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Zalman ZM-F3 FDB & ZM-SF3 Fans

Zalman just released their latest ZM-F1, F2 and F3 Fluid Dynamic Bearing, and Shark’s Fin ZM-SF3 EverLasting Quiet series fans, aimed for people seeking quiet workstations for their offices, or gaming stations.


Heat has been a major issue in the computer market for several years now, especially with the newest hardware on the market. It is an even bigger issue for overclockers, and for people who live in naturally hot places, i.e. when room temperatures exceed 28C / 83F. In this situation, users need to upgrade their cooling systems to prevent hardware damage. Most users buy fans for their system based on price, but without careful research, an average person is more then likely to fall into the noise trap: the wrong kind of fan will result in a very noisy PC, and users will be forced to spend money on rectifying this problem. At first, this might seem like a dead end for some people, but with Zalman’s newly released quiet ZM-F1 80mm, ZM-F2 92mm, and ZM-F3 120mm Fluid Dynamic Bearing fans, as well as Zalman’s quiet Shark’s Fin Blade Design quiet ZM-SF3 120mm fans, users have finally found fans that ventilate quietly without decreasing performance. Zalman claims that their Fluid Dynamic Bearing have a very quiet motor, and the Shark’s Fin Blade Design fans have a blade design that reduces air turbulence without reducing air flow. Let’s take a look at how these fans compare to their well known Noctua counterparts.



150,000 Hours Guaranteed Product Lifespan

FDB (Fluid Dynamic Bearing) structure generates high pressure oil layer on micro channel’s intersecting point, which prevents friction between the fan’s shaft and bearing, thus resulting in maximum fan lifespan (150,000hrs) with minimum noise.


Anti-Vibration Silicone Pins

Anti-Vibration Silicone Pins absorb vibrations caused by friction with the case.


Adjustable Fan Speed

Included resistor cable (RC56) adjusts input voltage, allowing user to control fan speed and noise.



Shark’s Fin Blade Design

Optimized for maximum airflow, Shark’s Fin blade greatly reduces the turbulence caused by fan rotation, thus decreasing the noise and vibration while increasing the airflow.


ELQ (EverLasting Quiet) Bearing Technology

High-tech ELQ Bearing is made of nano-composite materials which minimize friction between the fan’s shaft and bearing, thus resulting in maximum fan life cycle with minimum noise.


Anti-Vibration Silicone Pads & Pins

Silicone pads and pins prevent minute noise and vibration caused by friction with the case.


150,000 Hours Guaranteed Product Lifespan

Aerodynamically optimized Shark’s Fin blade and high-tech ELQ Bearing made of nano-composite materials guarantee stability and product lifespan of 150,000 hours.



We have added the Noctua NF-P12 specifications into the table to show a comparison between the Zalman fans and the Noctua fans. Because each company does their testing using different methods, it is important to note that even though one company might state that their fans are quieter than others at a given RPM, it does not always prove true. It really depends on the testing environment. Our own testing will determine if there is any noise difference between the fans.

We should also note that the ZM-SF3 is 1.4mm thicker than the other fans. This is due to an extra layer of silicone on the fan to prevent vibrations during operation. This tremendously reduces the noise made by fans vibrating against the case.

Specification ZM-F1 FDB ZM-SF3 Noctua NF-P12
120(L) x 120(W) x 25(H) mm 120(L) x 120(W) x 26.4(H) mm 120(L) x 120(W) x 25(H) mm
128g 118g 170g
Fan Speed
1,000 ~ 1,500rpm ± 10% 900 ~ 1,500rpm ± 10% 900 ~ 1,300rpm ± 10%
Noise Level
18 ~ 23dBA ± 10% 18 ~ 23dBA ± 10% 12.6 ~ 19.8dBA ± 10%
Bearing Type
FDB (Fluid Dynamic Bearing) ELQ (EverLasting Quiet) SSO-Bearing
Rated Voltage
DC 12V DC 12V DC 12V
Power Connector
3-Pin 3-Pin 3-Pin or 4-pin Molex w/ adapter
150,000 Hours 150,000 Hours 150,000 hours


Closer Look

Click Image For a Larger One 
The Zalman ZM-F3 FDB and ZM-SF3 fans come in a half plastic, half cardboard boxing. While this type of boxing is fine, we would have liked to see a box that would allow the user can repackage their fans after opening. Because the thin cardboard area of the packaging is only present on the back, once the plastic has been removed, the fan cannot be repackaged. On the right is a comparison between the ZM-F3 FDB fan and the ZM-SF3 fan. The back of the packaging carries the information we explained on the previous page.

Click Image For a Larger One 
The dark blue and black colored fans are the ZM-F3 FDB. While they do not come with anti-vibration silicone padding on the edges like the ZM-SF3 do, the internal Fluid Dynamic Bearing (FDB) is designed differently to prevent extra vibrations. According to Zalman, the fan’s FDB structure “generates high pressure oil layer on micro channel’s intersecting point, which prevents friction between the fan’s shaft and bearing”. The ZM-F3 FDB fans come with extra anti-vibration silicone pins for installing the fans on ther user’s case or other parts. The ZM-F3 FDB fans also come with a resistor adapter, allowing the user to lower the RPM from 1500 RPM to 1000 RPM. We found the dark black color of the fans and the transparent fins of the blades very appealing. These fans look great in a system especially with LEDs shining at different parts of the system. Though the fans don’t come with LEDs, they still look fine. Unfortunately, the ZM-F3 FDB fans do not have sleeved fan wiring.

