Is there a good computer for keeping in hot climates?
August 21, 2015 12:51 PM   Subscribe

I've been thinking of getting a new desktop computer--one that is adequate for gaming and doing high-res artwork (I'm a comic artist). But also I live in in a place where the weather is hot all summer and autumn.

My room is especially hot because I live on the 2nd floor of a condo. Aside from trying to keep my room cool, regularly cleaning the dust out of my computer, and not running a billion processes at once, is there a computer where I won't have to worry about overheating and absurdly loud fans? I'd prefer avoiding having to install multiple extra fans or an expensive liquid-cooling system (unless it already comes with it installed or something). I have very limited PC-building skills (I've installed DVD drives and internal wireless adapters but that's about it).

Alternatively, I do have free access to dry ice, 100% ethanol, and isopropanol if someone's ever come up with a simple/safe method of cooling computers using those things.
posted by picklenickle to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
Honestly I wouldn't worry about this too much. Modern computers are quite power-efficient and modern computer fans are generally quiet. You can buy a CPU with a particularly low TDP, like an intel T series, if you want to.

I wouldn't recommend the small fanless HTPC-type computers. They'll be quieter but hotter.

Intel CPUs are (very generally) more power-efficient than AMD CPUs. Same for Nvidia over AMD in GPUs. Power-efficient very roughly means heat-efficient.

I would buy a power-sipping CPU, buy the lowest-TDP GPU you can manage, and put them in a case with plenty of space and good airflow. Combine with large, high quality fans that can spin at low speeds. If you want to spend the cash you can buy really, really quiet fans these days. Stick the case in a place with good airflow.
posted by selfnoise at 1:11 PM on August 21, 2015

Just how hot is "hot"? I haven't heard of overheating problems (that weren't caused by reckless overclocking) on desktop towers in a while.

Other than installing more additional, well placed fans (I've seen a computer that had like 3 extra fans, but all they did was move the hot air around, not outside the box). Along what selfnoise said, put those things in a well ventilated ATX case - the larger the case, the cooler the air inside. Some have a fan and vent pulling hot air right from the CPU heatsink.

And I forgot: make sure everything is tight. A friend of mine worked on a repair shop, and a lot of complaints about "noise" were due to loose or even missing screws that rattled the chassis when the moving bits were on full-force.
posted by lmfsilva at 1:22 PM on August 21, 2015

Questions: Has this ever been a problem for you before, and how hot is your place? I think you'd either need to pick an extremely poorly cooled design or your place would need to be an oven for this to really be a problem. If you're really worried about it, the Mac Pro is literally designed around its fan and heatsink.

It's 86°F in my house right now and the fan isn't even on in my laptop.
posted by adamrice at 1:28 PM on August 21, 2015

During a heat wave it can get into the 90's (Fahrenheit) and sometimes 100F, so about that hot. Other times it's around 80F. It hasn't been an issue before (yet) but this is a new place I've moved into--my old places have always been in cooler areas. Mostly my concern started when my (very old) computer started blasting the fan after just a few minutes of it being on, even though it's in a huge case and next to my open window. Since I'm planning on replacing it soon anyway for other reasons, I figured I'd ask about well-cooled computers in advance. But if it isn't usually a problem for newer computers then maybe I won't worry about it.
posted by picklenickle at 1:48 PM on August 21, 2015

The point of having good cooling in a computer is to allow it to use more electricity to make more heat without damaging itself. Using more power lets them to do more computing, but blowing a whole bunch of heat out the back will make your apartment hotter.

So aim for power efficiency, and you'll need less cooling for the computer, and you'll be more comfortable in your room. I'm not up to date on the market enough to make concrete recommendations, but it'll be difficult for anyone to suggest anything without knowing what kind of games you're looking to play on it
posted by aubilenon at 1:59 PM on August 21, 2015

If it's a desktop, then you can easily get a case with a cooling system and add cooling elements to an existing setup. I don't think it's necessarily, but serious cooling systems that utilize liquids to sort of air condition the inside of your computer do exist. See here.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:17 PM on August 21, 2015

You don't need to do anything at all extraordinary to have a system that runs cool. The liquid cooling and stuff is mostly silly, for people who like overclocking and doing other aggressive stuff. Ordinary use and gaming doesn't need anything more than a decent power supply, maybe one case fan, and good heat sinks and fans on the CPU and GPU. The stock HSF shipped with components is fine for ordinary users.

A quiet system can be a bit trickier, just because poorly built systems often just have too many fans to make life simple. Variable speed fans and a good power supply make a huge difference, as do power-efficient components (which are no longer rare or odd). About 8 years ago I bought a quiet Windows PC from EndPCNoise and was quite happy with it. It was expensive! If I were doing that again I'd consider Puget Systems, purely on the strength of the endorsement at Logical Increments.

FWIW I use Apple hardware now. iMacs are exceptionally well built to stay quiet and cool. MacOS gaming still sucks though.
posted by Nelson at 2:34 PM on August 21, 2015

On the GPU side of things, the Nvidia GTX 950 and 960 series are both fairly power-efficient (TDP of 90 W and 120 W respectively) cards that are plenty powerful for current games provided you're not trying to run at a super-high resolution (i.e. 1440p or 4K/2160p, for which you'd probably want a beefier GPU). Ars Technica recently published a positive review of the 950, with comparisons to other current Nvidia cards. I put a 960 in a desktop I built earlier this year and I've been happy with it.

