PC Cooling Guide: Optimizing Your Case for Best Air Cooling

pc guide for air cooling

The primary way of cooling your PC has always been air cooling and probably will remain so for many years to come. Other methods like water cooling and phase-change cooling are more for PC enthusiasts because they come with many risks, and require more experience, dedication, and time. Plus, both water cooling and phase-change cooling are very expensive compared to air cooling.

Air cooling is really the easiest and most simplest method of PC cooling. And once air cooling is set up correctly in your case then it can make a great difference in the overall performance of your PC components.

Use my comprehensive guide here to help you optimize your case for the best possible air flow so that you can get the most out of your valuable PC components.

Why Do You Need To Keep the Inside of Your Case Cool?

Keeping your case cooled with fans means that all the components inside of your case is being cooled. Components can get pretty hot and produce a lot of heat inside the case which can be a big problem if the heat starts to build up without any way of exiting. Overheating components are a big no no for any PC builder because it means that the components are most likely going to fry or degrade in performance. Not only will components that are left to overheat degrade in performance but also in stability, and longevity. They just won’t last as long as they should and you probably want your precious PC components to last as long as possible – for your money’s worth of course.

So how would you go about keeping your case cooled with fans? Well, it’s all about the air flow inside your case. You’ll want the air to flow through your case with ease using fans to move the room temp/cold air in and warm/hot air out of the case.

Airflow Basics

To understand air cooling, you need to know the basics of airflow and the importance of what you want to achieve. That is why you have to bare with me and learn these simple things.

#1: Cold Air In, and Hot Air Out

What you want to achieve with air cooling your PC is actually as simple as cold air in, and hot air out. You have to pay attention to this and visualize it in your own PC case. See how the air will flow in your case with your fan positions.

Look at the surrounding of your case and where it’s located (more on this later on). Is there something that’s restricting the cold air from getting inside your case? Or hot air from exiting?

And always keep in mind that you want the air flow to move the hot air out of the case as much as possible to keep your components nice and cool.

#2: Hot Air Raises

I know this is probably something that everyone knows so I won’t linger too long on it. The flow of hot air is going to be up so using that to your advantage is going to best. You want cold air coming from the bottom or front (or both) of the case, while hot air going out the back and top of the case. Most of the cases today are already designed with this in mind so you just have to worry about the fans and their positions.

Just remember to work with science and place fans where it assist hot air from exiting your case.

#3: Air Turbulence and Air Stagnation

When you’re placing your fans, you always want to be wary of air turbulence and air stagnation. Since we can’t see the movement of air, we might accidentally place fans that cause turbulence and stagnation inside the case which is bad because it means that the hot air isn’t escaping.

One simple way of reducing the risk of this is using less fans. I know that it seems like adding more fans in your case will create better air flow but in reality it probably restricting more air flow. This really takes a lot of visualization and a bit of knowledge on how fans actually work.

And if you want to avoid air turbulence and stagnation in your case then just remember that more fans doesn’t necessarily mean better air flow. You don’t want fans working against each other; you want them to work together to move cold air in and hot air out.

Cable Management

my dream pc build cable management 1
Cable management from front view

Now cable management is something that you really don’t want to ignore because it can greatly affect the air flow inside your case. You want to take the time to manage all the cables so that it’s not blocking or restricting the air from flowing smoothly inside your case. Most cases nowadays have cable management feature which allows you to feed cables through behind the case to make the case look nicer and cleaner.

If you don’t happen to have a case that has a cable management feature then you can still do some cable management by using zip ties. Tie down groups of cables that go in a similar area, and try to hide them as much as possible to allow air to flow better.

One major issue of not properly doing cable management is the issue of dust build up. Loose cables become anchor for dust to build up and dust is PC components worst enemy. Fans will also be less effective if dust starts to build up so keeping good maintenance of your PC is a way to avoid this issue (more on this later).

To make cable management easy as possible, you might want to consider getting a modular power supply. With a modular power supply, you can use the cables that you only need and you won’t be burdened with other useless cables coming out of your power supply. This really can make a big difference in the air flow of your case.

Case Placement + Your Environment

Air cooling isn’t just about how the air flows inside your case, it also has to do with where your case is placed and in what environment you are living in. Both of these things can affect the air cooling ability of your PC.

Where you put your case

You have to think twice when you decide where you’re going to place your PC case. Place your case where it’s able to get cold and clean air while the hot air doesn’t blow towards you. Don’t place your case inside a enclosed area because then the PC is reusing the hot air and eventually will become a stagnant hot air. The goal is always to have the hot air dissipate and not build up.

I personally recommend putting your case on top of your desk if you can or like 24+ inches above the ground. The reason is because dust tend gather more on the ground so you want your PC to avoid getting in dusty air. Another thing to watch out for is heaters or anything that produce heat that is near your case because you don’t want to be feeding hot air into your case.

Just promise me you won’t put your case on top of your carpet or ground. It’s literally the worse place you can put your case on.

