Hardware

Serving up cool to your servers

Keeping your servers cool can be a harrying job. Without a sufficient cooling system, your server?s CPU could overheat and the system?s performance can degrade. David Mudd is here to refamiliarize you with the topic of cooling.

If you've spent any time around severs and other electronic peripherals, you know that heat is one of the prime factors that can cause your systems to function improperly or not at all. As you increase the speed of the system's processing chip (CPU), your servers are working harder, and everything within the computer system begins to suffer from the increase in heat being generated. Your CPU, hard drives, power supply, and even your CD-ROM can contribute waste heat throughout your computer's case.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to lower the heat that builds up inside your servers and workstations as they are pushed to their limits to meet user needs. In this Daily Feature, we'll explore some of the options available to help you handle systems that are beginning to overheat.

Heat sinks and CPU fans
Although there are many places within your system that generate heat, your CPU is one of the largest contributors. With all the electrons pushing through its structure, the chip builds up and radiates heat during even nominal usage. When pushed, CPUs can heat beyond their normal operating temperatures and begin to degrade overall performance. It's recognized across the industry that reliability and performance are directly related to maintaining an environment within the specified temperature range for your computer systems and peripherals. Most computer manufacturers include at least rudimentary heat sinks on their computers, but you may find that by adding to or replacing the existing heat sink, you can improve your system's ability to discard waste heat. A good example of a third-party after market upgrade would be the ThermoEngine by ThermoSonic. These coolers (as the company calls them) replace the existing heat sinks on just about every type of processor available, including the Pentium III 1.13-GHz and AMD Athlon 1.5-GHz chips.

This type of solution lets you strain as much as possible from your existing machines by doubling the clock of your processors without too much fear of a CPU overheating failure. Another important piece of this solution is the paste you use to connect the cooler to the processing chip. There are several types and brands available. These thermal conductive interfaces are used to basically bond the cooler onto your processing chip and provide a thermally conductive path for the heat to follow up into the fins or radiator of the cooler. One such product, Artic Silver II, contains 99.8 percent pure micronized silver that has been specifically designed to carry the maximum amount of waste heat away from your processor chips. Other solutions for attaching the cooler onto the chip include thermal tape, thermal grease, and gels.

Hard drive and slot coolers
The next source of heat to tackle is your system's hard drives. If you've ever taken a drive out of a computer, you know they quickly get pretty hot. Several manufacturers created drive coolers that fit inside your systems and attach directly to your hard drives. You simply insert the drive into the cooler and then reinstall the assembly into the drive bay. When you're looking for one of these, make sure it has a fairly respectable heat sink and effective fans. You don't simply need to blow cool air across the hard drive, but exchange the heat from within the drive, push it out through the heat sink, and dissipate it throughout the case.

That's where a slot fan comes in handy. These devices plug into an available bus slot on your system's motherboard. They draw heat out of your systems by pumping air from within your computer out the expansion slot cover. You can expect a good slot fan to lower your internal case temperature by up to 12 degrees Fahrenheit. If you've got an open slot inside your system, I highly recommend one of these!

Look at your case fans
To complete the picture, you also need to examine the case of your computer. Are the fans that came with it doing the job? Can you feel air moving through the grill? If not, you may want to replace or augment your existing case fans with more power. Most likely, you should at least add another fan to improve the efficiency of the airflow. To do so, first ascertain whether your power supply fan is pulling air into the system or pushing it out. Next, split your system into halves (in your mind, of course) with one half including your power supply and its fan. When you add your extra fans, always keep the airflow in mind. If your power supply case fan is pulling air into the system, then your new fan should be in the other half of the computer and blowing air out. This keeps the air exchange at a maximum within your case. If your power supply fan is blowing air out of the system, then install the new fan to pull air in and increase the flow of available cool air.

Conclusion
Even though the promise of low heat CPUs is on the horizon, there are thousands of IT shops with machines wearing the ol’ tried-and-true, energy-sucking, heat-generating CPUs. Chances are, your shop houses one (or many) of these old-fashioned CPUs inside a server or two. Keeping those servers cool is one way to ensure uptime, and ensuring uptime is one way to ensure job security…now that can’t be bad at all.

Editor's Picks