsink did you get? The NH-D14?

        • David Queener

          That’s the funny thing, I didn’t get a heatsink, I got a system fan. I’m still running a stock heatsink (though I do wonder what sort of improvement I would see with a Noctua one – not that I need it now).

      • John Williamson

        20C is a massive difference. That’s more than I would have expected even from the best fans money can buy.

  • Shawn

    I tried to quiet my PC with expensive fans and special rubber screws before, but I couldn’t find a way to quiet down my graphics card so it kind of defeated the purpose.

    (well quiet down without going to water cooling.)

    • AdamAmes

      What card do you have?

      • Shawn

        The one I tried to make quiet (for living room) has an Geforce GTX 470 in it I believe.

        • AdamAmes

          I had a 460 and never had any problems with noise, but that probably does not help. My old 8800 on the other hand, wow. That thing sounded like a jet under full load.

          No luck with any cooling solutions other than water?

          • Shawn

            It’s honestly been awhile since I’ve messed with that PC, but at the time building it I was able to find custom fans for the box, cpu, and mobo that were very quiet however nothing for the GPU that reduced the noise that puts out when under load.

          • AdamAmes

            Is it that bad? I mean, bad enough it gets in the way of playing or watching TV?

          • Shawn

            It’s super quiet on the desktop, but when playing a game I can hear it in the other room over the game.

          • John Williamson

            Hi, it sounds like your graphics card is using a reference blow cooler and they are fairly loud. Unfortunately for you the GTX 470 was a very loud and hot card. System fans will never significantly reduce the noise of reference GPUs. The only option you have is to buy a new GPU or swap the reference cooler for a water block. In future, I would always recommend getting an aftermarket Msi, Gigabyte, Asus or Sapphire GPU as they will be quiet and run within thermal limits. One idea though is to download MSI Afterburner and setup a custom fan profile. Here you can manually create the fan speed’s curve and select how much % you want it to run when it reaches certain temperatures. The default value could ramp the fan up to 50% at 70C, so you could change this to 30%. However, this will obviously increase GPU temperatures.

          • Shawn

            Thanks for the input. Yea, probably gonna just put up with it for awhile, but will keep that in mind for future upgrades.