Best Case Fans for PC Cooling and Airflow
Fan Operation And Bearing Types
The most crucial components of every fan are its bearing and shaft, at whichthe fan blade is attached. The bearing is a stationary cylinder inside whichthe shaft rotates. To provide high reliability and decreased noise output,friction between the shaft and the bearing has to be minimized as much aspossible. In most cases, oil is used as a lubricant. However, other methodscan be used as well (for instance, Teflon-coated surfaces). If the oil isn’tsealed properly inside the bearing, then its quantity will get lower as timepasses, increasing friction, which leads to slower fan rotation and increasednoise, until the fan breaks down and stops rotating.There are three basic bearing types used in most PSU fans today: * Sleeve bearing fans * Double ball bearing fans * Fluid dynamic bearing (FDB) and hydro dynamic bearing (HDB) fansBelow, we provide a brief explanation of each bearing type and a reference toits key aspects; we will also provide several photographs of the correspondingbearing types. The photos were obtained by taking several fans apart (some ofwhich are pretty expensive), which were kindly provided by Noctua andCaseking.de.
Sleeve Bearing Fans
The most common fans found in PSUs today use a sleeve bearing, which has adecreased lifespan compared to the other two bearing types mentioned. Fansutilizing a sleeve bearing cost less and deliver low noise output levels,especially at lower speeds, compared to fans that use ball bearings. Lubricant(oil or grease) decreases friction between the bearing’s inner surface and thefan’s shaft. Once this lubricant evaporates, the fan’s life simply ends.A good quality sleeve bearing fan by Prolimatech, which has proper seals tokeep the oil from vaporizing.Good sleeve bearing fans can last up to 30,000 hours (and even more in somecases) at temperatures reaching 50 degrees C. Their major advantage is anaffordable price, which makes them popular in low-cost PSUs. Sleeve bearingfans aren’t designed for horizontal mounting since oil inside the bearingmoves to one of the shaft’s sides, so it doesn’t provide uniform frictionprotection.
Ball Bearing Fans
Higher-quality fans use double ball bearings to reduce friction. This type offan can be mounted in any orientation without affecting its longevity. This isin contrast to the sleeve bearing fans, which are seriously affected when theyare mounted horizontally, as is typically the case with PSUs. The typicallifespan of a good ball bearing fan can reach, and in some cases even exceed,50,000 hours at very high ambient temperatures. But in most cases, long beforethe fan stops working, its bearings will start to produce increased noise dueto wear. They can become annoying at this point, so users will probably changethem long before they completely break down.A quality double ball bearing fan by ADDA. In the last photo, the two ballbearing rings are depicted.In general, ball bearing fans have an increased noise output compared tosleeve and fluid dynamic fans, especially at low speeds, when the rotorassembly balance can be affected. Some manufacturers use magnets in order tokeep the shaft balanced on all cases and avoid this issue.
Graphics card fanEdit
Used to cool the heatsink of the graphics processing unit or the memory ongraphics cards. These fans were not necessary on older cards because of theirlow power dissipation, but most modern graphics cards designed for 3D graphicsand gaming need their own dedicated cooling fans. Some of the higher poweredcards can produce more heat than the CPU (dissipating up to 350 watts), soeffective cooling is especially important. Since 2010, graphics cards havebeen released with either axial fans, or a centrifugal fan also known as ablower, turbo or squirrel cage fan.
Used to cool the heatsink of the northbridge of a motherboard’s chipset; thismay be needed where the system bus is significantly overclocked and dissipatesmore power than as usual, but may otherwise be unnecessary. As more featuresof the chipset are integrated into the central processing unit, the role ofthe chipset has been reduced and the heat generation reduced also.
Three-pin connector on a computer fanConnectors usually used for computer fans are the following:Three-pin Molex connector KK family This Molex connector is used when connecting a fan to the motherboard or other circuit board. It is a small, thick, rectangular in-line female connector with two polarizing tabs on the outer-most edge of one long side. Pins are square and on a 0.1 inch (2.54 mm) pitch. The three pins are used for ground, +12 V power, and a tachometer signal. The Molex part number of receptacle is 22-01-3037. The Molex part number of the individual crimp contacts is 08-50-0114 (tin plated) or 08-55-0102 (semi gold plated). The matching PCB header Molex part number is 22-23-2031 (tin plated) or 22-11-2032 (gold plated). A corresponding wire stripper and crimping tools are also required.Four-pin Molex connector KK family This is a special variant of the Molex KK connector with four pins but with the locking/polarisation features of a three-pin connector. The additional pin is used for a pulse-width modulation (PWM) signal to provide variable speed control. These can be plugged into 3-pin headers, but will lose their fan speed control. The Molex part number of receptacle is 47054-1000. The Molex part number of individual crimp contacts is 08-50-0114. The Molex part number of the header is 47053-1000.Four-pin Molex connector This connector is used when connecting the fan directly to the power supply. It consists of two wires (yellow/5 V and black/ground) leading to and splicing into a large in-line four-pin male-to-female Molex connector. The other two wires of the connector provide 12V (red) and ground (black too), and are not used in this case. This is the same connector as used on hard drives before the SATA became standard.Three-pin Molex connector PicoBlade family This connector is used with notebook fans or when connecting the fan to the video card.Dell proprietary This proprietary Dell connector is an expansion of a simple three-pin female IC connector by adding two tabs to the middle of the connector on one side and a lock-tab on the other side. The size and spacing of the pin sockets is identical to a standard three-pin female IC connector and three-pin Molex connector. Some models have the wiring of the white wire (speed sensor) in the middle, whereas the standard 3-pin Molex connector requires the white wire as pin 3, thus compatibility issues may exist.
