Noctua explains active noise cancellation tech


— 11:16 PM on June 8, 2012

Computex — We probably should have scheduled our Computex meeting with Noctua earlier in the week, before my brain had been turned to mush after five days of wall-to-wall meetings and other events. We visited the company's booth primarily to see the active noise cancellation technology it's working on with RotoSub—and to get an explanation for exactly how it works. The details are pretty nerdy, and the physics is definitely over my head.

According to Noctua, the challenge with applying active noise cancellation to fans is the fact that they generate rotating pressure fields. Noctua didn't want the position of the user to be an issue, so the cancellation wave is produced within the fan itself, matching the phase and rotation of the sound being targeted. But how? Multiple magnets and a microphone.

Each of the fan blades is embedded with a tiny magnet, which is subjected to a magnetic field generated by a coil looped around the fan housing. By moving the blades by 0.1 mm or less, Noctua can create small vibrations that generate the required cancellation wave. The magnetic field is controlled by algorithms that receive input from a small microphone that will first be integrated into heatsinks and eventually incorporated into the fan itself. Full integration is expected to take at least two years, and the end result will probably cost twice as much as Noctua's current fans, if not more.

Given the complexities involved, the higher price tag seems justified. Noctua intends the end result to generate much lower noise levels at higher RPMs, allowing users to replace two fans with a single, smarter spinner.

Unfortunately, the noisy show floor wasn't the best place to demo the technology. Noctua had headphones on hand and a demo video of its prototype in action. You can view the same clip below.

If this seems like a lot of trouble to lower fan noise, it is. But Noctua's performance targets are much loftier than it could achieve with conventional methods. The company's new NF-S12 case fan, which was also on display at the show, took something like 18 months to develop and delivers just an 8% improvement in the airflow/noise ratio of the previous design. Noctua also has other fans and a bunch of new heatsinks on the way, including tiny coolers designed for low-profile Mini-ITX chassis and thinner towers that will leave more clearance for taller memory modules.

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