How to Upgrade/Install Computer Fan

How to Upgrade/install a computer fan is probably one of the more simple tasks when it comes to upgrading or even installing a piece of hardware into a computer. There aren’t many steps involved to upgrade/installing a fan. But there is quite a bit of troubleshooting for each fan and considering what fans to replace. 

Some prep time is needed as well as examining all the fans on the computer to be sure that not all of the fans need to be replaced. It could only just be one. Better safe than sorry. Let’s look more into this to make sure that an upgrade and installation is done correctly on a computer fan.

As stated above, this is easier for the hardware to replace or upgrade. So the major questions: how do you know when a fan needs to be replaced? What dictates a fan’s replacement? I have a few steps set up just for this scenario so you can properly troubleshoot the fans on a computer and decide if they need to be upgraded or replaced.

What you need to know to Upgrade/install a fan

Installing computer fan

The majority of cases and PCs sold today will have unused fan locations available. Even if all the fans are working, there’s a good chance you’ll have room for at least one more. If all of the system’s fans are functioning, yet the system runs hot or is unstable, adding more fans is a safe bet to start with. 

In the off chance, a case can’t store any more fans or is getting too loud, consider liquid cooling(link to liquid cooling vs air). If replacing a fan is needed, make sure to find a replacement with the correct size and connector. 

Hopefully, we’re all on the same page and this step has been added to your checklist. One step that should be taken into consideration before getting into this process is making sure on what type of fan you need. Although it is rare, there are some instances where purchasing a different set of fans is necessary for specific computers. This is due to a few details.

The most common fan sizes fall in the 70mm to 140mm range, but fans as large as 230mm are becoming more popular. Fans with a diameter of 120mm are typical in newer cases. Look for one with a high airflow (measured in cubic feet per minute, or CFM) and low noise level (measured in decibels, or dBA). This information will be on the package or the product’s information page.

Steps to upgrade/install a computer fan

  1. Thoroughly clean any dust build-up on the fans in the pc
  2. Turn on the computer to see if any fan is louder than normal
  3. Analyze which fans are louder or making noise 
  4. Completely turn off the computer
  5. Gather tools to uninstall
  6. Uninstall current computer fan
  7. Install new computer fan
  8. Test new fan
  9. Repeat process if you have trouble with another computer fan

Step 1: Clean the dust off all computer fans

dusting off computer fans

Before we dive deep into the process of upgrading or installing a new fan is to look at how dirty the computer is. Dust can be a large hindrance when it comes to fan speed, and how loud the fan can get. The other significant factor is dust build-up and produces too much weight to be put on the fins and causes the fan to fall off the bearings. This will be noticeable as it starts to make a bunch of noise and whirring sounds.

So to make things simple, we just need to look at cleaning each fan; that can be done with various techniques. The way I use it is with cotton swabs, a tiny bit of water(and by tiny I mean very little, barely enough to keep the cotton swap damp), and some compressed air. 

The first step is to use the compressed air to relieve the computer of most of the dust. Although this won’t get all of it, the idea is to get some of the dust out before we start getting into really cleaning each fan. 

Now take the cotton swab and dip it in a cup of water or under a sink briefly. Very little water goes a long way in this stage. Take the damp cotton swab and start swiping each fin that the fan has. It will take some time for this step. However, once you complete all the fins, take the dry side and go back and dry each fin. Repeat this process for every fan in the computer.

Step 2: Turn on Computer to Test Fans

Once you have finally gotten through all the fans in the computer, it is time to test the thing out! Turn that bad boy on and stand near the computer tower. Questions to ask:Are the fans making any noise? Did the noise you had recently stop? If the fans are not making noise anymore the process is complete. The story doesn’t end for everyone who still hears the noise though. This is where we need to find out which fan/s is making the noise.

Step 3: Analyze which Fans the Problem

Before you can begin to upgrade/install a computer fan there is a quick pitstop to make. Analyze each fan by simply stopping it from moving, make sure when you do this to gently stop the fan. Do this until the noise stops. Don’t throw a wrench in it or anything.

It will be a clear indication that the fan you stopped is the culprit behind all the noise. Another method to use which takes a bit longer is using fan clips. This will hold the fan in place before turning on a computer. 

