Case fans are an integral part of any computer and help in cooling several components. While components like graphics cards and processors often have their own integrated fans, 120mm case fans serve the purpose of generating a proper flow of air through the case. The best 120mm fans attached to your components help remove heat directly from the source, but without proper air flow inside your case, the hot air will linger, thus raising temperatures for all components. These best 120mm fans pull in fresh air so that components can have chill and clean air to cool with. Isn’t thermodynamics interesting?
Computer components may undergo water cooling, as water can more easily remove heat than air, but the best 120mm fans are important in this equation, too. The water cycles through the cooling block, is heated by the component, and cycles through to the radiator where it will move through the fins. It is at this point that the fans will pull the heated air away from the fins, either exhausting it out of the case or pushing it toward the exhaust point, removing the air from inside the computer.
EKWB EK-Vardar F3-120
Simple look with no LEDs and no standout design
Designed especially for radiators
Noctua NF-A12x25 PWM
Known for their distinct color schemes and do not compromise on performance
Pricey but worth it
Corsair ML120 PRO 120mm
One of the best
Impressive performance, quiet operation and clean design
Raw performance with flair
Everything from laptops to desktops and even large servers rely on active cooling from fans. Thus, maintaining a clean, unobstructed air flow path inside of your computer is important. Purchasing higher quality, faster, or specialized best 120mm fans is a good way to lower temperatures and increase your hardware’s longevity without spending exorbitant amounts of money. Today, we’ll go over different fan types, discuss what certain specifications mean, and which fans are right for different scenarios. Then, we’ll give you our recommendation for the best 120mm fans.
What do the fan sizes mean?
In this article, we’re covering a specific fan size. However, there are several sizes, and support for these sizes depends entirely on the hardware on which you’re mounting the fan. Computer cases, radiators, and video cards support varying sizes of these best 120mm fans, all depending on the individual hardware. One computer case may support massive fans, while another will support small fans. Consulting the manual for your case, radiator, or other component is the easiest way to find out what size of best 120mm fan it can support, but what do those sizes really mean?
The sizing is simple. By measuring the best computer case fans diagonally in millimeters, you can determine the size. A 200 mm fan, for example, is 200 mm across. There are several standard fan sizes, and support for these ranges widely depending on your specific hardware.
Wouldn’t a bigger fan just be better?
A simple “yes” is not sufficient here. There are many advantages to having a bigger fan. Larger fans do not have to spin as fast to move the same amount of air as compared to smaller fans. This results in sustained proper air flow, with the benefit of reduced noise. One large best computer case fan can also often outperform two or more small fans, resulting in fewer wires, easier installation, less noise, and fewer points of potential failure because of fewer fans present.
However, this comes at a cost. A larger best computer case fan will take up significantly more space. This isn’t a problem for larger computer cases, but it quickly becomes an issue once you scale down. If you’re using a computer case designed to be small and compact, installing larger fans will be impossible. The majority of cases on the market support the best 120mm fans, for example, but only a few in comparison will support 200 mm fans because of the sheer size difference of the fans.
Another size that has become popular is 140 mm. These best computer case fan offer slightly better cooling with potentially lowered RPM, but the difference is negligible in traditional cases where you do not push your hardware to its limits on a daily basis. In addition, most cases that support 140 mm fans will also support the best 120mm fans. This is not always true in the opposite case, especially so with smaller cases. As such, if you’re worried about buying the best computer case fan and making sure it will work in future cases, 120mm is a very safe bet.
What do the fan specifications mean?
On any product page for 120mm case fans, you’ll see different metrics: sound, size, connection type, and more. These figures can be really confusing for prospective buyers. Doubly so because some best 120mm fans can cost twice as much while seemingly having the same, if not outright worse, specs. Below, we’ll cover some more prominent specs and give you a quick rundown about what they mean.
As mentioned above, fan size refers to the diagonal size of the fan in millimeters. Some best 120 mm case fans may not be perfectly square, and so for these fans, you can take the measurements based on the mounting points. Ultimately, any fan with a size that matches your computer case’s specifications should fit, barring issues like fan housing thickness.
