Graphics cards (GPUs) are essential components of today’s laptops and desktop computers, responsible for processing the millions of pixels that make up the images on your monitor. This intense workload can cause them to generate heat, which is why they have fans to keep cool. If these fans aren’t working correctly, the graphics card can overheat, leading to reduced performance or permanent damage.
Learn why your computer’s GPU fans might stop working and discover some useful tips for fixing them.
It May Be a Feature of the GPU
Modern graphics cards have a feature where they switch to a low-power, quiet cooling mode when they operate below a certain pre-set temperature threshold. This helps cut down on ambient noise and saves energy. The smart firmware system in these cards turns off the fans when it can keep the temperature down with the passive heat spreaders and the air moving inside the computer’s case.
If your GPU fans aren’t spinning, check the GPU temperatures using hardware monitoring software like MSI Afterburner during idle and loaded states. If temperatures remain within the GPU’s manufacturer specs, the lack of fan activity is intentional. Turning the fans up will only make more noise without any real advantage.
Fan Curve Settings Need Adjustment
Graphics cards allow you to customize fan speed response to temperature changes via configurable fan curves in their control panel software. However, if you don’t configure the curves correctly or experiment with extreme manual settings, the fans might not work as they should.
To fix this, reset any custom fan curves to the defaults recommended for your specific graphics card model and usage. This will reactivate automated variable fan speed control based on how much cooling is needed. With properly connected fan headers, you rarely need to intervene with modern GPUs to balance noise production with temperature control.
Power Supply Issues to the Fans
GPU fans require a proper power supply to function, which they get through PCIe auxiliary cables connected from the power supply unit (PSU) to the graphics card. Ensure all necessary 6-pin or 8-pin PCIe power connectors are fully plugged into the graphics card. If your GPU needs extra power, ensure that connections like legacy power bricks or Molex are also securely attached.
Look over the PSU cables for any visible damage like tears, cuts, or bends that could affect the steady flow of 12V power to the fans. Unplugging and replugging the cable connections can help remove any oxidation or small debris that might interfere with power flow.
If the PSU is inadequate or unstable and can’t handle the peak power demands, it might cause issues like the GPU fans not working, even if everything else is fine. To check if the problem is due to unreliable amperage on the 12V rail, you can perform a simple test using a paper clip or a multimeter.
Physical Obstructions in Fan Movement
Dust and debris can build up on the fan blades, heatsink fins, and graphics card covers if you don’t clean them regularly. This can disrupt the airflow needed to cool down the GPU and lead to overheating. Over time, this dust can become sticky and thick, potentially stopping the fans from moving altogether.
To manage this issue, follow these steps to check for and fix any blockages:
- Turn off and disconnect the desktop computer before opening the side chassis panel.
- Inspect GPU fan rotor blades and heatsink fins for clumped dust and debris buildup.
- Use soft-bristle non-static cleaning brushes and compressed air cans to gently dislodge and completely blow away any found debris.
- Ensure no loose obstructing particles remain trapped inside the cooling subassembly along the edge of the GPU fan rotation.
- Examine the GPU circuit board and headers for deposits and use electronics-grade isopropyl alcohol to remove where applicable.
- Reconnect fan power cables firmly after completing the cleaning procedure.
- Restart the system and simulate the graphics workload to observe fan activation behavior.
- To avoid future debris buildup, ensure your computer case has filtered air intakes and set a schedule to clean the inside of your computer every six months.
Potential GPU Fan Motor Failure
The brushless DC motors that power the fans in GPUs have a limited lifespan and will eventually wear out after years of heavy use. The fan speeds and cooling ability will decrease as these motor components degrade.
Signs that the motor is failing can include:
- Loud, abnormal grinding or buzzing noises
- Fan blades spinning much slower than usual
- Scraping sensation upon manual rotation
- Burnt plastic smell from shorted windings
- Hot motor housing due to excess coil resistance
Replacing or repairing malfunctioning GPU fans involves partially disassembling the graphics card cooling apparatus to safely access and detach the integrated fan assemblies. Considering the complexity and sensitive nature of modern graphics card components, leave it to a qualified repair technician who has the proper tools and a dust-free environment.
Software Conflicts and Outdated Drivers
The firmware and drivers of a GPU are vital for managing the fan controls effectively, ensuring a balance between noise, power efficiency, and lifespan. Using very old drivers or firmware can stop the GPU from using the latest fan control settings. Problems can also occur if drivers are partially corrupted due to sudden system crashes or issues with Windows updates.
Additionally, fan controls can be disrupted by changes made through GPU tweaking tools and overclocking apps. These programs can interfere with important data like temperature readings, which the GPU uses to adjust fan speeds. To fix any potential software issues, follow these steps:
- Initiate the desktop in Safe Mode to eliminate runtime conflicts and maximize driver access.
- Completely uninstall existing GPU drivers using cleanup utilities like Display Driver Uninstaller.
- Securely download the latest WHQL-certified graphics drivers available for your GPU model from the official vendor website.
- Install new downloaded GPU drivers, avoiding beta/debug variants or redundant tuning utilities.
- Reboot into normal mode and simulate graphics workload to revalidate fan behavior.
Performing thorough clean driver reinstallation using stable driver versions often fixes stubborn quirks like fans refusing to spin after major Windows updates or graphics card migrations.
Testing with Alternate Hardware
If the GPU fans still don’t work after trying the previous steps, you should test different components to find out where the problem is. Try running the GPU in a different PCIe slot or another computer. If the fans continue to exhibit unusual behavior in various configurations, the problem may originate from the graphics card itself.
If the fans don’t work even in a setup that you know is functioning correctly, the GPU might need to be repaired or replaced by a professional. As a final option, you can look for replacement fan parts from specialized sellers for GPUs that are out of warranty, or you might consider a GPU trade-in.
Enjoy Optimal Performance From Your GPU
Addressing GPU fan issues involves a systematic approach — from simple maintenance and software updates to more complex hardware troubleshooting. This will ensure your GPU continues to operate efficiently, safeguarding your investment and improving your computing experience.