Tag Archives: Fans

Analysis of Fan Curves and Fan Laws in Thermal Management of Electronics

This is the second installment in a two-part series examining the use of fans in the thermal management of electronics. Part one, which can be found at https://www.qats.com/cms/2017/03/06/utilizing-fans-thermal-management-electronics-systems, took a closer look at the common types of fans and blowers and the factors that engineers should consider when picking a fan.

In part two, basic fan laws will be explored, as well as using fan curves to analyze fan performance in a system. These standard calculations can help engineers establish boundary conditions for air velocity and pressure drop and ensure that these will meet the thermal requirements (e.g. ambient and junction temperature) of the system.

Fan Laws

CFD simulations of air velocity in a system with fans drawing air across high-powered components. Utilizing fan curves and fan laws enabled ATS engineers to establish the parameters for a successful use of fans for cooling this system. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)


As noted by Mike Turner of Comair Rotron in “All You Need to Know About Fans,” the primary principle for determining whether or not a fan work within a particular system is that “any given fan can only deliver one flow at one pressure in a particular system.” Each fan has a specific operating point that can be discovered on the fan curve at the intersection of fan static pressure curve and the system pressure curve. Turner advises, “It is best to select a fan that will give an operating point being toward the high flow, low pressure end of the performance curve to maintain propeller efficiency and to avoid propeller stall.”

Before getting to the fan curve though, engineers must run through basic calculations to understand the conditions of the systems in which the fans will be placed. The three basic fan laws, according to Eldridge USA, are as follows:

Fan Laws

While those fan laws will tell you about the specific fans, it is also critical to examine the system in which the fans will be operating. Among the equations that can be used to characterize a system are Volumetric Flow Rate, Mass Flow Rate, Pressure, Power, and Sound (equations are listed below).

Fan Laws

A Qpedia Thermal eMagazine article entitled, “How to Use Fan Curves and Laws in Thermal Design,” added:

“Published fan laws apply to applications where a fan’s air flow rate and pressure are independent of the Reynolds number. In some applications, however, fan performance is not independent and thus the change in Reynolds number should be incorporated into the equation. To determine if the Reynolds number needs to be considered, it must first be calculated.

“According to AMCA specifications, an axial fan’s minimum Reynolds number is 2.0×106. When the calculated Reynolds number is above this value, its effects can be ignored.”

The equation to calculate the Reynolds number is as follows:

Fan Law

In an “Engineering Letter” from The New York Blower Company, it was explained that fan laws only work “within a fixed system with no change in the aerodynamics or airflow characteristics of the system.” In the case of electronics cooling, in which the system requirements will be mostly consistent (with margins for error in case of max power usage), these laws will govern the capabilities of the fans to provide the necessary forced convection cooling for the components in the system.

The Engineering Letter continued, “During the process of system design, the fan laws can be helpful in determining the alternate performance criteria or in developing a maximum/minimum range.” A Qpedia article entitled, “Designing Efficient Fans for Electronics Cooling Applications,” added, “As a general rule, fan efficiency increases with blade diameter and rotational speed.”

There are tools that can assist engineers in the calculation of these basic fan laws, including fan calculators, such as the one provided by Twin City Fans & Blowers.


The aerodynamics of a fan can be charted in a fan curve, which displays the static pressure of the system dependent on the amount of air flow. As Turner noted, fan curves are read from right to left, beginning “with healthy aerodynamic flow and follow it through to aerodynamic stall.” Turner continued, “It is best to select a fan that will give an operating point being toward the high flow, low pressure end of the performance curve to maintain propeller efficiency and to avoid propeller stall.”

Fan Laws

An example of a basic fan curve with static pressure on the Y-axis and airflow on the X-axis. Fan curves are read from right to left beginning with healthy airflow.

