Noctua explains active noise cancellation tech

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.

Comments closed
    • liquidsquid
    • 7 years ago

    Neat idea. Now they need piezoelectric fan blades that can warp to cancel noise or change profile based on speed rather than magnetic coils.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 7 years ago

    So are we going to wind up with one of those boxes in a drive bay? Is it going to be one per fan? Or will the fans and controllers be sold separately?

    I’ve been getting by on Scythe low-RPM fans for a quiet system, and the temps are fine, but I’m always intrigued by newer, better, etc.

    • OneArmedScissor
    • 7 years ago

    In two years, is there going to be much of any reason for a fan to spin up?

    My desktop is a few years behind the times and no single part in it uses any of the modern leakage mitigating technologies, but even so, there’s just one 140mm fan that I can’t even hear with the case open. The slight hiss my speakers make is louder, and if the AC is on, I can’t even tell the computer is on.

    It doesn’t have a graphics card, but that’s irrelevant, because the desktop I used even years before this one had a passive graphics card. You can even get passive 400+ watt PSUs now!

    As an audio nerd, this concept is intriguing, but unfortunately, it’s too little, too late. Servers are what will continue to need significant cooling, but of a highly specialized sort that these new fans won’t have anything to do with.

      • Voldenuit
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<]It doesn't have a graphics card, but that's irrelevant,[/quote<] Since the graphics card is both the hottest and loudest component in a modern gaming rig, I would argue that it is [i<]entirely relevant[/i<] to the conversation. It is true that your setup with IGP would not benefit from a quieter fan, but it would be mistaken to assume that your scenario is applicable to the majority. In addition, you make further assumptions (in your case, use of A/C, and noisy speakers) that may not be generalizable to the gaming public.

    • Geistbar
    • 7 years ago

    This looks pretty neat for making fan noise a less annoying kind of background noise — something you get used to more easily.

    That said, all I could think of by the end of the video was: “Oh Zeus! They’re still using XP!”

      • rrr
      • 7 years ago

      What’s the problem with using XP?

        • Meadows
        • 7 years ago

        Everything.

    • jensend
    • 7 years ago

    Listening to the video gives the impression that that this is very effective at dealing with a few dominant frequencies but has no effect on broadband hiss- and the spectral plot they show towards the end of the video completely confirms that. Makes me wonder what the noise spectra of most computer fans these days look like; are they really as strongly tonal as the fan Noctua is demonstrating this on?

      • calvindog717
      • 7 years ago

      at full speed, almost all of them are, the ones in my case definitely are. although, two of the fans in my case were made by noctua.

        • UberGerbil
        • 7 years ago

        And I think that’s what Noctua is aiming at: being able to run fans at speeds that most users wouldn’t normally tolerate. The total noise volume may end up being similar in db and character, but the fans would be designed for high-speed operation so the air pressure and volume of air moved would be much greater. You wouldn’t necessarily lower the noise floor for an individual fan, but if the result is that you only need one or two to get the same results as four or more traditional fans, it’s a net win overall.

        I suspect that this would be far more applicable to CPU and GPU fans than to general case fans, because forcing air through heatsinks requires more pressure and would benefit the most from high-speed operation. It’s also a better business case, since increasing the price of a HSF from $70 to $100 (say) is an easier sell than bumping a fan from $30 to $60.

        Of course, that’s assuming this works out at all, which is by no means a given. It’s quite possible this will come and go like those Sunon maglev fans, and in 2015 somebody will ask if anybody remembers when Noctua was demoing this and did anything ever come of it.

    • HisDivineOrder
    • 7 years ago

    If they manage to make this work and work well, having faster flow fans instead of more fans at slower speed, they’ll be turning common logic on its ear. Those Delta Black fans of old with their high speeds, but now as silent as the fans we use today at much lower speeds. Could be great. Assuming they remove all of the noise, you could have much better cooling for smaller footprint systems that don’t have space for a ton of fans but have space for 1-2 high speed ones. I’d say it would be great for consoles, but the new consoles will be out next year (or with the Wii U this year) and it’s unlikely they’ll get them.

