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How Many Case Fans Do You Really Need on a PC?

coolest looking PC cases

How Many Case Fans Do You Really Need on a PC?

The case fan serves an extremely basic purpose in any desktop PC. You want the heat to leave your computer, simply put. Too much heat can lead to throttling or component failure. As such, you need something that readily combats the heat. Case fans are an effective means of cooling a PC, but there are some trade-offs to keep in mind.

Today’s guide is all about case fans and how many you’ll need when planning out your next build. Don’t worry if you aren’t building some gaming supercomputer that costs more than a nice used car, there is still some practical advice to be had.

What Is a Case Fan?

Most computers have fans all over the place. At the bare minimum with any desktop you’ve used in the last 20 years, you’ve likely seen at least one case fan. Air naturally will come into the computer’s case, and from there it will need to go somewhere. Older computers typically just had a grille on the front and an exhaust fan on the back of the case.

Newer computers will typically have an intake fan and an exhaust fan. This serves a few different purposes. It keeps a constant flow of cooler air circulating throughout the PC case. Any waste heat produced by components gets vented out. Except for some devices like the MacBook Air line of computers, case fans are a must on any PC.

You could go the liquid cooling route, but that isn’t recommended for the average user. Those require a fair amount of care and attention to detail when it comes to the installation and maintenance of your cooling loop. The case fan can be more than enough except for some fringe overclocking cases.

Determining How Many Case Fans You Need

So, how many case fans do you need on a PC? Before diving into more particulars, you can go ahead and just say that a minimum of two is recommended for most computers. This won’t be ideal for high-speed gaming machines or anything with a heavy load in use. However, that provides the baseline in terms of overall performance. With that said, let’s dive a little further into how many case fans you’ll need on your PC depending on the use case.

General Browsing and Office Work

case fans
Office work doesn’t require much in terms of overall cooling.

Most office computers aren’t going to break much of a sweat during a difficult work day. If you’re doing any sort of data entry, word processing, and so forth, you’ll likely only hear the fans kick on when you turn on the computer to start your work day.

As such, you could get away with just one exhaust fan on the back of the device. However, just to be safe, you can split the difference and say two would be a safer bet. This gives you a constant flow of air across all the components to keep things nice and cool.

You don’t need much in terms of cooling when it comes to handling just general computer use. If the fans aren’t kicking on during normal usage, you can skip purchasing extra fans. That said, it is unlikely most users building their desktops are just doing general browsing.

Workstations and Servers

For workstations, media servers, or anything where you’re doing some heavy-duty work. More is more when it comes to case fans. Two would be the absolute minimum, but five might be in order. You’ll want a case with upward-firing slots, along with space for two fans in the front. This should keep ample airflow coming into the case while also dealing with venting out the waste heat.

You could go overboard with the fans in this particular scenario. However, that isn’t much of a concern. Render farms and the like aren’t going to be the typical machine where you’re running case fans. However, for the hobbyist 3D modeler, data hoarder, and so forth, case fans are a boon.

In most enterprise solutions, you’ll have your server room kept quite chilly. This keeps the air circulating into the cases of your blade or rack servers nice and cool. The same applies to render farms or anything else where you have high-performance machines running constantly without a break. That said, if you’re a hobbyist, five case fans should do you just fine.

Gaming

case fans
PC gaming requires active cooling to keep temps low while the components perform.

It depends on the type of gaming along with your components. However, in a vacuum, let’s suppose you’re running high-end components for maxing games at 4K resolution. As such, you need quite a bit of cooling to keep everything nice and chilly.

Like the workstation and media server configuration, you’ll want quite a few fans. Excess heat builds up quickly when gaming. Keeping in line with the workstation and server suggestions, you’ll want to stick to around five case fans or so. You could potentially get away with three, with a pair in the front and an exhaust fan in the back.

In that scenario, undervolting your GPU and CPU comes heavily recommended. If you’re not keen on tinkering with an ideal setup, go with a few more case fans. You’ll have a substantial increase in the noise profile, but that’s the price to pay for playing at Ultra detail settings at 4K resolution.

