Electronic – How to interpret the output of a 3-pin computer fan speed sensor


I have a 3-pin 12 V computer fan and I want to interpret its speed sensor output. At the yellow wire I get something that looks like pulse-with modulation. How would I interpret the output without actually connecting the fan to a computer?

Best Answer

Brief background: The tachometer output comes from a Hall-effect sensor mounted on the motor driver PCB on the fan frame. One or more magnets embedded in the fan rotor hub activate the Hall-effect sensor as they pass by. The sensor is amplified, and eventually drives a logic circuit. The fans that I have seen use an open drain/open collector output.

One (or more) pulse is generated every time the the fan rotor completes a revolution. The number of pulses counted in one minute is directly proportional to the RPM of the fan. In your fan's case, I think it would be reasonable to guess that there are two pulses generated for each revolution. With the frequency that you have measured, about 1500 RPM sounds right, given that you are running it at 10V (12V nominal) and the typical is 1800-2000 RPM.

If you want a more visual approach, you can make a crude strobe tachometer using just a LED and resistor. Connect a LED (brighter is better) and an appropriate current-limiting resistor between power and the tachometer pin. If you mark one of the fan blades with something easy to see, like a sticker, you should be able to shine the LED on the fan blades and see the sticker illuminated in two places. You can use this technique to count the number of times the tachometer output goes low each rotation, and to approximate the duty cycle of the signal.