PWM vs. DC Fan: Which Is Better For Your PC Cooling?

Written By Mushfiq Rahman

When buying case fans for you, you must decide between getting PWM or DC. Based on brands and features, the price between them varies considerably.

So which should one go for?

PWM fans are better at cooling while remaining quiet. DC fans, on the other hand — not so much. But that’s not all. This article shows you the small differences that exist between them and why you should get one over the other.pwm-vs-dc-fan

So, follow alongside me, and let’s dive right in.

What is a DC Fan?

All PC fans are DC controlled. DC, as you would have guessed, stands for Direct Current. These fans typically run at the max speeds all the time, which makes them super loud.

Normally you get a three-pin connector with such fans. Apart from the power and ground pins, the third pin monitors the fan’s speed. So whenever a fan stops spinning, your PC can report it to you.

You can run these fans at low speeds by lowering their voltage. The BIOS can help you do that.

A drawback of DC fans is you get limited speed control. You cannot lower the speed below 40%, or it will stop moving entirely. This makes these fans relatively noisy.

All those case fans you see on Amazon, which hardly cost anything, are basically DC fans.

What is a PWM Fan?

Normally a DC fan comes with three pins. Modern fans add an extra one, and these are known as PWM fans.

What is different is that it uses digital signals to control the speed of the fan. The fourth pin, as mentioned before, tells the fan motor when to turn on or off. The signal is a pulse of current which normally has a state of ON (1) or OFF(0).

So how does that relate to the fan’s speed?

Instead of altering the voltage to change the fan’s speed, PWM fans stop the fans at intervals during one cycle of its signal. This is referred to as the duty cycle. So if it is set at 60%, the fans spin for 60 percent while it remains switched off for the rest of the time, during the span of one signal.

The result is a more silent fan than its counterpart. Not only that, but it consumes less power too.

This entire process is handled by the motherboard’s power circuits. So you can easily monitor the fan speeds and alter them using many popular fan control software out there.

Wondering how to connect the PWM fan cable to the motherboard? Check our dedicated article when installing a new PWM fan on your PC.

DC Vs. PWM: Which is Better?

PWM fans are better than DC in two key areas — Fan noise and Power draw. The fans will operate silently without making any noise like a leaf blower all the time. When you need more speed, you can turn it up from a software control any time you want.dc-or-pwm-fan

But one disadvantage with PWM fans is that they tend to be more expensive than DC fans. Yes, you get more features, such as ARGB lighting, but they still cost more.

Now coming to who should get these fans.

PWM fans are great for consumer PCs where noise is a concern. You can run a near-silent gaming PC without compromising on temperature.

On the other hand, you can use DC fans on systems where they are expected to run all day, such as on a server. That’s where the low price comes in handy because you need many units on a single server rack. Also, its noise is not a dealbreaker in this use case.

DC fans are also good for basic PCs. The low cost makes them a good choice as they can cool equally as well.

Closing Words

PWM fans are more popular these days, often used with cutting-edge PCs. DC fans may get the limelight as much, but they also have quite a fair share of the cooler market.

Your final decision may rest on whether your motherboard supports a particular type of fan or not. So, before purchasing it, do not forget to check whether your motherboard has the correct fan header.

That’s it for today. Hope you had a great time reading this piece.

About The Author
Mushfiq is a CSE graduate currently serving out piping-hot tech tips. He is a self-confessed computer nerd and fell in love with computers when racing with the OG Most Wanted. He also pledges lifelong allegiance to MCU. You will find silly comedies on his movie watchlist, mostly due to Steve Carell. Apart from computers, the night sky fascinates him the most.

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