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The easy way to keep your PC clean - good airflow!

The absolute best way to keep your PC clean and running smoothly is to focus on airflow optimisation. Here's how to optimise your case airflow for performance

 

PC Case Airflow - Reduce Dust and Heat

 

There are plenty of components inside of your PC case that like to heat up and cause you problems when you have an abundance of dust and dirt clogging everything up. While we all subscribe to the cleaning doctrine of PC users, and we swear to keep mesh filters and fans as clean as possible, there's a lot to be said for increasing your air intake, internal circulation and outlet/exhaust. We also need to get a little complicated and talk about positive, negative and neutral/balanced airflow, but essentially, making a few small changes on a relatively small budget will increase performance and prolong the life of your hardware.

Reducing heat and dust

Balanced/neutral, positive & negative airflow

Usually a solution for larger cases, positive airflow is where you are bringing in lots of cool air from the front of your case, and having a minimum amount of exhaust fans. This reduces dust, but will block up mesh filters quickly, and is not fantastic at reducing heat in smaller cases.

Negative airflow is the opposite, in that you will be bringing in a smaller volume of cool air, and exhausting it through more fans than you have on the intake. Ideal for smaller cases (think Mini-ITX), dust build up in filters could be a problem in mid-towers and larger, though a negative airflow does reduce heat in the chassis space.

The optimal airflow for the most popular case size, the versatile mid-tower case, is a balanced airflow method that brings in cool air from outside of the chassis, and exhausts the hot air in roughly equal amounts. Balanced airflow is especially useful if you already have a good CPU cooler or AiO liquid cooling, as this ensures excellent dust reduction and component cooling.

Here is a balanced or neutral airflow example:

 

Balanced airflow example, showing air flowing through the front and exhausting through the rear and top of the case

Balanced airflow example

 

There are a few arrays of fans that get the job done, but mostly you'll bring cool air in at the front of the case, and the hot air exhausts via the rear and/or top of the case. Hot air rises, so any case that has the feature of top-mounted exhaust fans and mesh filters is a bonus.

Some cases do this particularly well, where some are just designed to make your case look good with lots of RGB fans. Just because you have lots of fans, you might not actually have the airflow you need to keep dust at bay, and get rid of the hot air that is sat circulating around the components.

Having dust filters at the front and top of your case rewards you with the benefits of a quick cleaning job every so often, and are well worth the cost. That said, case manufacturers are always finding innovative ways to cut costs and increase airflow, so you won't pay much extra for the filters and fan mounts.

You may already have the availability for extra fans, so it is worth checking inside of your case or in its manual to find out what you can do to improve your current setup, and negate the need to buy a new case altogether.

Installing aftermarket fans

The main thing to understand here is the correct mounting of the fan. Every decent fan will have a small arrow or arrows showing the way the air passes through it.

 

What do the arrows mean on a case fan?

 

As you can see in the Corsair fan example above, the arrows show the directional flow of air and the rotation of the blades. A quick check in the manual will give you a better mounting guide, dependent on the brand and quality.

Corsair's iCUE case fans are a good example of aftermarket fans that offer style and substance. The Corsair iCUE 140mm SP140 RGB PRO Performance dual fan kit below comes with a lighting node to connect to the motherboard, and 16 individually addressable RGB LEDs (8 per fan). With fan speeds up to 1,150 RPM, pushing up to 62 CFM of air, these are ideal for adding extra intake, or mounting at the top of your case for expelling the hot air in the chassis. At under £45, these fans are priced for most budgets, and require a minimal amount of experience to fit.

 

Corsair iCUE 140mm SP140 RGB PRO Performance dual fan kit

 

Mesh filters, mesh and filters. Oh, and dust filters.

Confused? Sadly, the PC industry confuses these terms all the time.

Also, there are some aftermarket dust filter solutions you can fit to your case, and different types available. If you are on a budget, this could be worth looking into, but with case prices as low as they are right now, it's worth shelling out for a case that has multiple fan options as well as the stock dust filter installed.

There are a few market leaders in this area, but here's where you need to be careful not to confuse the types of dust management options. There are mesh front panels and dust filters. A mesh front is often (somewhat incorrectly) referred to as a mesh filter. A dust filter is literally a thin mesh filter (I know, right?) which catches small dust particles that make their way through a top panel or front panel.

The Lian Li Lancool II Mesh uses a mesh front panel, with 1.5mm holes that are meant to reduce the dust coming into the chassis via front fans. There is no dust filter, in an attempt to maximise airflow for cooling, rather than worrying too much about dust build up.

 

Lian Li Lancool II Mesh

 

For a truly superior dust management system that also balances on the airflow & cooling side, there are two cases that spring to mind. The Corsair 5000D Airflow offers the best of both worlds in keeping things dust free while maintaining low temperatures and even noise levels. With plenty of room for fans and a very easy cleaning method for the dust filters, this mid-tower case offers you lots of options.

 

Corsair 5000D Airflow Mid-Tower Case

 

The Fractal Meshify 2 is an outstanding performer when it comes to airflow and dust filtration, and comes in cheaper than most of its rivals. As you can see from the blowout below, the sheer number of intake, exhaust, dust filter and mounting options is amazing.

 

Fractal Design Meshify 2 Compact Case - Black

 

Last Word

When optimising your airflow, sometimes the case you have is not the case you need. Whilst there are DIY options with filters and extra case fans, the new cases available now are able to deliver the performance that comes with trial and error in releases over the last ten years. Air pressure, dust management, GPU focus and more are all taken into consideration, so it may be worth your while looking at a new case overall.

That said, installing a few fans, adequate cooling for your CPU and ensuring the GPU is protected from too much heat will be the solution for most people.