Hot enough for you? How about your PC?

The weather widget says we’re into the 80s to stay here, with the possibility of crossing into the 90s by the end of this week. That’s a far cry from the 100+ temperatures that were par for the course in Scottsdale, but it’s still hot. And that’s especially bad news for PCs. Overheating can cause all sorts of problems, from unexplained crashes to premature parts failures, which is why I pass along this reminder every year at this time.

I’ve got a half-dozen computers in this office, and I try to pay close attention to fans, airflow, and the overall ambient temperature in the office. PCs that are in cramped quarters where they don’t get enough ventilation are especially vulnerable. I periodically clean dust and dust bunnies out of fans, too. This year, I’m using power management to keep computers idle, reducing heat and using less power, when I’m not using them.

Ever had any heat-related hardware failures? How hot is it in your part of the world right now, and what are you doing (or planning) to keep cool?

14 thoughts on “Hot enough for you? How about your PC?

  1. Actually, my heat-related failures were from the heat of the device itself. My Gateway 600X kept on having internal components melt during normal use… I sent it back 3 times over the problem, and one of the times they installed a huge heatsink that required removing one of the normal keyboard screws. Anyways, I finally bought a USB-powered cooling fan to sit underneath it, and never had a problem again.

    It’s been in the 80s here, and I’d like to kiss the inventor of air conditioning. I prefer colder weather… I think I’m meant to be a penguin.

  2. So far so good with no heat related computer problems. I have had an old monitor start smoking right in front of my eyes. It was an old Packard Bell. I believe it was due to a combination of bad design and accumulated dust that was very difficult to get out.

  3. I have the same issue as you Ed – loads of PCs (8 – 10 depending on what I’m doing) crammed together into a small room humming away all day. Lucky for me these aren’t in my office but in another room so I don’t have to listen to them or experience the heat (I mostly remote desktop to them rather than sit by them).

    But still, heat is a problem. What I can do because noise isn’t a big issue is make sure that each PC has a good intake fan on the front and a equally good exhaust fan on the back/side/top. I occasianally check the HD temps in summer and get rid of the dust yearly and unless there’s a fan failure I find this system works pretty well.

  4. Ed – it also cools off nicely here in New Mexico at our high mountain desert altitudes compared to your old stomping grounds in Scottsdale where “relief” is often measured in dropping to the 90’s from the triple digits of the daytime. ;^)

    In addition to the PC-based fans you’d discussed, a ceiling fan that draws the heat upwards, combined with a passive ventilator (assuming a single-story or top-level location to exhaust the rising heat to the attic or outdoors works really well and uses very little power.

  5. I’ve got a five-year-old Toshiba Satellite laptop, one of the lower-end models. It’s had heat issues almost from the beginning. I’ve heard that this particular model has a desktop processor in it which causes the overheating problem, though I don’t know whether that’s actually true or not. (Toshiba support was unwilling to discuss that with me.)

    When I first got it, it would randomly shut down due to overheating, and after a couple of months something fried and it needed to go in for a warranty repair. While replacing the fried chip, they also applied a bios “fix” that throttles the CPU in attempt to prevent overheating. It runs slowly and doesn’t particularly care to play video. It still has overheating issues, too, though by using CPUice and keeping an eye on the temperature when doing anything very processor-intensive I can keep it under control. In the summer I generally aim a fan at it to provide as much air circulation as possible; otherwise it overheats.

    Lesson learned: Don’t buy the cheapest laptop at the store :p

  6. I live in a brick-and-concrete apt. on the 3rd floor with no AC. I have two machines, a workstation and a server. The server has a cheap MSI Sempron-based board and runs perfectly. The workstation has an Athlon 64 which locked up hard on the first hot-weather day when it reached 104 degrees in the room.

    I found that the CPU doesn’t overheat. But the chipset does; the machine would run but weird things would happen, like hard-locking the SATA controller so the machine would die anyway. No thanks to nVidia and Vista.

    Yes, I clean the dust bunnies on both my machines regularly. And I have extra ventilation for my DSL modem (a furnace) and router after I cooked my Netgear router once (under warranty, fortunately.)

    There are metal-mesh desk document racks and picnic caddys that you can repurpose to put hot equipment on and in. I strongly recommend them, since most of us don’t have 19-inch racks around. Another thing to note: Many motherboards have chipset fans as do many video cards. Check those and make sure they’re turning. I chose to get motherboards and video cards without fans since they are often custom and a real bear to fix if the fans die.

    Take care.

  7. It’s been in the high 80s and low 90s. I had a lot of heat problems until I bought a new replacement case (better design and bigger fans) and better power supply. In the computer science lab on my campus we run a lot of machines but everything stays really cool because the lab is below floor level and the AC is run every once in a while.

