Server Network Cards Made Extra Cool

Picture of the PCIce card with a fan attached

Using cheap and powerful server expansion cards in your desktop builds is a tempting option for many hackers. Of course, they don’t always fit mechanically or work perfectly; for instance, some server-purpose cards are designed for intense amounts of cooling that servers come with, and will overheat inside a relatively calm desktop case. Having encountered such a network card, [Chris] has developed and brought us the PCIce – a PCIe card that’s a holder and a controller for a 80mm fan.

The card gets fan 12V from the PCIe slot, and there’s an ATTiny to control the fan’s speed, letting you cycle through speeds with a single button press and displaying the current speed through LEDs. There’s a great amount of polish put into this card – from making it mechanically feature-complete with all the fancy fasteners, to longevity-oriented firmware that even makes sure to notice if the EEPROM-stored settings ever get corrupted. At the moment, the schematics and the ATTiny firmware are open-source, [Chris] has promised to publish hardware files after polishing them, and has also manufactured a batch of PCIce cards for sale.

When it comes to making use of cheap server-purpose cards, a cooling solution is good to see – we’ve generally seen adapters from proprietary form-factors, like this FlexLOM adapter from [TobleMiner] to make use of cheap high-throughput network cards with slightly differing mechanical dimensions and pinouts. Every batch of decommissioned server cards has some potential with only a slight hitch or two, and it’s reassuring to see hackers make their eBay finds really work for them.

25 thoughts on “Server Network Cards Made Extra Cool

  1. Actually could be really useful for people running SAS HBA cards as well. Those often need active cooling but don’t include fans. Parking one of these in the neighbouring slot solves the issue quite nicely.

    1. Sure it is, however, it seems like the guy has put some effort into error and fault detection. More so than most PC accessory companies do.

      Also, this thing where we always have to point out that a new part is just another point of failure feels awfully redundant. If you’re here reading hackaday then I think you probably understand that’s always a possibility. It’s like telling people that put additions on their houses that they’re just adding another room that might catch fire one day. We all know it, nobody needs to be told.

  2. A nice improvement would to add a temperature sensor that can be attached to the target card to control the fan speed. Do they make a version that does not use a PCIe slot for power? So you put it one of the empty slot spaces?

    1. It’s be easy to add a PCIe power connector or 4 pin molex connector for 12v so it could be used without needing power from the slot, and be usable in any slot including old ISA, EISA, PCI, PCIx, and AGP. The one drawback with not using slot is the board might wiggle sideway and possibly bend the slot bracket.

  3. Well that pretty much exactly what I’m doing for years using 10gbit network cards that you can get for cheap in ebay and then screwing a small silen fan on top of the aluminum heatsinks using the gaps of the fins for the screws, 3 Fans that are my favorites, super silent, virtually inaudible and cheap af. 40mm cooltek 4010, cooltek 4020 and the noiseblocker.
    I just connect them to a spare fan header of the mainboard, worked for me for years now.

  4. I feel that this designer would probably not be happy with my usual solution of “just balance a fan on top of the card you want to cool”, or the supser-sized version “case side removed with a desk fan pointed at the computer 24/7”.

    1. lol I’ve done a “zip tie a fan to a passive-cooling GPU” (only GPU I had at that time) trick to get an FPS boost… it worked, too! one thing – can’t balance a fan on top, because most of the time, the heat-generating components are on the bottom of the card.

  5. Sad that the attiny doesn’t tie into i2c bus. Could have done software monitoring and control. 2 pins i2c, 1 pin temp sensor, 1 pin pwm out, 1 pin sensor input. No more buttons or display though. Could use the reset as an input to change speed … Could even keep the reset function maybe? Reset reason == pin, speed change. Or multiplex it with the pwm out. Could even multiplex fan speed led blink rate on the sensor pin ;)

  6. Honestly this is a nice and clean solution to the cooling problem.
    The only things that I would change would be to move the switch to the front so I could press it through the PCIE bracket.

    I think that I will pull the board files and try to modify my own as this is a neat idea. :)

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