Click Image For a Larger One
The ZM-SF3 fan is a bit different from the ZM-F3 FDB fans. The ZM-SF3 comes with an ELQ (EverLasting Quiet) bearing, which is made of nano-composite materials to prevent friction between the fan’s shaft and bearing. The Shark’s Fine Blade Design on the fans is also suppose to prevent unwanted turbulence caused by the fan’s rotation and also prevent noise and vibration. So while the ZM-F3 FDB fan has better bearings, the ZM-SF3 has better anti-vibration properties and a better fan design. It would be interesting to see another new fan from Zalman which would include all of these features. Thankfully, the ZM-SF3 fans come with sleeved fan wiring.


Click Image For a Larger One 
Finally, let’s take a look at what Zalman did with the ZM-SF3 fans on the for each corners of the fans. We can see a black padding on the edge. This is an anti-vibration silicone padding that goes through both sides of the fans. This should reduce vibration noise between the fan and the case. Interestingly, this even works when the fan is mounted on heatsinks that cannot utilize the silicone pins for installation. Just like the ZM-F3 fans, the ZM-SF3 fans come with anti-vibration silicone pins for fast and easy installation, as well as a resistor adapter to lower the fan’s rotation speed from 1500RPM to 900RPM.


Click Image For a Larger One 

This is how we set up the testing for the Zalman fans. The way we show the fans set up in these pictures is the way we had it set up with our Noctua NF-P12 120mm fans. This will be a good temperatures and noise ratio comparison. In the front there are 4x 10,000RPM 6Gb/s Seagate Cheetah NS.2 SAS Hard Drives, along with two Western Digital RAID Edition 3 7,200RPM hard drives that one Zalman ZM-F3 FDB fan will be cooling down. We have also placed two ZM-F3 FDB fans on the Thermalright True Black 120 CPU cooler that will cool our Core i7 930 CPU overclocked at 3.8GHz.

Click Image For a Larger One 
We had to remove the motherboard from the case so we could easily fit to the other fans on the case. The Thermalright True Black 120 CPU cooler was in the way of the rear outtake fan, so it was necessary to remove the motherboard from the case. We have installed the Zalman ZM-SF3 120mm fan on the back of the case. We also installed two ZM-F3 120mm fans on the top of the case.

Click Image For a Larger One
Finally, because the Silverston Temjin Series TJ10 case does not come with any side ventilation, we have also mounted a ZM-F3 fan on the side of the Palit GTX 460 Sonic Platinum video cards.

Click Image For a Larger One
Here is the finished look. Notice how nice the ZM-F3 FDB 120mm fans look when an external LED lights them up. In our opinion, the Zalman ZM-F3 FDB and the ZM-SF3 fans look much better than the Noctua NF-P12 fans. The brownish color of the Noctua NF-P12 fans looks strange in the system, whereas the clear blades of the Zalman fans enhance the case’s ambience.


Testing & Methodology

Test Candidates

  • Zalman ZM-F3 FDB 120mm
  • Zalman ZM-SF3 120mm
  • Noctua NF-P12 120mm

The following tests were performed on an overclocked system, where the Intel Core i7 930 CPU was clocked at 3.8GHz with the set voltages of 1.26875V. The GPU, Memory and Motherboard settings were left alone at stock settings, except for the settings that might have been required for overclocking the CPU, including QPI/VTT, PLL, etc.

We tested the following fans by running Unigine Heaven 2.1 on 1920×1200 resolution with Extreme tessellation on for 30 minutes. We had CPUID HWMonitor running in the background recording the highest and lowest temperatures during each run. Once the 30 minute test was done, we let the system cool down for 15 minutes before we continued to run LinX for another 30 minutes. LinX put the CPU and the Motherboard to full load, making it a perfect test for CPU and Motherboard temperatures. HWMonitor was still running, recording the highest CPU and Motherboard temperatures. Once the test was over, we let the system cool down for 30 minutes and recorded the lowest temperatures we got. All tests were done at a 25C room temperature.

Also, to perform each test, at first we ran 7x Noctua NF-P12 120mm fans placed all over the system, just like we have shown the pictures of the new Zalman fans placed on each part of the system. Once we got the results for the NF-P12 fans, we set up the Zalman fans just like the way the Noctua NF-P12 fans were set up. This will show how noise vs. performance will be between each configuration, and which would be a better option for the end-user.

All tests have been done with a closed system.

