Cooling "Slim" 120mm fan options and comparisons?

zovc

King of Cable Management
Original poster
Jan 5, 2017
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Hey!

@Smallform Gaming did a pretty cool hack on their noctua cooler using a (flat) 92mm to 120mm fan adapter and I'm hoping to replicate that myself. You can see it in their thread here and the post describing their methodology is here.

The long story short on my situation is I'm trying to find a slim (~15mm max height) 120mm fan that will perform well on top of my Noctua NH-L9i heatsink. The stock fan is nice and it's been getting the job done, but my 4790K is out-of-spec and I have undervolted and underclocked it to maintain comfortable temperatures. Besides that, the beige-and-brown is not going to look good 'on display' in my S4 Mini when the time comes to install the system in there. Upgrading my aesthetics--even if that just means making them inoffensive--is about 50% of my motivation, next to maintaining or improving my thermals. The fan will be hooked up to a CPU PWM header.

I've been trying to look into slim 120mm fans, but most searching I have done doesn't seem to give much regard to the 'slim' term. Lots of info on 25mm fans come up but it isn't useful for me. Any place that has side-by-side comparisons of multiple candidate fans is of course preferable if only because it's likely their testing methodology is fairly similar across fans. I don't have a very good grasp on how useful numbers like RPM or CFM are, and I generally only compare them side-by-side and with a grain of salt.

I believe one of the favorites of this forum (and general SFF enthusiasts) is Scythe's line of slim fans and their aesthetic is pretty much the definition of inoffensive. From what I hear, their performance is great but I do believe I've heard some complaints about their noise at higher speeds. That's anecdotal recollection so that's not worth much.

So, I'd appreciate any suggestions you folks have. I'd also appreciate any insight on what exactly I should look for regarding fans to put on top of a CPU heatsink. My intuition tells me that higher static pressure is important, similar to a radiator fan. No idea whether push or pull is better.

Regarding aesthetics, my primary LED color is probably going to be orange, though I do intend on installing RGB strips and controlling those--my motherboard does not have any RGB headers and it's likely I won't be able to internally/software control any fan RGB headers. As far as component colors are concerned, most of them will end up being black/silver, but the case itself will likely end up being powder coated into an old-school off-white or light gray, with the side panel possibly being a medium gray. I imagine most black or gray fans will be inoffensive, and I think oranges, blues, or whites, might be able to pop interestingly with the overall theme I'm going for.
 
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Thehack

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Hey!

@Smallform Gaming did a pretty cool hack on their noctua cooler using a (flat) 92mm to 120mm fan adapter and I'm hoping to replicate that myself. You can see it in their thread here and the post describing their methodology is here.

The long story short on my situation is I'm trying to find a slim (~15mm max height) 120mm fan that will perform well on top of my Noctua NH-L9i heatsink. The stock fan is nice and it's been getting the job done, but my 4790K is out-of-spec and I have undervolted and underclocked it to maintain comfortable temperatures. Besides that, the beige-and-brown is not going to look good 'on display' in my S4 Mini when the time comes to install the system in there. Upgrading my aesthetics--even if that just means making them inoffensive--is about 50% of my motivation, next to maintaining or improving my thermals. The fan will be hooked up to a CPU PWM header.

I've been trying to look into slim 120mm fans, but most searching I have done doesn't seem to give much regard to the 'slim' term. Lots of info on 25mm fans come up but it isn't useful for me. Any place that has side-by-side comparisons of multiple candidate fans is of course preferable if only because it's likely their testing methodology is fairly similar across fans. I don't have a very good grasp on how useful numbers like RPM or CFM are, and I generally only compare them side-by-side and with a grain of salt.

I believe one of the favorites of this forum (and general SFF enthusiasts) is Scythe's line of slim fans and their aesthetic is pretty much the definition of inoffensive. From what I hear, their performance is great but I do believe I've heard some complaints about their noise at higher speeds. That's anecdotal recollection so that's not worth much.

