If you want to keep your rig running as cool as possible, then liquid cooling is the way to go. But even the best radiator won’t help if its fans aren’t up to par. And that’s why you want to get the best fans for radiators you can find, to ensure that your liquid-cooled setup performs at its peak.
We’ve opted to focus on 120 mm radiator fans here, as 240 and 360-mm radiators seem to be the more popular choice for AIOs and liquid cooling radiators. But that doesn’t mean those with 140 mm-based radiators are out of luck: we’ve included a couple of 140 mm fan picks and a handy tip related to fan adapters that you may want to try. Let’s get started.
- Best 120 mm Fan for Radiators: Noctua NF-A12x25 PWM offers a brilliant combination of performance, low-noise operation, and overall quality.
- Best 120 mm Fan for Radiators Alternative: Phanteks T30 outperforms most 120 and 140 mm radiator fans, but its thicker 30 mm design makes it a tight squeeze in some setups.
- Best Value 120 mm Fan for Radiators: Thermaltake ToughFan 12 has top-tier performance and noise output at a mid-tier price.
- Best 120 mm RGB Fan for Radiators: Lian Li UNI AL120 has great looks and performance, with clever interlocking frames that eliminate typical RGB fan cable clutter.
- Best 140 mm Fan for Radiators: Arctic P14 PWM has great static pressure and decent noise levels at a seriously budget-friendly price.
- Best 140 mm RGB Fan for Radiators: Cooler Master SickleFlow 140 ARGB is a solid performer with good static pressure and decent noise levels.
|RPM Range||450 - 2000 RPM / 200 - 1700 RPM (with low noise adapter)|
|Maximum Airflow||60.1 CFM / 49.7 CFM (with low noise adapter)|
|Maximum Static Pressure||2.34 mm-H2O / 1.65 mm-H2O (with low noise adapter)|
|Maximum Noise||22.6 dBA / 18.8 dBA (with low noise adapter)|
Noctua’s NF-A12 fan has been around for a while, but it’s still the top dog for 120 mm PC fans. Its performance, noise profile, and overall package make the NF-A12x25 PWM (the most recent version) an excellent option if you’re trying to cool a 240 or 360-mm radiator.
Like all Noctua fans, the NF-A12x25 PWM is a hybrid fan that excels at airflow and static pressure. But it’s the static pressure that we’re most interested in here, and the NF-A12x25 PWM’s 2.34 mm-H2O at max speed is one of the better static pressure measurements you’ll find in a 120 mm fan.
Unlike with most fans, you can actually use all of that performance, too. Many 120 mm fans are just way too loud at max speed, so most users likely won’t get close to the rated numbers for airflow and static pressure. However, the Noctua NF-A12x25 PWM is quiet enough that you could run it at its maximum 2000 RPM and still maintain bearable noise levels.
It’s not just raw noise levels, either. While the NF-A12x25 PWM outputs a whisper-quiet 22.6 dBA at max speed, it also has a discreet sound profile without any high-pitched whine or resonances. The built-in vibration pads also help reduce vibration transmission into your computer case, making these excellent quiet fans for a low-noise build.
As with most Noctua PC fans, you get great extras with the Noctua NF-A12x25 PWM. You get 4-pin extension cables and Y-splitter, a low-noise adapter, rubber mounting studs, and an anti-vibration gasket designed for water-cooling radiators. The latter is especially handy, as it further reduces vibration transfer while reducing air leaks that could potentially impede cooling.
The final result is a high-quality, quiet fan capable of cooling most liquid-cooled setups. It’s no longer the performance king, so those after raw performance above all else should look elsewhere. But the Noctua’s overall package and versatility keep it at the top of our list of the best radiator fans.
If you want a premium fan that’ll work in almost any situation or build, get a bunch of these and call it done. You can even get Noctua’s NA-SFMA1 adapter kit to use the Noctua NF-A12x25 PWM on 280 or 420-mm radiators; it’s good enough that it’ll outperform most native 140 mm fans.
Not keen on Noctua’s classic brown-and-browner color scheme? Go for the NF-A12x25 PWM chromax.Black.swap instead.
2. Phanteks T30
|RPM Range||0 - 2000 RPM|
|Maximum Airflow||67 CFM|
|Maximum Static Pressure||3.3 mm-H2O|
|Maximum Noise||27.3 dBA|
Phanteks is best known for its computer cases, but the company is more than a one-trick pony. Case in point: the T30 PC fan, which came out of nowhere and blew away the competition with its excellent performance.
