Looking for the best 120mm case fan? You’ve come to the right place!
When searching for case fans, one of the most common sizes you will come across is 120mm. These are used on pretty much everything inside a computer, from chassis intake and exhaust to radiators and heatsinks. They are available in many different flavors- RGB, single color, PWM, etc. And to make things even more confusing, you have static pressure optimized fans as well as airflow optimized fans. Which one should you get? After all, there are several brands and model lines to choose from even if you know that you are looking for a 120mm case fan. Depending on which part of your case the fan will be mounted on, as well as the presence of other fans in your case, you will have to narrow down your options.
First you must decide whether you want a static pressure or airflow optimized fan. How to do that? Well, it’s actually quite simple- look around the area in which this fan will be mounted. Is it on the chassis without any airflow impeding objects nearby? If there are no air filters around it, or any hard drive cages in the vicinity, you want an airflow optimized fan.
If the fan must draw air through a filter or push air through hard drive cages, you want a static pressure optimized fan. And if the fan is being used on any sort of cooling system, whether it’s a radiator for a water loop or heatsink for a tower cooler, you always want to get a static pressure optimized fan. Once you decide which type of 120mm fan you need, it is time to look at the bearing. Bearing reliability and price increases in the following order- Sleeve bearing, Ball bearing, Hydraulic bearing, SSO2 bearing, and Magnetic levitation bearing.
The more expensive bearings last longer and run quieter. Talking of quiet, you now need to check the fan for noise levels. Noctua and beQuiet make some amazing silent 120mm fans for gaming PCs. Finally, you look for aesthetics- fan color, RGB, etc.
Without further ado, here are our contenders for the best 120mm case fan:
Buy a pack of four, and you cover all the airflow for your entire computer for under 20 bucks. Keep in mind that these aren’t intended for any powerful gaming PCs, and are mostly for budget systems where the CPU or graphics card aren’t spitting out much heat.
Are you okay with sacrificing a little bit of airflow performance in return for the best RGB lighting possible? Well then, check out the Corsair LL120 RGB 120mm fans. These are slightly weaker in terms of airflow when compared to AF120 fans but still pack enough cooling performance to handle a beefy gaming PC, and look awesome while doing it.
Do you need a pack of three fans for your 360mm radiator? Are you a fan of high performance and low noise? Well, Thermaltake has your back with their static pressure optimized Riing 12 LED fans. These are available in 4 different colors- red, white, blue, and white. But if you want every possible color in your gaming PC case, check out the RGB version of these fans which also comes with a RGB controller made by Thermaltake.
Noctua had been getting a lot of criticism for the bland, industrial color schemes on their fans. And none of the Noctua fans have any kind of fancy lighting features since every single one of them is designed to deliver maximum cooling performance while staying as quiet as possible. Anything else is deemed unnecessary. But they finally caved in to the pressure from critics and customers- did they include LED lighting? Nope, doesn’t seem like we will ever get that. But hey, at least we have removable corners that come in 6 different colors!
Frequently Asked Questions-
How do I know if this fan will fit inside my PC Case?
Your case will have mounting spots for fans, usually 120mm and 140mm on both the front as well as top. This can vary depending on what type of case you are using, for instance a small form factor case probably isn’t going to support 280mm radiators on two different sides. Most cases that are mid towers will take 120 and 140mm fans, and there are some mid towers (older designs) which even accept 200mm fans. The rear end of the case, where all the motherboard I/O is located will probably have a 120mm fan mount. You can measure the fan mount from the middle of one side to the middle of the opposite side, since all of them will be square shaped.
When measuring a fan mount on the case or the size of your fan, do not take a diagonal section. Don’t go corner to corner, instead measure from one side to another (through the middle of the side). If you don’t have any measuring tools at hand don’t worry- even the smallest of cases are designed to fit at least 3 to 4 120mm fans. And if you need specific info on what size of fans your case supports and how many of each type it will fit, just refer to the product page on the manufacturer’s official site, or the box that your case came in.
How is fan speed controlled?
Fan speed in the old days was constant- either it would be running at full speed (ON), or it would be at zero RPM (OFF). Eventually, system builders and enthusiasts started to tweak around with their fans and made custom resistance cords that would patch onto the existing wires to reduce the amount of current or voltage being sent to the fan, this in turn would slow down the fan and reduce its noise. The simplest fans use a 2-pin or 2-wire connection. Then we have 3-pin fans which are also called DC fans, and in these fans the third wire is what relays the speed of the fan to your system. You can look for 3-pin fan headers on your motherboard, and connect these fans to them.
