Best Computer Fans

Updated January 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

30 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
98 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for Best computer fans

Any time you load up a game, play a video, or render a graphic on your computer, you use energy. That energy creates heat, and, in electronics, heat is the enemy. This deems computer fans crucially important to any PC build because they spin tirelessly to keep everything cool under the proverbial hood.

Cooling is particularly vital if you overclock your processor, play a lot of video games, stream content online, or work in visual effects. These processes create a lot more heat than normal, necessitating additional air circulation to keep temps optimal. If too much builds up, the lifespan of your components will be significantly shortened and malfunctions can occur.

Computer fans can be mounted to cool your entire case, but they’re commonly a part of larger components like CPU and GPU coolers. Some even use liquid cooling technology that circulates coolant similarly to a car’s radiator. No matter if you buy a premade PC or assemble one yourself, this buying guide can lead you to the most informed, reasonable choice possible. We’ve included a few of our favorites, too.

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Pre-built PCs come with their own CPU coolers, and in some instances their own case fans. Most of the time these stock components are sufficient to keep your computer cool. If you aim to overclock, however, you’ll want to consider upgrading.

Key considerations

Size

The quietest, strongest, and prettiest fan in the world won’t do you any good if it can’t fit inside your case. There isn’t always ample room either, so measure the inside of your case carefully before shopping. When measuring, take care to check the clearances around your random-access memory (RAM) slots and the case itself, because these are common issues.

Modern fans are sold in 80-, 120-, and 140-millimeter sizes, with 120 being the most prevalent. However, central processing unit (CPU) coolers are larger because they often have multiple fans, heatsinks, pipes, and other parts.

Cooling power

Other than size, cooling power should be the primary consideration of any computer fan you buy. Its job is to keep things cool, right? This power is measured primarily in cubic feet per minute (CFM). Put simply, high CFM models move more air more quickly than low CFM alternatives. The more air you move, the higher the cooling efficiency.

Noise

Another key factor is how loud the fans are. Cooling efficiency is the name of the game here, but nobody wants a computer that sounds like a jet taking off.

Noise is measured in decibels (dB), commonly at max revolutions per minute. Look for a nice compromise of high cubic feet per minute and low decibels when shopping, remembering that fans in the 20- to 24-decibel range are considered “quiet,” while those approaching 30 decibels can be quite loud.

A few features affect the amount of noise a fan makes:

Speed: A fan’s loudness is determined by how fast it spins, measured in revolutions per minute (rpm).

Design: Another element is the blade design and how smoothly it slices through the air.

Housing: Finally, the housing design can play a role, as some are better at isolating vibrations than others.

Connection style

Unless your fan is powered by a USB port or your computer’s main power supply, you’re going to be plugging into the motherboard’s headers. These connections come in two varieties: three-pin and four-pin. Both versions feature a power, ground, and speed sensor, but four-pin models add a functionality called pulse width modulation (PWM).

What is pulse width modulation, exactly? It’s essentially a fancy term for speed controls, as four-pin fans can have their revolutions per minute tuned via computer software. Three-pin fans, by contrast, either run at full speed constantly or adjust their revolutions per minute by undervolting, which makes them more prone to wear. For clarity, three-pin fans can plug into four-pin motherboard headers just fine, but they won’t offer pulse width modulation features without adapters or splitters.

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Did You Know?
The overwhelming majority of computer fans are 12-volt varieties. Five-volt fans exist for switches, routers, and other electronics, but they aren’t suitable for your computer. Plugging one into the fan header on your motherboard could cause irreparable damage.
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BestReviews

Features

RGB lighting

Gaming PCs, workstations, and other custom computers commonly flaunt bright, eye-catching RGB setups. More often than not, these LED light shows come from fans and other cooling systems because they often come with them pre-installed. Fans can equip a nearly endless supply of colors, patterns, and light programs, most of which are tweaked through wired controllers, remotes, or software.

Modes

For even more personalization, some fans and coolers offer low-power modes that reduce the revolutions per minute for low-intensity tasks. This way, you can switch to a quieter, more conservative mode when browsing the web, but flip to a high-performance mode for maximum cooling during games.

An integrated heat spreader (IHS) sits atop your CPU to protect the processor cores. Although these products are usually made from copper, they resemble silver squares. IHS units distribute processor heat evenly to other regions of the CPU radiator to extend its lifespan.

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Computer fan prices

Inexpensive: CPU and GPU coolers may be expensive, but computer fans themselves are not. For around $10, you can find small, USB-powered fans that mount inside your PC case, on your gaming console, or even on your stereo. Fans will be small, in the 80- to 100-millimeter range, but powerful enough for light air circulation.