RPM, or revolutions-per-minute, refers to the number of rotations the fan will do in a single minute. Rather than a static figure, we often use a range to represent this figure. This is because the best computer case fans can step up their RPM depending on how hot the components are. If the best 120mm fans need not run quickly to remove heat, then they will slow themselves down to reduce wear on the bearings and decrease noise levels. The smaller figure in the range refers to the slowest the fan can spin, and the bigger number refers to the maximum speed at which it can operate. This functionality will depend on the connection type and support from your motherboard or case fan controller.
Larger best computer case fans will often have lower RPM ranges, as they need not spin as fast to move the same amount of air as their smaller counterparts.
There are three standard power connector types for 120mm case fans, although only two are common today. These include 3-pin DC, 4-pin PWM, and Molex. Molex, while it is technically a 4-pin connector, is directly powered by your power supply. As a result, the best computer case fan always runs at max RPM. DC. Meanwhile, PWM can control the speed of your fan if it plugged into your motherboard or fan controller properly. This support will vary on a case-by-case basis, but basically, if you plug the fan into your motherboard, you should be able to control it. Below, let’s cover each individually to make things clear.
Molex connectors in the modern age are outdated. These connectors used to be much more popular for connecting different components but, in recent years, have been phased out. You’ll typically see this connection type on older hardware or on things that require a constant source of power, like a water cooling pump. Many best 120mm fa3s will offer a Molex adapter in the box, allowing you to adapt your fan from its standard connection down to Molex in case your motherboard or fan controller has no available headers.
Other older or cheaper 120mm case fans will only terminate to a Molex connector. As previously mentioned, this means the best 120mm fan will only ever run at full RPM. This causes increased noise and potentially wear out the bearing in the fan much faster than normal. Molex is fine for devices that require constant power, but for cases where varied power is ideal, it’s best to find the best computer case fan with a 3-pin DC or 4-pin PWM connector.
The most common connector among newer best 120mm fans, the 3-pin DC connector is functional, smaller, and more reliable than Molex, and will provide all the creature comforts that come with using a controlled connector. DC stands for Direct Current. This means that the best computer case fan always receives a steady current. This current in voltage will then control how fast the best 120 mm case fan spins. The advantage of doing this over a constant speed include reduced noise and wear on the bearing. Typically, plugging your DC fan into your motherboard will allow the header to send and receive information between the fan and component. It can then use this information to control the best 120mm fan. If the component is within a safe operating temperature range, then the fan will slow down, as it no longer needs to cool as strongly. Depending on its capacity, your motherboard can do this in steps for several temperature points of load percentages.
DC fans are, for all intents and purposes, just fine. PWM, as we’ll cover below, offers more granular control of speed but modern DC 120mm case fans are good enough that for most individuals, they will be more than suitable for any application. You can also run DC and PWM fans at max RPM, either by controlling them from your motherboard or through adapting them into Molex.
PWM fans, or Pulse Width Modulation fans, operate very much like DC fans, with one important addition. The fourth pin allows for greater control of fan speed through the use of pulse width modulation of applied voltage. I’m not an electrical engineer, so let me try to simplify this for both of us.
PWM fans receive an applied voltage. Then, the fourth pin allows for a more granular stepping up of that voltage through the sending of pulses rather than lowering the voltage. These pulses allow the best computer case fan to operate at a much lower RPM, as the fan is turning itself on and off rapidly, versus lowering the constant voltage.
Like DC fans, you can plug PWM into your motherboard or fan controller for you to control it. Most motherboards will have at least one 4-pin PWM header typically used for the CPU fan. However, some high-end motherboards will come only with 4-pin connectors, and we’ll explain why in a moment.
Motherboards will typically come with two different types of fans headers. Either 3-pin or 4-pin. However, this is not as simple as merely “buying the best 120 mm case fan with corresponds to the header on your motherboard.” Let’s explain why.
Depending on your motherboard, you can control the 4-pin headers. By controlled, I don’t mean that you can control their speed but that you can change their operation mode. If you plug in a 3-pin fan into a 4-in header, the DC fan will always operate at full speed, as the header cannot properly control it via the fourth pin, because that pin is missing.
However, plugging a 4-pin PWM fan into a DC header will still allow you to control the speed. This is because the first three pins of a PWM fan are, for all intents and purposes, the same as a standard DC fan. It can still have its voltage stepped, albeit it with less granular control because of the pulse width modulation pin missing. If your motherboard only has 3-pin headers, any best 120 mm case fans you buy will work just fine.
So wouldn’t you only want a motherboard with 3-pin headers? No, and here’s why.
