3 Pin Vs 4 Pin Fan Connector| Who Wins The RPM Speed

What is the difference between a 3 pin fan and a 4 pin case fan? The 4 pin fan comes with upgraded benefits with the fan speed control, whereas a 3 pin fan does not. …

What is the difference between a 3 pin fan and a 4 pin case fan? The 4 pin fan comes with upgraded benefits with the fan speed control, whereas a 3 pin fan does not. But that does not make a 3 pin fan negligible at all.

Computer case fans are crucial tocool down the CPU temperature and help it run smoothly without interruption or other serious damage to the chips.

However, every modern motherboard features header pins for 4 pin fan connections where you can connect both 3 pin and 4 pin fans. But which would be ideal from 3 pin vs 4 pin fan selection?

Whether you are entirely a novice in computer hardware or just want to be sure about these 2 case fans, in today’s friendly clash, we will sort this confusion out from your head.

Stay tuned to the end to see the winner of this battle.

3 Pin Vs 4 Pin Fan- Quick Comparison

Key Points3 Pin Case Fan4 Pin Case Fan
Pin Count3 pin goes any 3 pin or 4 pin motherboard header4 pin goes 4 pin mobo header
NoiseHigher to mid-level fan noiseMaximum quieter fan
Fan Speed ControlControls the fan using DC VoltageControls the fan speed using PWM mode
Fan Control AbilityGeneral control accessSuperior level of control option
PriceCheaperSlight costlier than the 3 pin fan

Now, deep dive into a detailed comparison where we have a clear explanation regarding these 2 types of fan functions.

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3 Pin Vs 4 Pin Fan Connector


When you are a newbie and confused with the 3 pin and 4 pin fans, the first that catches your eyes is the connector pin.

Yes, the basic and non-major difference between a 3 pin and 4 pin fan is a 3 pin fan comes with 3 wirings to connect to the 3 pin header of your computer motherboard, whereas a 4 pinfan comes with 4 wires.

In both fans, 3 wires feature quite the same- ground, live, and speed sensor connection signal pin.

Here, the common 3 wires/ pins are-

  1. Wire for ground connection- 0 V
  2. Live wire- 12V/ 5V
  3. Connection for fan speed sensor
image 1

And the extra fourth pin/wire that you find on the 4 pin fans is the PWM mode connection that controls the rpm speed.

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Notes: In a 4 pin fan connectors, the 2nd and 3rd wire comes as red/yellow/green color also

However, you don’t have to bother more if you are a bit brand conscious. Nowadays, most of the quality brands come with case fans of both types that too ata decent price. Similarly, the most demanding-be quiet case fans come with both the 3pin and 4 pin connector wire.

Do you know, what the best part is? You can connect both 4 and 3 pin fan to 4 pin headermotherboard.

Sounds confusing? Go on reading we will discuss this in detail on the function and compatibility point.

4 Pin Fan Vs 3 Pin Fan Speed Control

Here comes another difference that is in the speed controlling option. You see, the speed of the computer casefan is calculated by the rpm (Rotations per Minute) of the fan blades.

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So, how is it related to the 3 pin and 4 pin fan? Well, a 3 pin fan speed is controlled by the DC Voltage power of that fan. If the fan speed decreases, the Voltage power decreases as well.

On the other hand, the rpm speed of a 4 pin fan does not have any connection with the DC power Voltage.  That means, when you try to increase or decrease the fan speed, it does not signal the Voltage power, and your fan does not lack in power Voltage.

And that is the bigger benefit with a 4 pin fan. The fan speed is not dependent on the Voltage power rather it is controlled by another option known as PWM mode.

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And so, people also know a 4 pin case fan as the PWM(Pulse Width Modulation) or PDM (Pulse Duration Modulation) fan,whereas the 3 pin fan as a voltage-controlled fan.

If you are curious to know what PWM is, in short, we can say that it is just a method of decreasing any Voltage signal(here the fan RPM speed) without even dropping the Voltage power.

Voltage Controlled fan Vs PWM Fan RPM Functions

Here, we come with another interesting part which is the function of these fans. Though you already know a major difference that it differs is the fan controlling feature, we will just show you a clear explanation of how these 2 fans differ in their working, especially when it comes tofan speed.

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As we have mentioned earlier, a 3 pin fan speed is controlled by the Voltage power contrarily, a 4 pin fan speed is controlled by the PWM mode which is related to its 4th pin.

It means in the case of a 3 pin fan, when you try to lower the fan speed from BIOS settings, it decreases the Voltage powerat the same, from 12V to 8/9V, depending on the speed reduction percentage.