Mid-range: Increase the price to about $15 and you’ll find dedicated CPU cooler and case fans that plug into your motherboard. These models boast higher revolutions per minute, more cubic feet per minute, and even quieter operation. Four-pin models are common at this price point as well, and they equip more user controls, such as low-noise adapters and speed controls.

Expensive: Spend $20 or more and enjoy some of the largest, most powerful, but still quiet fans on the market. These products typically have high-end lighting features and in-depth user controls.

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Did You Know?
Don’t have enough free headers on your motherboard for new fans? Not to worry. You can purchase Y-splitter adapters to connect two fans to one header. Similarly, you can plug your fans directly into your power supply, but you won’t be able to control the fan speed.
Staff
BestReviews

Tips

  • Read user reviews. Bigger fans aren’t always better. Sometimes, a set of two smaller fans can increase your cooling abilities, use less power, and even produce less noise overall. You want a healthy balance of airflow and noise, and user reviews are usually the best place to get a sense of how a fan stacks up.
  • Check the mounts and bearings. Looking for even less noise from your PC? Seek out fans with rubberized, anti-vibration mounts and quiet bearings. Not only will these create less noise, but they’ll also dampen the noise being created around them, too.
  • Don’t block vents or ports. As you set up your computer, take care not to block any vents or fan ports. Doing so will prevent the fans from doing their job. Also, guarantee that your computer has proper airflow around the case to prevent the recycling of the same warm air.
  • Check any lighting controls. Computer fans often include RGB lighting to help you inject some personal flair into your setup. These lights can be fun but confirm you can adjust or turn them off before installing. The last thing you want is a laser light show when you’re trying to sleep, particularly if you don’t want to turn your PC off at night.
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Some computer fans come with controllers and software to permit manual control. With these tools, you can adjust the speed and even customize each fan independently. Paired with temperature sensors and monitors, these fans offer incredible flexibility.

FAQ

Q. Are computer fans easy to install?

A. If you’re installing case fans, use the following steps. To install new fans into a CPU cooler, reference the CPU cooler manual.

  • Turn off and unplug your PC.
  • Remove the front panel to access the interior.
  • Inspect the fans and look for any arrow-like indicators. These display the direction the air will flow.
  • Position the fans as desired. This setup will vary from computer to computer and case to case, but a standard layout is one fan to pull air in from the front and another fan pushing air out the back.
  • Use the included hardware (or leftovers from your case) to install the fans on the case. Tighten them moderately to reduce vibrations, but don’t overtighten them. It’s likely you’ll want to move or remove them at some point.
  • Plug your fans into the four-pin headers on your motherboard (often labeled SYS_FAN for “system fan” or CHA_FAN for “chassis fan”). Remember that while three-pin fans can plug into four-pin headers, they do not allow for control of the speed.
  • Re-install the case, plug the PC back in, and enjoy your improved cooling capabilities.

Q. How often should I clean my computer fans?

A. Computer fans tend to accumulate dust rather quickly because high volumes of air pass through them. Compressed air cans are very efficient at removing this dust, but you can also use a cotton swab or thin, slightly damp microfiber cloth to manually clean the blades. If the blades are particularly gunked up, use a bit of isopropyl alcohol for a deep clean.

As far as how often you should be cleaning your fans, it depends on the air circulation and dust level in your room. Shine a flashlight into your PC case every month or so to monitor the buildup. In general, we recommend a solid cleaning twice a year or so.

Q. I want to keep my computer as cool as possible. Is liquid cooling a better option than air cooling?

A. When it comes to keeping your CPU and other components cool, there are two main options: air cooling and water cooling. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and your choice depends on your setup, desired noise level, and budget.

Air: Let’s start with air cooling. It’s very common for good reason: it’s simple to install, simple to use, and simple to maintain. And while there are entry-level versions of air and water cooling, air cooling is generally less expensive than liquid.

Liquid: By contrast, liquid cooling is spendier and more complex, requiring more education and effort by the builder. There are additional coolant hoses involved, and with custom loops, there’s even more at play. This isn’t inherently negative, however, because you’re afforded more flexibility in how your system looks and performs. In addition, liquid cooling is often more efficient and quieter than air cooling. This is because the fans don’t have to do all the work on their own, so they can run at lower speeds.

Are you a casual gamer who doesn’t care too much about noise? Air cooling will likely suit you just fine. Do you need whisper-quiet operation and budget isn’t a concern? Try liquid cooling and invest a bit more up front for better long-term results. Consider how you use and plan to use your PC to make the best choice.

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