RGB fans in a gaming PC
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

What to Look for in PC Fans in 2023

The first things you’ll want to consider are whether fans will actually fit inside your case. 120mm is the most common size, but you’ll find 140mm and even 200mm and 220mm fans. If you have a compact case, you’ll need a more low-profile fan.

Once you’re certain that a fan will fit the mounts on your case, it’s time to consider rotations per minute (RPMs). Larger fans push more air at lower overall speeds, while smaller fans must spin faster to move more air. This is important for overall airflow, but that isn’t the only reason RPMs are important.

Generally, the faster a fan is spinning, the noisier it is. Most fan manufacturers have decibel (dB) ratings for their fans, so you can get an idea of how loud they’ll be. While a liquid-cooled build is quieter, you can still get fairly quiet with careful fan choice. But, if you’re playing games that’ll push your graphics card to the limits, your fans will have to spin fast to push the hot air out, you’ll have to consider whether a fan-cooled or liquid-cooled build is good for you.

You also need to choose between DC and PWM fans, which use three or four pins, respectively. While PWM fans are more popular and offer increased control capabilities, deciding between DC and PWM usually depends on the types of connectors on your motherboard.

For a simple home PC, you probably don’t need to illuminate your case, but gaming rigs practically require extensive lighting these days. If you plan on RGB lighting, you must select between standard RGB, and ARGB (addressable RGB), which lets you control your lighting via software.

Best PC Fans Overall: Noctua NF-S12B redux-1200 PWM

grey noctua fans closeup


  • Great airflow
  • Quiet operation
  • PWM and DC options


  • No RGB lighting

If you’ve ever shopped for PC case fans, you’re likely familiar with the Noctua name. The company’s fans are known for its solid reliability and performance. If you’re looking for a fan that prioritizes performance over flash, the Noctua NF-S12B redux-1200 PWM is a great buy.

This is a 120mm fan that offers an RPM range of 400 to 1,200 RPM, which can move a decent amount of air. It’s also a quieter fan, with a decibel rating of 18.1 dB. While Noctua fans used to be on the ugly side, the black and gray look here is understated but looks great.

One thing you aren’t getting with the Noctua NF-S12B redux-1200 is RGB lighting or any kind of lighting at all. That may be a positive to some, but it’s important to remember if you want an RGB fan.

The model we’re looking at does use a four-pin PWM connector, giving you decent control over fan speed. If you’re building a PC using a motherboard with three-pin DC outs, you can opt for the Noctua NF-S12B instead.

Best PC Fans Overall

Noctua NF-S12B redux-1200 PWM

The Noctua NF-S12B redux-1200 PWM offer great cooling performance without much noise. They don't look flashy, but this is as much of a feature for some as it is a drawback for others.

Best Budget PC Fans: ARCTIC F12 PWM PST

Arctic fans closeup


  • Great performance for the price
  • PST lets you daisy chain fans from a single PWM header
  • Relatively low noise


  • No lighting

If you’re going for crazy lighting, you can spend a lot of money on case fans. On the other hand, if you’ve spent most of your budget on other components, you’ll find plenty of performance and control at a nice price with the ARCTIC F12 PWM PST.

This model is only available in 120mm sizes but offers up to 1,350 RPM. Fluid dynamic bearings keep the noise level low, coming in at only slightly more than our overall pick at 24.1 dB. Airflow is good if you’re not building a heat-heavy gaming PC.

One interesting aspect of the ARCTIC F12 is the PWM sharing technology (PST) feature. If your motherboard doesn’t have many PWM slots, you don’t need to worry, as PST lets you daisy-chain fans to a single connector.

The ARCTIC F12 PWM PST is available in black or white, and the black model also comes in four-packs and five-packs.

Best Budget PC Fans


If you're looking for powerful cooling on a budget, the ARCTIC F12 PWM PST is a great option. These fans come in black or white and are even available in four and five-packs.

Best PC Fans With RGB: Corsair QL120 RGB Fan

Corsair QL RGB fan on blue background


  • Impressive lighting effects
  • Corsair iCUE software offers great light and fan control
  • Great airflow
  • 120mm and 140mm options


  • RGB controller costs extra
  • Louder than some other fans

If you’re looking for some seriously bright RGB lighting in your fan, consider the Corsair QL120 RGB Fans, which offers fully addressable RGB across four lighting zones and 34 individual RGB LEDs.

