The fluid dynamic bearing (FDB) was first used in hard disk drives. It is a modification to the standard sleeve bearing to improve the lubrication of the bearing, and thus increase the life span of the fan while retaining one of the most positive aspects of sleeve bearing fans, which is the low noise level. However, what can be classified as fluid dynamic bearing is somewhat controversial, and designs vary greatly.

According to some manufacturers, in order to be considered a “true” fluid dynamic bearing, the inner of the bearing must have herringbone-shaped inner grooves, as shown in Figures 1 and 2.

Matsushita-patented fluid dynamic bearing designFigure 1: Matsushita-patented fluid dynamic bearing design

Matsushita-patented fluid dynamic bearing designFigure 2: Matsushita-patented fluid dynamic bearing design

However, this particular design is patented by Matsushita (Panasonic) and, therefore, only fans with bearings manufactured by companies that paid licensing fees to Matsushita will have this design. Because of that, bearings based on this design are more expensive, increasing the price of final products.

Bearing manufacturers that invested money licensing this design spend a good deal of time and money convincing its clients (fan manufacturers) that only bearings using this design can be called “fluid dynamic.” Therefore, there is a tendency for fan manufacturers that use Matsushita’s patented fluid dynamic bearings to think or even say that fans from other manufacturers using different fluid dynamic designs are “fake” or not “true” fluid dynamic bearings. Technically speaking, any kind of design that uses the principle of hydrodynamics can be called “fluid dynamic,” as this name, apparently, is not patented. Performance, however, may be different depending on the design that is used.

So, there is a second group of fan manufacturers that use a different design for their fluid dynamic bearings, as they decided to create their own design instead of licensing Matsushita’s design. From our research, these alternative designs vary greatly (we could identify four different ones within the thirteen fans we disassembled), with some more sophisticated (and likely better) than others.

Here is where the confusion starts. One of these alternative designs (let’s call it “alternative design 1”) is called “fluid dynamic bearing” by the companies that use it, but they are also called “rifle bearing” by several other companies. So, while technically speaking rifle bearing is a type of fluid dynamic bearing, companies that use the Matsushita-base design feel that this particular alternative design should use a different name (“rifle”), to make it clear for the user that the design of the bearing is not the same.

We have to agree that using two different names for the same thing is confusing. Users may think that a fan with an FDB bearing is better than a fan advertised as using a rifle bearing, while in fact this FDB fan may use a rifle bearing, and there may be no difference in the technology used by the two fans.

Some of the companies that use a non-Matsushita design call their bearings hydro dynamic, or HDB, in order to make it clear that they use an alternative design and not Matsushita’s. We think this is a good idea.

The difference of the design used on the bearing helps to explain why some FDB fans are much more expensive than others: fans with Matsushita’s bearing design will be much more expensive than a fan with a less sophisticated and easier to manufacture FDB design.

In the table below, we summarize the fans we disassembled (all of them sold as either “fluid dynamic bearing” or “hydro dynamic bearing”) and what we found out about them. Since we’ve already shown the Matsushita design in Figures 1 and 2, in the next pages we will show the other four designs we identified.

Brand Model Bearing
Aerocool Shark 120mm Black Edition FDB, Alternative design 1 (rifle bearing)
Arctic AFACO-120P0-GBA01 FDB, Alternative design 1 (rifle bearing)
Arctic AFACO-12PP0-GBA01 FDB, Alternative design 1 (rifle bearing)
be quiet! BQT T12025-MF-3 FDB, Matsushita design
BitFenix BFF-LPRO-12025R-RP FDB, Alternative design 1 (rifle bearing)
Cougar CF-V12H FDB, Matsushita design
Logisys LT80UVBL FDB, Alternative design 2 (upgraded sleeve)
NZXT FX-140LB FDB, Alternative design 3 (upgraded sleeve)
Scythe SP1225FDB12M FDB, Matsushita design
SilenX EFX-12-15 FDB, Alternative design 1 (rifle bearing) (Minebea)
SilverStone SST-AP121-GL FDB, Matsushita design
Thermaltake AF0043 FDB, Alternative design 4 (YS Tech Sintetico), sold as HDB
Zalman ZM-F3 FDB FDB, Matsushita design

Gabriel Torres is a Brazilian best-selling ICT expert, with 24 books published. He started his online career in 1996, when he launched Clube do Hardware, which is one of the oldest and largest websites about technology in Brazil. He created Hardware Secrets in 1999 to expand his knowledge outside his home country.