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Be wary of modular fans

While modular fans can help cut down on cable clutter thanks to their ability to clip together, their design can create performance pitfalls.

A set of modular fans clipped together

Last month I got some hands-on time with Lian Li’s SL120 fans for the first time and also tested similar models from SaharaGaming. The two companies’ fans feature a similar design, in that they lack any sort of cables out of the box, instead using a clip-together design and a detachable cable on one end that controls fan speed and lighting. This part of the idea works extremely well in practice, cutting down on cables significantly and making fan installation much easier too.

As they clip together, there’s generally only a need, for example, to secure three fans with four screws – one in each corner – instead of using 12 screws. The Lian Li SL120 fans look fantastic too, with vibrant RGB lighting and great build quality. You may well have seen them on Facebook or Instagram too, as they’re very photogenic, especially when paired with the likes of Lian Li’s O11D case.

However, there is an issue with these fans that should make anyone think twice about using them. It has nothing to do with the lighting, cable-free design or noise levels, but with the fan blades themselves.

The actual fan blade wheel’s diameter is much smaller than on a typical 120mm fan – it’s not as small as on a 92mm fan, but it’s small enough to restrict airflow. As most of us know, the smaller the fan, the faster it needs to spin in order to shift the same amount of air as a larger one, assuming all other factors are equal.

A Lian Li AIO CPU cooler with modular fans

The smaller fan blades also mean that, when the fans are strapped to a radiator, they struggle to dish out airflow over a large enough area, with the edges relying purely on static pressure and not direct airflow to shift air through the radiator’s fins.

This is a shame, as they do look good, and an inspection of the fan frame does show what seems to be an excess of plastic framing around the fan, which could easily be made smaller, creating a large enough area accommodate bigger fan blades.

The smaller blades on these fans don’t seem to impact performance as much when they work as case fans, rather than radiator fans though – the SaharaGaming P44 case we reviewed used similar fans and performed quite well in terms of cooling and airflow.

However, I’d avoid these fans for use on radiators and heatsinks, as they’re a good example of form over function – they look great, but the small fan blades result in comparatively low airflow.