Types of Case Fans on the Basis of Connectors
There are generally two types of case fans on the basis of connector types.Regular / Basic Fans – These are generally single-speed case fans having fixedRPM in most of the cases. These case fans come with a 4-pin Molex connector ora 3-pin motherboard connector. The 4-pin Molex connector connects directly tothe PSU and the 3-pin one connects on the motherboard. The connector may alsooffer a 4-pin Molex / 3-pin connector pass-through depending on the case fanmanufacturer, but most of the normal case fans come with a 4-pin passthrough.You can control or vary the speed of these fans using an external fancontroller which can vary the voltage to the fans and make them spin faster orslower. In regular fans, you can use 3-pin to 4-pin converter or 4-pin to3-pin converter to convert from one connector to another.PWM Fans – PWM Fans are intelligent and advanced fans whose speed can becontrolled electronically. The speed of these fans is controlled by a methodcalled Pulse Width Modulation. These fans come with a 4-pin PWM connectorwhere two pins are for power, one for recording RPM and one for PWM orcontrolling fan speed by sending a control signal which is a square wave.These fans run on 12V voltage continuously and their speed is controlled bythe control signal pin by varying duty cycle. More is the duty cycle, greaterwill be the fan speed and lesser duty cycle means lower fan speed. At 100%duty cycle, the fan will operate at full speed. PWM fans are controlled by themotherboard and windows software like SpeedFan. If the temperature of themotherboard rises then the fan control software can increase the fan speed andvice versa. PWM is a more efficient way to control and vary fan speed ratherthan by modifying voltage levels.
Case Fan Bearing Types
Every fan needs bearing to reduce friction and rotate freely. There arevarious types of bearings used for case fans which can affect theirperformance, loudness and lifespan. Here are the various bearing types forcase fans for PC with their explanation, advantages, and disadvantages.Sleeve Bearing – This is the most widely used bearing in most case fans.Sleeve bearing case fans are the cheapest case fans available in the market.Sleeve bearing fans uses a lubricant (oil or grease) for bearing that sitsbetween the fan shaft and the inner surface of the fan. This lubricant reducesthe friction and once it gets leaked or evaporates then the fan will stopfunctioning and can make a loud noise. The life of a sleeve bearing fan is thelowest compared to fans with other bearings mentioned below.Ball Bearing – In ball bearing fans, the bearings used are smooth metallicballs and they are much reliable and have a greater lifespan compared tosleeve bearing case fans. Also, ball bearing fans are more expensive thansleeve bearing fans.Hydro Bearing – Hydro Bearing or Fluid Dynamic Bearing fans are an improvedversion of sleeve bearing fans where the lubricant fluid is sealed properlybetween the fan moving parts and the lubricant is moved continuously to thewhole fan shaft using spiral groove or channel. Hydro dynamic bearing fans arevery silent and they are expensive of the lot and have a much better lifespancompared to the sleeve bearing and ball bearing case fans.Case Fans Bearing -> | Sleeve Bearing | Ball Bearing | Hydro Bearing or Fluid Dynamic Bearing —|—|—|— Bearing used | Lubricant Fluid (Oil or Grease) | Metal Balls | Lubricant Fluid Lifespan | Up to 30,000 hours | Up to 50,000 hours or even more in some cases| 50,000 to 300,00 hours Preferred Orientation for Use | Vertical | Horizontal / Vertical | Horizontal/ Vertical Noise | Silent in beginning | Silent after initial use | Silent of the lot Price | Cheapest | Expensive than Sleeve Bearing | Expensive of all So in terms of quality and performance Hydro Bearing > Ball Bearing > SleeveBearing
Optimal placement for Case Fans in PC Case
The optimal placement of case fans can be a subjective thing but in general itbetter to follow a well-balanced approach where you should install an equalnumber of intake as well as exhaust fans. There is always a debate on keepingthe negative pressure or positive pressure inside your case, so following abalanced approach is always good for optimal cooling and keeping the dust awayfrom your computer case. In general Front & Bottom, fans should be intake andRear & Top fans should be the exhaust, and I don’t recommend using a side fanbecause it does not make any sense and it will create more congestion insideyour case.Check out:
Best Case Fans for PC Cooling and Airflow
Here are the best case fans with different bearing types, connectors, andsizes. These are all high-quality fans from big and reputed brands and theycan be used as both intake and exhaust fans in your PC case.
