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When getting ready to build your own computer – especially a gaming machine – there’s one aspect of a computer that’s criminally overlooked: the fan. If your radiator is doing too much work, your computer can slow down or even crash. There’s nothing more frustrating than losing all of your saved data because your PC crashed midgame. Even if it doesn’t crash, it’d be a shame if you spent all that time and effort decking out your new gaming rig just to find that it doesn’t perform the way you expected – simply because you don’t have a good fan for your radiator. That’s why we’re writing this list, so you can find the best radiator fan to keep your PC chugging along at the optimal high performance.
This article will list our preferred fans from our favorite at number one, to our least favorite at number four. After that, we break the fans down by what niche they fill. So if you have a specific feature that you already know you need to have, go ahead and skip to the bottom of the article. We also have a quick guide on how to install those new fans of yours, so you can learn everything you need to in one convenient place.
Keep reading below, or click here to go straight to our number one pick on Amazon.
What Should You Look for in a Radiator Fan?
To some extent, what fan you want will depend on what computer have and what you do with it. That being said, here are the general criteria you should check when buying your new radiator fan.
Criteria #1: Cooling – This one is (I hope) pretty obvious. The whole point of a fan is that it cools your computer, so you’ll want one that does that well. The main metrics to look at so that you know if your fan will cool your PC well are RPM (Rotations Per Minute), which is just how many times your fan does a full rotation in one minute, and CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute), which is how much air a fan moves in one minute. Different aspects of the radiator’s size will also come into play.
Criteria #2: Noise Level – The second thing you’ll want to look at in your fan is how much (or how little) noise it makes. If you’re gaming solo, you wouldn’t want a loud fan to ruin the immersive experience for you, and if you’re playing a multiplayer game, you definitely don’t want your fan to drown out your communication with your teammate or trash talk with your opponent. Even if you’re using your computer for something other than gaming, noise is just annoying. How much noise a fan makes is largely affected by what material it’s made from, and is measured in dBA, or (A-weighted) decibels. The fewer dBA, the quieter the fan.
Criteria #3: Price – The price range on radiator fans is pretty wide. Some fans cost as little as $10, while others go all the way up to more than $60. You might have a very specific reason for wanting to buy a $60 fan, but especially if this is your first DIY computer, you’ll probably want to keep it cheap. We’re here to help you do that, so you won’t have to splurge unless you want to.
There is also style to take into account, but because it’s completely subjective, I’m not counting that as an official criterion. As we’ll mention later, it is worth noting that RGB fans are very popular for their style, while Notura brand fans, while acknowledged as some of the best in terms of performance, have a bit of a reputation for their ugly design.
And with that, here are our favorite radiator fans for your DIY computer.
Here's How We've Determined the Best Radiator Fans
There are no two ways about it, once everything is said and done, the Noctua NF-A12 PMW is the best fan on the market. If you’re looking for top performance and the best buy for your dollar, this is the only choice. With an RPM range of 450 – 2000 and a CFM of 60.1, this fan will have you gaming through the night with zero lag or freezing. It’s listed dBA is 22.6, which would be good or average, but certain tests have said otherwise, so the main drawback of this fan is that it may be a little loud. It’s worth noting that the reason it gets loud is because of its high RPM, which is what helps it perform well.
The fan is very affordable, and that’s what helped propel it to the top of our list. That combination of function and price is pretty hard to beat. If you’re building your first PC, you probably won’t want to spend big money on your first try. And even if you’re a pro, why spend money when you don’t have to? Besides the noise level, the only complaint about this fan is that some people find the khaki and brown color scheme to be ugly. But if it fits your taste, or you just don’t care about what your fan looks like, this is one of the best fans out there.
It should tell you everything you need to know about radiator fans that Noctua managed to claim the first two spots on our list of best fans. They’re the best in the business, and honestly, it was a tough call deciding which Noctua fan to list at number one. While we decided that the NF-A12x25 PWM was the best of the best, there are two main reasons you might disagree and decide that you need the NF- S12B Redux-1200 is the fan you need for your new computer.
Reason #1 to Choose This Product: Price
It almost feels like splitting hairs when the NF-A12x25 PWM is already so cheap, but if you’re trying to save every dollar possible, the NF-S12B is the way to go since it costs roughly half the price of it’s NF-A12x25 counterpart. You definitely won’t have to wait for your next paycheck or your birthday to buy this fan. There’s no fan out there that’s this cheap and still has a high performance.
Reason #2 to Choose This Product: Noise Level
While our first Noctua fan was listed as putting out 22.6 dBA and tests as being even louder, the Redux-1200 is listed at 18.2 dBA and seems to live up to that listing. To put that number into perspective, normal breathing emits about 10 dBA, while talking emits somewhere between 20 and 40 dBA. Between whatever sound effects are coming from your computer, the sounds of your typing, and even your own breathing, you probably won’t be able to hear this fan, but it’ll be there, helping keep your PC in top shape.
The Redux blows 59.2 CFM which is more or less equal with its counterpart. Another potential bonus of this fan is that it doesn’t have the same khaki and brown color scheme and comes in a more subtle black case. If you want the absolute best performance, you should still go with the NF-A12x25 PWM, but if you want to save the extra $10 or so, like the look more, or want to keep things quiet, the Redux-1200 is a better choice.
