Noctua makes a mean fan. The Austrian company's NF-S12B redux-1200 has dominated the top of our best PC fans guide for years and I'm yet to see anything come close to knocking it off its perch. What might take the top spot is Noctua's newest creation, its next-generation 140mm fan, which has been in the works for a whopping eight years.
You'd hope this fan would be unbeatable after cooking in the oven for so long, and Noctua has already posted impressive improvements in static pressure and pure airflow performance. That's all well and good, but if it's not in my machine it's no benefit to me. So I've also been over to visit Noctua at Computex and (politely) inquired when this fan might actually see the light of day.
"We're looking at Q1 next year," Noctua's Dan Carter tells me. "Hopefully by the end of the year we'll be able to start production and then early next year we'll be able to launch. That's the current plan."
"We're still waiting on these final steps again, you'd never know for sure, of course, but at the moment it is looking very promising."
That would make a fan that's been in development for loosely nine years or so by the time anyone can buy one. So what's been happening all those years?
"Basically, the first five years from 2015 to 2020, we're basically trying out different designs, searching for one which is really going to give us the performance that we want.
"The development phase two, all the way to 2022, we actually came up with this impeller that we were really happy with. And so it then actually wasn't until almost the end of 2021 that we could enter that tooling phase and start gearing up."
From there, it was until around 2022 when it started to look like this fan was nearing mass production. But that didn't happen. Noctua's currently having to re-run the final stages of validation for this fan because of a couple of issues discovered towards the end of development.
"The first one was that we discovered when the impeller was removed from the mould, it was placed into the cooling liquid which was actually slightly too cold," Carter says. "... this meant that it was able to actually expand very slightly over those years of use."
"So we went back. We had to change the temperature that it was cooled at and hope that would fix the problem. It looks like it did."
That single issue would be enough to send the fan back through the lengthy validation process, which Noctua has laid out step-by-step at its Computex booth. It's a lot of steps, and even a single re-run of the test process can add a year or so onto the release date. But there was also another concern.
"The second one was… essentially, we found that with some fan clips, or screws if they're tightened too tight, it can create too much force, which can warp the frame very slightly… and you don't have much wiggle room."
The next-gen 140mm fan has a gap between the fan blades and the outer fan frame of just 0.7mm. I tried to capture this on camera, and it's extremely tough. It's really a very small amount of space, and it has potential to actually shrink over time with forces on the fan (impeller creep) or frame. It's so close even a "10th of a millimetre is too much."
"Which is why we, again, reevaluated things."
To prevent this creep due to forces on the fan, a material was required that was "very dense, very hard, and very good at not expanding." That's a pricey material known as liquid crystal polymer (LCP).
Originally intended only for the fan blades, Noctua swapped out the ABS/PBT material it was planning to use for the frame to the same LCP material. This, it hopes, will halt any of the potential warping that could shorten the lifespan of the fan. You can tell the difference immediately between the older prototype and the newer LCP one. LCP has a sort of marbled effect to its surface due to it being so dense.
This LCP material comes with its own challenges, however, as Noctua's planning a black Chromax version of this fan which could end up being more grey than anything due to the material's density. Similarly, it's very expensive.
"The LCP almost completely eliminates any warping at all. It will unfortunately increase the price more because LCP is much more expensive."
A single 140mm will cost $40/€40 or more, which makes me sweat a little. This fan needs to last if it's to justify that sort of price point. That's not a final price, as the fan won't hit mass production until the end of the year, but it's a rough idea of what you can expect to pay for one.
What you get in return might be the most exciting fan I've personally ever seen from a performance standpoint. It's a real all-rounder, with a big leap in static pressure and airflow over the NF-A14. The new design is also able to drop temperature by around 3°C versus the current design in a graph that shows the performance of the two fans when normalised to an identical noise level.
Even the central hub on this fan has been redesigned to turn it from a deadzone to a useful cooling component. Rather than a flat surface, bevelled areas aid in pushing air away from this central area and into the blades for greater dispersion.
I'm told "a lot of R&D has gone into this to make it perfect," and looking at the list of development steps, tweaks, and various fan prototypes, I believe it'll get pretty darn close. It's tough to say just how much I'd be willing to pay for this fan—if it's too pricey I'd maybe take the cheaper option and live with the couple of degrees. Yet if it can deliver what it promises and isn't too far in excess of $40, a handful of these could be a decade's worth of cooling sorted in one fell swoop.
Noctua also plans to roll a pair of these fans on the next-gen NH-D15 air cooler.
Here's hoping this project hasn't been too ambitious and by next year we're looking at the real deal available to buy on the shelves.