How To Place Case Fans For Optimal Airflow

If you’re not entirely sure how to deck your PC out with optimal airflow, you’ve come to the right place. Don’t worry: we all need some case fan guidance from time to time. Throughout this article, we’ll explain all there is to know about optimal case fan placement and orientation.

Let’s start things off with a cliché. Truth be told, there isn’t always a definitive best way to place case fans. As airflow is hard to measure and conditions can change drastically, it isn’t the most exact of science. What works best for one gamer, might not be as reliable for others. Also take in consideration the highly differentiating performance of different cases and fans. 

Our guide will walk you through the basics of case fan placement, while offering some tips for certain scenarios. If you mainly need guidance on what kinds of cases and fans are reliable, consider checking out some of our other articles. Our recommendations on some of the Best Case Fans and Best PC Cases prove highly effective for getting better airflow. 

Top picks aside, let’s get your system the coolest it can be, with solid proper case fan placement. Here’s how to improve your airflow, depending on your personal build.

How liquid cooling radiators can mess up airflow

First things first: are you running any liquid cooling, like AIO coolers? If so, there’s a little nuance to our tips. Case fan placement can be rather straight-forward, but when you add radiators into the mix, that’s not always the case. These big cooling blocks add another number to the equation, hijacking quite some real estate in your build.

As your liquid solution is cooled within these radiators, their placement is finicky. As intake, the propelled air enters the case slightly warmed up — as exhaust, the radiator fins are met with warmer air, resulting in lesser cooling performance. Therefore, the “right” answer depends heavily on the scenario. For optimal results, users sometimes sandwich the radiator with both push and pull fans on either side. This slightly reduces the impact this problem can have.

If you have the possibility for additional intake of fresh air, having the radiator pull won’t immediately flood your build with heat. If that’s not the case, your rig might be better off with the radiator as exhaust. And even then, the performance can still vary heavily with different cases and components. 

Looking for some quick radiator comparisons when it comes to optimal airflow? Bitwit did a great job capturing some results on video about different radiator placement. This does feature some older hardware — modern day results will be slightly better overall. Another video from GamersNexus helps you understand how to optimize the durability of many AIO coolers.

Here’s how to get good airflow in your PC case

Aside from the radiator dilemma, airflow is pretty straight-forward. Literally: you’ll want your case fans to push and pull air through in the straightest of lines. Nearly all cases are built to offer completely vertical and/or horizontal airflows. Older cases mostly opted for front-to-back airflows exclusively, newer ones often lean towards a chimney-like effect as well.  

By having the front and/or bottom of your case as intake, cool air gets blown towards the back and/or top of the case. As the air cools PC components, the built-up heat in your system dissipates. Stronger airflows result in cooler components, resulting in better performance. It’s as simple as that.

Stylized illustration of the airflow found in a PC case with a liquid AIO cooler. A suggested placement of the case fans and liquid cooling radiator is shown as well.

Your CPU cooler and video card often interfere with airflow too, as they have their own fans. Always take in mind how these pull and push air when placing case fans. You want all cooling components to take in as much fresh air as possible. Make sure to have their airflows work together, whenever possible. If they blow into each other too hard, the air in between can turn into turbulence — which doesn’t help cooling performance in the slightest.

Take in mind that a downwards facing graphics card can highly benefit from bottom intake. Commonly oriented air-based CPU coolers benefit from stronger intake from the front, as well exhaust from the back and top. The same goes for the VRM modules on your motherboard, which sometimes increase in temperature too. 

What way do my case fans go?

Don’t worry: we all forget what way case fans blow air from time to time. When it comes to case fan orientation, there’s a common rule of thumb. The air is always blown towards the back of the case fan. That’ll be the side where the fan is mounted upon, which is usually the “closed” side. 

In addition, many case fan manufacturers help out a little. Fans sometimes feature an arrow symbol on the side of their housing, pointing towards the airflow direction. Be on the lookout for those if you need a quick reminder — although not all fans have them. 

Illustration of common case fan orientation, with clear lines pointing in the direction of the airflow produced.

Sometimes the best case fan placement isn’t the sexiest one. We get it, you prefer to not look at the back of the fan. There is sadly little that can be done to avoid that — if you care about your airflow, that is. Just deal with the lesser aesthetics, or hope that manufacturers figure out how to make the back look enticing sometime soon. 

How to improve airflow even further

Airflow can be improved by both stronger push and stronger pull. In PC cases, this can be achieved by getting more, or just plain better fans. Spoiler alert: non-RGB ones are usually the most effective at pushing and pulling air. Bigger fans often result in better cooling (and lower noise production) too, but not every case will support those. The encasing of your rig directly limits you to a maximum amount and size of fans. 

For optimal results, you’ll want high-powered case fans on all sides, with intake and exhaust opposite of each other. When it comes to airflow, more is almost always better. This regards both intake and exhaust, as the two should be somewhat balanced. Most cases already see to this with their possibilities in fan placement. 

Only a few, decent exhausts are needed to properly cool most systems. Other than that, you can have your rig intake quite some air with fans spanning the front and/or bottom. As long as the airflow doesn’t create any weird turbulence, you’ll be in the wind.


Anyway, the wind blows…

That’s all from us for today. We hope you’re all caught up on how to place your case fans. Did you find the best case fan placement for you? Be sure to tell us how you’ve set up your rig, and how the results work out. Perhaps you have a solid case fan you would like to recommend?

The same goes for any suggestions you might have. Do you feel like we overlooked an important detail, or missed out on a great tip? Hit us up in the comments down below! We would love to bring more helpful advice to any gamers in the literal heat of battle.
Don’t forget to check out our recommendations on some of the Best Case Fans, if you haven’t already. We cover everything from high-performance classics, as well as fancy RGB fans and daisy-chaining modules.

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