Noctua is a familiar name in the PC cooling segment. It carries a range of CPU coolers, case fans, and accessories, and even has its own thermal compound. The company has built up a relatively solid reputation over the years, though that reputation came under fire recently when a Reddit forum member claimed to have found a significant difference in the quality of a certain model fan based on two different places of manufacturer. This led to some heavy criticism being flung at Noctua, though subsequent testing of the fans by a third party showed it was largely unwarranted. More on that in a moment.
The story begins with an innocent purchase. Reddit member Kendalf said he bought three additional Noctua NF-A14 PWM fans from an online retailer to add to the two of the same model fans he had already purchased from a different retailer. After they arrived, he noticed something was off.
"I was surprised to discover that the three NF-A14 fans I received were made in China, whereas the two fans purchased previously (as well as multiple other Noctua fans and CPU coolers I have purchased in the past) have all been made in Taiwan. Now the actual location made is not that critical to me so long as the products are the same high quality that Noctua is known for. So I am disappointed to find that the three fans that were made in China are of noticeably inferior quality to the fans made in Taiwan," Kendalf said.
Specifically, Kendalf said the fan blades sport slightly different designs, and that the ones made in China are noticeably louder when spinning at the same RPM as the ones made in Taiwan. He also noticed a color difference between the two.
His post sparked a long conversation on outsourcing, along with some replies that were highly critical of Noctua. At one point, a Noctua rep jumped in and surmised it could be an issue with the company's mass production molds.
"This issue has been raised with our manufacturing partners in mainland China. We have an extremely high attention for detail and we only release our products when they are ready to be released. We can understand your frustration with our switch of manufacturing location, we're developing new molds as we speak. This oversight that our team has taken is extremely disheartening for us however we're working on it and we'll be in touch with you to ship out replacements," the Noctua rep said. (See update below)
This brings us back to the third party testing. Kendalf agreed to send his fans over to Steve Burke at GamersNexus, who had also sourced some samples direct from Noctua. After extensively testing the fans, he found no virtually no difference in noise or airflow. Quite a bit of measurements were taken and graphed, which you can check out here.
"Between our eight presently tested samples, we cannot see any meaningful difference using our measurements. Visible differences, yes, but that’s about it," GamersNexus noted. "This sample size includes fans from the original Reddit post, sent by OP for testing. Noctua might deserve a bop on the nose for the color change, though that’s an awfully small thing to boycott over—pigment and plastic coloring is going to change by region.
"Noctua is fighting its own reputation for quality and precision. Because the company has built the brand around these two attributes, a single slight—big or small—will immediately invoke polarized responses from the community. In this instance, Noctua was chastised more than deserved. We could not find, using our samples, any meaningful difference between the China- and Taiwan-made fans. This is an instance of something getting blown out of proportion by Reddit, which seems quite frequent," GamersNexus added.
So there you have it, something posted to the Internet was blown way out of proportion. Shocking, we know. The bigger bottom line, however, is that nothing nefarious is going on with Noctua, which actively investigated the complaint and cooperated with GamersNexus in performing tests.
After posting this article, Noctua reached out and informed us that the person we quoted as being a representative of the company (Noctua_AT) is not actually affiliated with Noctua, but pretending to be. Here is Noctua's official statement on the matter:
Noctua has production sites in both Taiwan and China, all of which operate to the same strict quality standards. Some fan models are produced exclusively at one of the production sites whereas others are being produced at multiple locations in order to meet varying demands and to ensure best availability for our customers. In this case, minute details of the injection molding tools are optimized to work best with the machinery being used at the individual production facilities in order to guarantee best quality consistency. Due to these optimizations, there may be slight visual variations (e.g. slightly different shapes of frame reinforcements, Inner Surface Microstructures, etc.) between fans originating from different production sites, but these variations have no measurable influence on performance. All Noctua fans are manufactured to the same specifications and quality standards. In addition to minute structural variations due to different injection molding tools, slight variations in colors can occur both between fans originating from different production sites and fans that have been produced at the same site at different points of time.
It's a weird situation as the person pretending to be a Noctua rep also linked to the same statement on Noctua's website in one of his posts. Be that as it may, Noctua says he is not with the company that it has taken legal measures against the individual.