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How can I cool my computer down without replacing the broken fans?
February 2, 2008 3:24 PM   Subscribe

How can I cool my computer down without replacing the broken fans?

I have a custom-built PC that is having problems with overheating. The CPU and Power Supply fans are fine, but the northbridge fan is no longer spinning, and neither is a built-in case fan. We got them spinning a couple weeks ago just by blowing the dust out of them and prodding them a bit, but that only lasted for about 24 hours before they stopped again.

The initial response to this question will probably be "Replace the fans," but the problem is that to replace the fan on the motherboard, I'll have to pull everything out just to access the pieces to remove it. I'm not very hardware savvy, so I'd rather not do this. The computer is otherwise working well, but according to the BIOS, the CPU temperature at this point sits in the 60's (celsius) and the overheating alarm comes on sometimes when I'm not even using it, let alone when I try to do anything intensive on the computer. I have an Abit NF7-S V2 which is apparently notorious for the busted fan problem, and an AMD processor which seems to be able to withstand unusually high temperatures.

So while I'm not big on the idea of pulling everything out of the computer to get to the fan, I'm wondering if there's a minimally invasive but effective cooling solution. I did a little research on this, but there's so much information and I know so little about it that I'm not sure what to go with.
posted by wondermouse to Computers & Internet (24 answers total)
 
You need to replace the fans. Overheating is what kills chips.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:30 PM on February 2, 2008


Sometimes, hardware failures just suck.

Replace the fans.
posted by flabdablet at 3:31 PM on February 2, 2008


And when you do replace the fans, make sure you get fans with ball bearings instead of el-cheapo bushes.
posted by flabdablet at 3:31 PM on February 2, 2008


I'm wondering if there's a minimally invasive but effective cooling solution.

No. There isn't.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:35 PM on February 2, 2008


Run it with the case side panels off, optionally point a room fan at it.

Your CPU overheating problems are most likely because of the broken case fan, not the northbridge fan. It's really super easy to change out a case fan, so get a good 120mm or 80mm fan. You definitely do not have to remove the motherboard, but you might have to play around with your power supply connections a little bit. Just remember to plug everything back in, you'll be fine. For fans, I like Scythe, Nexus or Noctua. In a pinch, Antec Tri-cools are okay too. But really it doesn't matter that much, you just need something to ventilate the chassis.
posted by tracert at 3:39 PM on February 2, 2008


Running with the case open will not necessarily cool the important parts down because their cooling tends to depend on the airflow that no longer exists once the case is opened and is no longer a wind tunnel.
posted by rhizome at 3:42 PM on February 2, 2008


Put it outside.

Note: this solution is only effective seasonally.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 3:43 PM on February 2, 2008


Running with the case open will not necessarily cool the important parts down because their cooling tends to depend on the airflow that no longer exists once the case is opened and is no longer a wind tunnel.

No fan, no wind tunnel effect. No sides are better than sides on in that case, because hot air can escape more easily. Upon replacement of case fan, then yes: sides on please.
posted by tracert at 3:55 PM on February 2, 2008


Crumbs.
I will say that my computer seemed very happy during the 20-degree weather a couple weeks ago when our apartment's heat wasn't on. Unfortunately I didn't feel like using the computer much at that time.
posted by wondermouse at 3:56 PM on February 2, 2008


Replacing the fans needn't be that tricky - Antec's Spot Cool for instance is very easy to add to a case. It's a fan on an adjustable arm, which you can easily install and get some airflow going. But essentially I agree with everyone else - computers need fans :)
posted by Sifter at 4:06 PM on February 2, 2008


You could take a shop-vac or (non-upright) household vacuum, duct tape the hose to the case fan screen in back (making sure to make a good seal) and turn it on. That would draw a vacuum in the case, and airflow would be provided by makeup air leaking in through all the cracks and holes in the case.

That's much more ridiculous than just getting a new fan. Seriously, computer cases are made to be extremely easy to figure out. Just LABEL all the parts you remove so you remember which screws go to what. For the most part, you can't put it back together wrong, so a little trial and error won't hurt anything.
posted by ctmf at 4:34 PM on February 2, 2008


Running with the case open will not necessarily cool the important parts down because their cooling tends to depend on the airflow that no longer exists once the case is opened and is no longer a wind tunnel.

Yup. Airflow is what keep your components cooled, not ambient air temperature.

You could take a shop-vac or (non-upright) household vacuum, duct tape the hose to the case fan screen in back (making sure to make a good seal) and turn it on.

I know you're kind of joking, but this also wouldn't provide great air flow. If anything, it would just create on direct current pulling in from the intake and not give fresh air to other components. I'd much rather be pushing in extra air than pulling out a whole lot of air.

I'd just get a couple of new fans. They're not that incredibly expensive and it's fun to learn how to take apart stuff just for the sake of doing it. Then again, I'm a huge dork.
posted by jmd82 at 4:45 PM on February 2, 2008


And when you do replace the fans, make sure you get fans with ball bearings instead of el-cheapo bushes.
Noiser than sleeve-bearing fans, though, which may be an issue / requirement.

