A good set of fans can keep your computer from overheating, but they can also make your computer sound like a wind tunnel. Here’s how to control your PC’s fans for superior cooling when it’s working hard, and silence when it isn’t.
Sure, you could connect a manual fan controller to your PC, with knobs that set fans to different speeds. But there’s nothing quite like automatic fan control, where your PC ramps up the fans when things get hot, and turn them down when it’s business as usual.
How you control your fans depends a lot on your computer, your fans, and how everything is put together, so let’s start with some basics.
Do I Really Need This?
Let’s start with a really simple question: Do you really need to customize your fan control?
If you are using a laptop or other off-the-shelf computer (like a Dell), chances are your computer automatically controls its fans to some extent already. If your computer is getting hotter than you’d like, or your fans are louder than you’d like, you should do a couple of other things first:
How To Thoroughly Clean Your Dirty Desktop Computer
Open your computer and check for dust buildup. If it’s dusty, clean it out (especially the fans) with some compressed air. We have entire guides on cleaning out desktops and laptops.
Make sure your computer is well ventilated. If you’re using a desktop, make sure there’s some space around the case, not pushed up against a wall or in a closed cupboard. If you’re using a laptop, try to keep it on a flat surface where the rubber feet can allow air to pass under it, rather than using it on top of a blanket or mattress. RELATED ARTICLE
How to Use the New Task Manager in Windows 8 or 10
Check your running programs. Open up Windows’ Task Manager and see if there are any programs working hard that shouldn’t be. If your computer is constantly working hard due to a runaway program, its fans are going to run much more often.
But let’s say you’re still not satisfied. Depending on your computer, you may be able to change how hard and how often the fans run to cool down your PC. This is especially common (and necessary!) with home-built computers, but can sometimes work on pre-built desktops and laptops as well-though your mileage may vary.
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The Different Ways Fans Connect to Your PC
The fans in your computer can get power in one of two ways: From the motherboard, or directly from your computer’s power supply. If they’re connected to the power supply (usually through a Molex connector), there’s no way to control them through software-you’d have to hook them up to a hardware fan controller.
If you can connect them to your motherboard, however, you may have options.
Motherboard-connected fans come in two varieties: those with 3-pin cables, and those with 4-pin cables. In addition, your motherboard can either have 3-pin sockets or 4-pin sockets (or both!). Having a 4-pin fan connected to a 4-pin socket is ideal, since 4-pin connections allow your fans to be controlled through pulse-width modulation, or PWM.
If your motherboard only has 3-pin connections, though, you can sometimes control the fans by changing the voltage supplied to the fan. Not all motherboards support this, so you’ll probably have to check your motherboard’s manual or search the web for answers. In addition, voltage control isn’t quite as smooth as PWM-but it’ll get the job done.
And, to make matters even more confusing, you can connect 3-pin fans to 4-pin sockets and vice-versa, as shown above-you just won’t be able to use PWM control.
Having trouble understanding all that? Here it is in flowchart form:
Got it? Alright, with that, let’s talk about the different ways you can control those fans.
For Simple, Built-In Controls: Check Your BIOS
What Does a PC’s BIOS Do, and When Should I Use It?
A lot of modern computers have fan controls built right in-you just need to dig into the BIOS. To access the BIOS, you’ll need to reboot your computer, and then press a certain key as it boots-usually Delete or F12. Your boot screen will let you know which, with a line like ”Press DEL to enter setup”.
Once in the BIOS, you may have to hunt around to find your fan controls. I found them under Settings > Hardware Monitor on my MSI motherboard, but the location of yours may vary. (If you don’t find them, it’s possible they aren’t available on your PC.)
Every motherboard’s fan controls are different, but most will follow a somewhat similar pattern. You’ll get the choice to enable automatic fan control for your CPU fan (which is attached to your processor) and SYS fans (or system fans, which are usually spread around your case).
BIOS fan control
These are the settings for my CPU fan, but yours will differ, depending on the size and quality of your fan. 12.5% may be too low for most heatsinks, which are on the smaller side.
Your CPU fan will likely have an option for a target temperature, in degrees Celsius, and a minimum speed, either in percentage or RPM. Basically, this allows you to say ”Keep my fan at X speed until the CPU reaches Y degrees-then intelligently ramp up the fan to cool it down.” The hotter your CPU gets, the faster your fan will spin. Not every motherboard will have all these options-some simplify it more than others-but most will follow this general pattern.
NOTE: If either of these values is too low, you’ll run into a bit of an annoyance. Your fan will ramp up to cool the PC, and slow down when it reaches your target temperature. But then your temperature will increase, because the fan has slowed down, creating a situation in which the fan is constantly ramping up, slowing down, then ramping up again every minute or two. If you find that happening, you’ll want to raise your target temperature and/or raise your minimum fan speed. You may have to play with these values a bit to get them just right.
Your SYS fans may have similar options, or you may only be able to set them to certain constant speeds. Dig through your BIOS settings and your motherboard’s manual for more information on your specific PC.
For example, in my computer’s BIOS, I can only automatically control fans based on the CPU temperature. If you want to control your fans based on other values, like your hard drive temperatures, you’ll want to take a look at the next section in this article, ”Get More Advanced Control with SpeedFan”.
Some motherboards may also come with their own applications to control the fans, in addition to the built-in BIOS options. We won’t go over these today, since they’re dependent on your motherboard and will be different for everyone-and the BIOS options are usually a better choice.
Get More Advanced Control with SpeedFan
If your computer’s BIOS doesn’t have enough options for you, you can get more control with a Windows program called SpeedFan. It’s a little more complex, and somewhat old at this point, but it allows you to control fans based on the temperature of any component (not just your CPU), and allows you to monitor everything from one window. Due to its complexity, though, we only recommend you download this application if you’re an advanced user. You’re messing with your computer’s cooling system, and if you aren’t careful, you could damage your hardware.
Also, keep in mind that SpeedFan will not support every computer, so not everyone will be able to control their fans with this program. But, when it works, it’s pretty useful. You can check SpeedFan’s list of supported chipsets here, or just give it a try for yourself. Even though my motherboard wasn’t listed, it still worked well on my home-built PC. If at any point you find these instructions aren’t working for you, it may just be because your motherboard or fan setup is incompatible with SpeedFan. Don’t feel bad-you aren’t the only one.
NOTE: Turn off any fan settings in your BIOS before using SpeedFan, as the two can conflict. If you altered any settings using the above instructions, head back to your BIOS and set any smart fan functions to ”Disabled”, and all your fans to 100% before continuing.
Step One: Download SpeedFan and Get Acquainted
Download SpeedFan from its home page and install it (watch out for the ads on the download page-the real download link is much smaller, where it says ”the latest version is ___”). Start it up, and-after giving it a few seconds to scan your machine-you’ll see the main window.
On the left, you’ll see a column that shows how fast your fans are running in rotations per minute (RPM). On the right, you’ll see a list of temperatures for your graphics card, motherboard chipset, hard drives, processor, and more.