If you’re a hardcore PC user and you’re looking at building a brand new rig, or to upgrade your existing one, today’s article is about the best case fans available on today’s market. If we’re talking about gaming rigs, cooling and airflow are some of the most important things to contemplate, both in terms of lifespan for your mobo, CPU and GPU, and overall performance.
When a processor runs too hot, due to work overload and/or inadequate cooling (stock CPU Coolers are not the best option for overclocking aficionados by the way), “throttling” kicks in, which means that your CPU will slow down automatically, to prevent potential damage caused by overheating. And a slower processor means less performance, which is bad if you’re a gaming-pro or if you’re using your PC for professional heavy-duty tasks. When it comes to optimal airflow and cooling, custom/high-performance case fans come into play.
Usually speaking, case fans are available in 80 mm, 120mm, 140mm, and 200mm sizes, to fit a variety of PC cases. Needless to say, a larger case fan is capable of pushing more air (eventually at a lower RPM) compared to a smaller one, i.e. a larger case fan will offer optimal airflow while keeping noise on the down-low, provided it fits one’s computer case. Bigger is better almost every time when it comes to gear once again. Also, some case fans are specifically designed to optimize airflow, using a smart fan controller or software.
Tech talk aside, let’s take care of the basics first:
How to Choose Case Fans
Some people are asking why case fans are necessary after all since both CPUs and GPUs come with their own cooling devices. The answer is that case fans remove the hot air which is thrown into the PC’s case by the CPU/GPU fans. If the hot air is not removed from the machine’s case, the CPU/GPU fans will suck the same hot-air again, thus reducing the efficiency of the cooling process, which leads to overheating issues and a drop in performance, especially on hot summer days, when you can actually hear your PC’s coolers buzzing stronger than usual.
The bottom line is that you can’t achieve proper ventilation for your professional (gaming) rig without high-performance case fans. To make a long story short, there are 2 main types of case fans: air pressure fans and static pressure fans. The former are used to push in or to pull out air, and they are used in “open places” inside the computer case, while the latter are used to “cool off” a drive bay or a radiator close to the respective fan.
CFM (Cubic Feet Per Minute)
The metric to look after when you’re choosing a case fan is CFM, which tells you the amount of air the fan can displace (cubic feet per minute). The higher the figure is, the better the fan is, performance wise.
RPM (Revolutions Per Minute)
RPM is the fan speed: the lower, the quieter the fan is, but performance may be affected by low RPM if the fan is too small. However, most case-fans nowadays are smart enough, as in they come with fan controllers which automatically adjust fan speed as required at a specific point in time.
Before buying and setting up a case fan, you must make sure it fits your case size, i.e. you must match the fan’s dimension to your PC’s case-size. As in, a 200 mm fan would be the ideal choice for a large computer case. As we already mentioned, the size of the fan is also important in regard to its performance, i.e. the amount of heat dissipated. To find out what size you need, measure the distance between the fan’s screw holes (horizontally or vertically) on your case and then add about 10-15mm. So if it’s 105 mm between screw holes, you need a 120mm fan.
If you’re into long-term investments for your rig, pay close attention to the bearing type. A case fan’s bearing type is important when it comes to overall performance and in regard to the amount of noise produced. Computer professionals and gamers alike tend to complain about noisy fans all the time, as their rigs require a lot of processing power, which generates extra heat and all that. If noise is an issue for you, you should look for ultra-quiet case fan models, provided you’re ready to pay a little bit more.
Let’s talk a little “shop” first: to begin with, there’s the sleeve bearing case fan, which is the most common of the bunch. The sleeve bearing case fans are the cheapest and simplest to manufacture, as they use a special oil to reduce friction between the fan shaft and the bearing, like most toys and gadgets on the market. Then, we have the magnetic bearing variety, which is significantly better and more “high-tech”, as there’s no contact between the bearing and the fan shaft to begin with, which translates into basically zero friction and low noise; finally, there’s the fluid dynamic bearing.
