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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Chilling a Hot Camera

[Eric]’s camera has a problem. It overheats. While this wouldn’t be an issue if [Eric] was taking one picture at a time, this camera also has a video mode, which is supposed to take several pictures in a row, one right after the other. While a camera that overheats when it’s used is probably evidence of poor thermal engineering, the solution is extremely simple: strap a gigantic heat sink to the back. That’s exactly what [Eric] did, and the finished product looks great.

The heatsink chosen for this application is a gigantic cube of aluminum, most likely taken from an old Pentium 4 CPU cooler. Of course, there’s almost no way [Eric] would have found a sufficiently large heat sink that would precisely fit the back of his camera, which meant he had to mill down the sides of this gigantic heat sink. [Eric] actually did this in his drill press using a cross slide vice and an endmill. This is surely not the correct, sane, or safe way of doing things, but we’ll let the peanut gallery weigh in on that below.

The heatsink is held on by a technique we don’t see much around here — wire bending. [Eric] used 0.055″ (1.3 mm) piano wire, and carefully bent it to wrap around both the heatsink and the camera body. Does the heatsink cool the camera? Yes, and the little flip-up screen of the camera makes this camera a very convenient video recording device. You can check out the video of this build below.

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The Surface Area to Volume Ratio or Why Elephants Have Big Ears

There are very few things that are so far reaching across many different disciplines, ranging from biology to engineering, as is the relation of the surface area to the volume of a body. This is not a law, as Newton’s second one, or a theory as Darwin’s evolution theory. But it has consequences in a diverse set of situations. It explains why cells are the size they are, why some animals have a strange morphology, why flour explodes while wheat grains don’t and many other phenomena that we will explore in this article.

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Pi Keeps Cool at 1.5 GHz

Hackers have a long history of overclocking CPUs ranging from desktop computers to Arduinos. [Jacken] wanted a little more oomph for his Pi Zero-Raspberry Pi-based media center, so he naturally wanted to boost the clock frequency. Like most overclocking though, the biggest limit is how much heat you can dump off the chip.

[Jacken] removed the normal heat sink and built a new one out of inexpensive copper shim, thermal compound, and super glue. The result isn’t very pretty, but it does let him run the Zero Pi at 1.5 GHz reliably. The heat sink is very low profile and doesn’t interfere with plugging other things into the board. Naturally, your results may vary on clock frequency and stability.

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Old Heatsink Lets Ham Push Duty Cycle for Digital Modes

Listen to the amateur radio bands long enough, and you’ll likely come to the conclusion that hams never stop talking. Of course it only seems that way, and the duty cycle for a transmitter operating in one of the voice modes is likely to be pretty low. But digital modes can up the duty cycle and really stress the finals on a rig, so this field-expedient heat sink for a ham transceiver is a handy trick to keep in mind.

This hacklet comes by way of [Kevin Loughin (KB9RLW)], who is trying to use his “shack-in-a-box” Yaesu FT-817 for digital modes like PSK31. Digital modes essentially turn the transceiver into a low-baud modem and thus messages can take a long time to send. This poses a problem for the 5-watt FT-817, which was designed for portable operations and doesn’t have the cooling fans and heavy heatsinks that a big base station rig does. [Kevin] found that an old 486 CPU heatsink clamped to a lug on the rear panel added enough thermal mass to keep the finals much cooler, even with a four-minute dead key into a dummy load at the radio’s full 5-watt output.

You may scoff at the simplicity of this solution, and we’ll concede that it’s far from an epic hack. But sometimes it’s the simple fixes that it pays to keep in mind. However, if your project needs a little less seat-of-the-pants and a little more engineering, be sure to check out [Bil Herd]’s primer on thermal management.
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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.