If you still hear any noise when releasing the current fan you are holding, but the noise gets louder; it could be multiple fans. Again you want to take your time with this part as you want to hone in on which fan it could be. Instead of replacing 5 or even 6 fans you might only have to replace 1 or 2. 

Step 4: Completely Turn Off Computer

Once you find the trouble makers on the computer we can turn the computer completely off. Follow that up by unplugged the computer and getting into a safe workspace that you can see inside that computer. Don’t make things difficult for yourself by not having enough room to maneuver around monitors or loose equipment.

If the computer is in a safe work space take off the outside plates that keep the computer closed. Again, you want to save yourself as much hassle in this task as possible. Having a safe work space will keep things organized so you don’t lose any parts.

A simple task can be made difficult without proper planning.

Step 5: Gather tools as needed

As far as tools are concerned, a regular Philips screwdriver is the main tool that’s needed. If you use an electric screwdriver just be wary of over-tightening the screws. I would even obtain a plastic tray to hold the screws and you will need them for the new fan.

Organize, organize, and did I mention to organize?

Step 6: Uninstall Current Computer Fan

uninstalling computer fan possible locations
Image Credit: Tech Advisor

Before we can begin to uninstall the fans, you need to unplug all of them once the motherboard is replaced. Just follow the cord from the fan to the position that the fan is plugged into. That will be where you plug in the new fan that will be installed later so remember that location.

location of computer fan plugs into on motherboard

The analog 3-pin and MOLEX connectors provide power to the fan to make it spin. Four-pin connectors are digitally controlled and let the system to alter fan speeds dynamically. Many motherboards (and dedicated fan controllers) will feature an array of 3-pin and/or 4-pin fan headers that are placed at different locations around the board.

Now we will look to uninstall our current fans. Simply unscrew the 4 screws that hold the fan in place. 

location where screws go into to secure fan into the computer
Image Credit: Dell

Before you completely remove all screws, on the last one make sure to hold the fan as it will fall after removing the last screw. You don’t want the fan falling and damaging new hardware! Now that you have the fans you need out of the computer we can begin the installation process.

If you’re not lost then congrats! Now I’m challenging you to finish this article and put your new-found knowledge to use!

Step 7: Install New Computer Fan

This is the part to actually upgrade/install a computer fan. Follow closely to the same process of uninstalling the computer fan. It is nothing more than just retracing the steps you took to uninstall the fan. To begin, look to plug the new fans into the locations that were previously used.

another location where to plug computer fan into motherboard
Image Credit: Super User

Once complete, you can now look to secure the new fans into the locations on the computer case. I realized that during this process you do not (I repeat Do Not) have to put the newer fans in the same location as the older ones. You can create a way to generate more airflow within a computer. 

location of computer fans
Image Credit: Linus Tech Tips

If you don’t mind much of the old placement of the fans, just follow that structure and keep things simple. Do what works for you and your computer setup.

Step 8: Test to make sure the new fan works

Testing, testing. Does the new fan(s) work?

Once the fans are secured on the computer, you can look to plug everything back in and test it out. Things should be very quiet now. If it’s still loud it is one of the following:

  • That is just how the fans in your computer sound
  • Fan speed is set to high in your BIOS
  • Having a lot of fans can generate more noise
  • There is a problem with the fan on the heat sink

A lot of people miss the fans on their GPU as most come with 2-3 fans on it. Dust build-up on this piece of hardware is inevitable as it is so closed up. If that computer part has any dust build it could throw the fans off of its bearings. 

In this case, the only way to fix it is to either upgrade to a new GPU or attempt to take the current GPU out and repair it(I would advise to not do this if you are inexperienced with computer parts). It is the nature of the beast to require a part to either be replaced or upgraded. But that is why our focus is on how to upgrade/install a computer fan.

Step 9: Repeat Process as Needed

I know you all will agree:
It is frustrating having to listen to the whirring and buzzing of your computer fans. It can be so loud you can hear it through your headset while listening to music. If you missed a fan or figure that the GPU needs to be upgraded then just repeat the process above. Please remember to take it one step at a time and not rush ahead. Upgrade/install your new computer fan and enjoy the quiet breeze it displays. If you are confused or need further help, look up videos for that specific part that’s just not “working.” Until next time enjoy the journey to building your computer!