Many modern motherboards have switched over to 4-pin headers, with the ability to control them from the BIOS. You’re able to switch the operating mode of the header between DC and PWM mode. As we mentioned previously, 4-pin fans plugged into a 3-pin header will work just fine. With this change, however, we can make 3-pin fans work just fine on a 4-pin header. This grants us the luxury of being able to use our pulse width pin while also being able to use DC fans with speed control, either at the same time on a different header, or even use it later on, if we upgrade our fans. This is a bit of a “best of both worlds” scenario, eh?
No matter your scenario, DC fans should do the job just fine. If your hardware supports it though, the extra control of PWM is a nice thing to have. When in doubt, just get a 4-pin fan, and you’ll be good to go!
This one should be fairly straightforward, notwithstanding how complicated noise measurements can be. On fans, we can measure the noise level in a range of dBa or A-weighted decibels. This range refers to the best computer case fan at its lowest to highest operating RPM. We can only make these measurements in a testing environment, which means the measurements will not always translate perfectly to your environment or particular computer case. Some cases come with sound dampening material, for example, so this will skew the perceived loudness.
The loudness comparison chart from the California Department of Transportation equates the dBa rating of most best 120 mm case fans to be between that of a recording studio and nighttime suburb, although this is typically very hard to quantify. Using that chart as a reference should give you a general idea of the noise, however, so do compare your product’s specs against the chart for a rough estimation of expected noise levels.
Air flow / CFM
Air flow, or CFM, measures the amount of air a fan can move, denoted by cubic feet per minute, hence CFM. The actual science and mathematics behind this measurement far exceed the scope of this writeup. Generally, however, note that larger figures are better. We can measure CFM on case fans in a range, and this range refers to the lowest and highest numbers possible, depending on the RPM of the best 120 mm case fan. For more information regarding CFM, consider checking out this piece.
More and more commonly, 120mm case fans are coming equipped with LEDs, or light-emitting diodes. These are useful for adding flair to your computer but otherwise offer no tangible improvements. There are three prominent types of LED fans, which we’ll cover below.
Static LED 120mm case fans light up on a solid color once powered. These can range from white, to blue, orange, red, green, yellow and more. However, you cannot control the brightness or color of these lights, so be sure you want constant light in your case before choosing these.
Non-addressable RGB 120mm case fans are case fans that have separate red, green, and blue (and more recently, white) wires and lights, but its clusters are not controllable. Ergo, there is no micro-controller on the cluster of bulbs, which means you cannot more granularly control the lighting. The best 120 mm case fans can still light up into all 16.8 million colors, and you can do pre-programmed effects like color cycle, breathing and more but each individual cluster of bulbs is not independent of one-another. This means you cannot create a rainbow effect with the entire fan at once. Instead, the fan will have to cycle through all colors separately, as just one example. Despite this, some 120mm case fans or case fan controllers support the daisy-chaining of multiple non-addressable fans. This enables you to synchronize each fan’s color. While you will not have as much control over the effects, you will still be able to tie your lighting together with this.
Addressable RGB case fans, as mentioned above, allow you to have more granular control over your lighting pattern, as you’re able to target individual bulb clusters, instead of illuminating the entire array at once. This can lead to mesmerizing effects and more in-depth customization and color coordination, which are becoming more and more standard. However, these addressable best 120mm fans will require either a specific controller hub or support on your motherboard with accompanying software to control. There are products on the market that come with a hub to plug all of your 120mm case fans into, and this will allow you to synchronize, manipulate, and control their lighting. These are much more expensive and add additional cable bulk, but they can produce some impressive results.
The bearing each fan uses is pertinent to its longevity, quality, and noise level. These bearings can determine how long the fan will last, how quiet it is under load, and the quality of the spin itself. There are different bearing types, and we’ll cover them briefly below.
Sleeve bearings are the most common type of bearing seen in computer case fans, as they’re fairly cheap and work well enough for most cases. They rely on two lubricated surfaces to absorb friction, allowing the fan to spin freely. However, a side effect of this is that over time, the lubricant will wear out, resulting in the fan itself becoming noisier and less efficient until it eventually stops working altogether. You should also mount sleeve bearing case fans vertically to avoid any added wear. This means they are less ideal for mounting on the top of cases.