So, I'd appreciate any suggestions you folks have. I'd also appreciate any insight on what exactly I should look for regarding fans to put on top of a CPU heatsink. My intuition tells me that higher static pressure is important, similar to a radiator fan. No idea whether push or pull is better.

Regarding aesthetics, my primary LED color is probably going to be orange, though I do intend on installing RGB strips and controlling those--my motherboard does not have any RGB headers and it's likely I won't be able to internally/software control any fan RGB headers. As far as component colors are concerned, most of them will end up being black/silver, but the case itself will likely end up being powder coated into an old-school off-white or light gray, with the side panel possibly being a medium gray. I imagine most black or gray fans will be inoffensive, and I think oranges, blues, or whites, might be able to pop interestingly with the overall theme I'm going for.

A 120mm fan may not solve your issue, as the heatsink wants air on top of it. a 120mm has a large dead zone right in the middle, where you want the most air to cool the main block. But who knows, it may work out better. No one has really tested it.

Regardless, the best 120mm slim fan I've seen based on my research is the prolimatech 120mm ultra sleek vortex. The PWM 120mm slim fan by Scythe is only available if you call them direct, as they don't sell the pwm version retail.

There is also silverstone, FW121, with their blade design develops some decent static pressure. The ones by Raijintek seems to look like the ones by scythe, so it may be a borrowed oem design.
 

zovc

King of Cable Management
Original poster
Jan 5, 2017
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602
Huh, interesting! Do you mention the dead zone in the center of 120mm fans because it's larger than it would be on a smaller fan? Not asking out of skepticism, I just never would have considered that before.

I'll definitely put the Prolimatech Ultra Sleek Vortex at the top of my list. The blue and white of the Silverstone FW121 should technically fit the look I'm going for, but I'm not sure how it would tie in just picturing everything in my head. I'm not afraid of trying to get a hold of Scythe, worst case scenario they just say "no," right?

Depending on how much feedback and data I end up getting, perhaps I'll just end up having to test a few of these fans out and see how things work. I don't mean to be soliciting--and I don't think this mod would fit in my current enclosure (mini-box M350)--but once I start getting my hands on my parts (and my S4 Mini), I'd be happy to test out any 120mm fans (that fit) that people would be willing to lend me. I could also do open-air testing for science, I suppose... depending on how universal we wanted this data to be I might need actual testing equipment instead of just motherboard sensors.
 

Pat-Roner

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Feb 18, 2016
140
103
I've genuinely tried almost all 120mm fans on the market. From Schyte, ID-cooling, Proilma, Gelid and silverstone, and the absolute best is the Silverstone FW121 that @Thehack mentioned above. Stellar pressure and fairly quiet. It's the only slim fan I can recommend.
 
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Thehack

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Huh, interesting! Do you mention the dead zone in the center of 120mm fans because it's larger than it would be on a smaller fan? Not asking out of skepticism, I just never would have considered that before.

I'll definitely put the Prolimatech Ultra Sleek Vortex at the top of my list. The blue and white of the Silverstone FW121 should technically fit the look I'm going for, but I'm not sure how it would tie in just picturing everything in my head. I'm not afraid of trying to get a hold of Scythe, worst case scenario they just say "no," right?

Depending on how much feedback and data I end up getting, perhaps I'll just end up having to test a few of these fans out and see how things work. I don't mean to be soliciting--and I don't think this mod would fit in my current enclosure (mini-box M350)--but once I start getting my hands on my parts (and my S4 Mini), I'd be happy to test out any 120mm fans (that fit) that people would be willing to lend me. I could also do open-air testing for science, I suppose... depending on how universal we wanted this data to be I might need actual testing equipment instead of just motherboard sensors.

Yeah. The dead zone is a decent bit bigger. It is important to cool the block itself as well as cool the fins. 92mm fans have a smaller dead zone.

I also got a 92mm silverstone fan. It looks great. I don't know why I bought that... likely performs worst than the noctua but it has a really sweet blue color.