The fluid dynamic type uses fluid cycling technology and boasts the greatest life span, being also the most expensive. Oh, and they’re whisper-quiet by the way. If you’re worried about noise, pay extra attention to the decibel level specified by the manufacturer (18 dB to 35 dB or more). As the general rule of thumb, big blade fans are better in regard to airflow, quieter than smaller ones (they don’t require high RPM to work properly) and they’re perfect for exhaust vents. Then, there’s the brand thing. Some of the best case fan manufacturers include Noctua and Corsair. But as usual, quality comes at a price.
Finally, check the connector type on your PC’s motherboard. There are three connector types to deal with: 2-Pin, 3-Pin, and 4-Pin. Modern PC’s don’t use the 2-Pin type anymore, as it’s a basic on/off setup. The 3-4 Pin connectors are more efficient as they offer smart control over the case fan’s operations.
Now, let’s take a closer look at best case fans in no particular order:
The Best 80mm Case Fans
ARCTIC F8-80 mm Standard Case Fan
Polar Bears’ Case Fan of Choice
The Arctic F8 Standard makes for a “petite” case fan which is built and designed for regular (read normies) computer users looking for a quiet and efficient cooling solution compared to “stock gear”. The F8 boasts an innovative blade design that optimizes airflow, while the impeller was designed with an emphasis on minimizing noise and providing adequate pressure and airflow.
The Arctic F8 Standard is relatively cheap and it can be installed in 2 ways: to draw cool air into your PC case or to blow hot air out, depending on one’s needs. In terms of tech specs, the F8 Standard boasts a Max. Airflow 31 CFM (52.7 m³/h), at a maximum 2000 RPM and it’s built using a Fluid Dynamic Bearing system, which is whisper quiet and long-lasting.
- 9 blade design for 20 percent higher airflow compared to stock (7-blade) case fans
- whisper quiet
- relatively cheap
- good value for money
- easy plug-and-play setup
- 4 PIN mobo connector that works with fan controllers or software to control WPM
- not really suited for medium/large computer cases
Noctua NF-A8 PWM
The Best 80mm Case Fan
The Noctua NF-A8 PWM fan case is an interesting melange of performance and low noise coming from one of the best-known names in the industry. Costing basically twice the price of the Arctic F8 Standard, the Noctua NF-A8 PWM is an award-winning fan case, designed with the company’s patented Advanced Acoustic Optimization frame and Flow Acceleration Channels, for delivering excellent cooling performance while keeping the noise on the down-low. Its compact form/factor makes the NF-A8 PWM ideal for small PCs, NAS and similar devices.
- engineered with the company’s proprietary SSO bearing system
- features 4-Pin connector that works with fan controllers or software (450-2200rpm speed range)
- perfect for smaller case setups
- low power consumption
- whisper quiet
- excellent static pressure
- boasts industry-leading 150.000 hours MTTF (Mean Time Between Failures)
- comes with extension cable and y-cable, Low-Noise Adapter, fan screws and anti-vibration mounts included in the retail package
- kind of expensive
- not so great option for medium-large cases
be quiet! Case Fan Cooling BL044
As its name suggests, this case fan is engineered to be “the silent partner” so to speak, boasting a 7 blade design for producing an optimized airflow and reducing turbulence, along with rifle bearings and 80,000 MTTF, which is basically half of what the Noctua NF-A8 PWM promises. Speaking of silent partners, the be quiet! BL044 operates at 18.2dB(A) at maximum speed and comes with 3 years warranty. As its price tag suggests, this case fan is excellent for entry-level computing, provided you’re looking after an affordable silent cooling solution for your machine.
- dead silent even at max speeds
- affordable and well designed
- delivers lots of bang for the buck asked
- easy to install, does what it says (moves plenty of air compared to stock case fans)
- relatively low CFM/RPM specs, as in you’ll most probably require at least 2 units to do the job
The Best 120mm Case Fans
Corsair LL Series LL120 RGB
The Best 120mm Case Fan
The Corsair LL Series LL120 RGB is the final boss of case fans so to speak. I mean, this bad boy is every nerd’s wet dream, featuring RGB lighting. If you’re into heavy modding, this Corsair beast has your name on it, provided you can live with the price tag. There are actually 3 fans in the retail package, which kind of sweetness the deal, and each one of them comes with Corsair’s patented Lighting Node Pro technology, along with Dual Light Loop RGB LED PWM. If you’re into cool shiny thingies inside your gaming rig, you can’t go wrong with the Corsair LL Series LL120 RGB.
