Introduction - The Zalman Brothers

To be honest with the community, it's been a few years since Zalman has really "wooed" me with their cooling products. Although, Zalman and I do go far back to when I originally started building PCs. Around the year 2006 Zalman brought fans to the consumer market which were incredibly well priced, performed very well and offered the users more features and accessories than we had previously come to expect, especially for its price bracket. Those features, rubber fan screws and 5v resistors cables, are almost a standard on any product we see on the market looking to offer itself as a quiet solution for your computer needs. Let's see if Zalman can have such an impact on the market again with its new fans featuring the Fluid Dynamic Bearing & Ever Lasting Quiet bearing, along with their previous noise reduction options.

About Zalman:
Zalman Tech Co., LTD. was founded in 199 and introduced to the computer industry the concept of "Noiseless Computing." In a world filled with noisy computers, "silent" cooling solutions were sought everywhere and contributed to Zalman's rapid growth into the world's leader of high performance, ultra quit PC cooling solutions.
Zalman continues to lead in the industry through decisive R&D investments, peerless craftsmanship, intensive global marketing, and generous customer support.
Business diversification with innovation such as 2D/3D Convertible LCD Monitors, Heatpipe Cooled Power Supplies, Notebook Coolers, Surround Sound & Dual Stereo Headphones, and FPS GUN
Gaming Interfaces holds true to Zalman's promise to provide "Cool Innovations"

Zalman ZM-SF3 Product Specifications:
Zalman ZM-F3-FDB Product Specifications:
*Zalman's limited warranty covers any defects or DOA (dead on arrival) products with a guarantee to swap the product within its specified time frame.

Unboxing the ZM-F3-FDB

Here we have the ZM-F3-FDB unboxed for the world to see with a nice picture of the back of the box.
For those of you who are wondering, Zalman quotes the fan's cable length as 400mm ± 10%. My sampled measured well within that range at 390mm; well within the target value on their part. It is 395mm if you count the 3pin Molex header.

Now that you've gotten to see the fans, here are the included accessories. There are five rubber fan screws; in case one of them breaks on you, you have a replacement. Or, if you buy 4 fans you have a complete, extra set.
There is also a 5v Resistor cable.

Something I found interesting here is the F3-FDB actually features translucent blades, but the housing for this fan gives no indication of the option to add LED's like you would expect to see, though. Personally, this is fine as I do not like LED's or any lighting, and I do not use lighting in my computer.

These translucent blades to react well to the UV Cathodes I have on hand, and offer a nice sparkle effect with my white Cold Cathodes.

Here is the back of the F3-FDB, showing us a few certification logos. Along with, because of the oil used in the bearing and the plastics it is made out of, that you are not supposed to just throw it away in the trash.
If you are wondering what to do if this fan breaks out of (or in) warranty and you cannot (or do not want to) RMA it, you can look up on the internet for an Electronics Recycling Center to dispose of the product for you.
ECR's are actually widely available, and many electronic stores are certified places. This includes stores like Best Buy, Comp USA, Microcenter, Fry's Electronics, and Tiger Direct.

This is the magic behind the F3-FDB fan; the Fluid Dynamic Bearing. If you've never heard of the Fluid Dynamic Bearing before, it's a fan bearing pioneered by Sony for its low resonance, high reliability under heat, and cheap design.

The groves in a Fluid Dynamic Bearing (FDB) allow oil to travel evenly inside the bearing no matter the position. Along with being a sealed chamber and using a newer oil, Fluid Dynamic Bearings have improved MTBF's now allowing them to survive up to 150,000 Hours at 25*C, as rated by Zalman. This is roughly 17 years worth of time.

Like sleeve bearing fans; you get a nice and quiet experience from the bearing as it's a virtually frictionless environment for the rotation of the shaft. This is what helps Zalman keep their noise levels quiet.

Unboxing the ZM-SF3

Now it's onto the big brother of the two Zalman fans, the ZM-SF3. This fan is supposed to specialize in being quieter than its brother. Here we can actually see that Zalman sleeved the cable on this fan with a black sleeving. A nice touch, I might add.

A small note, you may notice that the two fans have a different 5v Resistor cable; I did notice this when I unboxed both fans so I shot an email to Zalman about it, at which they responded with:
"We buy resistors in bulk from different sources to package with our product, but they are all tested to be within the parameters we have established for our products and have no quality differences between them."

So that is nothing for you to worry about.

Here we have more of the same again. Five rubber screws and the 5v resistor cable. Although these are not the only options that Zalman has with this particular fan to help it along, it's goal for being silent.

And here's the front of the ZM-SF3. Those black patches you see on the white frame are exactly what I was talking about; they are rubber pads which help the fan reduce its vibrations when pressed against a Radiator, Heatsink or case.

Here is the back of the ZM-SF3 which features those same rubber pads to help reduce vibrations. You also see the same certifications and warnings as present on the ZM-F3-FDB.  The only differences between the two fans are this fan is reported to use 0.40 Amps and is listed as using the ELQ bearing. Whereas the ZM-F3-FDB uses as Fluid Dynamic Bearing and only uses 0.20 Amps.

This is a 3D expose of the Everlasting Quiet Bearing from Zalman. The ELQ Bearing uses a nano-composite material to limit contact and friction between the bearing and the shaft. High precision self-lubricated material eliminates oil leakage as well.  This near frictionless environment should also help eliminate resonance from the fan, thus making it a quieter experience overall.