What’s you’re environment?

Where you live can have a huge impact on the ability of air cooling. If you live in hot areas like Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, etc then you might want to greatly consider where you place your PC. And what I personally do is adjust the AC vent towards my PC more so that my PC is able to get as much cold air as possible.

Pets that shed can have the same effect as dust or even worse so you’ll most definitely want to consider dust filters for your fans. Or blocking the pets from entering the room that the PC is in.

If you happen to be a smoker then I would recommend you do so away from your PC or keep your PC clean as frequently as possible because dust + nicotine is not a good combination to have inside your case.

Types of Case and Fans You Use

There are many different types of cases that you can consider buying, but you’ll want to buy a case that has cable management features and has good air flow potential. What I mean by air flow potential is that the case has good fan mounting areas, removable bay trays, and no obstructions to your air flow.

Generally, I would highly recommend cases with bottom power supply mounting, cable management feature, and with removable or open bay tray area in the front. For fan mountings, if the case has the mounting rooms for 2-3 140mm fans in the front then that would be a bonus.

When it comes to air cooling, having room for the air to flow inside the case is key. So you don’t want to overload in unnecessary hardware, nor do you want to place drives or PCI cards close together.

Fans are all different depending on their brand and manufactures but there are generally two types of fans in the PC world – Air flow fans and static pressure fans. Picking between these two fans are usually for more advanced air cooling users. Simply, air flow fans are more designed for air flow in a open area, while the static pressure fans are designed to overcome resistance so they’re perfect for water cooling radiators and CPU heat-sinks.

What you need to know more are the fans RPM and CFM. The RPM (revolutions per minute) is really just how much the fan spins in a minute at max power. So higher RPM means that the fan can spend more within a minute but with higher RPM you’ll most likely get louder fan noise. The CFM (cubic feet per minute) is how much air the fan can produce within a minute. When you’re buying high quality fans for your air cooling you’ll have to consider these two because they go hand to hand.

A fan with high RPM with low CFM is not a fan you want to get because high RPM means loud noise and if it produces low CFM with a high RPM then it’s pretty much useless. You want a balance of both; preferably high CFM with low RPM.

I will make a separate detailed guide for cases and fans on different posts but for now just keep these things in mind.

Positive VS. Negative Air Pressures

Air cooling is all about finding the most optimal air pressure in your PC. There are many debates in the computer cooling community that discuss whether one is better than the other and so on. However, in most cases and for most PC builders (like myself) like positive pressure more than negative pressure.

To put things as simple as possible, a case can have one of the 3 air pressures.

  • Positive Pressure – With a positive air pressure you have more air being pushed into the case then the air being pulled out. So you have more air pressure inside the case then the outside. This method is a good option because less dust will accumulate inside the case because air will be trying to escape through small openings and holes.
  • Negative Pressure – Air is being pulled out of the case more than the air being pushed into the case. This creates a vacuum like effect inside the case which makes it pretty ideal for air cooling because the hot air is being pushed out at a faster rate. However, the only downside is that dust will accumulate faster and probably a lot more compared to other pressures. Unlike positive pressure, negative air pressure will result in air being pushed into the case through small openings and holes.
  • Neutral Pressure – This is probably the most ideal pressure to achieve for but is quite difficult to attain because the air pressure inside the case has to be equal to the air pressure outside the case.

In order to determine the pressure of your case, you get the total CFM of all the intake fans and the exhaust fans. If the intake CFM total is greater, then you have a positive air pressure setup. If the exhaust CFM total is greater than the intake, then you have a negative pressure. And obviously, neutral will will equal CFM for both intake and exhaust.

I highly recommend aiming for a slight positive air pressure because you’ll get a pressure that is close to neutral with less dust problem. You can attain this by having a slightly higher CFM in the intake fans than the exhaust fans.

Note: Even if you choose a positive air pressure, you’ll still get small amounts of dust that settles inside your case. It just won’t be as much as negative air pressure.

Keeping Good Maintenance

Keeping your PC clean can be a hassle but it’s really necessary. The longevity of your components depends on how well you maintenance your PC because dust is a silent killer of PC components. You’ll want your PC as dust free as possible or else your PC won’t run like it’s supposed too. I would recommend cleaning your computer a least every couple months or so.

There is a way to make your maintenance as easy as possible… by using dust filters. Seriously, you need dust filters for your fans because using them will allow you to clean your PC every 3-4 months (depending on your environment).

I bought a case with dust filters and it really makes my PC cleaning really easy. I honestly don’t have to do it every other month but couple months at a time.

pc maintenance for cleaner pc
Filter, Dust Blower, and Q-Tips are all you need for a cleaner PC.

Final Words

Well that’s about all the things you should know in order to optimize your PC case for the best possible air flow. Hopefully you now understand the basics of air cooling and what you can do to improve your case air flow.

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to leave me a comment below and I’ll try my best to answer them. Thanks! 🙂

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