Something’s Fishy About This Computer

Aquariums are amazingly beautiful displays of vibrant ocean life, or at least they can be. For a lot of people aquariums become frustrating chemistry battle to keep the ecosystem heathly and avoid a scummy cesspool where no fish want to be.

This hack sidesteps that problem, pulling off some of the most beautiful parts of a living aquarium, while keeping your gaming rig running nice and cool. That’s right, this tank is a cold mineral oil dip for a custom PC build.

It’s the second iteration [Frank Zhao] has built, with many improvements along the way. The first aquarium computer was shoe-horned inside of a very tiny aquarium — think the kind for Beta fish. It eventually developed a small crack that spread to a bigger one with a lot of mineral oil to clean up. Yuck. The new machine has a much larger tank and laser cut parts which is a step up from the hand-cut acrylic of the first version. This makes for a very nice top bezel that hangs the PC guts and provides unobtrusive input and output ports for the oil circulation. A radiator unit hidden out of sight cools the oil as it circulates through the system.

These are all nice improvements, but it’s the aesthetic of the tank itself that really make this one special. The first version was so cramped that a couple of sad plastic plants were the only decoration. But now the tank has the whole package, with coral, more realistic plants, a sunken submarine, and of course the treasure chest bubbler. Well done [Frank]!

Waterproofing The Best Watch Ever Made

The Casio F-91W is probably the most popular wristwatch ever made. It’s been in production forever, it’s been worn by presidents, and according to US Army intelligence it is “the sign of al-Qaeda”. There’s a lot of history in this classic watch. That said, there is exactly one problem with this watch: it’s barely water resistant. [David] thought he had a solution to this problem, and it looks like he may have succeeded. This classic watch is now waterproof, down to 700 meters of depth. If you’re ever 700 meters underwater, you have bigger problems than a watch that isn’t waterproof.

The basic idea of this hack is to replace the air inside the watch with a liquid. This serves two purposes: first, the front glass won’t fog up. Second, liquids are generally incompressible, or at least only slightly compressible. By replacing the air in the watch with mineral oil, the watch is significantly more water resistant.

Filling a watch with mineral oil is done simply by disassembling the watch, submerging it in a dish of mineral oil, and carefully reassembling the watch. Does it work? Don’t know about this watch, but this was done to another classic Casio watch and tested to 1200 psi. That’s a kilometer underwater, and the watch still worked afterward. We’ll take that as a success, although again if you’re ever a kilometer underwater, you have bigger problems than a broken watch.

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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Liquid Cooling Overclocked Raspberry Pi With Style

[HydroGraphix HeadQuarters] has earned his name with this one. While he is using mineral oil instead of hydro, he’s certainly done a nice job with the graphics of it. The ‘it’ in questions is an overclocked Raspberry Pi 3 in a transparent container filled with mineral oil, and with a circulating fan.

He’s had no problem running the Pi at 1.45 GHz while running a Nintendo 64 emulator, getting between 40 °C and 50 °C. The circulating fan is a five volt computer USB fan. It’s hard to tell if the oil is actually moving, but we’re pretty sure we see some doing so near the end of the video below the break.

Mineral oil is not electrically conductive, and is often used to prevent arcing between components on high voltage multiplier boards, but those components are always soldered together. If you’ve ever worked with mineral oil, you know that it creeps into every nook and cranny, making us wonder if it might work its way between some of the (non-soldered) contacts in the various USB connectors on this Raspberry Pi. Probably not, but those of us with experience with it can attest to it’s insidiousness.

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Wrangling High Voltage

Working with high voltage is like working with high pressure plumbing. You can spring a leak in your plumbing, and of course you fix it. And now that you’ve fixed that leak, you’re able to increase the pressure still more, and sometimes another leak occurs. I’ve had these same experiences but with high voltage wiring. At a high enough voltage, around 30kV or higher, the leak manifests itself as a hissing sound and a corona that appears as a bluish glow of excited ions spraying from the leak. Try to dial up the voltage and the hiss turns into a shriek.

Why do leaks occur in high voltage? I’ve found that the best way to visualize the reason is by visualizing electric fields. Electric fields exist between positive and negative charges and can be pictured as electric field lines (illustrated below on the left.) The denser the electric field lines, the stronger the electric field.

The stronger electric fields are where ionization of the air occurs. As illustrated in the “collision” example on the right above, ionization can happen by a negatively charged electron leaving the electrically conductive surface, which can be a wire or a part of the device, and colliding with a nearby neutral atom turning it into an ion. The collision can result in the electron attaching to the atom, turning the atom into a negatively charged ion, or the collision can knock another electron from the atom, turning the atom into a positively charged ion. In the “stripping off” example illustrated above, the strong electric field can affect things more directly by stripping an electron from the neutral atom, again turning it into a positive ion. And there are other effects as well such as electron avalanches and the photoelectric effect.

In either case, we wanted to keep those electrons in the electrically conductive wires or other surfaces and their loss constitutes a leak in a very real way.

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Hackaday Links: December 21, 2014

Most of the incredible flight simulator enthusiasts with 737 cockpits in their garage are from the US. What happens when they’re from Slovenia? They built an A320 cockpit. The majority of the build comes from an old Cyprus Airways aircraft, with most of the work being wiring up the switches, lights, and figuring out how to display the simulated world out of the cockpit.

Google Cardboard is the $4 answer to the Oculus Rift – a cardboard box and smartphone you strap to your head. [Frooxius] missed being able to interact with objects in these 3D virtual worlds, so he came up with this thing. He adapted a symbol tracking library for AR, and is now able to hold an object in his hands while looking at a virtual object in 3D.

Heat your house with candles! Yes, it’s the latest Indiegogo campaign that can be debunked with 7th grade math. This “igloo for candles” will heat a room up by 2 or 3 degrees, or a little bit less than a person with an average metabolism will.

Last week, we saw a post that gave the Samsung NX300 the ability to lock the pictures taken by the camera with public key cryptography. [g3gg0] wrote in to tell us he did the same thing with a Canon EOS camera.

The guys at Flite Test put up a video that should be handy for RC enthusiasts and BattleBot contenders alike. They’re tricking out transmitters, putting push buttons where toggle switches should go, on/off switches where pots should go, and generally making a transmitter more useful. It’s also a useful repair guide.

[Frank Zhao] made a mineral oil aquarium and put a computer in it. i7, GTX 970, 16GB RAM, and a 480GB SSD. It’s a little bigger than most of the other aquarium computers we’ve seen thanks to the microATX mobo, and of course there are NeoPixels and a bubbly treasure chest.