There are means for testing fan curves, such as the FCM-100 Fan Characterization Module (pictured below) from Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS). The FCM-100 is specially designed with flow restriction plates that allow the user to control pressure drop across the system during testing. Used in conjunction with pressure and velocity measurement equipment, it verifies manufacturer performance data.

Fan Laws

The ATS FCM-100 Fan Characterization Module is a specialized unit designed to test and characterize fans of various sizes and performance outputs. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

The Qpedia article on fan curves explained, “During a typical fan test, a dozen or more operating points are plotted for pressure and flow rate, and from this data a fan curve is constructed.”

Once a fan curve is determined, it is possible to examine the data and find the operating range for the fans that will meet the thermal requirements of a system. It is also important to note a section in the fan curve, often referred to as the knee of the curve in which the relationship between flow rate and static pressure is no longer easy to predict. There is no longer an easily recognizable, calculable relationship between how a change in one will affect the other.

ATS field application engineer Vineet Barot explained how he analyzed fan curve data, particularly the knee of the curve, in a recent project:

“This is flow rate versus pressure. The more pressure you have in front of a fan, the slower it can pump out the air and this is the curve that determines that.

Fan Laws

Fan operating points on the board, determined by CFD simulations. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

“This little area here is sometime called the knee of the fan curve. Let’s say we’re in this area, the flow rate and pressure is relatively linear, so if I increase my pressure, if I put my hand in front of the fan, the flow rate goes down. If I have no pressure, I have my maximum flow rate. If I increase my pressure then the flow rate goes down. What happens in this part? The same thing. In the knee, a slight increase in pressure, so from .59 to .63, reduces the flow rate quite a bit.

Stratix 10 FPGA

CFD simulations showed that the fans were operating in the “knee” where it is hard to judge the impact of pressure changes on flow rate and vice versa. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

“So, for a 0.1 difference in flow rate (in cubic meters per second) it took 0.4 inches of water pressure difference, whereas here for a 0.1 difference in flow rate it only took a .04 increase in pressure. That’s why there’s a circle there. It’s a danger area because if you’re in that range it gets harder to predict what the flow will be because any pressure-change, any dust build-up, any change in estimated open area might change your flow rate.

Fan Laws

CFD analysis of flow vectors across high-powered components on a PCB. This simulation was part of an examination of fan performance in a system. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)


While it is important to know the types of fans on the market and manufacturers provide data about the power and operating ranges of each product, it is important for there to be a basic understanding of the laws that govern how fans operate in a system and an ability to examine fan curve data in order to optimize performance.

“Bulk testing of electronics chassis provides the relationship between air flow and pressure drop and determines the fan performance needed to cool a given power load. The fan rating is often a misunderstood issue and published ratings can be somewhat misleading. Knowledge of fan performance curves, and how they are obtained, allows for a more informed decision when selecting a fan. Continued and ever shortening product design cycles demand a ‘get it right the first time’ approach. The upfront use of system curves, fan curves and fan laws can help meet this goal.”

Read more and see examples of fan laws and curves in practice at https://www.qats.com/cms/2013/07/24/how-to-use-fan-curves-and-laws-in-thermal-design.


To learn more about Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. consulting services, visit www.qats.com or contact ATS at 781.769.2800 or ats-hq@qats.com.

Utilizing Fans in Thermal Management of Electronics Systems

Fans in Thermal Management

There are different types of fans that are used in thermal management of electronics with tube axial fans being the most common. (Wikimedia Commons)

The ongoing trend in the electronics industry is for increasingly high-powered components to meet the ever-growing demands of consumers. Coupled with greater component-density in smaller packages, thermal management is more and more of a priority to ensure performance and reliability over the life of an electronics system.

As thermal needs have grown, engineers have sought out different cooling methods to supplement convection cooling. While options such as liquid cooling have grown in popularity in recent years, still one of the most common techniques is to add fans to a system.

Through the years, fan designs have improved. Fan blades have been streamlined to produce great flow rate with less noise and fans have become more power-efficient to meet the desires of customers trying to use less resources and save costs.