Phanteks’ T30 is a high static pressure fan with seven fan blades capable of producing 3.3 mm-H2O of maximum pressure. Airflow isn’t bad, either, with 67 CFM of max airflow coming at 2000 RPM and 27.3 dBA of noise. What’s impressive is that Phanteks didn’t go down the brute force route of cranking fan speeds in the name of performance. Instead, the company went a different route and built a thicker fan.
The T30, as the name suggests, is 30 mm thick compared to the 25 mm of most standard case fans. The extra five millimeters go a long way, as it routinely outperforms the Noctua NF-A12x25 PWM in most tests. And it’s not just the best in raw performance, either. The T30 isn’t much louder (if at all) than the Noctua in real-world tests, making it an excellent contender for noise-normalized performance, too.
If you want the best of the best performance-wise, this is where you go. But why is it not our top pick if it’s that good? Compatibility. While the extra five millimeters of thickness helps the T30 move more air than almost any fan out there, it does have undesirable side effects elsewhere.
Some cases, even mid-tower cases, have relatively constrained vertical clearance once you install a radiator. In some cases, it’s tight enough that you won’t be able to fit a fan like the T30 without fouling some motherboard components. Compact Mini-ITX builds with liquid cooling also may not have room for a thick fan like the T30. A 25-mm fan like the Noctua will be fine in both situations.
Of course, clearance won’t be a concern for everyone. If you’re building in a full-tower case or use a front-mounted radiator with ample room for intake fans, then the Phanteks T30 is a no-brainer. The T30’s unrivaled performance makes it a special fan that every high-end water-cooled rig shouldn’t be without.
In fact, it’s good enough that you could use a 120-to-140-mm adapter like the Bgears Cooling Fan Adapter with a few of these instead of worrying about finding the best 140 mm radiator fans. That’ll increase the thickness even more, but it’s a viable option if you have the room.
Overall, the Phanteks T30 is an excellent fan that excels at any task you throw at it. It’s not cheap, but the performance and six-year warranty more than justify the asking price. If you’re rocking some serious hardware and need the fans to match, the T30 is an excellent choice.
|RPM Range||500 - 2000 RPM / 500 - 1500 RPM (with low noise adapter)|
|Maximum Airflow||58.3 CFM|
|Maximum Static Pressure||2.41 mm-H2O|
|Maximum Noise||22.3 dBA / 19.2 dBA (with low noise adapter)|
Thermaltake’s ToughFan 12 essentially equals our top Noctua pick while costing noticeably less (especially in a two-pack), making it an excellent pick provided you’re content with a significantly shorter warranty and potential noise issues.
Spec-for-spec, the ToughFan 12 is easily equal to Noctua’s NF-A12x25 PWM. With 2.41 mm-H2O of static pressure and 58.3 CFM of airflow, the ToughFan 12 should perform just as well as the Noctua for pulling air through radiators. Its quoted maximum noise output of 22.3 dBA is similar to the Noctua fan too, making the Thermaltake a genuinely top-notch fan and a serious contender to the throne.
Thermaltake hasn’t cut too many corners to bring the ToughFan 12’s price down, either. You still get the all-important silicone damping pads on the corners and a Noctua-style low-noise adapter for near-silent operation. You also get two sets of screws, one for case fan use and a set of long screws for radiators. It’s still not as well-equipped as the Noctua, but it’s a decent package overall.
Thermaltake’s primary compromise with the ToughFan 12 comes in the form of its short two-year warranty. It’s not bad by any means, but a two-year guarantee pales compared to the six years that Noctua and Phanteks offer. That said, we’d rather a company bring a fan’s price down with a shorter warranty than compromise on its design or performance, so it’s not a significant issue.
However, there is one component-related issue worth mentioning: bearing noise. Users and reviewers report that some ToughFan 12s have noisy bearings when running at lower (sub-900 RPM) speeds. This is despite using fluid dynamic bearings, which are usually noise-free. While we don’t think it’s a huge issue, those who want guaranteed quiet fans should go for our top Noctua pick instead.
