Extreme Pi Overclocking With Mineral Oil

Liquid cooling is a popular way to get a bit of extra performance out of your computer. Usually this is done in desktops, where a special heat sink with copper tubing is glued to the CPU, and the copper tubes are plumbed to a radiator. If you want dive deeper into the world of liquid cooling, you can alternatively submerge your entire computer in a bath of mineral oil like [Timm] has done.

The computer in question here is a Raspberry Pi, and it’s being housed in a purpose-built laser cut acrylic case full of mineral oil. As a SoC, it’s easier to submerge the entire computer than it is to get a tiny liquid-cooled heat sink for the processor. While we’ve seen other builds like this before, [Timm] has taken a different approach to accessing the GPIO, USB, and other connectors through the oil bath. The ports are desoldered from the board and a purpose-built header is soldered on. From there, the wires can be routed out of the liquid and sealed off.

One other detail used here that  we haven’t seen in builds like this before was the practice of “rounding” the flat ribbon cable typically used for GPIO. Back in the days of IDE cables, it was common to cut the individual wires apart and re-bundle them into a cylindrical shape. Now that SATA is more popular this practice has been largely forgotten, but in this build [Timm] uses it to improve the mineral oil circulation and make the build easier to manage.

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Measuring The Cooling Effect Of Transformer Oil

Transformer oil has long served two purposes, cooling and insulating. The large, steel encased transformers we see connected to the electrical grid are filled with transformer oil which is circulated through radiator fins for dumping heat to the surrounding air. In the hacker world, we use transformer oil for cooling RF dummy loads and insulating high voltage components. [GreatScott] decided to do some tests of his own to see just how good it is for cooling circuits.

Thermal measurement resultsHe started with testing canola oil but found that it breaks down from contact with air and becomes rancid. So he purchased some transformer oil. First, testing its suitability for submerging circuits, he found that he couldn’t see any current above his meter’s 0.0 μA limit when applying 15 V no matter how close together he brought his contacts. At 1 cm he got around 2 μA with 230 VAC, likely from parasitic capacitance, for a resistance of 115 Mohm/cm.

Moving on to thermal testing, he purchased a 4.7 ohm, 100 watt, heatsink encased resistor and attached a temperature probe to it with Kapton tape. Submerging it in transformer oil and applying 25 watts through it continuously, he measured a temperature of 46.8°C after seven minutes. The same test with distilled water reached 35.3°C. Water’s heat capacity is 4187 J/kg∙K, not surprisingly much better than the transformer oil’s 2090 J/kg∙K which in turn is twice as good as air’s 1005 J/kg∙K.

He performed a few more experiments but we’ll leave those to his video below.

We’ve run across a number of tests running boards submerged in various oils before. For example, we’ve seen Raspberry Pi’s running in vegetable oil and mineral oil as well as an Arduino running in a non-conductive liquid coolant, all either overclocked or under heavy load.

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A Look at Liquid Dielectrics

One evening quite a few years ago, as I was driving through my hometown I saw the telltale flashing lights of the local volunteer fire department ahead. I passed by a side road where all the activity was: a utility pole on fire. I could see smoke and flames shooting from the transformer and I could hear the loud, angry 60 Hz buzzing that sounded like a million hornet nests. As I passed, the transformer exploded and released a cloud of flaming liquid that rained down on the road and lawns underneath. It seemed like a good time to quit rubbernecking and beat it as fast as I could.

I knew at the time that the flaming liquid was transformer oil, but I never really knew what it was for or why it was in there. Oil is just one of many liquid dielectrics that are found in a lot of power distribution equipment, from those transformers on the pole to the big capacitors and switchgear in the local substation. Liquid dielectrics are interesting materials that are worth taking a look at.

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Oil-Immersed Raspberry Pi Keeps Its Cool Under Heavy Loads

As a general rule, liquids and electronics don’t mix. One liquid bucks that trend, though, and can contribute greatly to the longevity of certain circuits: oil. Dielectric oil cools and insulates everything from the big mains transformers on the pole to switchgear in the substation. But what about oil for smaller circuits?

[Lord_of_Bone] was curious to see if an oil-cooled Raspberry Pi is possible, and the short answer is: for the most part, yes. The experimental setup seen in the video below is somewhat crude — just a Pi running Quake 3 for an hour to really run up the CPU temperature, which is monitored remotely. With or without heatsinks mounted, in free air the Pi ranges from about 50°C at idle to almost 70°C under load, which is pretty darn hot. Dunking the Pi in a bath of plain vegetable oil, which he admits was a poor choice, changes those numbers dramatically: 37°C at idle and an only warmish 48°C after an hour of gaming. He also tested the Pi post-cleaning, which is where he hit a minor hiccup. The clean machine started fine but suffered from a series of reboots shortly thereafter. Twelve hours later the Pi was fine, though, so he figures a few stray drops of water that hadn’t yet evaporated were to blame.

