Innovative Energy Engineering


Powerful electronic components produce significant heat that needs to be dissipated. Components with little (RAM or capacitors) or moderate (Power phases for CPU, low level graphics or chipset) heat generation typically employ passive coolers to transfer heat to the air in the case. CPUs and powerful GPUs employ a fan cooled cooler. More air movement means more noise. Multiple larger fans at lower speed produce less noise than fewer smaller fans that operate at high speed. Components should be selected to be most power-efficient to produce less heat.

Air Cooling

A CPU chip transfers heat through thermal compound to a copper heat spreader. This spreader protects the chip from physical damage, but limits heat transfer. Another layer of thermal compound separates the actual cooler (also referred to as heatsink) from the heat spreader. The thermal compound eliminates air in between the microscopic coarse surfaces. The heatsink typically consists of an aluminum core with aluminum fins. This saves cost and weight compared to copper, which would conduct heat better. Some coolers have copper cores the spread heat better. Those aluminum fins are cooled by a fan. The relatively limited heat conductance of aluminum can be overcome by implementation of heat pipes. Simply speaking heatpipes contain a refrigerant (i.e. alcohol at specific pressure). Near the CPU the fluid boils and the vapor condenses near the fins. The liquid wicks back to the CPU and the cycle starts over. Most powerful air-coolers employ heat pipes. The limited fin-air heat transfer can be improved by high air velocities and larger surfaces. This is limited by fan noise that can be tolerated and the physical space and weight requirements.

Powerful but silent coolers typically are tower types with 92mm, or even 120 mm fans. 140 mm fan models exceed performance and reduce noise even more, but create clearance issues with other components. Most CPUs have small manufacturer-provided coolers with 80 mm fan and simple aluminum heatsink without heat pipe. Those do the job, but get loud when under load (fans typically are controlled based on CPU temperature). The standard Intel clip cooler attachment is not very good and should be avoided. A backplate-screw-on cooler allows more stable attachment and removal. An aftermarket cooler is highly recommended and should be chosen based on thermal Design Power (TDP). Below TDP recommendations are conservative and allow very silent operation. The coolers can dissipate much more heat, but at higher fan speed. Some very silent coolers at a good price:

Water Cooling

Watercooling systems have significant theoretical advantages similar what is discussed on the HVAC pages. In addition CPU and GPU heat does not recirculate in the case. However, the increased cooling performance is only beneficial for extreme powerful systems (i.e. overclocked CPU and GPU). There is a long list of drawbacks only enthusiasts are willing to endure. Cost is always higher compared to air cooling. There is the obvious risk of damage to the components if there is a leak. Noise can be problematic since a pump is added to the radiator fans. The small pumps have a shorter life than most fans. Some air still needs to circulate through the case to cool RAM, chipset, capacitors and other components. Over time the hoses lose some water that needs to be made-up, which requires some maintenance. Better and more expensive systems can help with some of the concerns, but in general air-cooled systems are the safer option.

Case and Power Supply

The case contains all components and needs to be ventilated. Large 140 mm fans allow airflow at low noise. Dust filters on air intake protect all components (and their heat transfer surfaces) from dirt. Air intake flow rate should be higher than exhaust (positive pressure) to prevent infiltration of dirty air. Typically air is taken in from front and and bottom and exhausted at rear and on top. HDD should be located in a fan airstream for cooling. typically there are separate 2.5" SSD holders. The motherboard tray should have a CPU cutout for after-the fact CPU backplate mounting. Good cable management keeps all cables in order and out of the airstream and fans. Exhaust fan openings are covered with a bee-hive pattern instead of simple round holes for increased free area. One (of many) case manufacturers is Fractal Design.

The Power Supply Unit (PSU) ideally is at the bottom of the case and takes air in from underneath and not from inside the (warm) case. A temperature-controlled 120 mm fan can keep the PSU silent. Better energy efficiency ratings (gold or better) reduce operating cost and heat.

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