Well, in this fan speed reduction, the fan speed is reduced along with the noise of the 3 pin fan, but it also reduces the Voltage power which is the biggest drawback here.

This speed reduction sometimes creates a coherence that can affect the cooling capacity inside the casing.

So, it would not be ideal to reduce a 3 pin fan speed when you are working or playing something that makes the cpu temperature rise high.

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On the other side, if you decrease the 4 pin fan rpm speed, you are one step away, and you are benefitted from the advantage of its PWM mode.

You have known that a 4 pin fan comes with 4 wiring pin and the 4th pin works here when it is timeto reduce the rpm speed.

What happens here is even if you lower fan speed to 50%, it still runs with the same maximumvoltage rating of 12V power.

Here, all credit goes to the PWM mode.That 4th pin takes the signal of reduction and chops it up into the tiniest wave signal which is beyond our calculation. And this frequency wave signal completes a full wave cycle so fast with its tiniest parts without letting the Voltage drop for a moment.

As a result, it does not need the Voltage power, and it can continue with spinning without lowering the Voltage for a moment.

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3 Pin Fan vs 4 Pin Fan Noise Difference

After this pretty detailed discussion, it is crystal clear now a 3 pin fan is noisier than the 4 pin case fan.

Well, we can’t neglect the traditional one for making people bring the updated one that is the 4 pin PWM fan with much quieter sound performance.

But you see, when you want to enjoy the best, you need to be upgraded along with your operating devices.

So, get a 4 pin PWM case fan if you need to select between a 3 pin fan and a 4 pin case fan to enjoy a noise-free smooth fan spinning and enjoy your heavy tasking without fear of losing power efficiency.

Contrarily, don’t underestimate the 3 pin case fan also. Nowadays, many brands make some of the quitter 3 pin fan. For instance, Arctic F12 120 mm 3 pin fan comes with a quitter noise that can be the best pick for money ever.

4 Pin Fan Vs 3 Pin Fan Motherboard Compatibility

Remember at the first point, we have said that you can connect both a 3 pin and 4 pin casefan to a motherboard with 4 pin header pin.  Yes, now, we will show you another exciting part.

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When it comes to thinking about the compatibility of the case fan with your motherboard, you don’t have to be worry for as long as your motherboard comes with the 4 pin header chip.

Yes, we can say it confidently because you can connect both types of pin connectors to a 4 pin header on the motherboard.

Wait! You must follow a tactic when you insert the connecting wire to the header pin.

image 2

If you closely observe, you can see a line marked or 3 of the pin header is separated from the rest one. This indicated that if your case fan comes with the 3 pin connector, you have to insert that in that separated 3 pins header matching the connections.

image 3

However, what if you own a motherboard from your grandfather’s grandfather’s time? And you want to buy a 4 pin case fan. Now, just get a 3 pin to 4 pin adapter to connect it.

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What about Price Difference?

Obviously, a 4 pin fan costs higher than a 3pin case fan. But if you consider the longevity and quieter fan operation, getting a 4 pin fan would be the wiser decision.

But no issue, if you have any budget issues, you can go with the CPU fan that comes with a 3 pin connector. You see, the Noctua fan has great popularity for it high quality and cooling capacity. And the Noctua 120mm fan with 3 pin connector is famous as a gaming console too.

Also, remember, you lack the rpm speed control feature you can get with the PWM fans.

Which Fan Should You Get for Your PC?

To end this battle, we can be confused about which one is ideal to have between 3 pin vs 4 pin fan.

It’s quite challenging to make one winner over the other as both fans come with quality build and the requirements that any general to heavy performance user PC need. But undoubtedly, it is true that the fan that comes with a 4 pin connector can provide you with some additional benefits that a 3pin fan can never do.

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However, for a budget range quality pick, 3 pin connector fans are worthy enough.

But who would not want to enjoy the best with extra benefits?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I plug a 3 pin fan into a 4 pin header?

Of course, you can insert a 3 pin fan into a 4 pin fan header. But you need to be careful with the connection pin which pins should get in contact. Here the standard 3 pins will be connected, and the 4th one will be left outside disconnected.

Do 3 pin fans run at full speed?

Definitely, yes. A 3 pin fan will run with its maximum speed no matter you connect it to a 4 pin or 3 pin header.

Are 3 pin fans PWM?

No, 3 pin fans are not PWM, rather, they are well-known as voltage fans or DC Voltage fans. 4pin fans are PWM fan.

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