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The hows and whys of cooling computers.

Disclaimer: As ever, usual disclaimers apply here. If you take your PC apart, then make sure you know what you are doing. I can't be held responsible for anyone modifying their PCs. I am merely putting this information on the web, to show what is possible. Experiment at your own risk.

Heat and computers don't mix that well. This was a lesson I first learnt back in 1985, when I tried to modify my Sinclair QL. If you see a heatsink, it is generally there to remove heat, and taking off the heatsink, can:

  • (a) Really mess up your computer's performance.
  • (b) Burn your fingers.

If you are trying to eke every last ounce of performance out of a high end PC, you may want to pay attention to cooling, especially if you are using add-in cards such as 3-D graphics accelerator cards or overclocking your CPU. They run hot. If your system freezes, then you may want to turn down the speed of the 3-D accelerator card or the CPU, or add in a cooling system. Cooling systems can be as simple as extra fans, or more advanced alternatives such as combined Peltier effect devices/fans or heat exchangers. You don't really need to bolt an industrial sized refridgeration unit on your machine unless you are trying to run a 450 MHz machine at some clock frequency in the Gigahertz range.

Alternatively, you can do it for the same reason as I did it....a combination of scientific curiosity and because it can be done

A good source of a dataset on using active cooling systems such as Peltier effect devices and heat exchangers, is the amateur astronomy community. The amateur astronomers have been using CCD's to view the stars for years, and have developed some imaginative and sophisticated methods of cooling their CCD chips.

Try the following web sites for information on cooling methods used in amateur astronomy:

Point 1. - Don't ditch the case

Running a PC without its case is not neccessarily a good idea. The case provides an efficient way of moving hot air out of the system. Without the case and case fan, the system relies on convective cooling alone, and believe me, it just doesn't cut the mustard.

Point 2. - You can never have enough fans

Fans are good. They can be noisy though. The basic rule of thumb is, the more fans, the better, since they provide more airflow, and hence more cooling. Nowadays, most PCs come with a minimum of a power supply/case fan, and a CPU fan. Normally in every day use, these are sufficient for cooling a computer. The overheating isssues start to crop up when you overclock your CPU, or add in 3-D graphics accelerator cards, or overclock 3-D graphics accelerator cards.

BTW, if you ever hear anything rattling in an alarming manner when you switch a PC on, it is often a dodgy case fan or CPU fan.



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 Richard Osborne - 1996-2001