The Silence of the Fans

The good thing about using a server-grade machine as your desktop is having raw computing power at your fingertips. The downside is living next to a machine that sounds like a fleet of quadcopters taking off. Luckily, loud server fans can be replaced with quieter units if you know what you’re doing.

Servers are a breed apart from desktop-grade machines, and are designed around the fact that they’ll be installed in some kind of controlled environment. [Juan] made his Dell PowerEdge T710 tower server a better neighbor by probing the PWM signals to and from the stock Dell fans; he found that the motherboard is happy to just receive a fixed PWM signal that indicates the fans are running at top speed. Knowing this, [Juan] was able to spoof the feedback signal with an ATtiny85 and a single line of code. The noisy fans could then be swapped for desktop-grade fans; even running full-tilt, the new fans are quieter by far and still keep things cool inside.

But what to do with all those extra fans? Why not team them up with some lasers for a musical light show?

Make Mulled Wine With A Processor Heatsink!

Now, over the holiday season there seems to be a predilection towards making merry and bright. As many an engineer and otherwise are sure to note, fine alcohols will facilitate this process. One such warm holiday beverage is mulled wine; there are many traditions on how to make it, but a singular approach to preparing the beverage would be to re-purpose an old PC and a CPU liquid cooling unit into a mulled wine heating station.

Four years ago, [Adam] found himself staring at a pile of mostly obsolete PCs in his IT office and pondering how they could be better used. He selected one that used a power-hungry Pentium 4 — for its high heat output — strapped a liquid cooling block to the CPU and pumped it full of the holiday drink. It takes a few hours to heat three liters of wine up to an ideal 60 Celsius, but that’s just in time for lunch! The Christmastime aroma wafting through the office is nice too.

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Building A DIY Heat Pipe

Once the secret design tool for aerospace designers, the heat pipe is a common fixture now thanks to the demands of PC CPU cooling. Heat pipes can transfer lots of energy from a hot side to a cold side and is useful when you need to cool something where having a fan near the hot part isn’t feasible for some reason. Unlike active cooling, a heat pipe doesn’t require any external power or pumps, either.

[James Biggar] builds his own heat pipes using copper tubing. You can see a video of one being made, below. There’s not much to it, just a copper pipe with some water in it. However, [James] gets the water boiling to reduce the pressure in the tube before sealing it, which is an interesting trick.

One limitation of his technique is that there is no internal wick. That means the tube can only be installed vertically. If you haven’t looked at heat pipes before, most of them do have a wick. The idea is that some working fluid is in the pipe. You select that fluid so that it boils at or below the temperature you want to handle. The hot vapor rushes to the cool side of the pipe (carrying heat) where you have a large heatsink that may have a fan or active cooling system. The vapor condenses and–in this case–drops back to the bottom of the tube. However, if there is a wick, capillary action will return the fluid to the hot end of the tube.

You might think that using water as the working fluid would limit you to 100°C, but remember, [James’] technique lowers the pressure in the tube. At a lower pressure, the water will boil at a lower temperature.

We’ve seen heat pipes and wine chillers used to cool a PC before. In fact, we’ve even seen them in builds of completely fanless PCs.

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Georgia Tech Pumps Water Through Silicon for Chip Cooling

One of the things that stops electronic devices from going faster is heat. That’s why enthusiasts go as far as using liquid nitrogen to cool CPU chips to maximize their overclocking potential. Researchers at Georgia Tech have been working on cutting fluid channels directly into the back of commercial silicon die (an Altera FPGA, to be exact). The tiny channels measure about 100 micron and are resealed with another layer of silicon. Water is pumped into the channels to cool the device efficiently.

A comparable air-cooled device would operate at about 60 degrees Celsius. With the water cooling channels cut into the die and 20 degree water pumped at 147 ml/minute, the researchers kept the chip operating about less than 24 degrees Celsius.

