Custom PC

HOW TO: Fit 120mm Fans to your GPU Cooler

By Antony Leather. Posted

Graphics card coolers are far better today than they were ten years ago, and modern cards are generally pretty quiet now, even in games. However, their fans are often very slim, and lack sufficient airflow and static pressure to make the most of your GPU’s heatsink, even at full speed. If you’re looking to cut noise, increase cooling and even lift boost frequencies, there’s a simple modification you can perform.

Replacing your graphics card’s fans with high-performance case fans can not only cut noise levels, but increase cooling too. Best of all, it’s relatively easy to do, requiring just a couple of fans and cable ties. However, you need to know a few tricks to getting everything working, so if you want to get your graphics card cooler tweaked for summer, this guide is for you.

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1 / Check for replacement fans
If you’ve broken a blade on one of your graphics card’s fans, there’s a good chance there’s a replacement set available. EBay is a great place to find them, so if you’re here because your graphics card is currently out of action and would prefer to keep the stock cooler, you may be able to just replace the existing fans.

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2 / Measure graphics card
If you want to boost cooling, then adding custom fans is the way to go. To do this, first measure the width of your graphics card’s heatsink in order to assess the size of fans you’ll need. Large heatsinks can accommodate 120mm fans while smaller ones may need 92mm models.

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3 / Choose custom fans
Once you’ve chosen your fan size, you have a couple of further options. If there’s limited space, you can use slim fans to allow your graphics card to adhere to tight height limits. Otherwise, standard-height fans with at least 2,000rpm speeds should do the trick and a fan splitter cable will enable you to use just one power header.

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4 / Check for software control
You can’t use your graphics card’s fan connector to power the new fans, so you’ll need to use a motherboard fan header. Check if your graphics card’s temperature can be used to control the fan speed in your motherboard’s software. Alternatively, Argus Monitor can do this, but it costs around £20.

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5 / Check EFI fan control
The EFI can often have options that are missing in the software, so be sure to check there for both GPU and thermal probe temperature inputs – both of them are useful for controlling the new GPU fans.

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6 / Use a thermal probe
If there’s no GPU temperature input, you can fix the fan speed to a suitable level manually, or use a thermal probe if your motherboard supports them. This connects to your motherboard with the other end sitting inside the GPU heatsink – you then adjust the fan speed in the software or EFI to keep GPU temperatures in check.

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7 / Test GPU cooling
Before you get going, check the GPU temperature, so you can see if your modding has actually improved temperatures. Download GPU-Z (techpowerup.com) and Unigine’s Valley benchmark (benchmark.unigine.com), run the Valley benchmark for ten minutes and take a GPU core temperature reading using GPU-Z.

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8/ Identify cable tie anchors
You can secure the cable ties to the GPU backplate, spare mounting holes or slip the ties through and under the heatsink. If you have no other option, heatpipes can also work as anchors, but they’re not ideal, as they can get hot. You only need to hold the fan using two diagonal mounting holes to secure it, but ideally use all four.

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9 / Identify fan shroud screws
If possible, only remove the fan shroud and fans on your graphics card – you probably won’t need to remove the entire cooler and heatsink. Doing so will also likely void your warranty, but with our card, at least we could remove the fans and shroud without breaking the warranty seals.

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10 / Remove screws
The screws can have a mix of head types, so make sure you have the correct tool to hand before you start. Once you remove the shroud, place the screws back into it for safe keeping, and keep any additional ones in a sealed bag or container in your graphics card’s box.

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11 / Unplug power and lighting cables
Carefully lift the shroud, but beware of any cables that are still connected to the card’s PCB. You’ll need to detach these cables before fully removing it. If there are lighting elements that can remain attached to the heatsink or PCB, and don’t foul the fans, feel free to keep them and leave their cables attached.

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12 / Remove shroud and fans
Go ahead and lift the shroud and fans off the heatsink. There may be hidden screws or connectors you haven’t yet spotted, so if there’s resistance, check they’ve all been removed. The fans may well stay behind; lifting the shroud will give you access to the remaining screws.

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13 / Line up new fans with heatsink
You want the new fans to exhaust air into the heatsink, so align them with their base sections sitting on it. You also want the fans to cover all or most of the heatsink, even if the final contraption looks a bit lopsided as a result.

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14 / Secure using cable ties
You’ll need the right length of cable ties to mount the fans. Use a piece of string to mimic the ties so you know the lengths of ties you’ll need to buy.

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15 / Test new fans
Finally, reinstall your graphics card and run the same test you did earlier for the same amount of time. Our GPU core temperature fell from 67°C to just 47°C and only hit 53°C with the fans reduced to inaudible speeds. Meanwhile, the memory temperature dropped from 72°C to 50°C at full speed, and 58°C with the fan speed reduced.

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