Keeping Your Cool!

It’s a known fact that heat causes stress, and in humans, heat can sometimes cause angry flare ups. Although we’re not referring to humans here when we address cooling issues, computers aren’t too unlike human beings. Uncontrolled heat does cause all types of problems to occur with computer components. Nearly every component inside your computer’s case has a minimum and maximum operating temperature established by the manufacturer to insure optimum operating efficiency.

Echoed throughout this site you will see, “we test and use every component that we offer to you our customer”. Each and every component we offer for sale, whether it be a small inexpensive fan or an expensive server component, has been used by us in systems that we ourselves use. This provides us with long term experience as to the quality of the product. While affordability is always a concern, quality and performance is foremost in our minds.

Temperature vs. Reliability

When exposed to elevated or excessive operating temperatures, silicon devices, drives and other devices can fail catastrophically. But even if they don’t fail completely, their electrical characteristics frequently undergo intermittent or permanent changes that effect their operating efficiency as well as shorten their life.

Manufacturers of processors and other computer components specify a maximum operating temperature for their products, and most devices are not certified to function properly beyond 50°C-80°C (122°F-176°F). A loaded PC, with only the very minimum cooling, can experience operating temperatures can easily exceed the limits. When this occurs, often the result is memory errors, hard disk read-write errors, faulty video, and other problems not normally associated with improper cooling.

The life of an electronic device is directly related to its operating temperature. Each 10°C (18°F) temperature rise reduces component life by 50%*. Conversely, each 10°C (18°F) temperature reduction increases component life by 100%. Therefore, it is imperative that computer components be kept as cool as possible (within an acceptable noise level) for maximum reliability, longevity, and return on investment.

Adequate case and component cooling is often overlooked by computer manufacturers and purchasers alike. Often manufacturers place system cooling on the low end of the list, counting on the fact that what they do provide should get them past the warranty period. Purchasers, on the other hand, assume that the manufacturers have their best interests at heart and know what they are doing. They know what they are doing alright, but we’re not so sure about the “best interests” issue. When you look at that fully loaded computer selling for $899.00 to $1,699.00, keep in mind that while the big manufacturers do have buying power, there are limits. These limits demand cuts somewhere, whether its component quality, construction or both. One well known manufacturer, who sells hundreds of thousands of machines every year, uses only a large heat sink on the Intel processor, rather than adding a cooling fan to that same heat sink. We verify adequate cooling “before” any of our systems are shipped!

Case Fans and Filters

Adequately cooling a system can mean the difference between your computer lasting almost indefinitely, compared to one living just long enough to get it past the warranty period. While the fan in the average chassis can remove the unwanted hot air out of the case, the question is, what air is rushing in to replace it? More warm air, of course, from the depths of your case! It’s a fact that in order to properly cool the inside of a case and its components, the volume of cool air coming into the case must be greater than the amount being removed. This is referred to as pressurization. The number of fans, the volume of air they are able to move, their placement in the case and case pressurization all influence the ability to provide proper cooling as well as reduce the accumulation of dust and debris.

If you have a small desktop or mini/mid tower case, the CFM (cubic feet per minute) volume of air produced by the front case fan should be greater than that of the fan placed at the rear by at least 15% to 20%. If you have a large or extended tower case, there should be at least two fans at the front of the case. Their combined CFM rating should be at least 200% of that of the fans at the rear, including the power supply fan. Remember, warm air rises. In a large or extended tower or in server cases, inadequate cooling will cause warm or hot air to be trapped in the top of the case.

Air filtration is nearly as important as adequate cooling. While it is extremely difficult to provide a totally dust free environment for a computer or server, reducing dust and debris can be achieved inexpensively. Dust and debris trap heat and conducts electricity, both of which are dangerous to components.  Through proper fan use and filtration, you can insure that your computer will live and breather easier. We provide an abundance of fan types and styles for every situation, and we are always here to answer your questions.

Processor Heat Sinks and Fans

For each processor (CPU) type available, there are at least twice as many heat sink and cooling fan combinations that you can use. These range from adequate by the processor manufacturers standards in a given environment, to that which is required to dissipate the enormous heat generated when processors are **over-clocked.

Generally, the heat sink and fan provided by Intel with their boxed retail processors is more than adequate to handle the heat dissipation and cooling needs of their processors. The heat sinks and fans that accompany Athlon processors, depending upon the vendor, can vary from barely adequate to more than adequate. It is sufficient to say that more is not always better (largest possible heat sink and fan). Properly cooling a processor is a two part process, (1) quickly moving the heat away from processor chip and into the body of the heat sink and dissipating it via the heat sink cooling fins and (2) dissipating the heat further by passing it from the cooling fins into the air passing through those fins. Obviously, a fan is necessary to move the hot air away from the heat sink cooling fins.

It really doesn’t matter if the cooling fan is attached directly to the heat sink, or is next to it and just blowing cool air through the fins. The issue is replacing the warm or hot air surrounding the fins with cool air.

Other Forms of Cooling

There are many other forms of cooling techniques that you can use to keep your system running at it optimum, such as drive cooling for hard drives, special cooling for AGP video cards as well as fan cards that place fans in between cards on the motherboard where warm air may be accumulating.

*Based on the Arrhenius equation, which says that time to failure is a function of e-Ea/kT where Ea = activation energy of the failure mechanism being accelerated, k= Boltzmann’s constant, and T = absolute temperature.

**Over-clocking a processor requires that you increase the voltage to the processor in order to increase its speed above above its rated speed, as in over-clocking a 300MHz Celeron processor to 450MHz. Among other things, this causes the processor to generate an abundance of heat that cannot be dissipated by a standard heat sink and cooling fan. We do not support or condone over-clocking as it will void the processor warranty.

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