Each fan comes with no less than sixteen independent RGB LEDs and you can customize the lighting effects via software. The PWM fan control system allows you to adjust the fan’s speed from 600 RPM to 1500 RPM, in order to maximize airflow and keep the noise within reasonable limits. If you’re into colorful and fully customizable case fans, it doesn’t get any better than this.
- amazing customization options and full control over lighting, temp-alerts and fan speed
- excellent addition to liquid cooled rigs due to the Corsair LL Series LL120 RGB’s high airflow via 120mm fan Blade engineered for Low-Noise operation, and static pressure
- looks awesome
- you’ll have to spend extra for the command-pro unit if you want to benefit from full lighting effects
- no flicker/fade/breathing lightning effects
ARCTIC ACFAN00119A P12 PWM
Best Bang for the Buck
The ARCTIC ACFAN00119A P12 PWM is a very interesting choice if you’re on a low budget, and it makes for the perfect case fan to use on radiators, heat-sinks and/or covered case vents, being optimized for static pressure. This case fan is also very quiet, due to its newly developed motor and redesigned fan blades, which makes it ideal for higher air resistance environments. The PWM PST connectors allow it to be regulated synchronously and seamlessly with other fans via Arctic’s patented PST sharing technology.
Another thing worth mentioning is the ARCTIC ACFAN00119A P12 PWM’s 200-1800 RPM range, which makes it very efficient and versatile, offering minimum vibration and maximum quietness. Speaking of whisper-quiet technology, the ARCTIC ACFAN00119A P12 PWM also features a 0 db mode, as it’s capable of switching into passive/silent mode as soon as the PWM signal goes below 5 percent.
- optimized for high static pressure
- excellent on heat-sinks and radiators
- increased life span due to newly designed low coil temp motor
- high-quality alloy/lubricant bearing, developed in Germany
- some users complain about noise at high RPM and manufacturing issues
Asiahorse UFOII RGB LED 120mm Case Fan
No-nonsense Work Horse
The “horse of Asia” is a relatively unknown brand, but their UFO (speaking of cool names, this is as good as it gets) II RGB LED case fan will definitely change that, as it’s cheap, sturdy, reliable, and also makes it look like a flying saucer just made contact with your gaming rig. Seriously, this baby boasts over one hundred LED light modes, which offer practically unlimited color effects via separately controllable LEDs. If cool shiny lights are what you’re looking for in your gaming rig, the Asiahorse UFOII RGB would make for an interesting purchase, considering its relatively low price tag.
The “engine” that runs the show is built using hydraulic bearing technology, which translates into stable and quiet performance, and boasts a 30,000 MTBF, which is not bad considering the price asked.
- 3.6Pin interface
- colorful, awesome aesthetics
- cool black finish, solidly built
- quiet, just not Noctua quiet
- zillions of lighting options
- top quality
- none really at this price
Thermaltake Riing 12 RGB TT Premium Edition
The Best RGB Case Fan
These fancy-sounding case-fans from Thermaltake will cost you a pretty penny, but they come in threes, as in there are 3 120 mm fans in the retail package. Premium quality comes at premium prices, as usual, and on top of that, you’ll get cool lightning schemes and awesome color modes. That’s what the RGB thing stands for: world leading LED rings, which seem to be all the rage nowadays.
Cool shiny lights aside, the Thermaltake Riing 12 RGB TT Premium fan case is built with a nine-blade design for whisper quiet operation and optimized airflow and features a high-quality hydraulic bearing.
- cool lighting schemes and tons of light-modes, featuring world’s first independent 16.8 million colors led-ring
- the retail package comes with rubber pads for anti-vibration mounting
- excellent build quality
- low noise blade design
- hugely reliable
- total control (fan-speed, fan performance, lightning effects) via dedicated mobile app and specially designed software
- 41.13 CFM
- not suitable for a radiator, as they’re relatively low on static pressure
The Best 140mm Case Fans
Corsair ML140 Pro
High-End Case Fan
The ML140 Pro is arguably Corsair’s best 140 mm case fan, and you can take that to the bank. Okay, this one is pretty expensive, but it’s built using the best components available and designed for ultimate performance and total control. The ML140 Pro offers an extensive 1600 RPM range-control, allowing you to achieve your desired melange between high airflow and high static pressure, and it uses a high-quality magnetic levitation bearing technology, for longer life span, high performance and low-noise. As Corsair puts it, if NASA were to design a case-fan, it would look like the ML140 Pro.
