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Quieting and lengthening the life of a case fan

I serviced a PC last week while my Internet connection was up and down like George Bush’s approval rating. It was making a lot of loud noises and at first the owner thought his hard drive was crashing. But when he described the sound to me, it sounded like a fan.

He sounded relieved and said he’d ignore it, but I told him I should take a look at it.Noisy fans are more likely to die than quiet ones. And while a lot of computers have enough fans in them that they can survive if one of the case fans dies, the likelihood of surviving long with a dead CPU or power supply fan is slim. Case fans should be kept in working order too, just because life expectancy roughly halves for each 10 degrees Celsius the temperature rises.

By opening the case and powering the system on, I was able to quickly isolate the noise to the case fan. It really wasn’t terribly loud–he commented that it quieted down a lot when he brought it to me–but I figured since he’d brought the computer over and I’d looked at it, I might as well do something useful. I peeled back the foil sticker on the fan face that hides the bearing and applied a drop of oil. Use 3-in-1 or a similar oil, or for that matter, a drop of 10w30 or another automotive oil if it’s all you’ve got. Do not use WD-40 or a similar penetrating oil. WD-40 does a great job of stopping squeaky doors and freeing up locks and preventing rust, but at best it’s a mediocre lubricant.

Also, with oil, more is rarely better. The excess will shoot out of the fan and weaken the adhesive on the sticker. It’s much better to put in a little and have to add more later than it is to put in too much from the start.

I replaced the sticker and put the fan back in the case. I powered the system on. It was noticeably quieter.

I don’t know if that fan’s life expectancy is now measured in weeks, months, or years, but it’s a pretty good bet that it’s been lengthened, and it’s going to annoy a lot fewer ears.

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1 thought on “Quieting and lengthening the life of a case fan”

  1. Yup – the CPU heatsink fan that died on my webserver a few weeks ago got the same treatment. Peel back the label, one drop of 3-in-1 oil, a few spins, and it’s on the shelf with the spare heatsink attached.

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