All in all, the Thermaltake ToughFan 12 makes a strong case for being one of the best 120 mm fans for radiators with its great static pressure and low-noise operation. Single units are relatively pricey at around $25, but you can save a bit of money by opting for a two-pack at under $50. At that price, the ToughFan 12 is a good-value deal for top-tier performance at a more agreeable price.
|RPM Range||800 - 1900 RPM|
|Maximum Airflow||64.5 CFM|
|Maximum Static Pressure||2.62 mm-H2O|
|Maximum Noise||17 - 28.3 dBA|
The main issue with using RGB fans on radiators is cable management, which can quickly get messy once you’re installing three or four fans. Lian Li’s UNI AL120 fans solve this elegantly with a locking system that allows you to power up multiple fans with a single connection.
Lian Li addressed the cable issue with slide-in locking frames that transfer power, fan speed, and RGB data between fans without needing visible wires. You can daisy chain up to four fans together, with only a single cable going from the first fan to the provided Lian Li UNI HUB RGB and fan controller.
Where Lian Li’s first-generation UNI fans only featured RGB on the frame, these newer AL120 fans boast the RGB fan blades most users expect from a modern RGB fan. Lian Li isn’t clear on how many LEDs you get on each fan, but you get 8 lighting zones for the fans and another 12 for the four small RGB slits on the frame.
Of course, all this clever connectivity and fancy RGB is useless if the performance isn’t up to par. Thankfully, the Lian Li AL120 is a capable radiator fan with a good amount of static pressure at a reasonable noise level.
The AL120 boasts 2.63 mm-H2O of static pressure, making it one of the best RGB fans for radiators purely based on its specs. Its maximum noise output of 28.3 dBA isn’t great, but most users should still find it tolerable. Besides, with that much pressure, you’ll likely be able to run the AL120s at lower speeds without giving up too much performance.
Do note that the AL120, like all of Lian Li’s UNI fans, isn’t compatible with all AIOs and radiators. Lian Li lists a handful of incompatible AIOs on its site, along with some criteria for identifying compatible radiators.
Overall, the Lian Li UNI AL140 is a great RGB radiator fan for those who want good performance in an elegant, classy package. And, at around $80 to $90 for a three-pack, it’s also relatively affordable compared to other RGB fans from big-name manufacturers. And you get the bonus of overcoming cable management headaches, to boot.
The Lian Li AL120 is also available in white.
|RPM Range||200 - 1700 RPM|
|Maximum Airflow||72.8 CFM|
|Maximum Static Pressure||2.40 mm-H2O|
|Maximum Noise||0.3 Sone*|
* Arctic uses Sone to measure fan noise, which can’t be converted to dBA directly.
There are a lot of great 140 mm fans out there, but few perform brilliantly enough to justify replacing the stock fans on a 280 or 420 mm radiator. The Arctic P14 PWM is one of the few static pressure 140 mm fans that can compete spec-wise with the best 120 mm radiator fans, so it’s our pick here.
The highlight here is the P14 PWM’s impressive 2.40 mm-H2O static pressure rating. It’s one of the best static pressure fans you’ll find in the 140 mm size, making it a perfect option for radiator duty. It also has good airflow, its 72.8 CFM makes it perfectly usable in non-restricted airflow situations. The P14 PWM is a solid all-rounder fan that you can use throughout your system.
Fan noise, however, is a mixed bag. While the P14 PWM is fundamentally a relatively quiet fan, it does have issues with fan blade resonance at certain frequencies. Users report that the fan tends to resonate audibly at around 1000 RPM. I haven’t noticed any resonance issues myself, but you may want to spend some time experimenting with fan speeds if you buy these.
Unlike pricier fans, the Arctic P14 PWM doesn’t have silicone sound-dampening pads in the corners, which may further exacerbate any resonance and vibration issues. It’s a slight downside, but it’s hard to be too critical when you can get one for around $12.
You can’t expect perfection from a radiator fan at that price. The Arctic P14 PWM isn’t perfect, but it gets the basics right: good static pressure, reasonable noise levels, and a solid six-year warranty. The fact that you can get two P14 PWMs and an aftermarket set of silicone pads for about the same price as a single Noctua NF-A12x25 PWM makes it a great budget fan choice, too.
If you’re not interested in buying adapters to use the NF-A12x25 PWM or Phanteks T30 on your 280 or 420 mm radiator, then the Arctic P14 PWM is the fan to go for right now. It’ll tide you over perfectly until Noctua or Phanteks come along with their long-awaited high-performance 140 mm fans.
|RPM Range||650 - 1400 RPM|
|Maximum Airflow||67 CFM|
|Maximum Static Pressure||2.2 mm-H2O|
|Maximum Noise||27 dBA|
|Connector||4-pin PWM + 3-pin ARGB|
Let’s be clear: Cooler Master’s SickleFlow 140 ARGB isn’t the prettiest 140 mm RGB fan on the market. However, what it lacks in outright bling, it makes up for with above-average static pressure for a 140 mm fan, earning it a place on our list of the best radiator fans.
