Passively Cooled Computer

This came in on the tipline: [Ville ‘Willek’ Kyrö] wanted to build a fully passively cooled computer. That means no fans at all. He started with scrap aluminum heatsinks, ripped apart a cpu heatsink to get the copper heat pipes, and began surrounding the boards with heatsinks to form a case. Cooling down the powersupply was the hardest part, as it did not lend itself to the flat surfaces of heatsinks. Any passive case with powerful components will inevitably be huge and heavy; this one weighs over 20 kg. He says, “It might not have been worth it, but it sure was weird watching the computer boot up with no sound at all”.

38 thoughts on “Passively Cooled Computer

  1. It is very possible to build a powerful and still completely fanless computer without any magic trick – and it so happens that I have juut done that. I have 2 xfx fatal1ty 8600gt graphic cards in sli, 4 gig of ram and an amd x2 4400+ processor. All these combined with a semi-passive (with my load completely passive) Antec Phantom PSU and Scythe Ninja heat sink makes my computer also to boot up without any noise.

    I still keep a 140mm in the lowest possible rpm’s attached to the scythe ninja because I don’t want my processor to have under one year life time. However, with just a little bit more unefficient cpu or an intel one you could manage to do the trick with no hazards at all. The key here is to position your case in a vertical position (just as in this solution here) and leave the left panel open.

  2. The open PSU made me cringe, everything connected to the whole frame, mains power. Not my cup of tea, but it’s a hack after all. Personally I’d go for a passivly cooled GPU to start with (you get a Nvidia 9800GT passivly nowadays), so only the CPU (and Northbridge), aswell as the PSU stays in the hacking list, the latter being the beast to tame.
    Buying those heatsinks sets you back a couple of $, too, plague420.

  3. “It might not have been worth it, but it sure was weird watching the computer boot up with no sound at all”.

    I think you might have bad hearing. Unless you throw in an SSD, it’s not actually silent. HDD seeks can be quite loud, depending on the disk type.

    Still, very cool project. Kudos.

  4. I love how everyone posts comments saying how they could do better but never submits anything. It’s like a tradition.

    @Pekka Jääskeläinen: Fan = not passive. This = no fans.

    @ragnar: Those fanless graphics solutions still require case fans, unless you want a very limited lifespan.

    @Larawen: Why are you reading if you are so opposed to doing something on your own?

    Anyways awesome build. I’m poking around with the idea of doing this myself for an old computer I have laying around. With the intent being using it to control an X10 system to power up an external HDD so that it can be 0 moving parts and still affordable, while giving me enough storage space to be useful.

  5. Ahh, silent computing…

    I’m not completely familiar with the newest components, but this looks like overkill, very good-looking overkill, mind you ;)
    On the other hand I guess those fresh graphics cards swallows a lot juice.

    Tried underclocking your chips slightly? Power (the Watt kind) is proportional to frequency squared, so there’s a lot to gain from a small reduction.

    Also, I thought the Intel temp-ratings was an “average maximum”, as opposed to the AMD ratings which was an absolute max power rating. Or is that a fanboy-myth?

    One of these days I’ll build up the nerves to remove the fans from the TBird1k@800 and PSU of my old server system. Both of them run at 7 V now, but I still hear them. Kind of pleasant though – CF card, and disks that spin down automatically. Metallic pink… Currently I can do 45 watts without a gfx card,but with a hungry hot chip. – Figure a significant portion of it is PSU-losses.

    I wonder when such a system can be realized in a 1 W package.

  6. Sorry for the double-post, but what is this toLowerCase stuff? you might argue it is in the style of the site, or that it hinders logoification of the written language, but the latter implies an intent to keep with good grammar, that the former does not. :p

  7. The builder makes a good point that the one tiny bit of noise was due to the expense of a ssd.

    I used to think of the first gen iMacs as silent until I had to share a guest room with one for a night. The thin, high pitch whine of a spinning 3.5″ drive finally drove me to power the damn thing off.

  8. I’ve done something like this before.
    I started with a old amd motherboard with a 233mhz cpu, extra large passive heatsink (from a compaq micro case), the hole thing didn’t require much power and I was able to use a 100w fanless psu.

    I added a old matrox millennium display card and a 3com ethernet card, and 32mb stick of ram.

    It runs so slient, that I can hear the network card bussing as it transfers data.

    Go check out the Linux terminal Server project.

  9. Um – if SSD’s are too expensive, go for a simple bootable USB stick – I think you can get Windows and Linux booting fine off a USB stick, and if it’s a reasonable brand wear levelling should allow a very long lifetime.

    Also, If you go for an old enough PC, they were passively cooled anyway. CPU’s slower than ~66Mhz had no fan. Have fun using a PC that old for very much useful though (other than maybe a router or simple webserver)

  10. Thanks for tell the tools off circ.
    Unfortunately every gamer thinks he is a hacking GOD because he can aim and shoot in his favorite FPS.

    Pekka, go tug your “Pekka” over your gaming system and leave the real enthusiasts in peace.

