Saturday, July 3, 2010

Oh man, Oh wow

I have been spending the majority of this past week working on my computer which had gotten into the nasty habit of overheating.

Years ago I bought a massive "mid-tower" case (the Fong-Kai FK320B) for my computer. I loved - no, I lurved it. Seriously, the thing was bigger than a lot of "full tower" cases. It had contoured plastic curves on the outside and a translucent door which I painted with a cool design (and then it broke off). Everything fit in the case. And it kept everything cool. There was so much room in the behemoth that it was impossible NOT to cool everything. Airflow was never a problem. It was my computer case and I loved it.

When I built my most recent computer, I migrated to a smaller case. There were a lot of reasons for this. My old case was broken in so many ways I lost count of them all. I was tired of carrying around a 90lb. computer (because the case weighed so much). It was hard to find a desk my old case would fit into. My old case didn't really have very many drive bays (3x5.25 4x3.5) and I wanted to have the option for more. My old case was... old too, which meant some of the cool new case features didn't exist back when it was made. Also, I really wanted to have some front-mounted USB/IEEE1294/Headphone/Microphone ports (which I could have modded into my old case if I wanted to spend the money to get the parts together to do such a thing).

The smaller case really is great. It has all the features I wanted, plus I took the time to do an awesome color-changing paintjob on it before I put all the computer parts in. Fast forward to today, though, and I am having all kinds of problems with overheating.

My computer has always been hot. Noticeably hot. I put two massive video cards in it and they put out a furnace's worth of heat between them. Also, the small case just barely fits everything. I mean barely. I had to do some pretty incredible feats of ... ummm... stuffing(?) to get all the wires into it alongside the hardware which spans from end to end and top to bottom. It all turned out well, but the computer just runs hot.

I did put two large fans in it. But everything is packed so full that they don't do much for circulation. The one in the front just barely reaches the hard drives and then the airflow just dies. In the middle of the case is hard drive heat stacked on motherboard heat, mixed with video card volcanic activity, shunted through the CPU heatsink and finally dribbled out the back of the case by another fan which is struggling to meet its life's purpose due to the whole case being jammed up against a wall allowing only a half an inch or so of space for the fan to vomit what heat it can into the room as a whole.

When the temperatures around here shot up last week, my computer shuddered under the strain of it all. No cool air coming in and almost no air going out meant the CPU temperatures were seeing all new highs. 73 degrees celsius will be burned forever into my brain. That's the highest I saw it go. Maybe it went higher. I don't know how it could have.

I was fairly content to ignore it at first. But with the video cards regularly overheating my computer has gotten into the habit of locking up. I don't really tolerate locking up in my computer. So... the side panel of my computer case came off to grant its innards some much-needed relief. Taking the side panel off did help a bit, but the computer has continued to lock up. Really, without more airflow into the case, removing the side panel can only do so much.

So, I undertook a project to add three 120mm fans to the missing side panel of my case in anticipation of its eventual return. (I don't really like leaving the panel off when my computer is located on the floor next to my feet. I feel like I am going to kick the video card off my computer when I turn around suddenly or something equally as tragic.) I ordered the fans, but when they arrived I realized they were too thick to fit inside my case between the panel and the hardware. At least, they wouldn't fit where I wanted to put them (read: in the places which would give the most benefit). Creativity saved the day, though, and I decided to mount the fans to the outside of my case with a plexiglass cover over them. Hard to envision, I know, because I tried to describe it to my better half and she registered noticeable confusion and some verbal concern over a "dorm room" look somehow re-entering our life.

The magic really is in the plexiglass. At least in my mind it is. The cover would hide all the ghetto fans and wires and keep my computer looking just as pretty and sophisticated as it could. Well... not so very sophisticated I guess... I mean there are light-up fans attached to the outside of my case, but it does look a little more grown-up than something you'd find in a dorm room (thanks largely to my resolve not to use duct tape and plywood this time). What I am trying to say is it looks good. Really really good.

And it works too. Computer hasn't gone over 40 degrees celsius since the case panel was added back on today. I am sure it will eventually go over 40 but I think it will stay under 50 now, which is a big step in the right direction. As for the locking up... well... apparently it had nothing to do with the heat because the computer locked up again while I was typing this post. Hmm... wonder what's going on?

Anyway temps are low. Happy times. That's what I wanted to post about.

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