The SickleFlow 140 ARGB is one of the slowest fans on our list, topping out at a relatively pedestrian 1400 RPM at full speed. Despite that, it still moves a good amount of air, with 2.2 mm-H2O of static pressure and 67 CFM of airflow. It’s not quite first-class, admittedly, but these are really good numbers for an ARGB fan.
Unfortunately, the SickleFlow 140 ARGB is relatively loud, even with the low maximum fan speed. Twenty-seven dBA isn’t unbearable by any means, but it makes the SickleFlow a weaker fan in noise-normalized operation than our top picks. Not ideal, but it’s the price you’ll have to pay for ARGB, especially at this price.
Another minor issue is the lack of daisy-chainable PWM on the SickleFlow 140 ARGB. Connecting each fan to a motherboard header gets messy quickly, and some users will likely need a separate fan controller to run all the fans they need. You get daisy-chainable connectors for the ARGB at least, but that just makes us miss PWM daisy-chaining even more.
On the positive side, Cooler Master ships its SickleFlow ARGB fans with tiny plastic RGB connection holders that are surprisingly useful. If you’ve ever plugged a bunch of 3-pin RGB connections, you know how easily the plugs fail or disconnect. Cooler Master’s plastic holders mostly alleviate the issue, ensuring that those fragile and finicky RGB connections stay intact.
Overall, the Cooler Master SickleFlow 140 ARGB is a solid, dependable ARGB fan with good static pressure performance. It’s not one of those must-buy class-leading products, but it’s a great place to start if you’re looking to add some RGB bling to a radiator.
Before You Buy
When choosing a radiator fan, one spec stands out above the rest: static pressure. It’s almost the be-all-end-all for radiator fans, so it’s worth discussing more in-depth here.
Static pressure (usually presented in mm-H2O) indicates how capable a fan is of moving air through small and restrictive openings. This applies particularly well to radiator fans, as the gaps between the radiator fins are quite tight, requiring a lot of static pressure to move the air through these openings optimally.
While all fans can produce some static pressure, you’ll want to look for fans rated for at least two mm-H2O if you plan to use them on a radiator. Almost all fan companies will market these fans as “static pressure” fans, so you should be able to quickly identify these when shopping around or looking through product listings.
Static pressure fans also tend to have fewer fan blades than their airflow counterparts, although that’s not a hard and fast rule. We recommend checking specs instead of relying on a visual inspection.
120 mm fans tend to have better pure static pressure performance than their 140 mm counterparts. The latter will move more air overall due to the larger size, but 120 mm fans may be the better choice if you want the best possible airflow through your radiator.
But what if you have a 280 or 420-mm radiator, you ask? Let’s quickly discuss that next.
You may have noticed that 120 mm fans tend to have better static pressure than their larger counterparts. We’re unsure whether this is purely down to physics or simply because companies aren’t putting as much effort into the larger (and less popular) fan sizes, but it does leave 280 and 420-mm radiator owners out in the cold somewhat.
Thankfully, there’s a simple and surprisingly effective solution: adapters. You can grab adapters like Noctua’s NA-SFMA1 or this Bgears Cooling Fan Adapter that adapt 120 mm fans to 140 mm mounts. Install your fan on the adapter, and then screw the adapter into the 140 mm holes.
Reviews show that these adapters work well and won’t impede performance much (if at all), so this is a valid option if you’re unsatisfied with your 280 mm AIO’s stock fans and want a solid upgrade. It’s probably your best option, too, until companies like Noctua and Phanteks come up with the high-static-pressure 140 mm fans that everyone expects them to.
While any fan will work as a radiator fan, only the best static pressure-oriented fans are truly capable of pushing enough air to ensure that your water-cooling hardware performs at its best. The best radiator fans should offer a balance between pressure and noise, something that all our picks here excel at.
If you’re after pure performance and have room for it, Phanteks’ T30 is easily the best fan for radiators on the market right now. Its astounding static pressure and reasonable noise levels help it stand out from the crowd. But Noctua’s classic NF-A12x25 PWM is also a great choice, especially if you don’t have the room for the T30’s extra-thick frame.
All the best!