There’s surprisingly a lot that goes into selecting the best budget fan for your PC. Obviously, the fan has to match your design criteria, be available in the right size, and cost a reasonable amount of money. More importantly, though, the internal mechanical components and performance characteristics must dramatically exceed your average no-name noisemaker that sounds like it’s not happy about its very existence. What follows are three most important terms that will come up a lot in this article and also in all product descriptions that you find on the internet.
And if you're looking for something more luxurious, check out our best of the best CPU fan buyer's guide
NZXT Technologies FN V2 120mm
Fractal Design Silent Series R2 FD Fan
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO
CPU Fan Buyer's Guide
Bearings reduce the friction between moving parts and allow for efficient operation, long lifespan, and low noise levels. Of course, not all bearing types are created equal. That’s why you should understand the differences between the 4 main types of bearing found in PC fans:
Sleeve bearings are the most basic type of bearing and the one you are likely to find in all cheap case fans. They last around 40,000 hours, are known for their whining noise, and can be mounted only in a vertical position.
Rifle bearings represent a substantial improvement on sleeve bearings, because they can be mounted in any position. Furthermore, they tend to be less noisy and last a longer time.
Ball bearings have their place in server-enterprise environments. They easily tolerate higher temperatures, last a very long time, but can be noisy.
Fluid bearing offer the lowest noise levels and fantastic longevity. The downside is the higher cost and somewhat limited availability.
The noise level of fans is measured in decibels (dBA), which is a logarithmic unit used to measure the ratio between two numbers. It’s important to understand that the logarithmic nature of the unit means that each step up the decibel scale represents a doubling of the total sound pressure levels. For example, 20 dBA is 10x louder than 10 dBA. A typical PC fan hovers around 25 dBA, which is approximately as loud as the sound of breathing at 1m distance. The higher the RPM (revolutions per minute), the louder the fan usually is.
The term cubic feet per minute (CFM) is a measurement of the velocity at which air flows into or out of a space. Simply put, the higher the CFM is, the more is the fan able to push into or out from the case. This measurement heavily depends on the size of the fan and the speed at which it rotates.
Our Pick - Best Budget 80mm Case Fan
Cooler Master Rifle Bearing 80mm Silent Cooling Fan
With most CPU coolers using 120mm fans, the 80mm fan is slowly but surely becoming a thing of the past. Still, they have their place inside many popular PC cases that are not designed to accommodate 120mm fans in all positions. Our budget pick had to cost less than $5 and feature a rifle bearing for maximum versatility.
Costing less than $5, this little black surprise from Cooler Master has been a staple of the old era, and it has its place even today. The rifle bearing guarantees a long life of around 50,000 hours and keeps the noise at 21 dBA, despite running at 2000 RPM.
The only major downside is the relatively low CFM rating of just 28.89, which is nowhere near what you can expect from your average 120mm case fan.
Our Pick - Best Budget 120mm Case Fan
NZXT Technologies FN V2 120mm
This size of case fans is the most used today and for a good reason: the extra size, when compared to 80mm fans, allows for much quieter operation and better airflow. Given the vast selection of 120mm case fans and different needs of all users, we wanted to select that would not only perform exceptionally well but would also be relatively inconspicuous.
Fans from NZXT are known for their excellent value, convincing many buyers of PC cases from NZXT to keep them in forever. Indeed, the NZXT Technologies FN V2 120mm is a ridiculously good deal. $9 will get you 21 dBA at 45 CFM and 1200 RPM. You even get anti-vibration pads and sleeved cables.
Also worth noting is that there’s a 140mm version. Unfortunately, both versions are available only in a black and white color combination.
Rating: 10/10 (the best budget fan)
Our Pick - Best Budget 140mm Case Fan
Fractal Design Silent Series R2 FD-FAN-SSR2-140
Whether it’s for a water cooling radiator or the top of a case, 140mm fans are the size you want to go with to achieve significant airflow while maintaining low noise levels. What’s more, these fans can also look pretty damn good, due to their monstrous size.
This simple black and white beauty is a true performer capable of delivering 66 CFM at just 18.5 dBA. That’s 16 CFM more compared to the 140mm version of the NZXT Technologies FN V2 140mm. The downside is that you have to pay a few extra dollars for it.
Our Pick - Best Budget CPU Fan
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO
In a certain way, the obvious recommendation would be to stick with the box fan that was included with you CPU. But that would also mean living with many crippling limitations, all of which could be eliminate for as little as $20. We are talking about the ability to overclock your CPU, sustain heavy loads in a very hot weather, and install much quieter fans.
The Hyper 212 EVO is an absolute classic and the bestselling CPU cooler on the market. It offers a great performance, the ability to select from several different heat pipe configurations, and a versatile all-in-one mounting solution that can handle most Intel and AMD brackets.
The only thing that could possibly make you choose the alternative bellow over it is how complicated the mounting procedure is. Not that it’s impossible to get it right, but you are likely to scratch your head a few times wondering what the designers thought.
Alternative: Cryorig H7
A great alternative to the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO is the Cryorig H7. Why? Because it offers a nearly identical performance for the same amount of money but is MUCH easier to install.