When it comes to case fans then nothing can beat Noctua in terms of qualityand sheer performance. Noctua is an Austrian computer hardware company that isvery well known for making high-quality CPU Coolers and Computer Fans. Here wehave Noctua NF-A8 ULN which is a high-quality 80mm case fan. The fan works on12V and has a 3-pin socket that connects directly to the 3-pin connector onthe motherboard.The fan comes with self-stabilizing oil-pressure bearing (SSO-Bearing) whichis Noctua’s hydro dynamic bearing technology with an additional magnet thatsupports the self-stabilization of the rotor axis. This results in higherstabilization and life than a normal hydro bearing, ball bearing or sleevebearing. The more improved and advanced version of SSO bearing is SSO2 bearingwhich uses metal bearing shells and new injection molding techniques thatresults in magnet to be placed closer to the rotor axis which increases itsstability, accuracy, and durability. This 80mm case fan is a bit expensivethan the other 80mm fans but it offers much better quality and performancethan the other 80mm fans. The airflow of this case fan is decent consideringit is only an 80mm fan. It has a maximum fan speed of 1400 RPM which prettydecent and the fan is very silent in operation. So if you are looking for ahigh-quality 80mm fan for your case then you cannot go wrong with this one.Noctua NF-A8 ULN 80mm Case Fan Specifications — Fan Size | 80mm Bearing Type | SSO2 Fan RPM | 1400/1100 RPM Connector Type | 3-Pin Maximum Airflow | 20.5 CFM Noise Level | 10.4 dB Buy Noctua NF-A8 ULN 80mm Case FanARCTIC F8 is one of the cheapest high-quality 80mm fluid bearing fans that youcan find in the market right now. The fan comes with a 3-pin socket that youcan connect on your motherboard pins. This 80mm fan from Arctic has a maximumspeed of 2000 RPM that results in a higher airflow of 31 CFM compared to theabove mentioned Noctua NF-A8 ULN case fan. Despite higher rpm, the fan ispretty silent and its speed can be regulated by using three voltage levelsthat are 12V, 7V and 5V.This fan also comes in the PWM version that you can buy from the link givenbelow. The only difference is that it comes with a 4-pin PWM connector, workson 12V continuously and its speed is adjusted by the motherboard using thecontrol signal or PWM signal. The PWM fan is a bit expensive than the regular3-pin socket version. So if you want something cheaper and a high-quality 80mmcase with hydro bearing then you cannot find anything better than this one atan affordable price range.ARCTIC F8 80mm Case Fan Specifications — Fan Size | 80mm Bearing Type | Fluid Dynamic Bearing (FDB) Fan RPM | 2000 RPM@12V, 1200 RPM@7V, 850 RPM@ 5V Connector Type | 3-Pin Socket / PWM Maximum Airflow | 31 CFM Noise Level | 22.5 dB Buy ARCTIC F8 80mm Case Fan (3-pin)Buy ARCTIC F8 80mm Case Fan (PWM)
These are the cheapest 120mm case fans that you can buy in the market. Theycome in a pack of four and have got long-life sleeve bearings. These 120mmfans come with both a 3-pin socket and a 4-pin Molex connector and work on12V. You may vary the speed of these fans using a fan controller by varyingthe voltage.These fans have a lower RPM of 120mm and are pretty silent too. So if you arelooking for some cheap and good quality 120mm case fans then you won’t findanything better than them. Recommended by me for users on a tight budget.Rosewill ROCF-13001 120mm Case Fans Specifications — Fan Size | 120mm Bearing Type | Sleeve Fan RPM | 1200 RPM Connector Type | 3-pin / 4-pin Molex connector Maximum Airflow | 38.2 CFM Noise Level | 22 dBA Buy Rosewill ROCF-13001 120mm Fans [4-Pack]Here we have a high-quality and affordable 120mm case fan from the house ofArctic. ARCTIC F12 comes with Fluid Dynamic Bearing and has got a 3-pin socketor connector. The fan has got good airflow and is very silent in operation.The fan speed can be adjusted by varying the voltage levels between 5V, 7V,and 12V (maximum).This is a multipurpose case fan that is used as both an exhaust fan and anintake fan. There is also a PWN version of this fan that comes with a 4-pinPWN connector. Other specifications and features are same as in the non-PWMvariant. The fan is also very well