The CPU, or the Central Processing Unit, is the brain of a computer and can overwork itself with executing instructions and performing many processes, which can often lead to overheating. To ensure that the CPU’s temperature is in the safe zone, CPU fans are required. They provide enough cooling for the CPU to be optimal. The question is, can a CPU fan be used as a regular case fan?
Like the CPU cases, the case fans also dissipate heat from the computer, but instead of targeting the CPU alone, they circulate air in the case itself. They are typically installed in the front, back, and top of the case for providing ventilation and improving airflow.
On the other hand, CPU cases are explicitly designed to cool the CPU and are relatively small compared to case fans.
While a CPU fan can be used as a case fan, doing that may not be a very effective cooling solution for the internal components of a computer. CPU fans typically don’t have the same power as case fans and, thus, may not have enough movement to generate the right amount of air for the entire case.
Not to forget that the CPU fans are designed specifically for the CPU, located around the center of the motherboard, which is quite far from the case fans’ usual position.
So, while it is technically possible to use CPU fans as case fans, it may not be the most effective cooling solution for the components housed in a case. We recommend using case fans specifically designed to cool the case.
How to Install a CPU Fan as a Case Fan
While we still recommend using an actual case fan, installing a CPU fan as a case fan is a straightforward process that can be accomplished with a few tools. Here’s a step-by-step guide.
- Gather your tools: A Phillips head screwdriver, a pair of pliers (optional), and a CPU fan to use as the case fan are required.
- Determine the fan’s placement: Decide where you want to place the fan in the case. It is generally recommended to put them in spots where they can utilize the air from outside or exhaust internal hot air.
- Prepare the CPU fan: You’ll need to remove the CPU fan from the heatsink it may be attached to. This can be done by grasping the fan with the pliers and gently wiggling it back and forth until it becomes loose. You can use the screwdriver to remove any screws that hold the fan.
- Install the CPU fan: Align the mounting holes on the CPU fan with the computer case’s holes for fan insertions. Use the screwdriver to secure the fan in place.
- Connect the fan to the motherboard: Most computer cases have a bunch of connectors for case fans. Find the appropriate connector on the motherboard and plug the fan in.
- Test the fan: Once you install the fan and plug it in, you are ready. Test the fan and adjust its speed from the computer’s BIOS or the operating system accordingly to your need.
Can a CPU Fan be Used as a GPU Fan?
The answer to this question is also the same. Using a CPU fan as a GPU fan may be an even worse idea because the two types of components have different cooling needs.
There are several reasons why we do not recommend using CPU fans as GPU fans:
- Size: The CPU and the GPU fans are designed in specific size ranges, and the two are almost always different. The size of a CPU fan may not be compatible with the GPU, and that could lead to not only poor airflow for the GPU but even physical damage to the GPU.
- Speed: CPU and GPU fans are designed to run at different speeds. A CPU fan may not meet the speed requirements to cool a GPU effectively. This can result in bad performance and even overheating.
- Noise: A quieter CPU fan may not be able to provide the necessary cooling for a GPU, which could result in louder than normal fan noise, and the most effective CPU fans are guaranteed to be noisier than the average GPU fan.
- Compatibility: Even if a CPU fan fits physically on a GPU, it may not be able to interface with the GPU’s cooling system properly.
So, while it is understandable to consider using a CPU fan for cooling the GPU, especially for saving money, it is recommended to use a dedicated GPU fan instead.
What are the Best Computer Case Fans?
So, in case you have decided to buy dedicated case fans, here are the top five best options on the market:
- Noctua NF-F12: Offers excellent performance alongside low noise levels, which makes it a top choice.
- Be quiet! Silent Wings 3: Another fan with top-tier performance with silent operation.
- Arctic F12 PWM PST: The best budget option. Brilliant performance for its price range.
- Corsair ML120 Pro: It boasts high static pressure and low noise levels, which makes it great for cooling CPU coolers and radiators.
- Fractal Design Dynamic X2 GP-12: Features excellent airflow and a stylish design.
Regardless, the best-case fan for you depends on your specific needs and budget.
Using dedicated fans for each component is ideal, so using the CPU fan as a case fan or a GPU fan may not be a good idea.
Each of these components uses fans explicitly sized for them and are designed with speeds compatible with their own needs, which is why using CPU fans as case fans (or vice-versa) is not recommended.
It is recommended to use dedicated case fans like Noctua NF-F12 and Corsair ML120 Pro.