At this point, it’s starting to feel like I should just make this a list of Noctua fans and call it a day. I promise I’m not on their payroll, they just keep making the best fans. If, more than anything, you want a fan that you won’t be able to hear, look no further than our third Noctua of this article, the NF-S12A PMW. This PMW fan is listed as having a high dBA output of 17.8, though it can get even quieter than that, becoming basically inaudible.
This fan is listed as blowing air at a rate of 63.2 CFM, although most reviews and anecdotal tests have it as performing worse than the NF-A12x25 purely in terms of cooling. This may be because the A-12×25 is an air pressure fan, while the S12A uses airflow as its cooling mechanism. Either way, both of these fans will keep your radiator nice and cool.
Where it does take the edge over its big brother is in price. This fan is listed at about $20, so it is a little cheaper than our number one fan. It also has the same khaki and brown design that has become synonymous with Noctua whether you love it or hate it.
Especially because the price difference is negligible, I would only go with this fan if you care about noise level over everything. If you want high performance, you should go with Noctua’s NF-A12x25 PWM, and if you’re looking for the intersection of cheapest price, solid performance, and decent volume (plus a different color style) then you’re best off purchasing the S12B Redux-1200. No matter what, you’re getting an amazing and cheap fan, so it’s mostly about preference at this point.
Okay, we’ve shown you the top fans when it comes to performance and function, but what if you want something that looks good too? Well then, you’ll want to get a flashy, light-up, RGB fan. Be warned: You will have to sacrifice some money and maybe some quality to make your computer look good. Nobody said high fashion would be easy. But if you’re committed to the prettiest PC possible, you should look at the Cooler Master MF12R A-RGB.
A far cry from the bland (or straight up ugly) design of the Noctua fans, this RGB fan has light-up fan blades that will be sure to get a reaction when you show off your homemade PC. It even emits an airflow of a 59 CFM, which is pretty great and better than a lot of other RGB fans.
Here’s the catch. This Cooler Master fan costs more than double than any of the other fans on our list. On top of that, it’s loud. This bad boy tops out at a screaming 31 dBa. That being said, it will be quieter than that if you can keep its RPM down, so if you’re not pushing your processors to the limit it won’t be so bad.
The price and the noise are a death sentence for a lot of people, but for others, those beautiful fan blades are just impossible to resist. If you’re in the second group, then the MF120R A-RGB is on the cheaper side compared to other RGBs, and it still has great performance.
How Do I Mount an Electric Fan to the Radiator?
First time setting up your own computer? Installing the radiator fan can be very daunting. After all, we think of computers as these things that are intricately made in a factory, not thrown together in someone’s garage. But don’t worry, putting the fan in is pretty simple, and there’s not all that much room to mess up. As far as screws go everything will be included with the fan, so you should only need an Allen wrench to get to work.
We’ve broken it down into steps below:
- The first thing you need to decide is if you want a push or pull configuration. Very quickly, a push configuration is when the fan is on the inside of the radiator pushing air through, and a pull configuration is when it’s on the outside pulling air in. There is also the push/pull configuration, which is when you have fans on each side of the radiator. There’s very little difference in terms of airflow between the different configurations, so the decision is entirely up to you. Once you’ve decided on your configuration, just line the holes up on the fan and radiator, and tighten the appropriate (probably longer) screws.
- If you elect for a push/pull configuration, you’ll need to complete step 1 a second time, and now you’re halfway done! After that, you just need to install the fitting barbs. Simply remove the plastic covers, place the barbs into the appropriate holes, and fasten them with your fingers.
Wasn’t that easy? I probably could’ve written that all in one step if I wanted to, but we try to make things as simple as possible. Now all you need to do is connect the radiator to your computer. We won’t focus on that in this article, but there are plenty of guides online, and it’s not much harder than installing the fan was.
Verdict: Your Best Radiator Fans
If you want the best value for money, pick the Noctua NF-A12x25 PWM.
With the absolute best performance, this fan will keep your radiator cool so your PC can keep on chugging. The only downside to this fan is that it gets a little loud. But at less than $30, you’re getting the best performance for a pretty negligible price.
If you need the quietest fan, pick the Noctua NF-S12A PWM.
Its performance can rival the NF-A12x25 PMW, but where this Noctua fan thrives is in its volume. It keeps the decibels to an absolute minimum and works at a whisper-quiet volume that you won’t even notice while you use your new homemade PC.
If you want to have the best RGB fan, pick the Cooler Master MF120R A-RGB.
RGB fans are more expensive than standard fans, but they’ll definitely catch your eye. The Cooler Master MF120R A-RGB has a great look that’s a little more subtle than other RGB fans, so as not to overdo it. And while its is relatively expensive, it’s far cheaper than most of the RGB competition. On top of that, it has great airflow and will keep your PC nice and cool. Be warned: It might get loud.
With the exception of the Cooler Master, all of the fans on our list fall within a similar price range, so it’s which features you’re looking for that will make the biggest difference. You’re essentially choosing between the best airflow, the quietest fan, or the Goldilocks of the three unless you decide to splurge for that nice RGB Cooler Master. We hope this article makes the choice as clear and simple as possible, and that your DIY PC comes out even better than you could have imagined.