priced and can be used in high-end gamingsystems. Overall it is a solid fan for use in high-end and normal computersfor providing great airflow. Highly Recommended by me.ARCTIC F12 120mm Case Fan Specifications — Fan Size | 120mm Bearing Type | Fluid Dynamic Bearing Fan RPM | 1,350 RPM @ 12V, 900 RPM @ 7V DC, 650 RPM @5V Connector Type | 3-pin / PWM Maximum Airflow | 53 CFM Noise Level | 22.5 dB Buy ARCTIC F12 120mm Case Fan (3-pin)Buy ARCTIC F12 120mm Case Fan (PWM)NZXT FN V2 is a high-performance 120mm PWM fan that comes with Rifle Bearing.This case fan has got good airflow and is very silent in operation. Theexpected fan life is 40000 hours or approximately 4 years of continuous usage.This 120mm fan has got anti-vibration pads at all the eight corners to reducenoise as much as possible. The build quality of the fan is very good and youcan use it, either way, i.e. intake and exhaust on your gaming system ornormal day to day desktop computer. The fan also comes with a 3 to 4-pin Molexadapter if you won’t use it that way or you do not have sufficient 3-pinconnectors on your motherboard.NZXT FN V2 Airflow Fan Specifications — Fan Size | 120mm Bearing Type | Rifle Fan RPM | 1200 RPM Connector Type | 3-pin Maximum Airflow | 45 CFM Noise Level | 21 dBA Buy NZXT FN V2 Airflow Fan 120mmIf you want the highest quality 120mm case then nothing can beat NoctuaNF-S12A PWM. It is high quality and high-performance 120mm case fan that comeswith Noctua’s SSO2 bearing and 4-pin PWM connector. I have already explainedabout the SSO2 bearing earlier in this post.The fan has got great airflow and it is very silent in operation. You hardlycan hear its noise even when the fan is spinning at full speed. This fan canbe used as intake and exhaust. The various features of this case fan includesPressure-optimized Nine-Blade S12 Design, Vortex-Control Notches, SmoothCommutation Drive, Anti-Stall Knobs, Anti-Vibration Pads, Low Noise Adaptor(L.N.A.), Stepped inlet design, AAO frame, Custom-designed PWM IC with SCD. Soif you want the best case fan for your money then you won’t find anythingbetter than this. The fan is a bit expensive compared to other fans but it isreally worth the price considering the features and performance it has.Noctua NF-S12A PWM Fan Specifications — Fan Size | 120mm Bearing Type | SSO2 Fan RPM | 1200 RPM Connector Type | 4-pin PWM Maximum Airflow | 63.2 CFM Noise Level | 17.8 dBA Buy Noctua NF-S12A PWM 120mm Case FanIf you want something fancy and powerful then Thermaltake Riing 12 High StaticPressure LED Radiator Fan is what you should look for. These are powerful fansthat are mainly built for radiators but can also be used as case fans. Thishigh-performance 120mm fan from Thermaltake comes with hydraulic bearing andan attractive circular LED ring around the fan. The LED ring comes in fourcolors that are green, red, blue and white.Thermaltake Riing 12 fan comes with a 3-pin connector and has good airflow ofaround 41 CFM. The fan is also very quiet and has a lifespan of around 40,000hours. Various features of this case fan include Concentrated CompressionBlade (CCB), Wind Blocker Frame, Wind Blocker Frame, Anti-vibration MountingSystem, Four colors of the Patented LED Versions.Thermaltake Riing 12 LED Radiator Fan Specifications — Fan Size | 120mm Bearing Type | Hydraulic Fan RPM | 1500 RPM Connector Type | 3-pin + LNC (Low Noise Cable) Maximum Airflow | 40.6 CFM Noise Level | 24.6 dBA Buy Thermaltake Riing 12 LED 120mm Case FanThis is the non-PWM version of the above mentioned Noctua NF-S12A PWM Fan.This Noctua NF-S12A FLX Case Fan has the same specifications and features asin Noctua NF-S12A PWM Fan. The only difference is that it comes with a 3-pinconnector. A 3 pin to 4 pin Molex adapter is also included with the fan sothat you can use it with the PSU directly. So if you are looking for the best3-pin 120mm case fan then you should go with this one. It may be a littlepricey but offers unmatched performance and quality.Noctua NF-S12A FLX Case Fan Specifications — Fan Size | 120mm Bearing Type | SSO2 Fan RPM | 1200 RPM Connector Type | 3-pin connector Maximum Airflow | 63.2 CFM Noise Level | 17.8 dBA Buy Noctua NF-S12A FLX 120mm Case Fan