    Laptops in particular could benefit from something like this, but it’s hard to imagine an OEM footing the bill to give their user a quieter system. Maybe Apple would if Tim Cook can rope some supplier into an exclusive deal where they pay a $1 per fan…

    I like the idea of this, but I suspect that if they get it to work it’ll be a matter of time before it trickles out to all fans perhaps in some reduced way. In the meantime, we’ll trundle on with our slower, softer spinners and pray for the day when fans spin without noise.

      • UberGerbil
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<] I suspect that if they get it to work it'll be a matter of time before it trickles out to all fans perhaps in some reduced way.[/quote<]I doubt it. It really sounds like you have to design the entire fan for this, or you don't; it's not like it's some bearing tech or something that could be knocked off and incorporated in a half-assed way. And I'm sure a lot of the fundamentals are plastered with patents.

    • Meadows
    • 7 years ago

    [b<][i<]All[/i<][/b<] the method did was remove two spikes at 300 and 1100 Hz, and not change anything about the rest of the noise. Granted, white noise itself isn't terribly annoying in comparison, and the noise profile in itself is improved dramatically, but I still have a recommendation to Austria: import some proper fans that don't whine instead.

      • rrr
      • 7 years ago

      Still, mechanical filtration? Not bad at all.

      • calvindog717
      • 7 years ago

      well the two spikes there are about all that they can change…any other noise is caused by the air going through the heatsink, which is practically impossible to cancel out. the only sounds they are canceling are motor noise and the vibrations from the blades.Also note that the fan in the video is at full rpm, all fans whine at that speed. Also consider that they are’nt in a sound isolated room, there could be background noise that the mic is picking up, explaining some of the white noise. All things considered it’s a pretty good improvement.

        • Meadows
        • 7 years ago

        I know they can’t fix white noise, I mentioned it in my original comment that that’s not a problem.

        What I disagree with is that “all fans whine at maximum speed”, which is something my fans don’t do. Only my GPU fan becomes noticeable when it seriously spins up, but even then, it’s not like [i<]this[/i<].

      • NeelyCam
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<]I still have a recommendation to Austria: import some proper fans that don't whine instead.[/quote<] That's what I was thinking... I haven't had a fan that makes that kind of whine/rattle for years. The engineer in me wants to be impressed by the coolness of the idea/approach, but I'm just not sure if this is worth the extra cost when that could go towards a better fan instead

    • DeadOfKnight
    • 7 years ago

    I’m still just waiting for them to come up with advancements in color options.

      • wierdo
      • 7 years ago

      Maybe you could try this until then:
      [url<]http://www.jamespreller.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/216721913_604453a395.jpg[/url<]

        • bitcat70
        • 7 years ago

        Thanks! You made me fall of my chair! LOL

      • Arclight
      • 7 years ago

      I srsly could not give less of a f**k about color schemes if the fan is near silent while still boosting good air flow.

      • crabjokeman
      • 7 years ago

      It’s a fan. To cut costs, it should adhere to the Ford Model T philosophy – “You can have any color you want as long as it’s black.”

      • ModernPrimitive
      • 7 years ago

      I’m not into cathode or led lights and don’t even have to have a side window in my pc but the tan/brown/beige does bother me a bit. I would much rather have black or clear… I could probably stand red or blue even.
      edit: I’m not knocking the peformance of their products at all. If people like or don’t mind the color scheme, then good for them lol

    • cegras
    • 7 years ago

    So you vibrate the fan blades itself by 100’s of um to cancel the noise? Doesn’t sound like much, but it might cause longevity issues …

      • destroy.all.monsters
      • 7 years ago

      That’s the first thing I thought too. Hopefully there will be some stress tests carried out by reviewers when this comes out.

      • UberGerbil
      • 7 years ago

      Presumably that’s one of the reasons their commercial schedule is two years out.

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