SpeedFan: A Guide to Universal Motherboard Fan Control

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SpeedFan: A Basic Guide to Motherboard Fan Control

July 2, 2012 by Lawrence Lee

As fans are responsible for the vast majority of noise generated in modern PCs, fan control is a vital feature in the realm of quiet computing. The various chips and processors inside a computer must be cooled, but more often than not, the fans tasked with the job are run at speeds much higher than necessary. In olden times, fan control simply wasn't offered and all fans operated at maximum full speed. Enthusiasts looked far and wide for low speed replacements or resorted to modifying fan cables with resistors and altering molex connectors to adjust the voltage drop, methods now considered old hat.

Today, all modern motherboards have some type of control built in with advanced models offering three or more controllable headers. Because of this, physical methods to adjust fan speeds are on the wane. Hardware fan controllers can be purchased but with motherboard control and the availability of low speed fans, they typically aren't bothered with unless the number of fans involved is extreme; they're also limited in functionality, offering only manual control.

Dynamic control can often be customized right in the BIOS/UEFI and in software so the experience can be tuned properly for real operating conditions. Most of the major motherboard manufacturers ship their own fan control and temperature monitoring software with their boards, though few have impressed us over the years. Asus' latest implementation of their Fan Xpert software was the best we've seen so far and certainly the prettiest.

That being said, our favorite fan control utility is still SpeedFan, a free application that's been around for over a decade. Developed and maintained by an Italian IT professional by the name of Alfredo Milani Comparetti, it's currently on version 4.46. The description of the program on the website sums it up pretty nicely:

"SpeedFan is a program that monitors voltages, fan speeds and temperatures in computers with hardware monitor chips. SpeedFan can even access S.M.A.R.T. info and show hard disk temperatures... SpeedFan can access digital temperature sensors and can change fan speeds accordingly, thus reducing noise. SpeedFan can find almost any hardware monitor chip connected to the 2-wire SMBus (System Management Bus... and works fine with Windows 9x, ME, NT, 2000, 2003, XP, Vista and Windows 7."

While it sounds like a simple utility, it has a rather Spartan user interface that hasn't changed much since its inception. Because it isn't designed with a specific motherboard or line of motherboards in mind, it isn't fully functional in its default state. To a novice, this may seem intimidating. The purpose of this guide is to walk you through the process of configuring SpeedFan to work properly and point out its main features and how to utilize them effectively. Hopefully this will give you greater control over how your system sounds or possibly even an alternative to purchasing quieter fans or a dedicated fan controller.

As the SpeedFan website states, "This program is aimed at the power user. At those who know what they're doing." Setting fans to spin too slowly or to stop completely can cause overheating and possibly permanent hardware damage — please excercise caution when using SpeedFan.

Test System Configuration:

For this guide, we'll be using the Asus P8P67 Pro as the example. The rest of the hardware in the system is not really important.

Our test motherboard with fan headers highlighted.

Before starting we suggest noting the names and locations of the board's fan headers and then plugging in a fan for each, preferably with models of differing speeds to easily differentiate them. It's also advisable to disable fan control in the BIOS/UEFI while configuring SpeedFan so the fans will run initially at full speed.

Getting Started

If this is your first experience with SpeedFan, the first thing you'll notice is its functional, rather than aesthetically pleasing UI. Compared to the various fan control software utilities provided by motherboard manufacturers, SpeedFan has a very bland look consisting mostly of black text on a grey background.

SpeedFan, main screen. Problem/mystery sensors highlighted.

The main screen consists of a log box, a CPU usage meter, and reports sensor readings for fan speed, temperature, fan control, and voltage. SpeedFan automatically gives each sensor a label, but it's never completely accurate. Some of the labels are incorrect while some sensors are completely erroneous, especially the voltage readings, e.g. the "+12V" sensor running at 6.86V.

The temperature sensors labeled "Core 0", "HD", and "GPU" can be trusted as they are produced independently by other components, in this case the CPU, hard drive, and graphics card, respectively. None of the fan controls worked by default, except for the GPU Fan control. Support for ATI/AMD graphics card was added recently (the fan speed sensor reads 0 RPM because our test video card doesn't report fan speed).

Some questionable temperature and fan sensors can be identified immediately (highlighted in the screenshot above). The board we used has four fan headers, but a fifth fan was reported, "Aux2". There was a "CPU" temperature that made no sense, staying at a constant -60C. Also notable were the three "SMIOVT" sensors which reported the same value as "AUX". Part of the configuration process is figuring out exactly what these mystery sensors are.

In the "Info" tab, there is an option to download pre-configured settings for your motherboard which could save you a lot of time. This functionality requires you to sign up for an account at the SpeedFan website. There's no charge for joining and you also get access to the latest beta version, which may work better on your particular board than the official build, particularly if it's a newer model.

Once you're logged in, enter your motherboard model and choose from a list of user-uploaded configurations. If you're using a fairly new board, this is usually a shot in the dark, as the database is mostly filled with older models. Users can't upload configuration files for a board that isn't listed and it doesn't appear until someone requests it via e-mail. It's then checked and manually added, presumably by the site admin. More often than not, you'll have to take matters into your own hands and configure it yourself.

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