Ball bearings are among the most popular and highest quality of fan bearings available on the market. They have higher endurance when put in a hot environment, typically last longer than traditional sleeve bearings, and have less performance degradation over time, thanks to their design. However, they are often louder than other types of bearings initially, though this is only during the break-in period. Ball bearing case fans will typically be more expensive than sleeve bearing case fans.
Fluid dynamic bearings
Fluid dynamic bearings use a very similar design to sleeve bearings, with the advantage of added lifespan and quieter operation, at the expense of being much more expensive. These are among the best on the market, and high-end best 120mm fans will typically use this bearing type.
Magnetic levitation bearings
Magnetic levitation bearings are not a property of sci-fi but actually a real, interesting principle. These types of bearings use magnetic fields to suspend the bearing, allowing for zero friction. This results in virtually no wear, making them among the absolute quietest on the market. In the PC space, there are few offerings in this category, as they can be incredibly expensive.
There are several bearing types, each worthy of its own entire article. The above examples are just a few of the different variants. If you’re interested in a much broader breakdown, consider checking out this Wikipedia article.
Static pressure case fans? Air flow?
Static pressure case fans, while they may seem worse by typically having a lower CFM rating, are actually very important. These types of case fans use a denser fan blade design, resulting in high pressure in your air flow. This is ideal for pushing air through thick mesh, radiator fins, and other air-choked applications. Computer cases with thick dust filters or mesh panels will benefit from these case fans. Using a high air flow fan in an environment where moving air is very difficult will cause degraded performance, higher overall temperatures, and possibly more noise as the fan needs to spin faster to make up for the lack of proper flow.
An air flow case fan design, unlike static pressure case fans, pushes as much air as quickly as possible. These case fans have a more spaced-out design for the fins and typically have a higher CFM rating because of the ability to move more air. However, their performance degrades rapidly when they’re placed in a choked environment that hinders proper flow. Environments like these include dense front panel meshes, pulling through thick dust filters, or radiators where the fin density of the radiator disrupts air flow immensely.
In a general fan layout, putting air flow case fans on the rear exhaust mount of a case and static pressure case fans as intake in the front will be ideal for many scenarios. It is also possible to use static pressure and air flow fans together in scenarios such as push-pull on a radiator or CPU air cooler, where the static pressure fan can push the air through the fins, and the air flow fan can then easily remove it.With all of that out of the way, you should now have enough information to make an informed decision on what kind of product you want and whether it will suit your needs, and you’ll know what to look for when shopping. With all of that out of the way, let’s get to some product recommendations! These are among the best 120mm case fans on the market.
- Bearing type: SSO2
- RPM: 450 - 2,000
- Air flow: 102.1 m³/h, with L.N.A. 84.5 m³/h
- Connector: 4-Pin PWM
- LEDs: None
- Noise Level: 22.6 dB(A), with L.N.A. 18.8 dB(A)
Noctua is popular in the business for offering some of the best 120mm case fans available. They’re known for their distinct color schemes and do not compromise on performance. They’re rather pricey but you’re absolutely paying for top quality. They’re quiet, thanks to their special bearing, and they outperform almost every other fan on the market. They lack style, however, unless you’re into the brown and tan aesthetic. You won’t find any LEDs here, RGB or otherwise, and the most you could do is tie it in with the rest of your computer, or vice versa. However, for anyone looking for uncompromising performance, look no further than this. It is one of the best 120mm case fans on the market.
Corsair SP Series, SP120 RGB LED
- Bearing type: Hydraulic
- RPM: 1,400
- Air Flow: 52 CFM
- Connector: 3-Pin DC
- LEDs: Non-addressable RGB
- Noise Level: 26 dBa
Corsair has been in the fan game for a long time, and their product line has expanded immensely since their humble beginnings. You can find their SP line of 120mm case fans in custom desktops the world over because they are awesome. They’re moderately quiet, they provide great air flow through thick meshes and radiator fin stacks, and their looks are quite a nice uptick from other offerings. They have RGB models and static LED and non-LED versions, and we’ve picked the RGB edition for our list, as it offers a good compromise between price, performance, and aesthetics. They’re one of the best 120mm case fans, and now, you can even tie them into your builds with ease.