I've genuinely tried almost all 120mm fans on the market. From Schyte, ID-cooling, Proilma, Gelid and silverstone, and the absolute best is the Silverstone FW121 that @Thehack mentioned above. Stellar pressure and fairly quiet. It's the only slim fan I can recommend.

What was your application? Do you have a build thread? I'm interested in your results.
 

Pat-Roner

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Feb 18, 2016
140
103
What was your application? Do you have a build thread? I'm interested in your results.

I used them for GPU cooling. These where the only ones that where silent and provided the best performance (lowest temps)

No log, but heres an older picture

 

zovc

King of Cable Management
Original poster
Jan 5, 2017
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602
Thanks @Pat-Roner, I'll consider the Silverstone FW121 as my tentative number one based on your claims. Those fans in your picture don't look like the white-and-blue FW121 I'm seeing, are those the same fan?
 

Pat-Roner

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Feb 18, 2016
140
103
The side fans are just ones from ID-cooling (can not recommend for heatsinks) the FW 121s are mounted in the bottom, below the gpu heatsink.
 

Thehack

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I used them for GPU cooling. These where the only ones that where silent and provided the best performance (lowest temps)

No log, but heres an older picture

I see. They were probably the only kind to have any sort of static pressure. I got a Corsair ML120 cooling my deshrouded 1060 as well.
 

Smallform Gaming

Cable-Tie Ninja
Aug 10, 2016
154
163
*The adapter plate focuses the 120mm fan into a smaller area over the CPU heatsink creating sufficient static pressure.
Gelid also makes a non-LED version that is UV reactive. Also the blue LED version has an on off switch on the side.
 
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|||

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Sep 26, 2015
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Mostly comparable. The only different is is that he blocked off only one side of the fan, whereas the adapter block off the outer edge.

He said on [H] that the cooler would probably be around 6 months out, if it got the green light.
 
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zovc

King of Cable Management
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Jan 5, 2017
852
602
That's fair. I feel like there's enough time between now and then and I already have the largest investment (the NH-L9i) to where I'll probably end up doing my own testing. Again, depending on how interested folks are in having proper testing done I may try getting useful measuring equipment like a heat gun and thermometers and whatnot. Living in South Louisiana (with kind of crappy A/C), my numbers might be pessimistically high for most cooling solutions especially as things start warming up.
 
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K888D

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Feb 23, 2016
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The Silverstone Slim FW121 fans are quiet in terms of your usual fan/motor/turbulence noise, but I've found that most of them suffer from a ticking or scraping noise when operating at low RPM. I've had to remove dozens of these fans from various builds over the past few years due to this ticking which is very annoying.

I usually replace them with an Akasa FN078 which if your motherboard can get it to run at its minimum stated 600 rpm it runs completely silent whilst moving a decent amount of air.

I found that the 120mm Slim Scythe fan used on the Big Shuriken 2 is audible even at idle RPM and fairly loud when running above 50% fan power. When replacing with the Akasa FN078 on the Big Shuriken 2 my CPU temps dropped a few degrees and fan noise reduced considerably at the same time. Although the Akasa is 15mm thick compared to 12mm of the Scythe fan.

I've not tested the Prolimatech 120mm Ultra Sleek Vortex 12, so I don't know how they compare to the above mentioned fans. But the 140mm Prolimatech fan is the best of the 140mm slim fans I've had a chance to test in terms of airflow at a given noise level.
 

zovc

King of Cable Management
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Jan 5, 2017
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I haven't tried very hard, but in my limited searching I haven't been successful finding settings for custom fan curves. I don't think my BIOS has them, are there programs in Windows that can do it? I did a little bit of looking on Google and then gave up because it wasn't very important to me at the time.
 

K888D

SFF Guru
Lazer3D
Feb 23, 2016
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What motherboard do you have? Usually you can download some kind of 'command center' software from the manufacturers product page or install it from the disc bundled with the box. This software usually has the ability to change fan curves for CPU and System fans. Some manufacturers do it better than others.

I've also read that CPUZ(?) can do it, I had a quick look into it but it wasn't obvious how to do it and so I gave up after 2 minutes!