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Raspberry Pi

Does the Raspberry Pi 4 Need a Fan?

Everyone uses their Raspberry Pi’s for different purposes. You want to keep your temps in an optimal range. Once your temperature increases too high, you can experience what we call CPU throttling.

Does the Raspberry Pi 4 need a fan?

Does Raspberry Pi 4 need a fan? Unfortunately, the answer is not so linear. I can’t simply say yes or no. Everyone uses their Raspberry Pi’s for different purposes. Some people may run only one or two different programs. Other’s may run dozens or even hundreds of programs and services on their device. The more programs and services you run on your device, the more you increase the load of your device. Higher load equals higher temperatures. Once your temperature increases too high, you can experience what they call CPU throttling. CPU throttling is when a computer automatically slows down the computer to use less energy. This works well in Laptops to save battery, however, you don’t want this to occur on a Raspberry Pi. Raspberry Pi’s will automatically activate CPU throttling when temperatures reach 80°C. 

 

Where your Raspberry Pi is located and what the surrounding temperature is is also quite important. This is because in a colder environment your Pi is simply going to need less passive/active cooling. Some people store their Pi’s inside their home with a room temperature of 70-75F. Other’s store their Pi’s outdoors in the sun with temps that can reach 110+ F. A Pi inside of your home with good airflow is going to perform at lower temps compared to something sitting in direct sunlight by default. 

 

To recap, it really depends on your use case and the location of your Raspberry Pi regarding whether it is going to need additional cooling. In this article, I’ll do my best to assist you in your decision. In the next section we’ll talk about common Raspberry Pi use cases and what my recommendation would be for each scenario.

Decide Use Case Before Deciding if you Need Additional Cooling

Before you ultimately decide if your Raspberry Pi 4 needs a fan, decide what you will use it for. You should also ask yourself; how many hours per day is it going to run? Will I overclock it? How “heavy” are the programs/services I’ll be installing? Where is the storage location of the Raspberry Pi? Is there good airflow in the location where you will store your Raspberry Pi?

 

Raspberry Pi’s are powerful and can do some pretty extraordinary things. More often than not you find they can do things you never thought possible on a single board computer. However, if you push them too hard, they are going to get warm. A higher temperature is something you want to avoid, as I mentioned before.We’ll get into some common use cases of Raspberry Pi’s below. If you’re planning on using a Raspberry Pi for one of the example scenarios below, you should be able to find a pretty cut and dry answer. This should help you decide whether the Raspberry Pi 4 will need a fan.

Cooling Solutions Without a Fan

I primarily centered this article on using a fan with your Raspberry Pi. Not everyone wants the constant fan sound that comes with using a fan with your Pi. So, I wanted to take some time to discuss some additional cooling options.

Raspberry Pi 4 Heatsinks

Motherboard with Heat Sinks

A heat sink is a piece of metal that sits on top of a computer chip such as a CPU and draws power away from components by letting it rise through a set of fins. By themselves, heat sinks are passive; they have no moving parts. Passive cooling is great because it means no noise. If your Raspberry Pi won’t have too much load, heat sinks are a splendid choice for cooling.

Raspberry Pi 4 Thermal Case

Another option for passive cooling would be to get a thermal case for your Pi. Thermal cases keep temps low with no kind of active cooling, aka fans. Typically, thermal cases work similar to a heat sink. They disperse heat from one specific point, either the CPU, GPU, or Ethernet chip, to the entire case. This means that the Pi as a hole will be warmer, but the core temperature will be drastically lower. Check out this article to read some different thermal case comparisons.

Example Scenarios and their Solutions

As mentioned above, we’re going to take some time to present some example scenarios and their solutions.

Pi-hole

Pi-hole is a software that when installed allows you to turn your Raspberry Pi into a network wide ad-blocker. It uses the power of DNS to route all requests on your network through your Pi, effectively blocking ads before they even load. That sounds like it’d be pretty resource intensive right? The answer is no. Running Pi-hole requires very low CPU and memory utilization keeping temps low. If you are only using your Raspberry Pi as a Pi-hole installation then you probably won’t need any additional cooling.

Pi-hole Dashboard | Raspberry Pi 4 Program
Pi-hole Temp

Plex Server

Plex is a software that allows you to convert your Raspberry Pi into an at home media server. You can stream any movies or tv shows that your Raspberry Pi has access to, to another device. Plex allows you to stream both on your local network and remotely. Plex also allows the ability to transcode your content. This means that you can upscale or downscale your content to help with compatibility for your clients. For example, web browsers typically require a lower resolution than an actual installation of Plex Media Player. 

