If you can barely hear yourself think over the cacophony of fan noise emanating from your computer, it’s probably time to diagnose why your PC sounds like a wind tunnel. It could be a major issue, a minor inconvenience, or something in between. Here are a few things to try.
Check What Software Is Running
Before you rush to grab your screwdriver, look into what software is currently running, the resources it’s using, and whether that fan noise is warranted. On a Windows machine, press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to bring up the Task Manager and click the More Details button. If you’re on a Mac, press Ctrl+Space and search for Activity Monitor. It may also help to download a program like Core Temp (Windows) or Temp Monitor (Mac) to see if your CPU is getting hot.
If you aren’t doing anything intensive at the moment, your CPU usage should be low in Task Manager—less than 20 percent or so. If your computer is sitting idle and your CPU is busting out 100 percent of its power, look through that list to see what program is eating up those cycles—maybe you have something running in the background you forgot about, or maybe you’ve been infected by malware that’s using your PC’s resources without your knowledge.
If the fan noise only kicks in when you’re purposely doing something intensive, like gaming or converting a large video file, then that’s the desired behavior, and it’s time to look closer at the hardware itself.
Give Your PC Room to Breathe
Okay, your computer doesn’t actually “breathe” like a human—Blade Runner hasn’t become reality yet. But if there isn’t room for air to circulate around your PC, it’ll get hotter than necessary, causing it to run your fans at full blast to cool it down. If you’re using a laptop, don’t set it on top of a pillow or other plush surface, or you’ll block the vents that allow air to flow in and out of the computer. (Lap desks are a much better alternative.) If you’re using a desktop, for the love of all that is holy, don’t cover it with a blanket (you may gawk, but I once saw someone do this because “the lights were too bright”). Anything that hinders airflow is going to overheat your PC, pushing your fans to spin harder and harder to achieve desirable temperatures.
Set Up Fan Control
Some PCs run their fans at full blast all the time—this is especially common if you built your own PC and haven’t done any fine-tuning of the cooling hardware. If your fans are plugged into the computer’s motherboard, you might be able to control them using your motherboard BIOS—you can enter the BIOS menu by pressing a key as your computer boots, usually DEL, F2, or something similar. Then, look for the hardware monitoring section (or something similar).
Every BIOS is a little different, so we can’t walk you through the exact steps—some will only offer basic “high” and “low” fan settings, while others may provide advanced fan curves that let you set the fan speed at different CPU temperatures. Some motherboards can control all the connected fans, while others may only be able to control fans that use 4-pin PWM adapters (rather than cheaper 3-pin fan models). Play around with the fan control settings and see what works for you.
If your BIOS doesn’t have any fan control options, a program like SpeedFan will work too, but again—only if your motherboard is functionally capable of controlling those fans. For graphics cards, MSI Afterburner can help you adjust the fan’s behavior when you’re in a heavy gaming session.
If you can’t control the fans through software—say, if the fans are plugged directly into the power supply rather than into the motherboard—certain hardware accessories can help. Noctua makes low-noise adapters that essentially act as a resistor, reducing the voltage sent to the fan and thus reducing its speed. Hardware fan control knobs do something similar, though offer more fine-grained management. Once you get the right speed dialed in, your gaming sessions will hopefully be a bit more peaceful.
Clean Out the Dust
Dust is one of those unfortunate inevitabilities when it comes to PCs. Just like blue screens and dead hard drives, you’re going to encounter it at some point. Excess dust means excess heat, which means fans spinning faster to keep things cool—and if you smoke or have pets in the house, the problem can get quite severe. So grab a screwdriver, open up your desktop or laptop, and give it a good once-over with an air duster (or an electric duster, if things are really bad). If your fan is making a clicking or other abnormal noise, this is also a good time to make sure the blades aren’t hitting a stray power cable, or something of that nature. Finally, if you have a desktop, consider putting some filters on your intake fans to prevent dust buildup in the future.
Replace a Loud (or Failing) Fan Entirely
If none of the above fixes seem to help, it may be time to replace one (or more) of your fans. Sometimes, even if a fan is in good working order, it’s just too loud. Smaller fans tend to be noisier, so if you have a 90mm fan you can replace with something larger (or get rid of altogether without affecting temperatures), start there. If your CPU heatsink is on the dinky side, swap it with a larger one. Not only will the larger fan be quieter, but the increased surface area of the fins will dissipate heat more effectively.
Other times, a fan may be on its way to a dusty grave. This can often result in a clicking, buzzing, or grinding noise that’s hard to ignore. You might be able to fix this up with a drop of sewing machine oil in the bearing, but this is best done before you experience symptoms—so if that doesn’t help, it’s time to swap in a new fan. As you search Amazon and Newegg, be sure to pay attention to the “CFM” and “dBA” numbers in the specs—the former denotes airflow, while the latter denotes noise level. With the right fan and a bit of preventative maintenance next time, you can keep your PC from sounding like a jet engine a few years down the line.