Power In / Heat Out – How to Keep your PC Cool

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Your PC is a technological wonder. Within its metal chassis are scores of sensitive pieces of hardware that turn raw electricity into the digital pictures, words and programs that make our daily digital existence possible. But as your CPU whirs away and your harddrive hums, they create their own worst enemy: heat. The delicate inner workings of your video card, motherboard and processors are very sensitive to heat build-up and a PC that fails to handle high internal temperatures risks stability issues, poor performance and permanent hardware damage and data loss.

Power = Heat!

Everything that uses electricity produces heat. Without worrying about the technical details, as electricity travels it encounter resistance and this resistance generates heat. The wiring in your computer is built specifically to generate the smallest amount of heat possible, but electricity (which your PC needs in spades, er, volts) inevitably begets heat. What’s not inevitable is letting this become a problem. Let’s look at some ways to keep your PC cool:

Air Cooling

Hear your computer whirring? No, that’s not a hamster inside the power supply: what you’re hearing is the most commonly used method in getting rid of all that pesky heat: fans Like blowing on your coffee when it’s too hot, computer fans push the hot air close to your PC components out of the chassis and draw cooler air in. Fans are dirt cheap and dependable and, as such, are easily the most cost effective way to lower internal PC temperatures. Most computer cases come standard with at least 2 mounted fans, but adding addition air-movers is a simple DIY job. The biggest drawbacks associated with air-cooling are:

  • Creating optimal airflow: More air moving around isn’t necessarily better. Poorly positioned fans can loop heated air around inside the chassis, heating it instead of cooling it,
  • Dependant on external temperatures: Fans cool by circulating cooler air into a warm chassis. If the air outside the case isn’t much cooler than inside, no amount of blowing air will keep your motherboard cool,
  • Noise: An overclocked computer can easily need 3-5 fans to maintain a stable operating temperature and that gentle hum you hear now can easily become a small roar.

Air cooling is a good place to start, but, if you have serious cooling needs, check out these serious cooling solutions.

Water Cooling

Water inside a computer? Sounds like a bad idea waiting to happen, but water cooling radiators are one of the most efficient ways to draw excess heat out of your PC. Water conducts heat nearly 30x faster than air and takes more than 3x more heat to raise a similar amount of water, compared to air.

Originally used to cool massive mainframes, water radiator cooling (running water-filled lines to absorb heat from CPUs and other hot components and disappointed via a heat exchanger) was adopted in the late-90’s by PC overclocking enthusiasts to keep their amped-up video cards and processors from melting. Thanks to these pioneers, water-cooling has become the recommended next step-up from air cooling and you can buy professionally-built water cooling systems online and at specialty shops. The drawback from water cooling are about what you’d expect:

  • Cost: While adding extra fans to air-cool your PC generally costs less than $15, water cooling systems can run into the hundreds of dollars,
  • Complexity: The concept of water cooling is straight-forward, but putting it into practice requires a moderate level of engineering. Water cooling systems generally come with pumps, coolant, fail-safe devices (to prevent damage from leaks), pressure controls and more. Understanding every part of you new water cooling kit can take a bit of research and, while installation is generally fairly straightforward, repairs and upkeep should be done by a professional.

 

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