 

Plex is quite resource intensive, especially when running multiple streams at once. This is especially prevalent when transcoding in higher than 720p. The Raspberry Pi isn’t the best device to transcode with on the market because of its CPU. Remember, the more CPU utilization you have, the higher the temperature of your Raspberry Pi will be. When your CPU throttles itself, the quality of the Plex stream will diminish. If you’re considering using your Raspberry Pi as a Plex server, a fan is a must have. We’d also recommend pairing the fan with a pair of heat sinks. You want to keep your Raspberry Pi as cool as possible to ensure smooth media playback.

Samba Server

Samba is a service that you can run on your Raspberry Pi. .What Samba does is allow you to turn your Pi into a NAS, aka Network Attached Storage. This is useful because it’s like running your own mini Google Drive. You can send, receive, and store files all on your Pi and its connected peripherals. You can also use it with apps on your phone to back up important photos automatically. 

 

Samba is a useful tool, however, it’s not too resource intensive unless you are reading and writing for long periods of time. You wouldn’t require a fan on your Raspberry Pi if you’re only planning to use it as a Samba server. It would probably be a good idea to at least put some heat sinks on it for when you’re transferring large amounts of data at one time.

Torrent/Seed Box

You can run a torrent client on your Raspberry Pi to download and upload different torrents. When torrenting, you are using a P2P (Peer to Peer) protocol. What this means is that you become part of a “swarm” of other Leechers (downloaders) and Seeders (uploaders). There is no central server that you are downloading from. You download directly from other members of the swarm. This typically allows for faster download speeds. It also makes downloading files better in spotty conditions where the connection may drop.

 

Downloading and uploading around the clock is going to cause a higher than normal CPU load. Your Pi is going to be significantly warmer than normal. If you’re going to use your Raspberry Pi as a torrent/seed box we’d suggest using a fan paired with heat skins.

Monitor Your Raspberry Pi 4 Temps

To really get a feel for the operating temperature of your Raspberry Pi you should monitor your temps. You can really do anything you want to with the Pi, monitor the temps, and then decide if you need a fan. There are several ways to monitor temps on your Raspberry Pi. Let’s look at a few temperature monitoring solutions.

vcgen cmd measure_temp

You can use the following command to output the temperature of your Raspberry Pi instantly. You could also use the command to write a script such as this that will allow you to get readouts every x minutes.

				
					vcgencmd measure_temp
				
			

Rpi-monitor

Rpi-monitor is a program that allows you to view several in-depth statistics relating to your Raspberry Pi. These include things such as temperature, CPU Load, Uptime, and Internet Data transferred. Rpi-monitor also allows the use of a Web-UI to view graphs of the different monitor options on any device with a web browser.

Rpi-monitor Dashboard

Temperature Monitor

If you prefer a more GUI based approach, then you should use the built in Temperate Monitor. Temperature Monitor comes installed by default on Raspberry Pi OS.

 

Temperature Monitor is great because it’s easy to use for those that aren’t comfortable with the command line. 

To access Temperature Monitor:

  • Right click on the top panel
  • Select “Add / Remove Panel items”
  • Click “Add”
  • Scroll down the list and select “Temperature Monitor”
  • Click “Add”
  • Use the “Up” button to position the monitor above the “Digital Clock”

Best Cooling Solution to Purchase?

Now that we’ve helped you examine your use case and what type of cooling is required, it’s time to pick your cooling solution. Below you will find a few different cooling solutions to choose from. Each category will have my top pick. This will take both quality AND the price into account.

Heat Sink

Raspberry Pi 4 Heatsink by SGTKJSJS

Fan

ICE Tower by GeekPi

Thermal Case

Ultra-Thin Aluminum Alloy Case by Geekworm

Thermal Case with Fan

Argon ONE V2 by Argon Forty

Our Cooling Recommendation

I suggest going with either the Argon ONE V2 or the Argon ONE M.2. The V2 option is already overkill. However, if you’d like to have full size HDMI ports, SATA SSD compatibility, and automatic booting, then you should go with the M.2. My favorite features are the automatic booting, this is great during power outages if you don’t have a UPS.

Whichever one you choose, your Raspberry Pi is going to stay cool. Throughout my use while using a Pi to run Plex, qBittorrent, Wireguard, Samba, Pi-hole, and Rpi-monitor around the clock, I have rarely cracked 50° C.

Final Thoughts

Does Raspberry Pi 4 need a fan? This was the question that was asked at the beginning of the article. Just to recap the answer; it really depends upon the location of your pi, how often it will run, and what it will be running. There are several cooling options for several use cases. We’d advise taking the time to think about this before deciding.

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