Fanless DIY Dual-P3 WC System

Do-It-Yourself Systems
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June 23, 2004 by Ami Rodan

EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION: Given the the absence of any decoupling suspension on the hard drive, Ami's fanless dual-CPU P3-500 Blue 42 can't be a silent system. But I think it must be very quiet and it must have been fun for Ami Rodan to build. It's another testament to PC silencing creativity — although some will frown over the mixing of metals in the watercooling system. Enjoy the read. - Mike Chin

As a long time computer user and moderate time SPCR reader, silencing PC's has become second nature to me. Almost every machine that comes under my hands is subjected to some sort of silencing treatment, not only because I can't stand the incessant machine noise in my environment, but also since I use computers in my recording studio.

My first attempt at silencing a computer was replacing a stock PSU for a dual CPU PIII500 with a PSU, resulting in a greatly reduced noise level and the beginning of an obsession with all things silent…an obsession whose culmination is currently my newest concept project: Blue 42.

The legacy system I mentioned above is the one I returned to when looking to prove a challenge that has long since occupied my mind: Can a PC be completely passively cooled, subject to the following conditions?

A. Reasonable cost - i.e. no 200$ fanless PSU's, 350$ watercooling kits or 1400$ heatpipe cases.

B. Temperatures have to stay reasonably low - i.e. no "my CPU is at 70C but feelin' mighty happy about it" scenarios.

C. The system is limited to the case itself and be at least somewhat portable - i.e. no exotic systems running water to the basement and back again.

In this article I will explain in detail how I managed to achieve this goal given all three conditions: A passive, completely DIY watercooling rig with costing only $33.50 in parts and materials (for the cooling system). Along the way, I show what I think is a unique and original way to create homemade, DIY effective waterblocks with no need to weld, grind, nibble or use horribly expensive tools.


It was clear to me that I would need to use watercooling in some form or another. Achieving passive cooling using large heatsinks or heatpipes was demonstrated as feasible (I remember one astute SPCR reader who built an amazingly well crafted prototype) but since my machining / AutoCAD / Heatpipe skills are virtually nil, I decided to go the watercooling route. Besides, water dissipates heat around 15 times better than air, which means I'll have to make 15 times less of an effort!

After more pondering, it occurred to me that given a large enough radiator and a strong enough pump, I could probably get away fanless by installing the radiator on the side of the case and letting the heat dissipate into the environment.

All I needed now was to find a large radiator. The Kibbutz where my girlfriend lives has a car junkyard… hmmm. I wonder if they'll let me "harvest" one from an old car? I did a bit of hunting around and found exactly what I was looking for: A huge copper tube/aluminum fin rad (over 3 square meters) with small diameter connectors and split-flow design from an '82 Subaru pickup. Opening the connector valve I heard the familiar 'psss' of escaping air signaling that it was airtight.

The only problem was the dirt. Removing the caulk. mud, dirt, leaves and insects from this baby took me about a month, starting off with a few hosedowns, some bathtub immersions in hot water and soap, and ending with an immersion in a very strong acid designed for cleaning boilers. I managed to get most of the gunk out, but it still isn't looking perfect, as you can see in the pictures.

Case with rad mounted on the side, cell phone for scale purposes.

My victim for a case is an old mid-tower from 1997. The first thing I had to do was separate the two sides from the top cover (What were they thinking when they made this case??) so that the rad could be permanently mounted on the right side. I did this using a hacksaw, which makes pretty easy work out of cutting metal.

Next thing on my list was getting a pump, and with Condition A in mind (being cheap) I went to a local pet store and got me a nice 300 l/h submersible pump (totally silent) for $20. I placed it in my reservoir/pump bay made out of a Nescafe jar.

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