Test Rig
Case Silverstone Temjin TJ10

Intel Core i7 920 @ 3.8GHz


GIGABYTE X58A-UD7 Motherboard – LGA1366

Ram OCZ DDR3-12800 1600Mhz (7-7-7-16 1.64v) 12GB Kit
CPU Cooler Thermalright True Black 120 with 2x Noctua NF-P12 Fans
Hard Drives

4x Seagate Cheetah 600GB 10K 6Gb/s Hard Drives

2x Western Digital RE3 1TB 7200RPM 3Gb/s Hard Drives

Optical ASUS DVD-Burner

2x Palit GTX460 Sonic Platinum 1GB GDDR5 Video Cards in SLI

Case Fans

2x Zalman ZM-F3 FDB 120mm Fans – Top

1x Zalman Shark’s Fin Blade Design ZM-SF3 120mm Fan – Back

1x Silverstone 120mm fan – Front

1x Zalman ZM-F3 FDB 120mm Fan – Hard Drive Compartment

1x Zalman ZM-F3 FDB 120mm Fan – Side Ventilation for Video Cards and RAID Card SAS Controller.  

Additional Cards
LSI 3ware SATA + SAS 9750-8i 6Gb/s RAID Card

Sapphire PURE 1250W Modular Power Supply

Mouse Logitech G5
Keyboard Logitech G15


Lets start off by explaining each recorded temperature. The CPU Idle tests showed that the Noctua NF-P12 had an advantage over the Zalman fans even with the L.N.A adapter. The temperature difference is only 0.75C though, which is not a very significant difference. Considering that the Zalman fans are cheaper than the Noctua fans, the Zalman fans are more price efficient. If we move on to the following tests, especially the ones in which we put the system under load, the Zalman fans were able to keep up with the Noctua fans just fine. The GPU Idle temperatures were almost identical due to the automatic fan control on the video cards, but the Zalman fans’ on-the-motherboard temperatures actually showed a bigger advantage over the Noctua fans. The Load temperatures on the CPU showed the biggest variation of temperatures, and the Zalman ZM-F3 fans had a 2C lead compared to the Noctua fans with the U.L.N.A.

In terms of noise, the Noctua NF-P12 and the Zalman fans were almost identical. The ZM-SF3 was a little bit noisier than the ZM-F3 FDB fans, but when the overall noise was measured, the Noctua NF-P12 without the adapters sounded like the Zalman fans without the adapters. We also got almost identical noise levels when all the fans had the adapters attached. To ensure that the testing conditions were the same, we used the appropriate fan adapter to keep the fan speeds (RPM) between the two brands as close as possible. The Zalman fans did an exceptional job with the adapters. The noise created by the air hitting against hardware was not as audible as before, and the motor noise from the fans was not audible at all. 


While Zalman has 3 different models from the ZM-F FDB series family, the ZM-F1 80mm, ZM-F2 92mm, and ZM-F3 120mm, Zalman decided to sell only the 80mm ZM-F1 and 120mm ZM-F3 models in the US. As for the Shark’s Fin Design ELQ fans, Zalman is currently only selling the 120mm model, the ZM-SF3. Considering the overall performance-vs-noise ratio, these are probably one of the most price-efficient fans on the market right now. They are also very stylish and come with accessories that most fans lack, including Silicone Pins for installation and resistor cable adapters. With the ZM-F3 FDB’s MSRP of $16.99, and the ZM-SF3’s MSRP of $16.99 as well it is definitely a better buy than the Noctua NF-P12 120mm fans that run for $25.99 on average.

OUR VERDICT: Zalman ZM-F3 FDB 120mm Fan
Performance  9
Value  10
Quality  8
Features  9
Innovation  8
We are using an addition to our scoring system to provide additional feedback beyond a flat score. Please note that the final score isn’t an aggregate average of the rating system.
Total  8.5
Pros Cons

FDB (Fluid Dynamic Bearing)

Quiet, especially with the adapter

Great look, with excellent performance vs noise ratio.

Silicon Pins and Fan Speed Adapter included

No 3-pin to 4-pin Molex converter

Only 1 year warranty

Fan calbes are not sleeved


Summary: The Zalman ZM-F3 FDB Quiet 120mm fans will receive Bjorn3D’s Silver Bear Award and a total of 8.75 out of 10 points. If Zalman had included the Anti-Vibration Silicone Pads on the edges of the fan and sleeved cables, the ZM-F3 would have received our Golden Bear Award.


OUR VERDICT: Zalman ZM-SF3 120mm Fan
Performance  9
Value  10
Quality  8.5
Features  9.5
Innovation  8.5
We are using an addition to our scoring system to provide additional feedback beyond a flat score. Please note that the final score isn’t an aggregate average of the rating system.
Total  8.75
Pros Cons

Quiet, especially with the adapter

Stylish Look, Shark’s Fin Blade Design

Anti-Vibration Silicon pads on each edge of the fan.

Silicon Pins and Fan Speed Adapter included

Fan cables are sleeved

No 3-pin to 4-pin Molex converter

Only 1 year warranty


Summary: The Zalman ZM-SF3 Quiet 120mm fan will receive an overall score of 8.95 out of 10 points as well as Bjorn3D’s Silver Bear Award. The ZM-SF3 proved to be a very nice fan, however there was a tiny bit of motor noise rom the ELQ bearings. A better bearing for the ZM-SF3 would have earned the fan a Golden Bear Award.

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