- best of both worlds in terms of static pressure and airflow in one cool case fan as it follows:
- 55.4 CFM airflow
- 1.27 mm-H2O static pressure
- easy to install, 5-year warranty
- stellar performance and build quality
- 4 Pin connector
- kind of expensive, will not fit small cases
Noctua NF-A14 iPPC-3000 PWM
The Best 140mm Case Fan
To begin with, this thing can blow a golf ball through a garden hose. Joke aside, the only fan I’ve ever seen or known of that blows faster and harder than this monster was in an old Dell desktop, and I am talking about old-school engines of death that eat children for breakfast.
Now, the Noctua NF-A14 iPPC is an award-winning heavy duty 4-Pin cooling fan, capable of 3000 RPM, and featuring the company’s patented Flow Acceleration Channels for industry-leading cooling performance. Due to the 4-Pin PWM fan headers, you can automatically/manually adjust the fan speed between 800 and 3000 RPM.
This high-speed fan case is built using industrial-grade materials, including a heavy duty SSO2 bearing which boasts an amazing 150,000 hours MTTF and comes with 6 years of manufacturer’s warranty. Noctua also built their NF-A14 iPPC in compliance with IP52, which means it’s resistant to water and dust contamination. If you’re looking for best in class cooling performance and reliability, the Noctua NF-A14 iPPC is the answer to your prayers.
- premium quality
- industry leading cooling efficiency
- tough as nails, 6 years warranty, 150,000 hours MTBF
- amazing value for money
- once you go Noctua, you never go back
Thermaltake Riing 14
If you’re a LOTR fan, I can describe the Thermaltake Riing 14 fan case along the lines of “one ring to rule them all”, making for a quiet case fan that’s capable of throwing a punch while looking awesome in the process.
The Riing 14 is part of Thermaltake’s 12/14 LED Series, designed with optimized fan blades for amazing cooling performance via enhanced static pressure. For modding aficionados, the Riing 14 offers amazing lighting effects due to its patented multi-colored LED ring, while techies will be pleased to hear about its hydraulic bearing design, the built-in wind blocker frame and the anti-vibration mounting system.
- amazing value for money
- very quiet (Noise: 12/14 24.6/28.1 dBA)
- top notch performance: Max Airflow: 12/14 40.6/51.1CFM.
- great build quality
- hydraulic bearings
- the 3 Pin connector doesn’t allow for the controller to modulate fan speed (runs on full power all the time)
The Best 200mm Case Fans
Cooler Master MegaFlow 200
The Best 200mm Case Fan
The Cooler Master MegaFlow 200, also known as Orinocco Flow among enthusiasts, is one of the best 200mm case fans out there, due to its very affordable price doubled down by top-notch performance and reliability.
The MegaFlow 200 is a sleeve bearing dead silent fan case, with low RPM and high airflow (700RPM/110CFM), which is engineered to please budget-conscious power users. Considering its low price, high performance (displacement volume 184 m3/h) and generous dimensions, the MegaFlow 200 is the ideal choice for keeping your system cool and dead quiet without breaking the bank.
- no-nonsense 200 mm case fan, gets the job done without drama
- amazing value for money
- whisper quiet
- easy to install
- moves a lot of air
- none really at this price
Thermaltake 200mm Pure 20 Series
Gets the Job Done
Last but not least, we have a working class hero, a 200 mm high airflow-dead silent case fan from Thermaltake. Retailing for under $18, the Pure 20 Series is a high-performance fan case, designed for high air flow and high static pressure, offering great value for money and an optimal melange of efficiency, silence, and, why not, a sense of style.
- insane airflow, CFM 129.64
- 30,000 hours life expectancy
- offers good value for money
- extremely quiet
- above average build quality
- no PWM control