Fan implementation and heat-sink design important too
Whether a fan can help or not depends on how the enclosure is designed.
It also depends on not only the enclosure material (e.g. aluminum), but HOW the drive is mechanically connected to the enclosure.
I have one well known 3.5" aluminum enclosure that incorporates TWO fans, and it is virtually useless at keeping the drive cool. Here's why.
1) The 2 fans are mounted at the front, and draw air in from the front with NO venting from the case at all. NONE. So there is no air flow over the disk drive.
In addition, the fans are mounted at such an angle, that even if there were venting, the air volume would be substantially diminished. They are mounted at an almost 60 degree angle off vertical, and because they are mounted so close to the disk drive, there's little clearance for the air flow even if there were vents.
2) While the case is aluminum, the disk drive itself is mounted onto a PLASTIC frame, which virtually isolates the drive from the aluminum from a thermal standpoint. The benefit of having a metal enclosure is almost totally lost by the manufacturer using the non-thermally conductive plastic mounting frame. Yes, there is going to be some heat dissipation due to transfer of heat in the air between the drive and the case, but it would be substantially improved by providing a means to thermally couple the drive's metal case/heatsink to the enclosure's metal case.
I wasted $35 thinking I was getting an enclosure with superior heat dissipating features...only to find it was actually vastly inferior. It was essentially equivalent to a non-fan equipped, plastic, unvented enclosure. It was like an oven.
After I made substantial modifications to change the fan mountings, and provide outlet vent holes, the drive temp decreased by almost 40degF. That's a major difference as far as impact on reliability goes. If I were to change the drive mounting somehow to a direct thermally conductive mount, I believe the temp would decrease even more.
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