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Noctua builds a better 120-mm fan

Geoff Gasior
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Computex — Unlike some cooler makers, Noctua isn’t dabbling in PSUs, gaming headsets, or iPad accessories. That says a lot about the company’s focus, making it rather appropriate that the rep we met with in Taipei had quite a lot to say about the upcoming Focused Flow 120-mm fan. I swear he spent a good 15 minutes going over all the little features that have been incorporated into the fan, and not once did the needle on my BS detector so much as flutter.

Seemingly every single element of the fan has been tweaked and massaged to improve airflow and to lower noise levels. The interior surface of the fan housing is riddled with tiny dimples to let the fan blades pass by more quietly. A series of tiny little steps around the edges helps to shape the air drawn into the fan, and vanes located behind the blades straighten the outgoing airflow to better wick heat away from radiator fins. Those vanes are spaced unevenly and notched to spread fan noise over a broader frequency spectrum, making the fan more difficult to hear.

The Focused Flow uses a four-pin PWM connector, and Noctua built a custom fan-control IC to smooth the subtle switching noise it detected with conventional PWM controllers. Then there’s the magnetic bearing, which has been tuned to improve stability. Noctua wraps the bearing in an all-new brass shell designed to improve long-term durability. There are vibration-dampening rubber pads built into the fan mounts, too.

Like Noctua’s existing fans, the Forced Flow won’t be cheap. It’s likely to last, though, and Noctua seems keen to supporting customers for the long haul. If you’ve bought a cooler from the firm in the last six years and still have the original receipt, you’re eligible to receive a mounting bracket for Intel’s upcoming LGA2011 Sandy Bridge-E socket free of charge.

Noctua’s Computex booth was loaded with prototype cooler designs in all shapes and sizes. Some are closer to production than others, and most have been designed to allow clearance for taller memory modules.

Interestingly, those trendy direct-contact heatpipes were nowhere to be found. According to Noctua PR manager Jakob Dellinger, the crimping necessary to create direct-contact pipes can damage the internal structure of the pipes in unpredicatble ways, affecting their performance. We’ve pointed out obvious gaps between pipes and cooler slugs on several occasions. Those gaps can purportedly grow over time due to thermal expansion and contraction, which is why Noctua solders all its heatpipe joints. Copper is an expensive commodity these days, and Dellinger suspects direct-contact copper pipes have become more popular because they’re cheaper than doing a full copper block.

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