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The Absolute Best Fan Configurations for a PC

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The Absolute Best Fan Configurations for a PC

When it comes to using PC fans, the benefits are definitely worth considering. As computers rely on cooling air to perform at their very best, how you arrange your fans is a critical detail. While it’s established that using fans will be beneficial, how you add those fans is more up in the air. The good news is that adding fans isn’t all that difficult. It’s actually quite easy compared to swapping out a motherboard. 

The bottom line is that whatever configuration you choose, you have one goal in mind. This goal is to make sure heat leaves your PC case and cool air continues to flow. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the best way to arrange fans in your PC that you can get started with today. 

Configuration Basics

Before jumping into the exact way you should set up your fan configuration, there are a few important things to know. 

The first is to know what an exhaust fan is and its purpose. In the case of a PC, an Exhaust fan is mounted on the side of a PC. This fan can take air from inside the PC case and blow it outside. On the flip side, you have an Intake fan which lives on the top or sides of a PC case. An intake fan will take outside air and blow it into your PC case.

Additionally, you also want to be aware of the CFM rate, or Cubic Feet per Minute. This refers to the volume of air that is pushed through your PC. Static pressure fans have a high CFM as they push a larger volume of air through your PC case. Static pressure fans are great if you have a tight-fitting PC case that has some obstructions that could stop the flow of air. An Airflow fan is better for PC cases without obstructions and utilizes a lower CFM. 

Types of Air Pressure

One big decision before you set up the fan configuration is to decide what type of air pressure you want inside a PC case. If you want a Positive Air Pressure setup, you’ll have more cool air coming in through intake fans than hot air is being expelled by an exhaust fan. 

If you prefer a setup that utilizes Negative Air Pressure, you have the opposite. This means your exhaust fans pull more air than the intake fans which in turn removes hot air faster. 

Last but not least, you can have Neutral Air Pressure. This type of pressure unsurprisingly means that the amount of air entering through the intake fan and leaving through the exhaust fan is equal. Anyone who wants the most balanced cooling system is likely to prefer a Neutral setup. 

Best PC Build Kits
The right PC fans will help you maximize performance while gaming or heavy multitasking.

How Many Fans Do You Need?

Before you get into configurations, one of the most important things is understanding how many fans you need. Anyone using a mid-size PC case will likely need at least two intake fans and one exhaust fan. 

If you have a full-size or custom-built large tower case, you will want to look at at least 3 intake fans plus two exhaust fans. It’s important to note that the larger your PC case, the more air can be pushed around. Because of this, you want to have the right number of intake fans to best regulate total airflow.

Gaming 

Gaming is undoubtedly the most recognizable use case for a large number of fans. Between your CPU and GPU, keeping temperatures down is going to be an absolute necessity. As you push your hardware to its limits while gaming, things can heat up quickly. Given this, you’ll want to look at the 5-fan setup below. If you are not playing the latest AAA games, you might be able to get away with 3 or 4 fans. However, if you want the absolute best performance, go with 5 fans. 

Video Editing

If gaming is the most recognizable use case for PC fans, video editing is likely the next most popular. In this case, depending on what kind of video editing you are doing, the more fans the merrier. The likelihood is that you can probably get away with a 4-fan setup. Provided you are not editing Hollywood-style movies, you can make do with this number of fans. You may even go down to 3 fans if you are doing infrequent edits for YouTube

Best Fan Configurations 

5-Fan Setup

In this case configuration, you would have 3 individual fans on the front of your PC case. These fans help introduce cool air right into your PC case. To help expel air, you would add one exhaust fan on the back of your PC case and one on the top.

With this configuration, you now have two different ways air can leave the PC case. If you want the absolute best cooling in your PC, preferably without using a liquid cooler, this is the configuration of choice. 

One important thing to note is that if your PC has a vent at the top, it should be used as an exhaust fan. As is the case in the real world, hot air will rise in your PC case so having an exhaust fan on top is a great way to regulate temperatures inside your PC case. 

4-Fan Setup

Assuming your PC case isn’t large enough for 5 separate fans, you can choose a more neutral position with 4-fans. The good news is that this setup still allows PCs with enough interior room to properly expel air without worrying about overheating. The setup here is really simple as you have two intake fans on the front of your PC. You then have an exhaust fan setup with one fan on top of your PC case and one on the rear of the case. 

