Friday, 30 January 2015

SilverStone AP81, FW81, FQ81, FM84 Review

While having a competent CPU cooler is great, as it allows most users to rest easy in knowing that the "brain" of their computer is nice and cooled, keeping the temperature around the aforementioned cooler as low as possible is also extremely important.
Managing temperatures inside computer cases is not always a simple process, especially when small form factor cases are thrown into the mix, while in your typical mid-tower or full-tower case you can easily move components and fans around in order to keep everything going smoothly, in cases designed for HTPCs for example, that same luxury is not always present. Choosing the correct and most effective fans is key if you want to have any sort of success when cooling your miniature systems.
Today, we're going to take a look at four SilverStone options for cooling your "wee" computers, the AP81, FW81, FQ81 and finally the FM84.

While the four products we're reviewing today differ in appearance from one another, in terms of packaging they are basically the same. All of them come tucked inside some see-through plastic that does a decent job of protecting the fans, there's also a sheet of cardboard that reveals not only the product's name but also its main features. I'm not a big fan (puns ahoy!) of plastic enclosures, they tend to be a pain to open and you can't exactly reuse them like you can with a cardboard box.
Bundled with the fans you will find quite a few extras, this is nice to see, especially when you take under consideration how affordable these cooling solutions from SilverStone are (7-10€). The FM84 model in particular is quite nice since it includes a helpful fan controller. Aside from that you will also find your typical screws and rubber washers to help reduce vibrations even further and a four pin to molex adapter.

The fans themselves have a nice weighty feel to them, this lends a sense of sturdiness and stability to these 80mm cooling solutions. They are also color coded, this way you can easily discern which fan is which and it aids the enthusiastic builder keeping the colors within their machines properly matched.
Besides being a lot more solid than what you might expect from such an affordable product, the blades also have three different designs to them ("mixed fan blade design"), according to SilverStone this reduces noise frequency.*
Aside from the differences in colors and cable sleeving, the design of the fans is pretty much the same. The only exception being the AP81 that has an air channeling grille, this gives the air flow a narrower path, making it more effective when cooling a single component is the objective.
Regarding the aforementioned cable sleeving, it would have been nice to see all four models come with it, unfortunately only the FQ81 brings that to the table.

Functionality-wise, all of them - exception once again being the AP81 - feel very similar both in terms of airflow and noise. But, as we can see from the table shown below, the FM84 can go a bit further in terms of cooling performance, while the AP81 is stuck at 3000 RPM which produces 30dB of noise. Finally, both the FQ81 and FW81 have the added value of a PWM connector, allowing them to adjust their speed automatically.
Another major difference between the four models is their bearings, both the AP81 and FM84 have your typical sleeve bearing, meaning silent operation as long as the lubricant holds. The FW81 has a long life sleeve bearing, which one assumes it's an improved version of the normal sleeve bearing. The FQ81 presents itself as the superior option with its fluid dynamic bearing, this may also explain why the FQ81 is the only version with sleeved cables.

Model Speed Airflow Noise (dBA) Life-Time (Hrs) Bearings
AP81 3000 29.5 30 25000 Sleeve
FM84 1500~3500 15~36.87 18.1~34.8 25000 Sleeve
FQ81 1200~2800 12~27.53 15~28.5 50000 Fluid Dynamic
FW81 1200~3000 12~29.5 15.3~30 40000 Long-Life Sleeve

Final Thoughts
With more and more HTPCs and other forms of small computers inhabiting not only our offices but also our living rooms, size and silence become two of the most important factors when building a machine.
Since their RPM's don't need to be as high, keeping a 120 or 140mm fan silent is a much simpler process than doing the same with an 80mm model. Fortunately SilverStone did a fine job in keeping these fans silent, for the most part at least. At higher speeds they are noisy, and considering the speed adjusting limitations of the AP81, I wouldn't recommend it over the others unless you have a very specific purpose for it.
I would recommend the FQ81 for most builds, in very specific cases, I can also see the FM84 being somewhat useful. At the end of the day though, choosing the right fan for your system depends on what you want to do and your own personal preferences and priorities.

The Good
+Different colors
+Good airflow
+Various configurations
+Well built
+Fan controller (FM84 only)

The Bad
-Lack of cable sleeving (exception being the FQ81)
-Noisy at higher speeds

*Edit: The mixed fan blade design does not affect the fans airflow.

Thanks to SilverStone for providing the review samples