Three pin connectors can regulate fan speed, but in a very crude and inefficient manner. They do so by regulating the amount of voltage being sent to these fans. One of the problems with voltage based speed control is that very often the fan won’t start until you supply at least 50% of its rated voltage, and this means your fan will be really noisy whenever it starts up. The range of speed control is also limited, and power is wasted. In comparison, PWM or pulse width modulation based fan speed control uses digital pulses or signals to control fan speeds much more efficiently across a wider range of RPM. PWM control results in more power efficiency, less noise, and allows the fans to run at extremely low speeds that are not possible with voltage based speed control (many 3 pin fans cannot go below 50 percent RPM or they stop completely). And with PWM, you can also control the RGB lighting on your fan. This is done through the motherboard, and you can select custom lighting effects and watch them update on your fan in real time.
It is also important to note that you can connect a 3 pin fan to a 4 pin header on your motherboard, it will still run. But since this is not a PWM fan, the motherboard will not regulate its speed and the fan will run at full RPM all the time which increases noise levels and reduces fan lifetime. You can control this through the BIOS in some motherboards, where they allow you to set the speed on a 3 pin fan even though it is connected with a 4 pin header, this is done through fan voltage control instead of PWM.
Why are silent fans more expensive?
Silent fans are designed with special blade geometry and superior bearings. They also have rubber pads on the corners to reduce vibration transfer from the fan to the case. Some premium silent fans also come with rubber mounts that replace the metal screws. These rubber screws don’t secure the fan to the case as well as an actual metal screw, but they significantly reduce noise because even less vibration is transferred to the case. Another reason why silent fans are more expensive is the PWM speed control- it requires a special IC within the fan motor as well as a 4 pin cable. There are quiet fans which are 3 pin types, but they are not as silent as PWM based fans. There are some exceptions of course, such as the Noctua fans which come in both DC as well as PWM versions. Noctua says that DC voltage control is superior in some aspects, but they can get away with it because their fans are already engineered to be quieter than 90 percent of all fans out there, PWM or not. Noctua also provides ULN or ultra low noise adapters which are basically extension cords for your fan cables. These extensions carry resistors which decrease the voltage flowing to the fan and reduce its speed.
My motherboard doesn’t have enough headers, what to do?
There are a couple options for you. First, you can but a PWM fan splitter cable such as this one from eBoot. The cords are all nice and braided, and you have multiple color options to choose from in order to match the theme of your gaming PC build. Or, you can get a PWM fan hub. This fan hub from Rosewill is cheap and allows you to connect 8 fans through just one 4- pin header on your motherboard. How does it work? Well, the hub draws power directly from your PSU so you don’t have to worry about the motherboard getting starved. The speed reading for all fans is provided by the one fan that is connected to the glossy port. This one speed reading is taken as the speed of all fans and is transferred to the header in your motherboard. Then it takes the PWM control from your motherboard and transfers that signal to all PWM fans which are connected in the hub.
So there are two cables going out of this hub- one to a SATA connector drawing power from your PSU, and the second to your motherboard CPU fan control header. If you connect a 3 pin fan to this header, it will still work but you can’t control its speed. It will run at max RPM all the time. And you can also operate this fan hub without plugging in the PWM cable, by just connecting the SATA power. This will also run the fans at maximum speed all the time, since the motherboard has no way of knowing what speed the fans are operating at, and there is no signal going into the hub that tells the fans to slow down.
Which One Should You Buy?
If you want a fan to suck in air through mesh filters, then push this air to the rest of the system through drive cages, you are looking for a good static pressure fan. And that means you need the Noctua NF- F12 PWM which is quiet simply the best static pressure fan on the market. Not only is it unbelievably silent while running, but the amount of static pressure that it generates is incredible. This fan is perfect for PC case air intakes, water cooling radiators, and air cooler heatsinks.
But what if you are more interested in augmenting the aesthetics of your gaming PC build? In that case (see what we did there?), you need the Corsair LL120 RGB fans. They come with a free RGB controller unit, and you can sync up all the fans with other RGB lighting accessories in your case using the Corsair iCUE software. If you own a Corsair gaming keyboard and mouse, you can sync up the RGB lighting of your whole gaming setup.
We hope this in-depth review of the best 120mm case fans was helpful to you. If you’re building or upgrading your PC, we can help further; check out our PC PARTS category for more in-depth articles on each PC part you need to consider for your perfect build. Good luck with your research, and happy building!