How Many Intake Fans Do I Need?

Keeping your gaming PC cool is critical for preserving your computer’s components. Heat can cause a lot of damage and ruin your equipment or shorten its lifespan. But how many intake fans do you need to keep your gaming PC cool?

You will get the biggest thermal gains from installing your first two fans (one intake, one exhaust) in your PC case. A third or fourth fan will make much less of a difference, but any fans installed beyond that will merely give you more control over airflow and help with noise reduction.

While we all know that cooling is a critical function for your gaming PC, not many people know how many intake fans to install in their rigs. Is one enough? How many exhausts do you need? Is a liquid cooling system worth it? This guide will help you make an informed decision.

How Many Intake Fans Do You Need For A Gaming Rig?

Before we dive into why you want to install a certain number of intake fans, let’s explore why ventilation and airflow are important for gaming PCs, and what function intake fans and exhausts serve.

To put it in simple terms, when you use a PC for gaming, your PC takes on incredibly demanding workloads, which leads to your hardware generating a lot of heat. Overheating makes your PC’s performance suffer and can even damage your hardware.

Keeping your components cool ensures that your PC’s components will perform optimally and expand their lifespans.

Take your CPU, for example. If its temperature is too high, it will trigger a mechanism that will either slow down your entire system to prevent damage to the processor or shut it down entirely. This is called dynamic frequency scaling, which protects your components but negatively affects performance when active.

A good PC case will make accomodations for airflow for this reason, and many come with pre-installed fans, while others will have areas in which you can install your own fans–  either at the front of the case, the back, the side, or near the top. PC fans vary in their design, and different gaming rigs use different configurations. So what’s the right strategy.

Your first two fans are the most important because they make the most gains. Firstly you should have a single intake fan installed near the driver bays as the bottom of the front of the case. This is because air is cooler the closer you get to the ground, and heat rises.

Secondly, you want an exhaust fan at the top of the back of your rig, which pulls out the hot air that has risen to the top of your case.

The thermal gains from bringing cool air in the front-bottom and releasing hot air out the top back are big, but it may not be enough, and a single intake fan could create a lot of noise because it’s doing a big job on its own.

So it’s ideal to have an extra intake fan and even an extra exhaust to lighten the workload and ensure that your rig is always sufficiently cooled. However, the thermal gains from adding an extra fan are far lower than they are compared to adding the first two. And, any fans you add after four will not result in any thermal gains.

In fact, the only reason you’d want to add anything more than four fans is to lighten the workload on each fan and take more control over airflow. This means that each fan can run slower, creating the same airflow as fewer fans would but making less noise.

And if your opt for a full tower or super tower PC case, there is a lot more casing that you need to create airflow for and a lot more components that you have to cool down. Therefore, you should add more fans as you scale up. The bare minimum of intake fans required for a full tower is two (and one exhaust). For Super towers, the recommended number of intake fans is three (and three exhausts).

What About Liquid Cooling Systems?

While fans have been ubiquitous in computers for decades and can do a pretty good job of it, someone with high-end hardware might not see it as an adequate solution, either because it isn’t effective enough or air cooling systems make too much noise.

In recent years, liquid cooling has emerged as a great alternative to air cooling that provides unique advantages for powerful hardware. It has become a firmly established method for cooling hardware.

Using pipes, tubing, water blocks, and radiators, a liquid cooling system pushes the liquid through a loop primed to circulate the liquid throughout the PC case in a closed system that carries the liquid from one component to another.

The liquid is run through water blocks, with the cooled liquid enclosed within a water block, which is similar to a heat sink. This cools down your hardware through thermal contact. Liquid cooling systems can take on different shapes and can be set up differently according to an individual case’s cooling requirements. Still, there’s no question that it has many advantages over air cooling systems.

For example, liquid cooling systems have higher levels of efficiency because water is far more efficient at cooling than air is. It also improves overclocking potential, allowing you to set your CPU multiplier at a higher frequency, which speeds up your processor along with other components in your rig.

Liquid cooling systems also reduce noise while sustaining cool temperatures over time. And let’s not forget how valuable a little bit of extra space in your case can be, because liquid cooling systems actually take up less space than fans, because you don’t need to make additions if you add more hardware components and the thin tubes of water use far less space than fans.

Liquid cooling systems are also far more effective in hot climates, and they just look better. Even though this is subjective, many liquid cooling systems are customizable and allow you to add colorant that gives your gaming PC a really good-looking finish.


Figuring out how many intake fans you need for your gaming rig is very straightforward on the surface. But understanding the physics behind it and what thermal gains you can make by adding more fans is half the battle. Your gaming PC is unique, which is why you didn’t opt for a stock setup.

So now that you understand the logic behind installing intake (and exhaust) fans, you can make an informed decision when you install an air cooling system in your rig. Or, if you can afford it, skip the complicated process and save yourself some space by installing a liquid cooling system.


David Sacks

I have worked in the IT industry since 2011 and have been an avid gamer my whole life. My first consoles were the sega genesis and the Nintendo SNES. I play both console and PC games, I love both. I decided to become combine my passion for gaming with my passion for writing.

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