A HP Proliant 360 g6 server with its lid taken off, showing separate green wires coming out of every fan, enabling Dave's modification

Domesticating Old Server Hardware In The Age Of Shortages

Our own [Dave Rowntree] started running into bottlenecks when doing paid work involving simulations of undisclosed kind, and resolved to get a separate computer for that. Looking for budget-friendly high-performance computers is a disappointing task nowadays, thus, it was time for a ten-year-old HP Proliant 380-g6 to come out of Dave’s storage rack. This Proliant server is a piece of impressive hardware designed to run 24/7, with a dual CPU option, eighteen RAM slots, and hardware RAID for HDDs; old enough that replacement and upgrade parts are cheap, but new enough that it’s a suitable workhorse for [Dave]’s needs!

After justifying some peculiar choices like using dual low-power GPUs, only populating twelve out of eighteen RAM slots, and picking Windows over Linux, [Dave] describes some hardware mods needed to make this server serve well. First, a proprietary hardware RAID controller backup battery had to be replaced with a regular NiMH battery pack. A bigger problem was that the server was unusually loud. Turns out, the dual GPUs confused the board management controller too much. Someone wrote a modded firmware to fix this issue, but that firmware had a brick risk [Dave] didn’t want to take. End result? [Dave] designed and modded an Arduino-powered PWM controller into the server, complete with watchdog functionality – to keep the overheating scenario risks low. Explanations and code for all of that can be found in the blog post, well worth a read for the insights alone.

If you need a piece of powerful hardware next to your desk and got graced with an used server, this write-up will teach you about the kinds of problems to look out for. We don’t often cover server hacks – the typical servers we see in hacker online spaces are full of Raspberry Pi boards, and it’s refreshing to see actual server hardware get a new lease on life. This server won’t ever need a KVM crash-cart, but if you decide to run yours headless, might as well build a crash-cart out of a dead laptop while you’re at it. And if you decide that running an old server would cost more money in electricity bills than buying new hardware, fair – but don’t forget to repurpose it’s PSUs before recycling the rest!

The No-MCU Fan Controller

The default for any control project here in 2019 was to reach for a microcontroller. Such are their low cost and ubiquity that they can be used to replicate what might once have needed some extra circuitry, with the minimum of parts. But here we are at the end of 2021, and of course microcontrollers are hard to come by in a semiconductor shortage. [Hesam Moshiri] has a project that takes us back to a simpler time, a temperature controlled fan the way they used to be made, without a microcontroller in sight.

Old hands will no doubt guess where this design is heading, there is an LM35 temperature sensor producing a voltage proportional to its temperature, and half of an LM358 which forms a comparator against a static voltage from a divider. The LM358’s output drives a MOSFET which in turn switches on or off the fan motor. This type of circuit used to be the daily fare of simple control electronics in the days when a microcontroller represented a significant expense, and it’s still a handy circuit to be reminded of.

Have you forgotten sensors such as the LM35 in a world of on-board sensors? Time to refresh your sensing memory.

Custom Soldering Fume Fan Doesn’t Skimp On Features

Prolific maker [sjm4306] tells us the first iteration of his soldering fan was little more than some cardboard, electrical tape, and a hacked up USB cable. But as we all know, these little projects have a way of evolving over time. Fast forward to today, and his custom fan is a well-polished piece of kit that anyone with a soldering iron would be proud to have on their workbench.

Cardboard has given way to a 3D printed enclosure that holds the fan, electronics, a pair of 18650 cells, and a easily replaceable filter. Between the marbled filament, debossed logo, properly countersunk screw holes, and rounded corners, it’s really hard to overstate how good this case looks. We’ve shamefully produced enough boxy 3D printed enclosures to know that adding all those little details takes time, but the end result really speaks for itself.

Fan internals, with a look at the custom PCB.

The user interface running on the OLED is also an exceptionally nice touch. Sure the fan doesn’t need a graphical display, and [sjm4306] could have saved a lot of time and effort by using a turn-key speed controller, but the push-button configuration complete with graphical indications of fan speed and battery life really give the final product a highly professional feel.

In the video below, [sjm4306] reveals that while the finished product might look great, there were a few bumps in the road. Issues with clearance inside the case made him rethink how things would be wired and mounted, leading to a far more cramped arrangement than he’d anticipated. Part of the problem was that he designed the case first and tried to integrate the electronics later, rather than the other way around; a common pitfall you’d be wise to watch out for.

It’s been proven that, without some external input, solder smoke is going to go right in your face. Whether or not you need to do something this complex is naturally up for debate, but if you want to keep all that nasty stuff out of your lungs, you’d do well to outfit your workbench with some kind of fan.

