Help me keep my cool
October 8, 2011 8:35 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to cool a computer cheaply and easily?

Summer is over so this has less urgency but I'd like to get something for next summer. I have a computer that has to run for a couple of hours in a room that can sometimes be warm. The room has air conditioning but sometimes the room is just not cool. I have a small fan that I aim at the air intakes that seems to help.

Question -- I also have some small tubing that I could zip tie to the fan and run chilled water through. I have concerns, can I make it attractive, will it function, will the water spill? I'm open to alternatives at this point.
posted by notned to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
I think this needs more details. Is the computer overheating? What kind of case is it? How many fans are currently in the case and how are they setup?

With a proper case/fan setup, a computer should be able to run in a really warm room without issue.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 8:58 AM on October 8, 2011

I don't know if this is legit or not, but I took off the side panel of my comp to let air escape and flow thru.
posted by Sweetmag at 9:06 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

The cheapest and easiest way to cool a computer is to take the side off and point a box fan at the insides. This does not necessarily make it a good idea long term, but it's a good starting point. You want more airflow, and ideally you would like that airflow to move smoothly through the case from one end to the other (usually front bottom to top back).

If you wanted to spend a little money you could just go ahead and figure out what size fans you have in your computer and buy ones that are the same size but have a higher flow rating (cubic feet per minute, in the USA). This would make your computer louder, of course, but installing fans is usually just a matter of a few screws and a plug. If you wanted to try and keep it from getting louder you'd want to get bigger fans, because wider fans tend to be quieter for a given flow rating. However, they might not be able to mount to your case (sometimes cases can take bigger fans than they come with, sometimes not) and if not then you'd need to hack something up.

Oh, and sometimes computer cases have fan slots that aren't actually occupied by fans when the computer is built out at the factory. If that's the case then you'd probably get the most benefit by putting fans in those spots. Just make sure that the airflow is consistent with that part of the case (generally the front and side [if any] fans will be intake and the rear fans will be exhaust).

If you want to do something weird and home-made then the possibilities are limited only by your supplies and ingenuity. I suppose you could do something like cutting a hole in the side panel of the case and somehow attaching a small desk or box fan to it. If I did this I would want to put some insect screening over it to keep the fan from sucking objects into the inside of the computer.

Those are some possibilities, anyway. If you google around a bit I'm sure you'll find plenty of others.
posted by Scientist at 9:11 AM on October 8, 2011

The cheapest and easiest way is to leave it well enough alone because computers work fine in warm rooms. Millions and millions of people use standard computers that they bought off of regular retail shelves in hot environments with no problems.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:16 AM on October 8, 2011

Tylerkaraszewski has a good point here. If your computer is not actually rebooting, crashing, or otherwise failing in some way then things are probably just fine. Computers have no problem running at temperatures that would make humans uncomfortable. If nothing is obviously wrong then I would simply do nothing. That is, unless you want to tinker just for the sake of tinkering.

If something *is* wrong, and you suspect it is heat related, try my first trick of just taking the side off and pointing a fan into it. If that doesn't fix the problem, then the problem wasn't heat related and you should concentrate your efforts elsewhere.
posted by Scientist at 9:19 AM on October 8, 2011

If the room is not uncomfortable for you, it isn't uncomfortable for the computer. If the computer is performing correctly and the fans aren't running at high speed (if they are temp controlled fans), it is fine.

The reason server rooms are cold is because the racks of equipment generate a lot of heat in a small area, and you need cooler air to start with so that the machines get proper cooling. You'll find that if you go around to the back of the racks, it is very hot in the room. Which averages out to being room temperature.

(Taking the side off and pointing a fan can no longer work. Many computers have their cooling systems designed in a way that uses the cover to guide air where it needs to go. Or to create a pressure or vacuum to get the air to flow in or out of the right spot. It's worth a shot, but it's not a guaranteed diagnosis or fix of heat problems.)
posted by gjc at 10:52 AM on October 8, 2011

One thing you certainly should do is open up the case and get all the dust out of there. That will help it cool itself more efficiently.
posted by mmascolino at 11:33 AM on October 8, 2011

As others have indicated, it shouldn't be overheating. If the fan is working properly and there isn't a lot of dust in there, it should be fine even in a hot room.

That said, my PC overheats (and has shut down, twice) when my room is very hot, even though both fans are functioning (they may not be working at 100%, or there may be another problem with it, but this only happens when it's very hot in the room, so I haven't got it checked out yet). I just take off the side panel and point a desk fan at it, works like a charm. Just remember to put the panel back on when you shut down, or it'll get too dusty inside.
posted by Koko at 5:24 PM on October 8, 2011

Response by poster: More information -- This is an e-machine. It runs a dual monitor video card. Sometimes the video will blank out for some period of time while a music video is playing in powerpoint. Earlier investigations showed a lot of dust in the fan that is part of the video card. That was cleaned up and improvement was seen but the blank out still happens.
posted by notned at 7:08 PM on October 8, 2011

Install and run RealTemp just to see if there really is a heating problem. GPU-Z can give you a reading on the video card's temperature.

If they aren't breaking 80oC, it might be a software thing rather than a heating problem. I suspect that you're experiencing some confirmation bias and that it's a lack of horsepower to run to two different codecs (or something) at the same time and it takes a while for the CPU/GPU to catch up.

Since it's just an e-machines box, it probably doesn't make sense to spend a ton of money for water cooling or whatever, but it can be done for not very much, for certain values of "not very much."
posted by porpoise at 8:45 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

you could cut out the grating in the back and install an extra fan there. more fans -> all run at slower speeds -> less noise too
posted by cupcake1337 at 10:03 PM on October 8, 2011

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