Graphics cards come in different sizes; entry-level graphics cards can have a single or a pair of fans, the mid-range or higher ones can have two or more. These fans are vital since they keep the temperature of the GPU in check for it to perform well under load. In this article, we cover whether more fans are better for GPUs.
Single fan cards are usually used where space is limited. They are great for small form factor builds where larger graphics cards cannot be installed. Blower-style graphics cards such as the reference design RTX 1080 also have a single fan, but the blower-style design has become rare nowadays.
High-end graphics cards like the Nvidia RTX 4080 usually have two or more fans. The reference design model from Nvidia has two fans, one on each side, while the custom variants from Asus or MSI have three fans.
One vs. Two vs. Three Fan GPUs
Generally, mid-range graphics cards such as the Nvidia RTX 3060 Ti are available in both 2-fan and 3-fan variants. Higher-end graphics cards such as the RTX 3080 or 4080 are only available in 3-fan variants, but there are hybrid variants that feature all-in-one liquid cooling. Hybrid graphics cards typically have a single fan on the shroud but multiple fans on the radiator.
The MSI Ventus 3X Plus and Asus ROG Strix V2 OC Edition are popular triple fan RTX 3080 models.
We Do Tech tested three different models of the Nvidia GTX 1060, the Zotac Mini variant with a single fan, a Gigabyte variant with dual fans, and an Asus variant with three fans. While the Zotac and Gigabyte models are the GTX 1060 3GB, the Asus variant is the GTX 1060 6GB since no GTX 1060 3GB variant comes with three fans. This is not the best comparison since the 6GB model has more CUDA cores and will perform better, and can run hotter.
At idle, there is a 1C difference within the margin of error. Since the fans of these cards do not turn on when they are not under load, this is just a baseline. The 2-fan card stayed at 50C, and the three-fan model stayed at 51C at idle.
Under load, both cards had the same temperatures at 25% load and 100% load. There are slight differences at 50% and 75% load in favor of the three fan card but nothing more than 2-3C.
When tested at 100% fan speed, the single fan card has the highest temperature of 77C while the two and three fans stay at 65C. You get better thermals when upgrading from a single fan card to a dual fan card, but you might not significantly improve thermals when upgrading from a double fan to a triple fan card.
It can be tough to compare GPUs with two fans versus those with three fans because many factors can impact performance. Some of these factors, such as dye size, cooling design, power draw, manufacturing process, and silicone lottery variation, are unrelated to the number of fans.
It’s also challenging to find two identical GPU models with different fan configurations for a fair comparison. So, it’s important to keep in mind that other variables beyond the number of fans could be affecting performance when looking at different products. Therefore, it’s best to approach comparisons with caution and not draw firm conclusions based on a single example.
|Graphics Card Model
|Number of Fans
|Temperature at 100% Fan Speed
|Nvidia GTX 1060 Zotac Mini
|Nvidia GTX 1060 Gigabyte
|Nvidia GTX 1060 Asus
The Colorful RTX 3060 Ti Battle Axe is one of the few graphics cards with dual and triple fan coolers. They look similar in design, but the dual fan card is shorter and slimmer, while the triple fan variant is longer and weighs more. In terms of noise, both graphics cards have the same noise level when the fans are running at 100% speed.
In terms of performance, both of the cards have similar performance. The difference is in the cooler and the noise levels when the cards are not running at 100% speed. The triple fan variant is quieter than the dual fan variant.
Similarly, the AMD Radeon RX 6700 XT is available in both dual-fan (PowerColor Fighter RX 6700 XT) and triple-fan (PowerColor Hellhound RX 6700 XT) coolers. Just like the 3060 Ti, you get similar performance on both graphics cards, and the difference is in the form factor, noise, number of fans, etc.
Use Cases For One, Two, And Three Fan Cards
Single-fan graphics cards are adequate for gaming but should be used for small form factor builds. ITX cases have limited room, and that is where the smaller single fan cards shine. I used the Zotac GTX 1060 6GB for 1080p gaming for around two years without any issues and later on upgraded to the Zotac RTX 2060 Super AMP Extreme.
Two fan cards are ideal for larger ATX or mATX cases with more room. We do not recommend major overclocks on these graphics cards. You will be able to get away with slight overclocks but nothing major.
Three fan cards are ideal if you are interested in overclocking since they have some thermal headroom.
Tradeoffs Between Two-Fan And Three-Fan GPU Cooling Solutions
You would imagine that more fans mean more noise, but that might always be true. Two fans need to run faster to match the three fans’ cooling performance, which means more noise. Three fans can run slower and still provide the same level of cooling while producing less noise.
Three-fan cards are larger, so you must check case compatibility to ensure they can fit and cost more. The additional thermal headroom might not be worth it, especially if you are not interested in overclocking. An Nvidia GTX 1060 will have roughly the same level of performance, whether it has a single fan or three. The performance difference between the single and dual fan cards is only 4 FPS.
Furthermore, premium triple fan graphics cards made with overclocking in mind can have higher power draws and power consumption.