We’ll help you choose the right fan for your project. And at the end of the article, we’ve put together a buying guide to highlight how to shop for your next PC fan.
TL;DR – These are the Best PC Fans:
1. Noctua NF-S12B redux-1200
Best Overall PC Fan
Noctua has refreshed its visuals with subtle-but-attractive light gray color scheme in the Redux product line. The Noctua NF-S12B redux-1200 has those signature snazzy gray blades and can be accessorized with optional anti-vibration pads that come in a half-dozen bright colors. Otherwise, this is a no-frills fan – you won’t find any LED lighting. But it’s extremely affordable, barely more expensive than the cheapest budget fans.
Even so, the NF-S12B is built on extremely rugged self-stabilizing oil pressure bearings and is designed for low-noise case cooling thanks to beveled blade tips that can move a lot of air while minimizing noise. It’s outfitted with a three-pin connector, which means you can control the fan speed by varying voltage.
2. Arctic F12-120
Best Budget Fan
The budget fan business is pretty competitive – when you can get a high-quality fan like one from Noctua for just $15, that puts a whole different spin on “budget.” But the Arctic F12-120 delivers; if it were priced much lower, it would be free. Even so, the F12-120 is made with fluid dynamic bearings, a feature that’s generally found in more premium fans.
Otherwise, this fan’s specs – especially airflow and noise – are typical for a non-PWM fan in this size range, and that’s not faint praise. At this price point, it’s a smart buy.
3. Cooler Master MF200R
Best 200mm PC Fan
Larger fans tend to run quieter than smaller ones because they don’t need to rotate that fast to move a lot of air compared to a smaller one. The Cooler Master MF200R is notable for being especially quiet. This is probably due, at least in part, to the somewhat lower fan speed of 700 rpm. Even so, it can move a respectable 110 cubic feet of air per minute.
The MegaFlow relies on a sleeve bearing, which should result in a long useful lifespan. And while it has a RGB LED to throw some color around in your case. Of course you can also turn off the LED if you want a stealthier rig.
4. be quiet! Silent Wings 3
Best Silent PC fan
No matter what your cooling needs, you can probably find it here. Silent Wings 3 comes in a number of variations – both 120mm and 140mm, and in 4-pin PWM (pulse width modulation) and 3-pin DC fan varieties. Most importantly, as the name suggests, these fans are virtually inaudible.
But Silent Wings are also premium fans. They come with anti-vibration corner fittings, feature fluid-dynamic bearings for a very long service life, and have an unusual 6-pole motor, which be quiet! says contributes to less vibration and lower power consumption.
5. Corsair QL Series QL120
Best RGB PC Fan
Corsair sure knows how to make an eye-catching product. The Corsair QL Series QL120 is the latest in its snazzy PC fans, and they show no shortage of style. The QL120 fans feature a whopping 34 RGB LEDs per fan, and they’re designed with semi-transparent fan blades to really let those colors shine. Each fan has four lighting zones, so you get some extra tweaking capabilities. The lighting comes out on both sides of the fans as well, so it doesn’t matter whether you set them up for intake or exhaust. The three-fan kit includes the Lighting Node Core controller you need, which also simply requires a USB 2.0 and SATA connection, so you can keep your PC’s wiring simple inside.
The fans themselves are fairly capable, offering a decent level of airflow while keeping noise levels down to 26dBA. It’s not as much airflow or as quiet of noise levels as some of the competition, but sometimes we suffer for fashion, and the QL120 fans offer plenty in the way of fashion.
6. Cooler Master SickleFlow Series 120mm
Best Addressable RGB PC Fan
If you’re looking to spruce up your case with some color, why settle for anything other than fancy addressable RGB fans? The Cooler Master SickleFlow Series 120mm will fit just about wherever you need a case fan while giving you plenty of color. Not only will it deliver solid airflow, but the combination of RGB lights and a light fan blades makes for an excellent light show that can attach to your case or mount onto your CPU cooler. the 3-pin ARGB connection will work with a wide variety of motherboards, so you can easily add this fan to your build.
7. Phanteks PH-F140MP
Best 140mm PC Fan
Because Phanteks’ PWM PH-F140MP produces very high static air pressure, it’s ideal for cases crowded with radiator fins, water-cooling radiators, and restrictive grills. The fan speed is fully adjustable thanks to its PWM motor – you can vary it from 500 to 1600RPM, and at the lower end of the spectrum, the fan is essentially silent.
You can expect a long service life, since it’s built on what Phanteks calls a UFB (updraft floating bearing), which is a kind of sleeve bearing.
8. Noctua NF-P12 redux
Best 120mm PC Fan
This is the second time Noctua appears in this list, and it won’t be the last. That’s because Noctua makes superb (and affordable) fans, and the NF-P12 redux is a high-performance example.