While much has changed in the presentation of fans, there are many basic concepts that engineers must consider when deciding how to implement fans in a project.

This is part one of a two-part series on how to select the best fan for a project. Part one will cover the types of fans that can be used. Part two, which can be found at https://www.qats.com/cms/2017/03/10/analysis-of-fan-curves-and-fan-laws-in-thermal-management-electronics, will cover fan laws and analyzing fan curves.


As described by Mike Turner of Comair Rotron in an article for Electronics Cooling Magazine, “All You Need to Know About Fans,” fans are essentially low pressure air pumps that take power from a motor to “output a volumetric flow of air at a given pressure.” He continued, “A propeller converts torque from the motor to increase static pressure across the fan rotor and to increase the kinetic energy of the air particles.”

In a white paper from Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) entitled, “Performance Difference Between Fans and Blowers and Their Implementation,” it was added that fans are at their core, dynamic pumps. The article added, that in dynamic pumps “the fluid increases momentum while moving through open passages and then converts its high velocity to a pressure increase by exiting into a diffuser section.”

The biggest difference between a fan and a blower is the direction in which the air is delivered. Fans push air in a direction that is parallel to the fan blade axis, while blowers move air perpendicular to the blower axis. Turner noted that fans “can be designed to deliver a high flow rate, but tend to work against low pressure” and blowers move air at a “relatively low flow rate, but against high pressure.”

The three types of fans are centrifugal, propeller, tube axial, and vane axial:

• In centrifugal fans, the air flows into the housing and turns 90 degrees while accelerating due to centrifugal forces before being flowing out of the fan blades and exiting the housing.
• Propeller fans are the simplest form of a fan with only a motor and propellers and no housing.
• Tube axial fans, according to Turner, are similar to a propeller fan but “also has a venture around the propeller to reduce the vortices.”
• Vane axial fans have vanes trailing behind the propeller to straighten the swirling air as it is accelerated.

The most common fans used in electronics cooling are tube axial fans and there are a number of manufacturers creating options for engineers. A quick search of Digi-Key Electronics, offered options such as Sunon, Orion Fans, Sanyo Denki, NMB Technologies, Delta Electronics, Jameco Electronics, and several more.

Fans in Thermal Management

A fan is added to a heat sink on a PCB in order to increase the air flow and heat dissipation from the board component. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)


When selecting a fan, engineers must consider the specific requirements of the system in which they are working, including factors such as the necessary airflow and the size restrictions of the board or the chassis. These basic factors will allow engineers to search through the many available options to find a fan that fits his or her needs.

In addition, engineers may look towards combining multiple fans in parallel or in a series to increase the flow rate across the components without increasing the size of the package or the diameter of the fan.

Parallel operation means having two or more fans side-by-side. When two fans are working in parallel, then the volume flow rate will be increased, even doubled when the fans are operating at maximum. Turner added. “The best results for parallel fans are achieved in systems with low resistance.”

In a series, the fans are stacked on top of each other and results in increased static pressure. Unlike parallel operations, fans in a series work best in a system with high resistance.

The ATS white paper noted, “In real situations, the fans may interfere with each other. The end results is a lower than expected performance.” Turner warns that in either parallel or series configurations there is a point in the combined performance curve that should be avoided because it creates unstable and unpredictable performance, but analyzing fan performance and fan curves will be covered in more detail in part two of the blog.

Efficiency is a major factor when selecting a fan. As noted in an article from Qpedia Thermal eMagazine, “A large data center contains about 400,000 servers and consumes 250 MW of power. It has been estimated that about 20% of the total power supplied to a high end server is consumed by fans.”