  11. “It might not have been worth it, but it sure was weird watching the computer boot up with no sound at all”

    Now if this is all you want to achieve, just block the fan in the PSU and plugout the one of the CPU. A modern CPU won’t die from that and the PSU can stand this at least for a few minutes as well. Of course to have “no sound at all” you better remove the harddisk as well, also the floppy (if you have one, floppy boot seek) and the cdrom.

    But in result you can see booting your computer with “no sound at all” for no investment.

  12. this is pretty cool, but impractical, my current pc is in an antec p180 case … damn near silent with the sound deadening it provides.

    Although it does remind me of the old pentium 133 I had as a web server a while ago, it ran for about 2-3 years before I had noticed the heat sink had fallen off the processor and was sitting at the bottom of the case. Was barely even warm when i touched the processor! They sure dont build them like they used to *grumble grumble..*

  13. 2.2 lbs per Kilogram = 44lbs for a 20kg Project.

    I’d like to see a project where there’s a big flat skillet welded/soldered whatever to the thing and see if you can rightfully cook on it. I know the sinks have the possibility of getting pretty f-ing hot.

    To the rest of you bickering children, go whip them out and measure on Digg or somewhere else. We’ll be here, doing real projects and learning from this info when you get back.

  14. the conclusion to this project they guy states that the power supply died and the mother board was faulty and he scrapped the whole project. I’m not sure how much the heat pipes would displace heat when they where going to such a thick hunk of aluminum heat sink. I’m sure it drew some heat away but the original designed heat sink had these little thin pieces of metal “cooling fins” that would distribute the heat away better. Then only thing I have to say is what would happen if he bent the heat pipes out in such a way that they were standing straight upward and lengthened the cooling fins so each one was twice its original size. The whole thing would look like a tree or pine needles… If I ever get the money to throw around I will try this and submit it to this site. Great idea sorry it ended the way it did..

  15. completely fanless computers are nice but try this one, ever heard of a comp submerged in cooking oil? As long as u dont submerge the power supply and cd drive u will be ok, the oil will absorb the heat from the mb. Just to make sure u do it right, try it on an old comp the u dont use and dont really care about.

  16. You know, some laptops are 100% passive too, with the exception of the CPU fan. Wouldn’t it just be easier to modify a laptop with a large passive cooler for the cpu and call it a day?

  17. You should do the taste-test. The less the merrier I presume. Sunflower, maize, “raps” should all be good, but I’d stay away from olive – extra virgin is too expensive, and slut-oil is too contaminated.

    An ammeter is probably more accurate than tastebuds, but I fear the resistance is too high anyway.

  18. @ circs i completley agree

    i think most of the people here miss the point.. of course there are LOTS(!!) of silent parts and pcs but he made one FROM SCRATCH.

    @cooking oil doabe but really disgusting and smelly after a while unless you use mineral oil or make the whole thing airtight and bacteria free

    cool project if i had the cash right now id try to put some peltiers in there if the temp difference between the dissipation plates and the environment is bigger they will act more effectively requiring less surface ( thats my theory anyways :P )

  19. cooling the psu was the hardest part?!
    the only real cooing thats needed in a PSU is to a few transistors. just make extension cables for them and mount them on… well… the CPU cooler maybe?

  20. Yo dudes, I have been running a completely silent HTPC for over a year, permanently on 24×7 with no special heatsinks. It is, admittedly, no mega power monster like this, but it works fine.

    Silent CPU –> I also used the Scythe Ninja, fanless, on a mid-range Intel CPU.

    Silent PSU –> The fantastically well-engineered Silverstone ST30NF

    Silent Graphics –> Yeah, well, I only need MPEG2 decoding and no 3D at all, so I guess this is a bit different to all those high end gaming systems. I have an ancient nVidia 6200TC (!) installed (the mainboard has no onboard graphics).

    Silent HDD –> System disk is an OCZ SSD. Most of my storage is on NAS, so I only needed a small system disk.

    Note that the systemt includes two TV cards, a pro-audio soundcard and a couple of CD/DVD drives.

    Now, I have to admit that it is in a case with a lot of space (UFO two tier case without the fans installed) and that the case is left open at the top (the Ninja doesn’t fit in the case anyway!!).

    It does get fairly warm. Nothing too scary though and when you hit the power button to just LEDs and complete silence it is indeed kinda wierd.

  21. I remember a maker of Mosler safe, they have successfully tested and used copper sheathing to safely dissipate the heat of an oxy-acetylane torch used in cutting open up a safe vault. The difference is that the copper sheathing is in uniform contact with the entire vault structure. Present day computers, all of them, must be re-designed, re-engineered, and re-tooled so as to take advantage of the copper sheathing effective heat dissipating abilities. This means a manufacturer must be willing to take that risk of designing a new computer engineering standard based on passive cooling. There is also an issue of dusts, so it means easy accessibility to the heat dissipating sheathing and fins will be mandatory for ease of cleaning out the dusts. Internal heat must have some means of high heat conductivity structures that can suck and dissipate heat away from the inteior of the PC and that of any other different kinds of computers.

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