  8. Buying retail computers with good cooling his hit or miss. Dell for example does a nice job with it’s Dimension and XPS full size desktops using various air scoops, fans and blowers but anything that uses notebook parts or the lay flat Optiplexs are hit or miss. Most notebooks in general have poor cooling and are limited by their size of what is possible. Notebooks that appear to have good cooling is usually due to the components being highly energy efficient and producing less heat.

    Custom built machines rely on many factors. You want to start with a good tower with adequate and proper airflow. The case should have a filtered air vent in the front bottom and high capacity fan in the rear middle right near the CPU and Video Card(s) for ATX cases. The power supply needs to be a good brand (Enermax, Antec, PC Power and Cooling) because they run efficiently, produce less heat and maintain proper voltage at higher temperatures. Avoid mainboards with cooling fans, they are usually cheap sleeve bearing fans prone to failure. Look for mainboards with chipsets that have passive coolers (most if not all Intel Chipsets and boards). Stock Boxed CPU coolers especially from Intel are 100% reliable. You have more problems with third party coolers. Application of thermal compound is essential which includes the proper amount (don’t over do it). But what type/brand of compound is irrelevant, whatever comes with the cooler will do fine. The rule is that the more active coolers you have and need the more failure points you have. CPU, PSU, Video Card and a good case fan is more than adequate. Don’t waste your time with dozens of irrelevant case fans, HD coolers (proper spacing and placement of HDs is essential) and water cooling ect…

    The most overlooked thing and one of the most critical is good wiring which insures proper airflow. The wiring doesn’t need to win case modding awards but it needs to be properly routed and tied out of the way.

    Lastly keep the computer away from heat source including sun light and keep it off the carpet and out of closed in cabinets. In the end you can do nothing for the computer if the ambient air temperature is too high. You need to keep the room temperature below the operating temperature of your components. A dozen fans cannot keep something cool blowing 100 degree air onto a hot part. Check the operating temperature specs of your parts (available online) and keep the room temperature below the lowest rated component.

    I never have heat problems unless a fan fails. Too many Video Card HSF are crap.

    Most common heat related failure points: Cheap PSU fans, cheap chipset fans, cheap video card fans, cheap third party CPU fans and finally cheap Video Card HSFs detaching from the cards.

  9. I just had a hard drive fail on my Media Center PC because of heat issues. The PC (an HPZ552) is mounted in our living room in the television cabinet. Heat was alwasy an issue so I installed an extra fan that blows the warm air away from the PC and into the room. Its somewhat loud, but seems to do the job.

    The drive that failed was the slide in drive from HP they offer to expand the storage capacity of the machine. I used that drive just for music and digital photos. I have two other computers throughout the house and all the computers use the photos as the screen savers. I guess three computers hitting a single drive every 6 seconds to grab a digital picture 12 hours a day tooks its toll over a year.

    Any suggestions from people on how to deal with heat related to a media center PC. Normally these machines get crammed into cabinets where the purpose of the cabinet is too look nice in the living room, not keep a machine cool. I’m about to upgrade this PC to Vista MCE and may get a new machine. Any thoughts/tips?

  10. For my ThinkPads, I use large size plastic towel hooks for about 2 dollars (the kind that stick to the wall) to elevate the back of the computer. This pretty much stops the reflective heat from the desk from bouncing back into the laptop case, and it gives me a nice typing angle, too. The added 1.5 inch space lets hot air flow away from the bottom of the computer. Use Velcro to attach the hooks so they can be taken off quickly so the computer can go back into a bag. You could also cobble up a mini-sized computer case fan to run right off a USB port. Use a 12 volt fan which would run about half speed with the lower USB bus voltage. A silent breeze for more cooling thru that angled space! Many electronics stores now sell variable voltage power supplies if you prefer to run that fan from AC.

    For a desktop, double the size of the case fans, then use a resistor in series with the red lead to drop the voltage and reduce the speed for much quieter running and longer fan life. Sometimes you can find a switchable device that goes in series with the fan for speed adjustment. That’s certainly more elegant that a resistor.

    Move the hard drives to the 5 1/2 inch bays and use some sort of flexible bungie or heavy rubber bands to suspend the drives in the bays. This also gets rid of the hard drive racket caused by the case amplifying the drive noise. Use a small fan at half speed to blow air right across the drives.

  11. Not any heat related problems, but I’ve noticed my fans are turning at a higher RPM now, so the it’s noisier.

    Got 2 desktops and a Mac Mini in a smaller room. Will probably use sleep alot more often that I used to during the winter.

  12. Systems room- small with minimum of 4 systems running plus sundry support (e.g., network) and battery bu devices. Cooling- all have many fans and heatsinks, but not enough in 100+F local temps. Solution- 12,500 BTU window unit.


  13. I’ve had to swap all the factory fans in my Alienware for newer ones due to the sheer noise factor. For the most part the CPUs run at about 42C. I’m seriously thinking about getting a system with passive cooling (i.e., liquid w/external heat exchanger) in the future.

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