Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Chilly processor units

Anyone who has used a laptop atop a lap is intimately familiar with the heat that a modern CPU can generate. Every watt of that heat is wasted.

Talking with Dave earlier, he mentioned that he had converted one of his PCs to liquid cooling, silencing at least some of the fans that had made the thing sound like a damned airplane. He explained how the cooling system used an aquarium pump to circulate water; I hypothesized that the pump was probably redundant–the CPU itself probably put enough energy into the system for natural convection to circulate the water adequately, as long as there’s a one-way valve in the plumbing somewhere. He was skeptical.

Anyhow, if it hasn’t been done already, it would make a good project for a casemodder. But after thinking about it a bit, I realized this idea had a lot of potential. Take it a step further: rather than using energy to cool the system, actively scavenge the processor’s waste heat. I can imagine a couple ways to do this:

  1. Install a water turbine in the radiator. This could drive a generator to produce a little juice, or be mechanically coupled to a fan. This would be quite elegant: the computer would become a homeostatic system that cooled itself down as a natural consequence of heating up.
  2. Install a stirling engine in the case. Again, this could be coupled to a fan or a generator.

Imagine the steampunk/geek-cred you’d earn by having a functioning stirling engine installed in your case.

2 Comments

  1. Oh my! That’s very, very cool (no pun intended, natch)…

    Okay, so here are some problems to solve that popped in my head as I read the entry…

    – how do you harness the heat efficiently? Could you just tap directly into the the heat sinks? (in particular, do CPUs radiate heat omnidirectionaly??)

    – Where do you stick a sterling engine in your case? (For the engine to work, it’s probably going to need to be close to the heat source (since it’s not going to be easy without superconductive material to route the heat away without lossy transfer))

    – the point of cooling is to get the heat away from the components, so you’d still have to sink it sufficiently to keep your cpu safe…

    I love the idea of the pump running itself or running a fan… I have no idea what the heat to electricity conversion rates might be or even if the cpu would generate enough heat to power a pump.

    Definitely worth experimenting, I’d say…

    Steampunk away! Steampunk away! If you take on this project, I’d love to hear about it…

  2. Well, with a liquid-cooled system + turbine, you would be adapting an existing heat-sink system. With a stirling engine, I believe the engine itself does transport heat, but one would need to work out how much heat it can dissipate, and how much cooling the CPU needed. I suspect that the engine would need to be fairly big to do the job, and that the CPU case would need to be designed around the engine, to provide the best temperature gradient possible.

    Realistically speaking, I’m probably not going to do it–I have almost no fabrication experience; I also don’t really know the exact physics involved, though I don’t think it’d be that hard to learn. But it would be fun to see.

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