AI Work

AI work has many of the same needs as a workstation or high-end gaming computer. Doing any sort of hobbyist AI work at home is very demanding, and can bring even the best machines to a standstill. As such, you’ll want ample cooling when it comes to plotting out your build. Ideally, you would have a closed-loop liquid cooling solution.

However, like a gaming PC, you’ll want cool air on the components constantly. Like the aforementioned high-end solutions, five case fans are the bare minimum when accounting for the coolers on both the GPU and CPU. Any less and it might lead to a scenario where you’re getting some thermal throttling.

Which Case Fans Should You Buy?

Noctua NF-A12x25

Best Overall
Noctua NF-A12x15 PWM Premium Quiet Slim Fan
$21.95
  • 120x15mm slim design
  • 12 volts
  • 4-pin PWM for automatic speed control
  • 1850rpm maximum speed
  • Maximum 23.9 dB(A)
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
03/10/2024 09:17 pm GMT

When it comes to the best of the best, Noctua’s line of fans are the ones to beat. The NF-A12x25 is a true jack-of-all-trades, working well in just about any deployment you can imagine. It has automatic speed control and runs quietly even when hitting heavier loads. As such, if you don’t mind spending about $100 on case fans for your tower, this is the first one to consider.

One drawback is the color scheme doesn’t suit most builds. You’ll have to stick with neutral tones, otherwise, the signature brown coloration of the fan blades is going to stick out like a sore thumb.

Noctua NF-S12B redux-1200

Budget-Friendly
Noctua NF-S12B redux-1200 High Performance Cooling Fan
$14.95
  • 120x25 mm high-performance cooling fan
  • 12 volts
  • 3-pin Molex
  • 1200rpm maximum speed
  • Noise level 18.1 dB(A)
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
03/12/2024 05:32 pm GMT

The NF-S12B is Noctua’s cheaper take on the case fan. With a retail price of around $19, it is on the higher end of things. However, you can scour the internet to see the renown and sterling reputation Noctua has garnered over the last decade.

The NF-S12B doesn’t have as much granularity over fan speed control as its more expensive sibling. The design is overall more plain as well, featuring a simple black and gray color scheme. However, this is to its benefit, as the NF-S12B redux-1200 is budget-friendly and will fit most builds.

Scythe Kaze Flex 120 PWM

Good Option for Multiple Fans
Scythe SU1225FD12L-RDP Kaze Flex Axial Fans
$10.99
  • 120x27mm PWM
  • 12 volts
  • Speed 300-800rpm
  • Noise level 38 dB
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
03/10/2024 09:52 pm GMT

Scythe’s Kaze Flex fan line isn’t the best of the best by any appreciable measure. However, it is cheap, which always counts for something. Compared to its competitors in the Noctua line of fans, the Kaze Flex is going to run louder and not nearly as cool.

However, if you’re looking to incorporate numerous fans on a budget, this is the first place to look. When working with more than one at the same time, you’ve got plenty of room for error. They might not be the best of the best, but they’ll cool things adequately.

Corsair LL120 RGB

Add Some Color to Your Build
Corsair LL Series LL120 RGB Fan
$20.50
  • 120mm PWM fan
  • 16 independent RGB LEDs
  • 24.8 dBA noise level
  • Control fan speed from 600rpm to 1,500rpm
  • Compatible with CORSAIR iCUE software
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
03/10/2024 10:01 pm GMT

Love it or hate it, RGB is here to stay when it comes to case builds. The injection of color and liveliness can be a fun addition to an otherwise drab arrangement. The Corsair LL120 RGB is one of the best case fans you’ll find with access to RGB lighting.

Performance-wise, it isn’t up to snuff compared to the top Noctuas on the market. However, those Noctuas don’t come with RGB control. If you want your case to look good while staying cool, the LL120 RGB will fit the bill just fine.