Clearly, finding a fan that can work efficiently with lower power will save a considerable about of resources. The article details several methods for creating efficiency in designing a system that includes fans:

“Fan power consumption is traditionally reduced by controlling the motor speed to produce only the airflow required for adequate cooling, rather than operating continuously at full speed. Significant energy savings can be achieved beyond this technique through fan efficiency increase. Optimizing the motor and electronic driver, increasing fan aerodynamic efficiency through careful redesign, and optimizing fan-system integration are three ways of achieving this.”

Read more about the techniques for achieving efficiency at https://www.qats.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Designing_Efficient_Fans_for_Electronics_Cooling


To learn more about Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. consulting services, visit www.qats.com or contact ATS at 781.769.2800 or ats-hq@qats.com.

Industry Developments for Cooling Overclocked CPUs

By Norman Quesnel, Senior Member of Marketing Staff
Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.

(This article will be featured in an upcoming issue of Qpedia Thermal e-Magazine, an online publication dedicated to the thermal management of electronics. To get the current issue or to look through the archives, visit http://www.qats.com/Qpedia-Thermal-eMagazine. To read other stories from Norman Quesnel, visit https://www.qats.com/cms/?s=norman+quesnel.)

Almost as long as personal computers have been around, users have been making modifications “under the hood” to make them run faster. A large segment of these users are overclockers, who make adjustments to increase the clock speeds (the speed at which processors execute instructions) of their CPUs and GPUs.

Many PC gamers get into overclocking (OC) to make their programs run faster. Gamecrate.com, a gamer site, defines overclocking as the practice of forcing a specific piece of hardware to operate at a speed above and beyond the default manufactured rating. [1]

To overclock a CPU is to set its clock multiplier higher so that the processor speeds up. For example, overclocking an Intel Core i7 CPU means to push its rated clock speed higher than the 2.80 GHz that it runs at “out of the box.” When performed correctly, overclocking can safely boost a CPU’s performance by 20 percent or more. This will let other processes on a computer run faster, too.

Cooling Overclocked CPUs

Fig. 1. An Intel Core i5-469k Processor Can Be Overclocked to Run 0.5-0.9 GHz over Its Base Frequency. Air Cooling is Provided by a Hyper D92 from Cooler Master.[2]

To serve the global overclockers market, some chip makers keep the door open to overclocking by allowing access to their multipliers. They do this with a variety of “unlocked” processors. Intel provides many unlocked versions of their processors, as denoted with a ‘k’ at the end of their model number.

For example, the Skylake Core i7-6700k and Haswell-E Core i7-5820k are made with unlocked clock multipliers. In fact, Intel targets overclockers with marketing campaigns and support services.

Fig. 2. Intel Actively Targets Overclockers with Its Unlocked Processors.[3]

Besides gaming, overclocking can improve performance for applications such as 3-D imaging or high-end video editing. For GPUs, faster speeds will achieve higher frames per second for a smoother, faster video experience. Overclocking can even save money, if a lower cost processor can be overclocked to perform like a higher end CPU.[4]

For many gamers, overclocking enhances their enjoyment by giving more control over their system and breaking the rules set by CPU manufacturers. One overclocker on Gamecrate.com said, “Primarily, I like to do it because it’s fun. On a more practical note it’s a great way to breathe some life into an old build, or to take a new build and supercharge it to the next level.”[1]

Heat Issues from Overclocking

Overclocking a processor typically means increasing voltage as well. Thus, the performance boost from overclocking usually comes with added component heat that needs to be controlled. Basically, the more voltage added to components, the more heat they are going to produce. There are many tutorials on overclocking and most of these resources stress that it’s essential to manage a component’s increased heat.[5]

Programs are available that monitor the temperature of a processor before and after overclocking it. These programs work with the DTS, digital thermal sensors that most processor manufacturers include inside their component packages. One such program is Core Temp, which can be used with both Intel and AMD cores. Some component OEMs also offer their own software to monitor temperatures in their processors.[6]

Fig. 3. The Core Temp Program Can Display Temperatures of Individual Cores in a System.[6]

Typically, an overclocker will benchmark a CPU or other component to measure how hot it runs at 100 percent. Advanced users can manually do the overclocking by changing the CPU ratio, or multiplier, for all cores to the target number. The multiplier works with the core’s BCLK frequency (usually 100) to create the final GHz number.