Also, building a desktop PC is pretty easy these days if you're not using fancy liquid cooling systems. If you've installed a drive and a wireless card, then presumably you've mounted parts in a case, inserted a card into the motherboard, and connected internal cables. Assembling a whole desktop is pretty much just more of those tasks.
posted by egregious theorem at 2:51 PM on August 21, 2015

I have been running Mac's in the tropics for years. No problem at all.
The worse enemy is salt water moisture.
posted by Mac-Expert at 3:32 PM on August 21, 2015

In my experience, the worst loud fans are on graphics cards. Different manufacturers use different cooling, even on the same model card. You can usually find reviews that mention the noise level.

I bought a custom quiet computer from Puget here, which is maybe overkill, but it is very quiet.
posted by teki at 4:47 PM on August 21, 2015

A lot of brand name pre-assembled systems are unreliable above about 80-85f ambient, or will pushed to their limits(and throttling performance wise) there. This includes most major prebuilt tower systems. Most are rated at 90f or so as the maximum ambient operating temperature and that means "will run loudly without breaking" not "will run properly". My HP workstation in my office, which has no HVAC or windows(UGH) will ramp its fans up to max over and over even at like, 82.

I've had good experiences running imacs reliably in hot(85f+) rooms while still performing at full speed and keeping quiet. Their fans are VERY quiet even when they spool up, you just don't notice them. The scary part is the casing, and internal temps will get BURNING hot... but i ran mine like this for years and it still runs perfectly. The critical thing was cleaning the fans seasonally with an air compressor. A real compressor with lots of flow, not just canned air.

What kind of gaming are we talking here? All the imacs will handle say, league of legends... but you're not going to be playing like shadow of mordor at acceptable framerates. maybe barely at 720p with the lowest settings.

The suggestions above about an intel CPU, and nvidia 9 series GPU are spot on. A 750ti(which is the same generation of chip as the rest of the 9/maxwell series), 960, or 970 will play basically any game from fairly capably to utterly blasting through it, depending on how much money you want to drop.

I recently rebuilt my desktop with a cheapo liquid cooling kit(of the closed loop variety). It's EXTREMELY quiet, never spools up the fan even in an 80+ degree room, and keeps the CPU very cool and running at full speed at the maximum possible overclock it can handle. At stock speeds it wont even warm up, even when it's over 85 in my living room. And it's crammed up next to a desk with crappy airflow.

NCIX will build a system for you and ship it out with a warranty, from your selection of parts. If you want a list of parts that would cost maybe 2/3rds of the most basic imac even with their assembly fee i can whip one up. Something like an intel i5, liquid cooler, and a good multi-fan version of the gtx 960 will run basically silently. That system, assuming you're keeping your monitor and peripherals, should be like $650 or so including the build charge. Maybe a bit more, since i would spring for a nicer motherboard that has heatsinks on the power circuitry so it could really put up with that sort of operation. I switched from a cheapo board to one like that, and i noticed that the temps of the power regulators and chips on the board went from 85c to 60c or less, which will last a LOT longer.

Another thing of note, when i had a VERY hot room with a system that ran hot and blasted out a ton of heat(older high end components known for being very hot)... i bought a portable AC, and just aimed it at my desk. Cooled me and the system ran quite cool.

On preview, another thing i do is let the system idle for 10 minutes or so before i put it to sleep if i'm done for the day just so all the components can work their way down to as close to idle or ambient temp as possible. Shutting down in a hot room with hot just-stressed components can cause heat soak(normally an automotive term, but look it up). Mainly that stuff that was staying within operational guidelines because the fans were on is still very hot, and will heat to temps ABOVE what they can handle for a bit after the fans shut off. This decreases the lifespan of parts, obviously. I have a strong belief that this is what causes failures in a lot of laptops.
posted by emptythought at 4:58 PM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Fwiw, Google runs their datacenters at 80F because it's more efficient.
posted by odinsdream at 5:11 PM on August 21, 2015

You mention moving, and then the fan blasting - have you checked that the CPU cooler wasn't knocked loose during the move? (It happened to me.)
posted by quinndexter at 1:34 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Fwiw, Google runs their datacenters at 80F because it's more efficient.

That's, mostly, commercial grade hardware though(i know they use some cheapo consumer grade stuff in their servers). I'm speaking from experience on this point from people i've discussed this with who run say, PC gaming/LAN centers who were trying to see what they could set the thermostat to so they could save a buck. Or in cool "loft" offices in old industrial spaces that also lack(or lack decent) HVAC.
posted by emptythought at 12:48 PM on August 22, 2015

If you're amenable to brushing up on your PC building skills, you could look at building a water-cooled PC. Silent and very efficient cooling. (Disclaimer: I've never built one myself, but I know people who have, to great effect.)
posted by snap, crackle and pop at 8:41 PM on August 24, 2015

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