Air Cooling for Computer Systems
Sustaining optimal performance of any PC will always be a factor of material build and quality, duration of use, and how well the user looks after the components. While PC hardware has become very energy-efficient and doesn’t require fully-custom water cooling equipment in order to deliver high levels of performance, cooling is still a very important aspect in order to maintain proper functionality. For those who demand the fastest processors and overclocked graphics cards, cooling equipment such as fans and heatsinks must all be applied as to ensure maximum performance.
Although processors, graphics cards, power supplies and RAM are all equipped with their own specific coolers, other components such as the motherboard and storage drives rely solely on the airflow being output from the fans of the chassis. Larger fans have the advantage of being able to provide more airflow while spinning their blades at a slower speed, and as a result allow for quieter operation. As larger fans range in sizes from 140mm to 220mm, a larger case is typically required with only a select few smaller sized cases being able to accommodate fans of this measurement. Cases with a much smaller size may be confined to 80mm or 60mm size fans, which in-turn lead to an increase in noise due to the fan having to spin at a faster speed.
Ranging in the most common size of 120mm, fans of this stature provide the most compatibility for a wide range of cases. Regardless of the desired size however, there are fan-specific traits, should the user be in need of a specific use-case for their PC. Depending on the material, curvature and design functionality, some fans may be optimized for low-noise operation, anti-vibration, maximum airflow or increased air pressure as to ensure a balance between air intake and output. Others may be specifically designed for aesthetic purposes such as LED lighting, coloured blades or removable parts for custom visual preferences.
High airflow fans are best suited for use as intake fans, allowing them to draw air-in through the case cooling the PCs components. The majority of fans operate at a maximum 82CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute), with the moderate rating for tolerance being closer to 52CFM.
High static pressure fans prove ideal when mounted to a CPU cooler or radiator, as they move air at a greater force through smaller spaces.
Measured in RPM (Rotations Per Minute) this refers to how fast the fan may spin at a given percentage. Most fans operate at a consistent rate of 1200 RPM, ranging down to 400RPM and upwards to 3500RPM.
Referred to as dBA (Decibels), the level of noise a fan can produce greatly depends on the RPM and the size of the fan, as well as how well the fan has been optimized for its intended use. Most fans operate between a dBA level of 16 to 32, not being too noticeable nor too quiet for non-optimal performance.
LED Fans are equipped with LED lights providing an aspect of personal taste for those who wish to add a specific styling to their PC. Some LED fans are built with additional colours allowing the user to change visual aspects through the means of patterns or software control. This proves ideal for showing off internal components due to the brightness that most LED backlighting will provide.
Built with a 4 pin connector, rather than the standard 3 pin, PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) fans provide the user with control over its functionality when directly plugged into the motherboard. This allows the user to set fan speeds according to the temperature of components, meaning the fan will adjust according to the user's preference.
Designed to be used on the processor, CPU coolers come in a variety of constructions and styles. For those with a large chassis, tower heatsinks prove to be the most effective since they are built from a greater amount of copper or aluminium. As the metal heatsink makes direct contact with the CPU, thermal output spreads throughout the heatsink by the means of heat pipes and fins, giving way to airflow through the means of a fitted fan.
Functioning in a similar manner to CPU Coolers, heatsinks fitted to the GPU are reliant upon a fan moving air throughout the heat pipes and fins as they draw heat away from the GPU. This heat is then dispelled through the rear vents of the case directing it away from other components. Certain heatsink designs may direct this heat directly into the case, relying on exhaust fans to dispel it away from components through the use of vents.
While airflow is important to keeping optimal performance and functionality – maximising the operation of components, there are certain heatsink designs that do not rely on direct air cooling. These coolers are usually quiet large and intended to be used in tower style cases, where the airflow of case fans are the only source of cooling. This type of heatsink allows for a low-noise operation and is ideal for low-power CPUs which do not give out high thermal output.