Fans for the Memory

One and a half years later, and of course the case is full… I started to realise fairly soon that even the biggest full-tower was going to be limiting in the long-run - I wish now that I'd looked at the cube format server cases, but they would probably have hit the budget too badly for compromises elsewhere to be acceptable. However, many of my over-heating issues have come directly from the sheer quantity of hardware installed, and I've had to pay close attention to the physical space available for airflow - rounded IDE cables, the fan power and control loom run in and out of the frame and bezel where possible, and copious spiral wrap for the PSU tails. Even so, bringing the internal temperatures down to a level I'm happy with has been hard - I'm part of Distributed.Net's RC5-64 challenge, so both CPUs run flat out twenty four hours a day. This stretches any conventional cooling system, and there have been times when I've been close to tearing my hair - at one point fitting an additional 80mm front intake fan actually raised certain component temperatures… However, I haven't felt adventurous enough for Peltiers and liquid or evaporative cooling, so have been forced to corner the entire London fan market in order to feed my habit.

I ordered the case with it's maximum stock complement of fans and brackets (ten!) with the intention of wiring most of them in redundant pairs and using the DigiDoc to monitor fan rotation speed and component temperatures, activating the backup fan in case of failure or especially hot weather. However, the fluid mechanics of airflow in a complex 3D space is evidently beyond my ability to figure out from first principles (now rather rusty!), and it was soon obvious that I was going to need to switch on all the fans just to keep the system up for long enough to order more fans online… After that it becomes a little hazy, with each round of upgrades or additions going to be the one that would bring all my temperatures down to below 30°C, the rough target I had set, or even let me turn something off again! I watched the temperatures on the DigiDoc like a hawk, drawing little graphs in Excel and reading everything I could find in AnandTech, Ars.Technica and Tom's Hardware Guide… and I never found anybody else who would admit to a similar problem. Maybe the air is thicker and less slippery in East London...

A flurry of rewiring and re-arranging ensued as I added more and more fan hardware, and the details are now lost in the red mist. I know I upgraded the stock HSFs to Thermaltake Gold Orbs, not the best performing coolers of their day, but adequate for a 500MHz and oh-so-pretty… I went through a succession of hard disk coolers looking for ones slim enough to mount over each of the two mirrored drives in their rather cramped mounting bracket, but eventually had to settle for cooling just the lower of the two. I tried a Blue Orb as the video card cooler on the Voodoo for a while, and although it matched the CPU coolers cosmetically, in practical terms it was a sad little thing and was soon replaced by a Tennmax Stealth V3 cooler - smaller, slicker, and highly recommended. The current Radeon card has it's own onboard fan, though, and that seems to have been adequate even with mild overclocking. The Blorb may well be recycled as a BX chipset cooler at some point in the future.

Then there was the 2CoolPC duct - ducted airflow is common in server hardware, and I'd been mulling over a homebrew equivalent for a while without being able to work out how to do it neatly and elegantly. The 2CoolPC Plus, the high-powered single-fan version, seemed to be the answer - modestly priced, and certainly a well thought-out solution. The reviews were good, but I'd learned the hard way that the effectiveness of this sort of product often varies greatly from one system to another, and wasn't initially convinced. However, for once I was pleasantly surprised - it fit without too much head-scratching over the stiff round IDE cables rising straight up from my RAID card, and brought an average decrease of 5°C right across the system, making it probably the most significant module I installed.