These fans come in either 120mm or 140mm varieties and offer speeds of up to 1,500 RPM for the 120mm variety and 1,250 for the 140mm. Those speeds mean slightly more noise than some of the other fans we’re looking at, but the fans are still relatively quiet at 26 dB.

As these are customizable RGB lights, you can use them to create all sorts of lighting effects. Corsair’s iCUE software lets you create lighting effects while monitoring system temperatures and setting custom fan curves.

The QL120 RGB fans are available in black or white for single models. You can also opt for a triple pack of 120mm fans or a dual pack of 140mm fans. Corsair also sells a three-pack with an included RGB controller if you don’t have one already.

Best PC Fans With RGB

Corsair QL120 RGB Fan

If you're building a gaming rig and want some impressive lighting effects alongside powerful cooling, the Corsair QL Series is perfect. Control lights and fan speed with Corsair's iCUE software, then sit back and dazzle at the show.

Best Budget PC Fans with RGB: Cooler Master MF120R A-RGB

Cooler Master fans on table
Cooler Master


  • 120mm and 200mm sizes
  • Fully addressable RGB makes for great customization
  • Excellent airflow
  • Fairly quiet


  • Lighting isn't as bright as others
  • Requires a separate RGB controller

Your options are slim if you’re looking for customizable RGB lighting on a budget. That said, the Cooler Master MF120R A-RGB offers custom colors and light effects while remaining easy on the wallet.

This fan comes in 120mm and 200mm options, delivering fan speeds of up to 1,500 RPM on the 120mm model and 800 RPM for the 200mm model. Regardless of which fan you choose, noise levels are relatively low, at 25 dB for the 120mm fans and 28 dB for the 200mm fans.

These aren’t as bright as our other RGB pick, and you’ll need to purchase a fan controller separately. That said, the blades are translucent, meaning the light will still shine brilliantly.

The 120mm versions of the Cooler Master MF120R A-RGB are also available as a three-pack.

Best Budget PC Fans with RGB

Cooler Master MasterFan MF120R ARGB

If you're building a gaming PC and want some custom lighting without shelling out big bucks, the Cooler Master MasterFan MF120R ARGB is your best bet with great airflow and lighting at an affordable price.

Best PC Fans for Compact Cases: Noctua NF-A12x15 PWM

brown Noctua fan closeup


  • Low profile fits in small cases
  • Included anti-vibration mounts for low noise
  • Quiet considering 1,850 RPM speed


  • Brown finish isn't the best looking

Finding a good fan for a compact case can be almost as difficult as installing them. Fortunately, the Noctua NF-A12x15 PWM is a low-profile case fan that provides good airflow for compact PC builds.

Let’s get this out of the way—the brown finish of the Noctua NF-A12x15 PWM isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Fortunately, the fans’ performance makes up for this, and you likely won’t even see the fans in your compact case anyway.

This is 120mm and just 15mm thick, meaning it will keep out of the way of your other components. It provides up to 1,850 max RPM but with a noise level of 23.9 dB.

To help keep things quiet, Noctua includes anti-vibration mounts. The company also includes an extension cable and a Y-cable for running two fans from a single PWM header.

Best PC Fans for Compact Cases

Noctua NF-A12x15 PWM

Building a PC inside a compact case isn't easy, but the low profile of the Noctua NF-A12x15 PWM gives you plenty of room while still providing powerful cooling.

Frequently Asked Questions

Plugging a fan into your motherboard lets you control it, either via DC voltage or PWM. To actually control your fan speeds, you’ll need to use an app like Fan Control.

How many fans you need depends on what you’re doing with your PC and the type of fans you’re using. Typically, you’ll want at least three fans, with two intake fans and one exhaust fan.

The easiest way to clean PC fans and your PC in general is to use a can of compressed air to blow the dust off. If they need more cleaning, you can open your case and clean them with cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol.

Generally, you’ll want fans intaking fresh air at the front of the case and blowing out at the back of the case. If your case has mounts at the bottom or top, you’ll want to intake air at the bottom and blow it out the top.

Dust resting on the blades of your fans can make them heavier, increasing overall noise. Cleaning your fans should usually help. For more info, see our guide to quieting down your PC.

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Profile Photo for Kris Wouk Kris Wouk
Kris Wouk is a freelance tech writer and musician with over 10 years of experience as a writer and a lifetime of experience as a gadget fan. He has also written for Digital Trends, MakeUseOf, Android Authority, and Sound Guys. At MakeUseOf, he was Section Editor in charge of the site's Mac coverage.
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