EKWB EK-Vardar F3-120
- Bearing type: Double-ball bearing
- RPM: 1,850
- Air Flow: 63 CFM
- Connector: 4-Pin PWM
- LEDs: None
- Noise Level: 29.5 dBa
EKWB is known for one particular thing: water cooling. What’s essential for water cooling? Radiators. What’s used to remove hot air from the radiators? Case fans. That’s exactly what these are, and boy, are they ever incredible. These 120mm case fans have a simple look to them, with no LEDs to speak of and no standout design. These case fans are designed especially for radiators, as EKWB themselves sell water cooling equipment, and these case fans complement it excellently. They can, of course, be used outside of water cooling. If you’re looking for something to get the job done, get it done well, and likely more than meet your expectations, then this may be one of the best 120mm case fans for you.
Corsair ML120 PRO 120mm Premium Magnetic Levitation RGB
- Bearing type: Magnetic Levitation Bearing
- RPM: 400 - 1,600
- Air Flow: 47.3 CFM
- Connector: 4-Pin PWM
- LEDs: 4 Independent RGB Zones
- Noise Level: 25 dBa
Back on this list is Corsair, which is no surprise. When they first introduced their Maglev line of 120mm case fans, jaws collectively hit the floor, not only because of the price but because of the impressive performance, quiet operation and clean design. These are some of the best 120mm case fans, but come at a cost. As we mentioned in our specifications breakdown, Magnetic Levitation Bearings are among the best on the market, and this comes with a hefty price tag. However, for anybody looking to purchase raw performance with flair, look no further. They are an expanded upon SP120, which is already a great fan. These are just better.
Thermaltake Riing Plus 12 RGB TT Premium Edition 120mm
- Bearing type: Hydraulic Bearing
- RPM: 500- 1,500
- Air Flow: 48.34 CFM
- Connector: 4-Pin PWM
- LEDs: Addressable RGB
- Noise Level: 24.7 dBa
Thermaltake has been around for ages, offering a wide range of products from cases to case fans and coolers. Their RGB offerings can be pricey but they’re also superb case fans. However, products like the Riing line are more for those looking for that extra oomph in aesthetic versus raw performance. This specific pack comes with three 120mm case fans and a dedicated controller, allowing you to use Thermaltake’s software to control the lighting. They’re quite a nice sight to look at in person and offer good performance to boot. They’re not the absolute best on the market but they’re among the best 120mm case fans for aesthetics!
Corsair AF140 LED Low Noise Cooling Fan
- Bearing type: Hydraulic Bearing
- RPM: 1,400
- Air Flow: 52 CFM
- Connector: 3-Pin DC
- LEDs: White
- Noise Level: 26 dBa
Another of Corsair’s offerings, the AF120, is great for air flow-oriented flow paths. This fan is affordable, clean, and works really well. The bearing is a step above a sleeve bearing, and the fan itself has a simple white LED, though other colors are available. It can mover a good amount of air quickly, without breaking the bank. Corsair designed this fan so it can work sufficiently as a static pressure fan, meaning you should have zero issues no matter how you use it. Overall, it’s a fantastic product, much like the SP120, and sticks to the basics. For something simple, this is one of the best 120mm case fans you could ask for.
be quiet! SILENTWINGS 3 PWM
- Bearing type: Fluid Dynamic
- RPM: 2,200
- Air flow: 70 - 75 CFM
- Connector: 4-Pin PWM
- LEDs: None
- Noise Level: 25 - 30 dBa
When your company’s name is be quiet!, you likely have a reputation to uphold, and this company does this flawlessly. The SILENTWINGS line of 120mm case fans from be quiet! are among the quietest, highest quality, and best 120mm case fans on the market. Similar to Noctua, the focus is more on raw performance versus fancy lighting or other factors, and it shows. The entire SILENTWINGS line is incredible, and they offer all of their fans in both 120mm and 140mm variants. If you’re after whisper-quiet operation and stunning cooling performance, then this is the best 120mm case fan for you!
The case fan market has only continued to grow, as case fans become quieter, better, and more extravagantly designed. Whether you’re in the market for a no-frills basic fan with good performance, or you’re looking to up your aesthetics game, there are 120mm case fans on the market for you. Some of them can be expensive, while others can be surprisingly cheap with excellent performance. Having patience, a keen eye and the necessary knowledge on hand will aid you in your venture to find the product right for you. Our recommendations comprise some of the best 120mm case fans on the market, tapping into different use cases and budgets, and are more than a safe buy.
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