Hardware

How do you cool your computers?

As computers get faster and hotter, their need for adequate cooling must be addressed. This article offers guidelines to gauge your system's cooling needs and examines several available cooling options.


Computers operating at high temperatures can suffer serious performance losses. So what’s the best way to keep your computer cool? In this week’s In Response, we’ll take a look at various cooling solutions as well as several factors that determine the amount of cooling your system needs.

New machines heat up the workplace
While most low-end PCs don’t usually require much cooling, today’s newer, faster, hotter machines require more than single case fans.

Here are a few specific items that can demand extra cooling:
  • Any PC with a slotted processor
    If you have a computer with a slotted processor, such as a Pentium II/III or AMD Athlon, you will usually notice a large heat sink attached to the processor. The faster the processor, the bigger the heat sink. Some of the faster processors even require their own fan to keep cool.
  • Any next generation processor
    Intel Pentium 4 and AMD Athlon (Thunderbird model) socket or slotted chipset processors put out an amazing amount of heat. Most of these processors will require a heat sink and fan running between 5400 and 7500 RPM.
  • Video cards put out heat
    Modern 3D video cards also put out quite a bit of heat. Much like processors, the faster and more powerful your video card is, the more cooling it will require.
  • Too many machines in one location or clustered too closely together
    If you have several machines located in a single, small room, you may have noticed that you never have to heat that area. Having too many computers crammed into too small a space without adequate cooling is asking for equipment failure.

Cooling options
Computer fans
This is by far the most common and often the noisiest method of PC cooling. Computer fans are fairly inexpensive and relatively efficient, depending on your PC’s amount of ventilation.

There are several places you can put fans within the PC, including:
  • On your processor
  • On your 3D video card, if you have one
  • On your hard drive
  • At the top of your case, blowing out of the case
  • At the bottom of your case, bringing cool air in

Thermal cooling
Thermal cooling cools your processor via the Peltier effect, in which heat is transferred from one side of a processor to another, creating a hot side and a cold side. A single-stage thermoelectric cooler (TEC) can lower a system’s temperature by as much as 70 degrees Celsius. However, this method has its downsides.

Having a hot side and a cold side on your processor can lead to condensation, and condensation can be hazardous to electrical equipment. You must also make sure the processor’s hot side isn’t too hot. Use this cooling method only if you have experience with such cooling systems or have a test machine you don’t care to lose.

Thermal pastes
Thermal pastes are compounds placed between the processor and the heat sink. These compounds are essential for ensuring that your processor’s heat sink is working at its optimum level. Neither processors nor heat sinks are 100 percent flat, and gaps can develop between them, reducing the heat sink’s cooling ability.

By using a thermal paste between the processor and the heat sink, you can ensure that there is a strong, even bond between both components. The thermal paste acts as a conductor, allowing heat to travel from the processor directly to the heat sink where the heat can be dissipated properly.

Water cooling
While this isn’t a method I’m fond of, it’s still an option. The process is similar to how a car radiator works: Water is pumped through your computer, specifically over the processor, taking the heat with it when it is pumped out.

Much like thermal cooling, you can risk condensation, and there is also a risk of a leak in the piping. As we all know, electronics and water don’t mix.

Tell us your favorite cooling options
I’ve listed some of the cooling options available for technicians to help keep their computers cool; now I want to hear from you. What solutions do you use in your organization? Do you prefer one option to another? Is there anything that I’ve left out? Let me know! Leave a post below with your thoughts on computer cooling.

 

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