Tools like the freeware program Prime95 provide stability testing features, like the “Torture Test,” to see how the sped up chip performs at a higher load. These programs work with the system’s BIOS and typically use the motherboard to automatically test a range of overclocked profiles, e.g. from 4.0-4.8 GHz. From here, an overclocker may test increasing voltages, e.g. incrementally adding 0.01 – 0.1 V while monitoring chip stability.

An overclocked component’s final test is whether it remains stable over time. This ongoing stability will mainly be influenced by its excess heat. For many overclocked processors, a robust fan-cooled heat sink in place of the stock fan is essential. For others, only liquid cooling will resolve excess heat issues.

Fan Cooling

The advantage of using air coolers is no worry about leaking, which may lead to component or system damage. With the air cooled heat sinks, the bigger and faster the fan (CFM), the better, and there are a multitude of fan-sink cooling solutions that gaming PCs can accommodate.

In reality, higher performance fan-cooled sinks typically also employ liquid. It is used inside heat pipes that more efficiently convey heat from the processor into the sink’s fan cooled fin field.

Fig. 4. The Top-Rated Hyper 212 EVO CPU Air Cooler from Cooler Master Has Four Heat Pipes Transferring Heat to Aluminum Fins.[7]

Air cooled heat sinks for overclockers cost well under $50 and are available from many sources. They’re often bundled with overclock-ready processors at discounted prices.

A greater issue with air cooling can be the fan noise. A high performance fan must spin very quickly to deal with heavy system workloads. This can create an unpleasant mixture of whirs, purrs and growls. Many of the gaming desktops generate 50-80 decibels of noise at load. Though most fans are quieter, pushing out 25-80 CFM, they are louder than most standard PC processor fans.[8]

Liquid Cooling

Liquid cooling has become more common because of its enhanced thermal performance, which allows higher levels of overclocking. Prices are definitely higher than air-cooled heat sinks, but liquid systems offer enthusiasts a more intricate, quieter, and elegant thermal solution with definite eye-appeal.

From the performance standpoint, liquids (mainly water in these systems) provide better thermal conductivity than air. They can move more thermal energy from a heat source on a volume-to-volume basis.

Fig. 5. The Top-Rated Nepton 280 Liquid CPU Cooler Has a Fast Pump Flow and a Large Radiator Cooled with Dual Fans that Reach 122 CFM Airflow.[9]

A typical liquid cooling system features a water block that fits over the overclocked CPU, a large surface area, a fan-cooled heat exchanger (radiator), a pump, and a series of tubes connecting all elements. One tube carries hot fluid out from the water block, the other returns it once it is cooled by the radiator. Some liquid cooling systems can also be used on multiple processors, e.g. a CPU and a gaming chipset.

While there are more components to a liquid cooling system, there are also major advantages. For one, the water block is usually much smaller and lower-profile than an attached, high-performance air cooler. Also, the tubing set up allows the heat exchanger and pump to be installed in different locations, including outside the PC enclosure. An example is the Sub-Zero Liquid Chilled System from Digital Storm. It unlocks overclocks of Intel’s i7-980X CPU up to 4.6 GHz while idling the processor below 0°C.[10]

Fig. 6. Digital Storm’s Cryo-TEC System Places an Overclocked CPU in Direct Contact with Thermo-electric Cold Plates Dropping Core Temperatures to Below 0°C.[11]

Prices for liquid cooling systems can easily surpass $200, though newer systems can be bought for under $100.

A fan still must be attached to the radiator to help cool it, but it doesn’t have to spin as quickly as it would if it were attached to a heat sink. As a result, most liquid-cooled systems emit no more than 30 decibels.