Is oil immersion a practical way to cool a Pi? Probably not. It doesn’t mean people haven’t tried it before, of course, but we applaud the effort and the careful experimentation.

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Computers May Someday Need A Drink

“We want to put water right into your processor.” If that statement makes you sweat, that is good. Sweating is what we’re talking about, but it’s more involved than adding some water like a potted plant. Sweating works naturally by allowing liquid to evaporate, and that phase change is endothermic which is why it feels cool. Evaporative coolers that work in this way, also known as swamp coolers, haven’t been put into computers before because they are full of sloshy water. Researchers in South Korea and the United States of America have been working on an evaporative cooling system mimicking the way some insects keep themselves cool by breathing through their exoskeletons while living in damp soil.

Springtails are little bugs that have to keep the water and air separate, so they don’t drown in the wet dirt where they live. Mother Nature’s solution was for them to evolve to do this with columns that have sharp edges at the exit. Imagine you slowly add water to a test tube, it won’t spill as soon as you reach the top, it will form a dome. This is the meniscus. At a large scale, say a river dam, as soon as you get over the dam you would expect spillage, but at the test tube level you can see a curve. At the scale of the springtail, exuded water will form a globe and resist water pressure. That resistance to water pressure allows this type of water cooling to self-regulate. Those globes provide a lot of surface area, and as they evaporate, they allow more water to replenish the globe. Of course, excessive pressure will turn them into the smallest squirt guns.

We have invented a lot by copying Mother Nature. Velcro was inspired by burrs, and some of our most clever robots copy insects. We can also be jerks about it.

16-Cylinder Stirling Engine Gets a Tune Up

Tiny catapults, kinetic sculptures, a Newton’s Cradle — all kinds of nifty toys can adorn the desk of the executive in your life. On the high end of the scale, a 16-cylinder butane-powered Stirling engine makes a nice statement, but when it comes equipped with a propeller that looks ready for finger-chopping, some mods might be in order before bestowing the gift.

We don’t knock [JohnnyQ90] for buying a rotary Stirling engine from one of the usual sources rather than building, of course. With his micro Tesla turbine and various nitro-powered tools, he’s proven that he has the machining chops to scratch-build one of these engines. And it wasn’t just the digit dicing potential of the OEM engine that inspired him. There was a little too much slop in the bearings for his liking, so he machined a new bearing block and shaft extension. With a 3D-printed shroud, a small computer fan, and snappy brass nose cone, the engine started looking more like a small jet engine. And the addition of a pulley and a small generator gave the engine something interesting to do. What’s more, the increased airflow over the cold end of the engine boosted performance.

Need the basics of Stirling engines? Here’s a quick look at the 200-year history of these remarkable devices.

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Aluminum Foil Heatsink Keeps LEDs in Check

In your kitchen is very likely a roll of aluminum foil, like most people you probably use it to line pans or wrap food for baking. If you heard somebody used aluminum foil in the cooling of items, you could be forgiven for thinking they were referring to wrapping leftovers and tossing them in the refrigerator. But rather than preserving Mom’s famous meatloaf, [Michael Dunn] is using that classic kitchen staple to protect his LED strips.

Cheap LED strips are becoming extremely popular and have been popping up in more and more projects, but they have a pretty serious flaw: heat dissipation. Left on their own they can get hot enough to cook themselves, which is sort of a problem when you’re looking to replace as much of your home lighting with them like [Michael] is.

Heat was of particular concern as he was looking to retrofit a delicate shade with his beloved LED strips. Since he wanted a column of LEDs inside the unique shape of the shade, he reasoned that some kind of heat-conductive tubular structure could be used as both a mandrel to wrap the LEDs around and a way to dissipate heat. Like most of us, his first thought was copper pipe. But unfortunately the only copper pipe he had handy was of too small a diameter.

The tube of foil on the other hand was the perfect diameter, and while aluminum isn’t as good a conductor of heat as copper, it’s certainly no slouch either. Early tests weren’t that great when the tube was laying on the bench, but once it stood vertically convection got the air moving and cooled the LEDs down to where [Michael] was comfortable enough to put them inside the shade. Though he does have some lingering doubts about leaving the cardboard tube in such a toasty environment.

Going back through the archives, we’ve seen some absolutely fantastic projects utilizing LED strips in the past, some of which have come up with their own creative ways of beating the heat.