CPU Cooler VS Case Fans: Which one to Choose?

Written By FarhanMax
Verdict: Both the CPU cooler and the case fans have a similar job: they are needed to prevent your system from overheating. However, they both cool down different components. The CPU cooler is responsible for controlling the heat generated by the processor whereas the case fans cool down everything else.


Your system is overheating so you are probably wondering which should you get: a CPU cooler or a case fan.

The thing is you will, without a doubt, need both the CPU cooler and at least two case fans in your system to get a good performance out of it.

Now, I know you must be craving some more information about these so I am not going to keep you waiting any longer.

Just grab a cup of tea or coffee and bear with me till the end without skipping anything.

Also, Check out the battle-tested comparisons between 120 mm Vs. 140 mm fans.

Difference Between CPU Coolers And Case Fans

CPU coolers, also known as CPU fans or heatsinks, usually come built-in with your PC but the one that you get is not made for heavy tasks so it would probably suffer during intense usage.

The only similarity I can think of between CPU fan and case fan is that they both have the same 4 pin connector.

If you were given the choice of whether to install a CPU cooler or a case fan, there is no way to simply answer it without first figuring out which your PC really needs.

In order to make a good choice that supports your computer’s requirements, you need to understand the differences first, so let’s find out what they are.

Check out the comparison between Noctua NH-D15 Vs. NH-D15s.

Here are the differences between the CPU cooler and case fans: 

1. The Main Purpose


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There are usually two case fans in your computer and one of them serves as an intake, which brings in cooler temperature air from outside.

The other case fan serves as an exhaust and that one has the task of getting rid of the warm air and transferring it outside.

The intake fan is typically placed at the bottom as it draws in cool air underneath the case and blows it upward toward your exhaust fans usually positioned at the top.

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You could have more case fans but their main task never changes.

And that is, they are needed to keep almost all the components at a proper temperature.

The CPU cooler, on the other hand, only has one job: minimize the hot air that is produced when the main processor is running.

So, you can see that the case fan has more responsibilities overall.

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2. Flexibility

Another very important difference to keep in mind is that CPU coolers mostly come with just one fan. Sometimes, if you are willing to expand your budget, you will get two fans.

The case fans, on the other hand, can go up to four case fans. The best part about this is that you are getting some flexibility when it comes to case fans.

That’s because you can use two, three, or four case fans as per your preferences which is not possible with a CPU cooler.

This is a huge plus in my opinion but it is worth noting that using three or four case fans can sometimes lead to much lower performance, overall.

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3. CPU Choice

This is another important point that the majority of users ignore.

When it comes to choosing CPU coolers, you need to rely pretty heavily on the CPU you are going to be using it on.

You see, you can’t just bring a random CPU cooler that looks nice or has better specifications and just plug it onto the CPU. You have to go the extra mile and find out whether the cooler you chose is actually compatible with your CPU.

In contrast, you don’t have to worry about anything like that when it comes to case fans. You will only have to think about whether you should use more or fewer case fans for optimal performance. Another win for case fans.

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4. Fan Speeds

There is also a pretty big difference when it comes to how fast the fans spin.

The CPU cooler fans typically have a much faster-spinning speed because they have to be able to cool down the PC in time, while it’s powered on and actively running.

Your PC will stop halfway if the fans are unable to cool it down in time and probably go into random shutdowns.

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On the other hand, case fans typically have a much slower spinning speed.

In fact, if you take one of the case fans, and plug them into the CPU as part of the cooler, you will end up with an error message because the fan is spinning so slow that the CPU is unable to even detect that a fan is present.

You should keep these fan speeds in mind because the faster a fan spins, the louder the noise generated by the fan is.

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This is why case fans are much quieter and preferable.

However, CPU fans can still be bearable because they can remain quiet if you are not running any CPU-intensive tasks.

Another point worth mentioning which is also related to the fan speeds is that you can actually, to some point, control the speeds of your CPU fan or the fan in the cooler, which is not possible with a case fan.

Also, don’t forget to check out our best fanless CPU cooler for silently operating your PC.


Question: Do I need a case fan if I have a CPU cooler?

Answer: If you have a CPU cooler, it’s not absolutely necessary to get a case fan. However, it is highly recommended that you get one if you don’t like the idea of running into any heating issues.

Question: Does a CPU cooler need two fans?

Answer: Your CPU cooler will work just fine with a single fan if you are a normal user but if you consider yourself a power user you can for a two fan cooler. There are a few CPU coolers that come with 3 fans but that’s considered overkill.

Question: Can I put any fan on my CPU cooler?

Answer: Yes, you should be able to put virtually any fan on your CPU cooler as long as it has the same mounting holes.

Question: How do I know if my CPU cooler will fit?

Answer: The number of different factors, particularly, the socket type and the motherboard layout will determine which cooler will fit and which won’t. If you have a motherboard that is relatively uncluttered in the CPU area, you will be able to fit any cooler without any issues.

Question: Can you install the CPU cooler without removing the motherboard?

Answer: Yes, you should be able to install the CPU cooler without removing the motherboard. There should be a cutout in the case that should allow accessing the motherboard CPU area from both sides.

Final Thoughts

Both the case fans and CPU cooler have their unique strengths and weaknesses but the truth remains that if you want the best, most optimal performance out of your PC, then you will have to get them both.

One thing to note here is that you can use a CPU cooler without a case fan but you can’t use a CPU fan without a cooler installed first.

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