Cooler Master MF120R A-RGB

RGB on a Budget
Cooler Master MasterFan MF120R RGB Case Fan
$24.99
  • 120mm 4-pin fan
  • 12 volts
  • Maximum speed 2,000rpm
  • 31 dB noise level
  • RGB LED
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
03/10/2024 10:06 pm GMT

The Cooler Master’s main selling point is going to be the RGB control. As a case fan, it’s adequate. However, it does have rich color and presence when standing alongside a case. Airflow with these is so-so, but when you’ve got three or more in a case that is less of a concern. If you want RGB on a budget, this is your best bet.

Thermaltake Toughfan 12 Turbo

Powerful Exhaust Fan
Thermaltake TOUGHFAN 12 Turbo High Static Pressure Radiator Fan
$33.50
  • 120mm PWM-controlled fan
  • 12 volts
  • 28.1 dB-A maximum noise
  • Maximum speed 2,500rpm
  • Anti-vibration rubber pads
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
03/10/2024 10:27 pm GMT

Rounding out the case fan selection for your perusal is the Toughfan 12 Turbo. This is intended for scenarios where you require a beefy exhaust fan. Again, this isn’t a direct replacement for the Noctuas mentioned at the top of the guide. However, this should do the job admirably if you want to save a little for other components.

Closing Thoughts

So, how many case fans do you need on a PC? Well, the bare minimum is two to handle your cooling needs. You could get away with more. Just be careful not to overdo it when it comes to putting case fans in. Aside from the power needs, you’ll hit a point of diminishing returns eventually.

  1. Noctua NF-A12x15 PWM Premium Quiet Slim Fan
    $21.95
    • 120x15mm slim design
    • 12 volts
    • 4-pin PWM for automatic speed control
    • 1850rpm maximum speed
    • Maximum 23.9 dB(A)
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    03/10/2024 09:17 pm GMT
  2. Noctua NF-S12B redux-1200 High Performance Cooling Fan
    $14.95
    • 120x25 mm high-performance cooling fan
    • 12 volts
    • 3-pin Molex
    • 1200rpm maximum speed
    • Noise level 18.1 dB(A)
    Buy on Amazon

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    03/12/2024 05:32 pm GMT
  3. Scythe SU1225FD12L-RDP Kaze Flex Axial Fans
    $10.99
    • 120x27mm PWM
    • 12 volts
    • Speed 300-800rpm
    • Noise level 38 dB
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    03/10/2024 09:52 pm GMT
  4. Corsair LL Series LL120 RGB Fan
    $20.50
    • 120mm PWM fan
    • 16 independent RGB LEDs
    • 24.8 dBA noise level
    • Control fan speed from 600rpm to 1,500rpm
    • Compatible with CORSAIR iCUE software
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    03/10/2024 10:01 pm GMT
  5. Cooler Master MasterFan MF120R RGB Case Fan
    $24.99
    • 120mm 4-pin fan
    • 12 volts
    • Maximum speed 2,000rpm
    • 31 dB noise level
    • RGB LED
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    03/10/2024 10:06 pm GMT
  6. Thermaltake TOUGHFAN 12 Turbo High Static Pressure Radiator Fan
    $33.50
    • 120mm PWM-controlled fan
    • 12 volts
    • 28.1 dB-A maximum noise
    • Maximum speed 2,500rpm
    • Anti-vibration rubber pads
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    03/10/2024 10:27 pm GMT

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need case fans in a laptop?

Laptops generally have their own cooling solutions.

How many case fans do I need at minimum?

Two is the absolute minimum needed to maintain optimal heat reduction.

Is there an upper limit to how many fans I can place inside a PC?

If your case has space for more than five, you could certainly fit those in. However, you’ll face diminishing returns at a point.

Would a liquid cooling loop be better than fans?

Generally, but liquid cooling loops have their own drawbacks.

Do you need any specialized tools to install a case fan?

You don’t need anything aside from a steady hand and potentially a screwdriver.

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