It is possible to get good sintered hard-brass sleeve bearing fans, which with regular annual mtce are quieter than & will outlast ball-bearing fans, but I don't know offhand if any of the commonly-available computer models qualify. I get mine from an industrial cooling specialist supplier. They're ridiculously expensive, even compared to 'computer' parts.

Most of the noise eventually comes from dust/crap on the blades anyway, not the bearings.
posted by Pinback at 4:45 PM on February 2, 2008


I'd add to not only replace the case fan but add a second on in the front of the case. Make sure the one in front is pointed in and the one in back is pointed out; that way they are both contributing to airflow.

Or, you know, fill the case with mineral oil.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:56 PM on February 2, 2008


You could try replacing the northbridge fan with a solid heatsink from Zalman, or similar. I did it a while ago, I couldn't stand the noise the little fan made. The case fan should be very easy to replace.
posted by Tixylix at 4:57 PM on February 2, 2008


btw, by "pull everything out of the computer" I meant I'll have to disconnect everything from the motherboard itself to be able to remove the fan. It's connected with these little white plastic things that go through to the back. Unplugging the cables from the back of the computer isn't something I have a problem with. Not sure if that was ambiguous or not. And I'm less worried about forgetting to plug stuff back in than I am about touching something wrong and sending a shock through the whole thing. It's all dry and staticky here in the winter.

But yeah, looks like I'll have to try to put in at least one new fan. Time to back stuff up and hope for the best.
posted by wondermouse at 5:29 PM on February 2, 2008


Any specific fan recommendations/warnings would be appreciated at this point. Or of course if anyone does know a good way to cool the thing down otherwise, I'll take that too. Thanks everyone.
posted by wondermouse at 5:46 PM on February 2, 2008


If you care about noise, Silent PC Review has never let me down. Otherwise, any old fan will do, just get the right size (80 or 120mm, usually) to match the screw holes in your case.

When installing, make sure you put it in facing the right way. Most fans have a little arrow on them indicating what direction they blow in, so if you have only one, set it so that it is exhausting hot air out of the case. If you want to add a second fan in the front to improve airflow, then you want that one to intake cool air instead. Make sure you ground yourself by touching a large metal object (say, the case frame) before poking around.
posted by tracert at 6:32 PM on February 2, 2008


I like Papst fans. Even their non-ball-bearing types are built like trucks. Quiet trucks.

If you're worried about static discharge (and it's definitely one of the right things to worry about), you can improvise a grounding strap for yourself. Get a couple yards of hookup wire, bare a couple inches on each end, tie one bared end firmly around any convenient bit of exposed unpainted metal on the chassis, and tape the other end to your skin. That, and making sure the mains cable has been physically unplugged from the power supply for at least 30 seconds before you start pulling things apart, will keep your electronics happy.
posted by flabdablet at 6:33 PM on February 2, 2008


can't you just unscrew the fan from the northbridge? usually those kind of fans just screw into the heatsink - you needn't remove the whole heatsink, just the fan and replace that case fan. (I'd actually add one more case fan to increase airflow in it. however, just leaving a dead fan on the heatsink impedes its ability to conduct heat - plastic just ain't that conductive - so unless you're really pushing it, you may be able to just take the fan off and be OK. I don't know what kind of northbridge you have or what you're doing, though, so take that with a grain of salt.)
posted by mrg at 7:06 PM on February 2, 2008


Chances are, if you prod the failed fans when they're unpowered, they just don't turn, or they're sluggish? I had a case fan that 'failed' that way once. The solution was to pry off the sticker on the hub and put a single drop of oil right in the centre. After that it turned easily.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 9:51 PM on February 2, 2008


You could underclock it. I have a crappy (desktop-replacement) laptop in this situation, and while I've tried to fix the internals, I'll kill it if it I take it apart. Runs fine at lower CPU speeds.

You could have a look at NHC, which allows for a dynamic-switching setting, depending on your processor.

(but yeah, just replace the fans, or get someone else to, for the longer-term health of the machine...)
posted by pompomtom at 10:03 PM on February 2, 2008


I had a similar problem a couple of years ago and I solved it in a beautiful way -- maybe the same can work for you. I bought a Thermaltake Mobile Fan II, which is an external USB cooling fan. It is meant to be a desk fan powered by your USB port, but its gimmick is that it's actually the same kind of fan one normally installs inside computers (ie just as powerful).

My problem was that neither of the two switches one plugs one's fan into on the motherboard work any longer. I was able to remove my old fan, and I basically placed this USB fan in the same location as the original fan went. It didn't fit exactly but it was easy enough to secure it in place. I realize you are having trouble getting the original fan out, but maybe you have some open space in the case?

I placed mine inside the case and ran its very thin wire out of the case through the seam where the "lid" of the case fits onto the floor of the case, and simply plugged it into an available USB port. It immediately solved my over-heating problem and it's been running successfully ever since.
posted by edlundart at 12:11 AM on February 3, 2008


The correct technical solution to busted mobo fan connectors is Molex connector to fan adapters. Saves you running wires through bits of the case that are not designed for wires to go through.
posted by flabdablet at 12:34 AM on February 3, 2008


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