The caveat to this setup is that you need to properly manage the RPM levels of your fans. If your fans are spinning too fast and bringing in too much cool air, you will find yourself with a lot of excess hot air that can’t get out fast enough. 

3-Fan Setup

If you are not putting too much pressure on your PC regularly that air isn’t a huge concern, you can go with a 3-fan setup. This is not the ideal solution for gaming, heavy video editing, etc. but it’s good enough for other power users. 

With this setup, you’ll utilize two intake fans on the front of the PC. This leaves just one exhaust fan on the rear of the case. If managed properly, you shouldn’t have too many concerns with your computer load and high temperatures. You can also easily monitor temperatures through software.

Ultimately, these 3 configurations are the most recommended but positioning can be tweaked based on your scenario. If you have 3 fans but have different components that might get in the way of airflow, adjust positioning so that you don’t have wiring or components in the way. 

Removing an small old CPU cooler from the motherboard. Human hand dismounting an outdated dusty fan, upgrading processor cooling. PC computer heat problems technology abstract concept isolated on red
Adding a fan to your PC will give you the ability to better control internal temperatures.

Not Ideal Configurations

Rear Fan Only

On lower-end PC cases, there is a good chance you will only get a single exhaust fan. If this is what you discover on your computer, it’s okay if you keep your computing expectations in check. This is arguably a pretty poor fan solution and works best with lower-end specifications. There is also a good chance that internal components like a CPU will become hot under heavy load. 

Front Fan Only

Should you find yourself looking at a PC that only has a front fan, skip it entirely. Only having a front fan is the worst potential configuration you can have. The likelihood with a single fan is that you have cool air coming into your PC but no way for the PC to push it out through an exhaust fan. As the hot air has nowhere to go, temperatures will rise across all of your PC components. 

Which Case Fans Should You Buy? 

#1 Best Overall: Noctua NF-S12B

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)
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03/12/2024 05:32 pm GMT

One of the best PC case fans today, the Noctua NF-S12B is a great choice for everyone. 

Outstanding budget-friendly price aside, the 120mm Noctua NF-S12B fan just works so well. With speeds up to 1,200 RPM, you can easily count on the Noctua to deliver low noise. In the case of this fan, low noise doesn’t mean low performance as you get the exact amount of airflow you need to keep your PC running long-term. Running at only 18.1 decibels, you shouldn’t have any issues working or gaming while the fan is running at max speed. 

Best RGB Lighting: Corsair QL120

Best RGB Lighting
Corsair QL Series, Ql120 RGB, 120mm RGB LED Fan
$34.99
  • 34 Separate RGB LEDs
  • Anti-vibration rubber damper for low noise levels
  • Powerful Corsair iCUE software
  • Cool quickly and efficiently
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
03/10/2024 06:51 am GMT

If you want fancy RGB lighting making your fans a little more exciting, look no further than the Corsair QL120

With four independent lighting zones and 34 separate RGB LEDs, you can very much personalize the look of this fan. With speeds up to 1,500 RPM, Corsair provides a 120mm fan that works for PC cases of all shapes and sizes. Better yet, download the iCUE software from Corsair, monitor fan speed, and adjust PC lighting all day long. Best of all, Corsair added an anti-vibration rubber damper to help keep noise levels to a minimum.

Closing Thoughts

Ultimately, the best fan configuration is up to you but the 3, 4, and 5 systems work best for most people. While you can tweak these setups based on your PC case, each design will give you optimal airflow performance.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best fan configuration for a PC?

The single best fan configuration is arguably the 4-fan setup, which is great for both gaming and heavy multitasking. 

How many fans should you have at a minimum?

This is a tough question based on different use cases, but 3 fans should be the minimum (two intake, one exhaust). 

Can you install fans without any previous experience?

As long as you have a screwdriver, you should be able to install the fans no problem. 

Can you adjust fan placement after purchase?

Ideally, you can adjust fan placement as frequently as you like as long as the case allows for it. 

How can you tell the temperature inside your PC?

With most PCs, the most accurate way to tell internal temperature is to check from the BIOS screen. 

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