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Penny and Paper Clip Heat Sinks

A bunch of audio heads over at the Head-Fi forum were discussing handy and quick heat sinking methods, leading to much speculation and conjecture. This finally prompted [tangentsoft] to take matters in his own hands and run some tests on DIY Heat Sinks.

The question that sparked this debate was if a paper clip is a good enough heat sink to be used for a TO220 package. Some folks suggested copper pennies (old ones minted 1981 and earlier – the new ones are zinc with copper plating and won’t help much). [tangentsoft] built a jig to test six LM317 regulators in constant current mode set to 0.125A and 2w dissipation. The six configurations were a paper clip, a single penny bolted to the regulator, a regular Aavid TO220 heat sink, a set of 4 pennies bolted, a single penny epoxy glued and finally a single penny soldered directly to the regulator.

The results were pretty interesting. The paper clip scored better than any of the single pennies! The quad-penny and the Aavid heat sink fared above all the other configurations, and almost at par with each other. [tangentsoft] posts his review of each configurations performance and also provides details of his test method, in case someone else wants to replicate his tests to corroborate the results. He tested each configuration independently for one hour, gathering just over 10000 readings for each setup. Other nearby heat sources were turned off, and he placed strategic barriers around the test circuit to isolate it from the effects of other cooling / heating sources. He even removed himself from the test area and monitored his data logging remotely from another room. When he noticed a couple of suspect deviations, he restarted the test.

[tangentsoft] put all the data through Mathematica and plotted his results for analysis, available at this link [pdf, 2.8MB]. So the next time you want to heat sink a regulator for cheap, just hunt for Clippy in your box of office supplies. Do remember that these methods will work for only a couple of watts dissipation. If you would like to cast and build your own heat sinks out of aluminum, check out this post about DIY Aluminum heat sink casting. And if you need help calculating heat sink parameters, jump to 12:00 minutes in this video from [Dave]’s EEVBlog episode on Dummy loads and heat sinks.

Thanks to [Greg] for sending in this tip.

A Low Cost, Solar-Powered Swamp Cooler

A looming, torturous summer is preparing to bear down on many of us, making this dirt-cheap swamp cooler build an attractive hack to fend off the heat.

Though this is a pretty standard evaporative cooler, the design comes together in a tidy and transportable finished product. The base is a ~$3, 5-gallon bucket from a local hardware store with its accompanying Styrofoam liner. Three 2 1/8″ holes carved into the side of both the bucket and liner will snugly fit some inch-and-a-half PVC pipe with no need for glue.

One last cut into the lid to seat a small desk fan rounds off this build—or you can chop into the styrofoam liner’s lid if you prefer. The video demonstrates using a 15W solar panel to run the fan, and we have to admit that the cooler seems to be an excellent low-cost build. It does, however, require a frozen gallon jug inside to pump out the chilled air for around 5-6 hours per jug. Maybe one of our frugal and mathematically-inclined readers can throw out some guesstimations for the cost of stocking the bucket with a jug of frozen water a couple times a day? Video after the jump.

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Beating the heat with geothermal cooling


A while back, [Erich]’s oil heating system was due for a few repairs. Given the increasing price of fuel oil, and a few incentives from his Swiss government, he decided to go with a more green heating solution – geothermal heating. The system works well in the winter, but it’s basically useless in the summer. [Erich] decided to put his 180 meter investment to work for the summer heat, and made his geothermal heating system into a cooling system with a fairly low investment and minimal cost.

The stock system works by pumping cold liquid from [Erich]’s under floor heating into the Earth. In winter, the surface is always colder than the ground, thus heating [Erich]’s home. In the summer, the situation is reversed, with the cool earth insulated by the baked surface. All that was required to reverse the heating system was a few slight modifications to the heating controller.

Stock, [Erich]’s heat pump controller doesn’t have the capability to run the system in reverse, so he turned to a Freescale board to turn the compressor off and the pump on. With the additions, [Erich] is using 50 Watts to pump 1.5 kW of heat directly into the Earth below, a fairly efficient cooling system that’s basically free if you already have a geothermal setup.