Continue reading “Custom Soldering Fume Fan Doesn’t Skimp On Features”

Keep Cool With This Open Source AVR Fan Controller

We’ve all got projects kicking around that we haven’t had time to document for our own purposes, let alone expose to the blinding light of the Internet. There are only so many hours in a day, and let’s face it, building the thing is a lot more fun than taking pictures of it. It took [Matthew Millman] the better part of a decade to combine everything he’s learned over the years to finally document the definitive version of his open source intelligent fan controller, but looking at the final result, we’re glad he did.

At the heart of this board is an ATmega328P, but don’t call it an Arduino. [Matthew] makes it very clear that if you want to hack around with the code for this project, you’re going to need to not only have a programmer for said chip, but know your way around AVR-GCC. He’s provided pre-built binaries for those content to run with the default settings, but you’ve still got to get it flashed onto the chip yourself. The project is designed to use the common DS18B20 temperature sensor, and as an added bonus, the firmware can even check if yours is a bootleg (spoilers: there’s an excellent chance it is).

Arguably the most interesting feature of this fan controller is its command line interface. Just plug into the serial port on the board, open your terminal emulator, and you’ll have access to a concise set of functions for querying the sensors as well as setting temperature thresholds and RPM ranges for the fans. There’s even a built-in “help” function should you forget a command or the appropriate syntax.

Originally [Matthew] developed this project as a way to control multiple fans inside of a PC case, but naturally, things have changed quite a bit since those early days. While today there’s no shortage of fancy controllers that can handle throttling an array of fans based on the internal temperature of your rig, there’s still something to be said for rolling your own solution. More importantly, there’s certainly other potential uses for a fully open source programmable fan controller.

Hacked Case Fan Follows The Leader With IR Sensor

Adding an additional fan to your PC is usually pretty straightforward, but as [Randy Elwin] found, this isn’t always the case with the newer Small Form Factor (SFF) machines. Not only was the standard 80 mm fan too large to fit inside of the case, but there wasn’t even a spot to plug it in. So he had to come up with his own way to power it up and control its speed.

Now if he only needed power, that wouldn’t have been a problem. You could certainly tap into one of the wires coming from the PSU and get 12 V to spin the fan. But that would mean it was running at max speed the whole time; fine in a pinch, but not exactly ideal for a daily driver.

Note the SATA connector pulled from a dead HDD.

To get speed control, [Randy] put together a little circuit using an ATtiny85, an IR LED, and a LTR-306 phototransistor. The optical components are used to detect the GPU fan’s current speed, which itself is controlled based on system temperature. Using the GPU fan RPM as an input, a lookup table on the microcontroller sets an appropriate speed for the 80 mm case fan.

One could argue that it would have been easier to connect a temperature sensor to the ATtiny85, but by synchronizing the case fan to the computer-controlled GPU fan, [Randy] is able to manually control them both from software if necessary. Rather than waiting on the case temperature to rise, he can peg the GPU fan and have the external fan speed up to match when the system is under heavy load.

You may think this is overkill for a simple case fan, but compared to some of the cooling hacks we’ve seen in the past, it’s pretty tame.

Hackers Vs. Mold: Building A Humidistat Fan

Having a mold problem in your home is terrible, especially if you have an allergy to it. It can be toxic, aggravate asthma, and damage your possessions. But let’s be honest, before you even get to those listed issues, having mold where you live feels disgusting.

You can clean it with the regular use of unpleasant chemicals like bleach, although only with limited effectiveness. So I was not particularly happy to discover mold growing on the kitchen wall, and decided to do science at it. Happily, I managed to fix my mold problems with a little bit of hacker ingenuity.

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Colorful Fan And LED Controller For 3D Printer

[Dave] just couldn’t take the ambient noise from his Lulzbot Mini anymore, so he built a fancy fan controller for it.

He measured some points on the printer’s Rambo controller board to see what actually got hot during a print. The hottest components were the motor drivers, so he taped a thermistor to them. He also placed one in the printer’s power supply. He replaced the main fan with a low noise model from Noctua (which have the most insanely fancy packaging you could imagine for a computer fan). The software on an Arduino Nano now idles the fan at an inaudible 650RPM, if an unacceptable temperature increase is detected, it increases the fan speed for a period, keeping everything nice and quietly cool.

The graphics display was added because, “why not?” A classic reason. The graphics runs on a hacked version of Adafruit’s library. It took him quite a while to get the graphics coded, but they add that extra bit of high-tech flair to keep the cool factor of the 3d printer up before they become as ubiquitous as toasters in the home. The code, fritzing board layout, 3D models, and a full build log is available at his site.