How to tell which way your fan is blowing

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Spend enough time around PC builders and PC building forums, and you’ll learn pretty quickly that the direction of a case or CPU cooler fan matters. When a fan’s positioned for intake, the intent is to pull in cool air. But when a fan is set as an exhaust fan, the idea is to expel warm air away from the case or cooler. Both options are useful depending on where the fan resides in the build.

So how do you tell at a glance which way the fan is blowing, especially when even seasoned PC builders sometimes have to take a moment to think about it? It’s pretty simple, even if your fan’s manufacturer doesn’t make it explicitly clear.

Look for the arrow

directional arrow on case fan Alaina Yee / IDG

Some case fans (but not all) have an arrow showing the direction of airflow.

Some fans have a small arrow on the casing that indicate the direction of airflow. Whichever way the arrow points, that’s the side that air will blow from.

(Yep, it’s that easy.)

Look at the fan blades

Not all fans have an arrow—or perhaps you’re trying to evaluate a fan that’s installed in a case or on a CPU cooler and you don’t want to unmount it to look for an arrow. Fortunately, you don’t need the arrow to tell you the direction of airflow. Instead, simply look at the fan blades.

computer case fan with intake side showing Alaina Yee / IDG

Blades curving away from you? That’s the intake side.

If the fan blades look rounded—that is, they’re curving away from you—that’s the intake side. (For the more technical out there: The convex side of the fan blades is the intake side.)

computer case fan with exhaust side showing Alaina Yee / IDG

Fan blades curving toward you? That’s the exhaust side.

If the fan blades look like the inside of a dish or bowl—that is, they’re curving toward you—that’s the exhaust side. (In other words, the concave side is where air exhausts.) Oftentimes, the exhaust side also has the crosshatch supports for the fan’s frame, with a circular sticker in the center that lists brand and model information.

If possible, memorizing the fan blade shapes is the best method to determine fan direction—you can tell immediately which way the fan is blowing.



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