Visual Comparison - ZM-F3-FDB & ZM-SF3

Here we'll run through a short comparison of the two Zalman fans. You can see that the ZM-SF3 has more blades and they are thinner with their trademark shark fins on them. They are also slimmer with a smaller curve.  The ZM-F3-FDB has deep blades with deep curves. Now, while blade design and impeller design have a big impact on the abilities of a fan, there is no way for me to assess how well these fans perform purely based on that.

Here're the backs of the fans again, where you can see the pitch in the blades. I think something unique to note here is that the struts of the frame which hold the motor in place are curved with the Airflow on the ZM-SF3; this may actually be a part of the design to help give it a quieter sound profile.

Here we can see both fans have an open-rib design. This is important to note because, as anyone using rubber fan screws or a heat sink with fan clips knows that, if you have ribs in your fan you can sometimes run into compatibility issues with mounting.

We also see that the ZM-F3-FDB gives a diagram of the rotation of the fan and the direction the air flows.

We see here that both fans are open ribbed again. I would like to note that, while it is semi hard to make out, the Zalman ZM-SF3 has a raised surface with the Zalman logo on it. This is a nice aesthetic touch that you will most likely not notice when installed.

Here are both fan cables. As you can see, the bottom cable from the ZM-F3-FDB is not sleeved but comes in a nice Black-Grey-White color scheme. The top cable from the ZM-SF3 is done in a black sleeving that does not let any cable show through.

Both fans also came in at 390mm length for the cables, which is well within the specified 400mm ±10% value given by Zalman. This shows excellent quality control on their part.

Testing the Zalman Fans

Today we'll be testing 4 Aspects of these fans:

The Testing Equipment that I will be using was purchased by me and it includes:

Today we will be testing these fans against some other fans of my collection to give a comparison against fans offered by the competition.

These are all fans like the Zalman which advertise as being silent solutions with the same 20-25dB(A) range of sound pressure.  From left to right: Deep Cool UF120 (reviewed here before), Thermalright TY-140 (uses 120mm fan mounting), Zalman ZM-F3-FDB, Zalman ZM-SF3.

Now onto testing.

Well, here is an interesting point to add, I really have no baseline to go with as Zalman does not list CFM ratings. I also realize that it's hard to tell what numbers are what on this graph because of the over-lap from the fans so I will add a chart for you to read, as well.

Airflow in CFM
  Fan Model  Airflow @ 5v  Airflow @ 7v  Airflow @ 12v
Deep Cool UF120
 Thermalright TY-140
 Zalman ZM-F3-FDB
 Zalman ZM-SF3

Now what can we really obtain for these airflow readings? Well, these fans push less air than the competition by only 10 CFM less. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing; if the fans are quieter than they are really doing their job.

Let's see the noise level testing now.

   Sound Pressure in dB(A)
Fan Model
dB(A) @ 5v
db(A) @7v
dB(A) @ 12v
 Deep Cool UF120
 Thermalright TY-140
 Zalman ZM-F3-FDB
 Zalman ZM-SF3

I always like to give a bit of a subjective input on the sounds of these fans so I'll give a quick overview between our two test subjects today.

Zalman ZM-F3-FDB
Here we have a good example of the Fluid Dynamic bearing and how quiet it can be. At 5v & 7v this fan is absolutely silent. It's much lower than the 20dB(A) testing environment I am in. For all intents and purposes it is inaudible. Although I can say there was a small rubbing noise present, I had to actually hold the fan to my ear to hear this. At full 12v, this fan was still quiet enough to not be noticeable while running.

Zalman ZM-SF3
I can really see the Everlasting Quiet Bearing shine here. I cannot say I can hear it. The sound profile of this fan is so quiet that I cannot tell when it's running. This is very indicative of the "Shark-Fin" design of the blades actually working. Unlike the F3-FDB, this fan had no noise from the motor nor that rubbing sound I experienced.

Static Pressure in mmH20
Fan Model
 Testing @5v
Testing @ 7v
Testing @ 12v
 Deep Cool UF120
 Thermalright TY-140
 Zalman ZM-F3-FDB
 Zalman ZM-SF3

Well, for those of you who do not know what static pressure is or what these numbers mean I'll break it down pretty easily. Static Pressure is similar to an efficiency rating on how effectively a fan can move air through a restrictive surface like a Hard Drive rack, Fan Grill, Heatsink, or Radiator.

Generally speaking, you wish to see fans in the 2 mmH20 and greater range for heatsink & Radiator use when at full speed. Though normally, "quiet" or "silent" fans lack static pressure because of their blade design and thus are not suited for use on a radiator or heatsink.

Zalman has an impressive showing, though, with a good and quiet fan that can also be adapted for other uses besides a standard case fan. Call me impressed but I definitely was not expecting this when I was giving the visual exam of the fans on the last page.

Let's wrap this up and we'll see where everything stands; shall we? 

Conclusion & Summary

Well, today I got to take a look at the best of the best from Zalman's line-up of 120mm fans and I can say wholeheartedly that when it comes to performance, they have everything nailed down. Not only were these fans holding up to their specs well, they actually surpassed their specs in sound pressure results.

The Good:
  1. Great Voltage Range
  2. Good Sound Pressure and Acoustic profiles 
  3. Great Static Pressure and Airflow results
At the end of the day, Zalman has two very nice products, and the pricing on these units seems to be perfect for a silent enthusiast grade product. On Google Shopping we find the ZM-SF3 listed at $18.99 from a reputable seller and the ZM-F3-FDB listed at $14.99 from the same vendor. Both products are being sold below their MSRP Values, though, which makes the value of them rise. I would still like to see another dollar or two knocked off to bring them down to the price level of the competition.

Legit Bottom Line: Zalman has come to market after almost 5 years with a new product for their case fan lineup and have definitely outdone themselves with a solid product.