Overclocking can be considered a subset of modding. This is a casual expression for modifying hardware, software or anything else to get a device to perform beyond its original intention. If you own an unlocked CPU you can get significant added performance, for free, by overclocking the processor. When modifying processor speeds, i.e. increasing them, high temperatures will occur. Higher performance cooling solutions are needed.

Fig. 7. YouTube Video of Overclocked CPU Melting Solder Before It Stops Working at 234°C.[12]

To serve the world of overclockers, a steady stream of air and liquid cooling systems are being developed. Many of them are high precision, effective, stylish and surprisingly affordable. Often they share the same technology as mass market quantity, lower performing cooling systems (basic heat sinks, heat pipes, for example), but provide much higher cooling capabilities for ever-increasing processor speeds.

1. Gamecrate.com, https://www.gamecrate.com/basics-overclocking/10239
2. Techreport.com, http://techreport.com/review/27543/cooler-master-hyper-d92-cpu-cooler-reviewed/3
3. Legitreviews.com, http://www.legitreviews.com/intel-devils-canyon-coming-this-month-intel-core-i7-4790k-core-i5-4690k_143234
4. Digitaltrends.com, http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/should-you-overclock-your-pcs-processor/
5. Techradar.com, http://www.techradar.com/how-to/computing/how-to-overclock-your-cpu-1306573
6. Alcpu.com, http://www.alcpu.com/CoreTemp/
7. Coolermaster.com, http://www.coolermaster.com/cooling/cpu-air-cooler/hyper-212-evo/
8. Digitaltrends.com, http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/heres-why-you-should-liquid-cool-your-cpu/
9. Coolermaster.com, http://www.coolermaster.com/cooling/cpu-liquid-cooler/nepton-280l/
10. Gizmodo.com, http://gizmodo.com/5696553/digital-storms-new-gaming-pcs-use-sub-zero-liquid-cooling-system-for-insane-overclocks
11. Digitalstorm.com, http://www.digitalstorm.com/cryo-tec.asp
12. Youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NEn9DHmjk0

For more information about Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc., its products, or its thermal management consulting and design services, visit www.qats.com or contact ATS at 781.769.2800 or ats-hq@qats.com.

Performance Differences between Fan Types Used for Electronics Cooling

Billions of fans are now in use for active cooling of PCBs and other hot electronic components. An article in Qpedia, the thermal e-magazine from Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc., (ATS), explores the two most common types of fans used in electronics cooling: the radial (or centrifugal) fan and the axial fan.

The difference between the axial fan and radial fans can be divided into two parts, namely geometry and fluid dynamics.

An axial-flow fan has blades that force air to move in a parallel direction to the shaft around which the blades rotate. For a radial fan, the air flows in on a side of the fan housing, then turns 90 degrees and accelerates, due to centrifugal force as it exits the fan housing. These differences in air flow direction have design implications. For example, a radial fan can blow air across a PCB more efficiently, and use less space, than mounting an axial fan to blow air down onto a board.

The fluid flow rate through an electronics system, e.g., enclosure, is determined by the intercept between the fan and system curves that plot the air pressure drop over volumetric flow rate. A system’s air flow curve can be calculated using 1D fluid mechanics, or it may require the use of high performance CFD or experimental data. In general, for the same power and rotation speed, the radial fan can achieve a higher pressure head than an axial fan. However, an axial fan can achieve a higher maximum flow rate than a radial fan.

In theory, this same approach applies when using two fans in series or in parallel. When the fans are in series, the maximum flow rate should stay the same as for the single fan, but the maximum pressure head doubles. When using two fans in parallel, the maximum pressure head should remain the same as for the single fan, but the flow rate doubles. In real situations, though, the fans may interfere with each other, thus providing lower than expected results. Thus, actual experimentation is typically needed.

Download the Full ATS White Paper Performance Differences Between Fans and Blowers and Their Implementation