How to Choose Case Fans?

There is no good of powerful CPU or GPU if you don’t cool them properly. Insufficient cooling cripples your PC performance and increases chances of permanent damage to one of the most important components. The more powerful PC you build the better cooling solution you need. You need to consider not only a decent GPU/CPU cooling, but also powerful, silent, and efficient case fans.

Sure, you can use a PC without case fans, but thus you force your CPU and GPU cooling assemblies use the same hot air within a case. Such a combination increases the amount of heat inside your computer and reduces efficiency of the cooling solutions. Case fans is here to help you. They pull out hot air from the case and suck in fresh air from the outside.

In addition to heat dissipation, noise problem kicks in during the summer. The temperature inside the building is higher than usual and thus makes your PC running hotter. Case fans must operate at higher speeds, which causes an increase of the background noise.

how to choose case fans
This case fans guide explains what you need to know when picking up a quality case fan, which will make your PC running with lower temperature and without jet noises.

What I Need to Know About PC Case Fans?

How to choose case fans? It’s not a rocket science. Here are the primary aspects you need to consider: fan size (blades diameter), RPM or fan speed in revolution per minute, noise level in dB, connector type, and bearing type.

Case Fan Sizes

Physical size of a fan is one of the most important characteristics. What’s the benefit of silent and powerful fan if it does not fit inside your case, right? There are many different fan sizes. They vary from 25 mm to 200 mm and above.

Small fans (25 mm to 70 mm) are usually installed in small cases. Also, people use these fans to cool chipset or VRM on powerful and hot motherboards. These are not so popular than regular 120 mm case fans thus the choice is not so great.

The 80 mm and 92 mm coolers are standard for compact cases. You can find them in office computers, for example. Some people also use them to cool motherboards or even graphics cards. Approximately 12-15 years ago, they were used in standard ATX system units almost everywhere.

Regular 120 mm and 140 mm case fans are mostly in use in typical gaming PC towers. They are perfect for powerful gaming computers or workstations. Keep in mind that the larger the fan, the slower the speed it needs to move certain amount of air. Consequently, large fans make much less noise than the small ones.

150 mm and 200 mm fans are quite rare. They are mostly used in specific cases where manufacturers decide to swap few smaller fans for a larger with less noise. Usually, they are placed on top or side of the case. Just like with the smallest cases, there are not so many options to choose from.

Connector Type

When shopping for a PC case fan, choose one with 3-pin connector or 4-pin connector. There are some fans with such ancient relic called “Molex”, but we do not recommend buying these. Consider them only if there are no fan headers on your motherboard and you can’t afford or find fan hub to connect modern 3 or 4-pin fans.

Also, there are 2-pin connector fans. These are mostly in use in power supplies. Do not buy these for your case.

You can plug 3-pin connector to a 4-pin header on your motherboard. The thing is that you won’t be able to regulate RPM speed using PWM. If your motherboard can’t regulate fans speed using by increasing or decreasing voltage (luckily, almost every modern motherboard can do so), these fans will be constantly blowing air in full speed.

Using 4-pin connector fan allows you to carefully select fan speed using PWM. These are a bit more convenient and practical for daily use. Not always, but they may be a little bit more expensive than 3-pin connector fans.

Fans with Molex connector has no ability to regulate RPM at all. These will always work at 100%. That is the reason why we do not recommend buying such fans.

case fan

The Rotation Speed and Noise

RPM or fan rotation speed is the main factor that defines how much air it pushes inside or outside your case. Obviously, this directly affect temperatures of your PC. High-speed fans can push or pull more air, but the obvious downside is that they produce much more noise.

Remember that larger fan can suck in or out more air with lower speed and noise thus we recommend buying bigger fans if your case allows installation of those.

Noise is measured in dB or “decibels”. If you want your PC as quiet as possible, consider shopping for fans which work on less than 20 dB.

Case Fan Bearing Types

Bearing type defines how long and how noisy it works. Usually, there are 3 types of bearings: sleeve, ball and hydrodynamic.

Hydrodynamic bearings are the most durable. They are designed in such way that they lubricate on their own without your intervention. Also, they can operate on the lowest noise levels possible. Sure thing, this are not cheap. Such fans can hit up to $20-30 per one fan.

Here are some nice picks from us:

  • be quiet! Silent Wings 3 120mm PWM. One of the quietest fans ever made with hydrodynamic bearing and noise levels down to 16 dB.
  • Noctua NF-A12x25 PWM. High-quality premium fan with a bit higher noise level. It is extremely durable and efficient, though some people dislike their weird colors and through the roof price.
  • Scythe Kaze Flex 120mm. Nice combo of high-quality components, low noise levels and quite affordable price.

Be quiet! Noctua and Scythe offer many other models with different sizes, bearing types and connectors. These are considered premium fans with higher prices. In return, you get much better specs.

If you want something more affordable, consider models from Cooler Master, Deepcool or ARCTIC.

The second spot is given to ball bearing type. They will work for a very long period but in return produce a lot of noise. These are good for a NAS or server which lives in a different room.

Fans with a rifle bearing type have much shorter lifespan but they are quite a nice compromise between cost, efficiency and noise level comparing to ball bearing fans. Here are some models we recommend:

Air Flow

This feature is one of the most important when choosing a fan for the case. It indicates the amount of air a fan can push inside a case (it measures in cubit feet of air per minute or CFM). The higher this number gets; the more efficient cooling becomes. The air flow depends on many factors, such as the diameter of the fan, the size of blades, space between blades, RPM, and blades shape.

The Price

Finally, let’s talk about the price of a case fan for a computer. If you don’t care about CFM and noise levels and just want to install something to suck in and out, you can get a fan for as low as $2 or $3. For those who want silent PC with as low as possible temperature, then prepare to spend up to $30 or even more for only one fan.

Taras Burya

I am a tech enthusiast on my mission to help people make the most of their gadgets and spend money wisely for devices that will serve best.

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