written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 1/9/2010
No one finds PC case fans exciting. They are a unsung hero of every PC. All computers need them - and some would be entirely worthless without three or four - but most people simply purchased the cheapest. The case fan purchased does matter, however, and this guide picks out three of the best.
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Keeping it Cool
Case fans. They're not an exciting topic. New case fan designs and products rarely make front-page news on major PC enthusiasts websites. But they're an incredibly important part of a modern computer, and particularly important in high end workstations and gaming PCs. Powerful processors and video cards generate a lot of heat, and even some motherboards can become alarmingly toasty without the proper amount of cooling.
In this case fan guide I'll round up three of my favorite case fans. I'm going to reference 120mm models because, in general, I feel 120mm fans are the best buys - for further explanation, see my case fan guide.
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Antec 3-Speed Case Fan
Antec makes great PC cases, and in order to cool those cases it makes some great PC case fans. It was, after all, Antec which was most responsible for popularizing the addition of a case fan to the top of a case, a sensible an effective cooling solution which is now in a large variety of PC cases.
There are quite a few cases fan available from Antec, but I prefer the simple 3-speed 120mm fans. They're reasonably quite and reasonably effective at pushing air. The 3-speed switch allows for the fan speed to be tuned towards silence or performance as you prefer. There isn't anything fancy about them, but at a typical price of $10 bucks they get the job done without much drama for your wallet.
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Scythe is one of the best names in the PC case fan business. The S-Flex is my recommendation because it is a good, quality mid-range fan for those who don't mind spending a tad bit more than the bare minimum. It is in my experience it is middle of the pack in terms of silence (the Antec 3-speed is usually quieter on its lowest speed) but the Scythe pushes a lot of air. It is unlikely anyone except an extreme overclocker will need a better case fan.
The Scythe S-Flex costs about $15 bucks, which is getting up there for a case fan but still is hardly a budget breaker. Scythe also offers some lower-end products which make more noise but are almost as effective at pushing air, so check those out if you're on a budget.
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Noctua is an interesting company. I'm not sure they even existed three years ago, but now they are widely regard as the makers of the best air-cooling solutions for PC. While you very well could buy a less expensive fan and be perfectly happy with it, the Noctua fans are so good they nearly turn PC case fans into an art form.
Quiet? You bet. The Noctua NF-S12B makes less noise than any other case fan I've heard. Effective? I can't imagine anyone needing more air pushed than the NF-S12B can provide. The Noctua also has a 3-speed function like the Antec, and so can be tuned to your personal sweet spot between performance and noise. The only downside is that you'll pay a premium for the premium product - at $25 dollars, the cost of your case fans could rival the cost of your motherboard or RAM.