The Basics of Cooling Fans

Cooling fans are essential to the operation of electronic and industrial machinery, keeping them from overheating by moving air or other gases to aid in heat dissipation. They are available in a wide variety of sizes and performance factors, with many types designed for specific applications. This article explores the basic operation of cooling fans, their selection process, and their various applications in the PC industry.

A cooling fan is a device that uses an electric motor to spin the blades of a fan, generating a flow of air. This flow of air moves across the surface of a heat sink, dissipating the heat from the heat sink into the surrounding atmosphere, cooling the system.

Often found inside of a computer case, these fans are either an intake fan or an exhaust fan. The intake fan pulls cooler outside air into the case, while the exhaust fan pushes warm air out of the case to the outside environment.

The performance of a cooling fan is determined by a number of different factors, including its power and noise levels. A fan’s power determines the rate at which it can move air, and its noise level is measured in decibels. Airflow is also a critical factor, with higher airflow generally resulting in better cooling.

While the most common method of using a cooling fan is to simply apply power and keep it on, this can waste electricity, create constant background noise, and ignores the reality that fans have a finite operating life. A more sophisticated approach, such as a temperature-based control, enables the fan to turn on and off based on the ambient temperature compared to a specified cooling threshold. This extends the fan’s operational life and eliminates acoustic noise from on/off cycling. Cooling fans