This fan generates very high levels of static pressure and airflow while minimizing noise. You’ll get a long life from the self-stabilizing oil pressure bearings, and Noctua’s attention to detail is evident in the shark-tooth notches in the trailing edge of the blades, which disperses sound and helps this fan stay extra quiet even at higher RPMs.
9. Noctua NF-A12x25
Best High Airflow Fan
If you need to move more air, you may be able to step up to a larger diameter, but many cases limit you to 120mm fans. That means your best choice is likely a model like the Noctua NF-A12x25, a variable-speed PWM fan that can throttle up to 2000 RPM and move over 60 CFM.
Throttle it down, though, and this is a fairly quiet fan. Noctua also lets you add a low-noise adapter (which caps the RPM at 1700 RPM) for even quieter performance. But in addition to great high-airflow performance, this fan also generates a very high static pressure, making it an all-around solid workhorse regardless of the case or application. And for longevity, it boasts Noctua’s self-stabilizing oil pressure bearings.
10. Noctua NF-A12x15
Best Low-Profile PC Fan
Sometimes, case tolerances are tight. In those instances, Noctua has you covered. The Noctua NF-A12x15 is a slim PC fan that comes in at nearly half the thickness of many of the other products on this list. So, when you need to squeeze a fan into a tight spot, this one is your best bet. It’s effectively the slim sibling of the Noctua NF-A12x25.
The compact size of this fan doesn’t mean it’s sacrificing performance. You can still get a solid 55 CFM of airflow from this fan, letting you keep your case full of fresh, cool air. And, even at its highest level of airflow, it only produces 23.9dBA of noise. Noctua has some options to lower the noise even more, including a Low-Noise Adapter, which brings it down to 16.8dBA with a sacrifice to airflow, as well as anti-vibration mounts that can prevent unwanted rattle. Both of those come included with the fan itself, so you get that flexibility at no extra cost.
11. Lian Li Uni Fan
Best Clutter-Free PC Fans
Get strong airflow for your computer is undeniably important, but it shouldn’t have to come at the cost of a clean internal build. Wiring up a bunch of case fans can not only be tedious, but all those extra cables strung about could start to interfere with its function. The Lian Li Uni Fan system offers a unique solution for wiring up multi-fan setups.
The Lian Li Uni Fan may look like most other fans (except that it has some smooth RGB lighting around the edge of the fan), but it uses a special connector and a multi-fan controller to let you get a cleaner setup inside your PC. The trick is in that connector, which can actually let you interlock multiple Uni Fans, and they’ll share their power and control signal. You can run a single Uni Fan, but the benefit is most pronounced when you need a lot of fans, as you can connect up to four fans and control them off a single connection. You can also support up to four clusters of four fans (for a total of 16 fans) using Lian Li’s special controller.
What to Look for in a PC Fan
First things first: Fans aren’t generic, one-size-fits-all commodities. Connector styles vary, for example. You’ll find four pin connectors on pulse width modulation (PWM) motors, which are easily speed-adjustable and somewhat more energy efficient. Three-pins generally control DC motors, though adapters are available.
The size of the fan casing is also important. Fans commonly range in size from 80mm to 250mm, and you’ll generally need a large fan for a large case, since a 120mm fan won’t move much air in a cavernous enclosure. In some cases, you have some flexibility when choosing fan sizes; 140mm fans generally have the same mounting holes as 120mm fans, for example. But as a general rule, larger fans are quieter, move more air, and even last longer.
In addition, fans are generally optimized to either move a high volume of air with large blades and high RPM or generate a high static pressure. High airflow fans can run into problems when installed in a case with restricted airflow – that’s what high static pressure fans are for.
Unlike most PC components, fans are mechanical systems meant to run continuously for years. Ball bearings, often found in the least expensive fans, tend to fail the soonest, while sleeve bearings are a step up in quality and longevity. Fluid bearings tend to have the longest lifespans.
While there’s a fair bit of engineering that goes into the best PC fans, in principle, they’re pretty simple devices – they’re fans, and designed to move air from one place to another. That means a critical spec to keep in mind is the CFM, or air moved by the fan in cubic feet per minute; higher numbers are better. You might also want to watch for their noise level. Generally, the noise generated by a fan (measured in dBA) is directly proportional to its CFM, but there are design features that can keep fans quiet. Larger fans, which can spin slower to move the same amount of air, also tend to run more quietly.
Finally, LED lighting has become a major consideration for many systems – since modern LEDs don’t add heat to the system and don’t interfere with airflow, it’s become common to find fans with integrated lighting – either a single color, adjustable to a handful of colors, or a full 16.7 million color LED system.
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Dave Johnson has been writing about gaming and tech since the days of the Palm Pilot. See him shout into the Twitter void @davejoh