Ron's Water Cooled HDD Silencing Enclosure

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July 7, 2003 by Ron Wlock

Ron is a fellow Vancouverite with an engineering background and DIY panache who says Silent PC Review was a source of inspiration and information in his unique journey to PC silence. His first major accomplishment was the design and construction of what is probably the world's biggest passively cooled radiator for his water cooled system. Ron's latest project extends that water cooling system to his hard drive while insulating its noise. His successful project is fully detailed in this well-documented article: The HDD temps & noise achieved will amaze & perhaps inspire. Enjoy the read! -- Mike Chin, Editor

Summary
This article describes how a hard drive was installed in a sound enclosure to completely eliminate the whining noise normally associated with 7200 RPM drives. A water cooled copper heat sink was attached to the drive, to prevent the drive from over heating inside the foam lined enclosure. The result: Hard drive noise inaudible beyond 6" and an average drive operating temperature of just 24° Celsius.

Introduction
Recently, I installed a PC water cooling system using a passive (fan-less) radiator and was delighted with the elimination of the noisy CPU and case fans. (Editor's note: Ron wrote an article about this project that was published by Overclockers.com.) The only two devices remaining in the PC creating noise were the power supply fan and the 7200 RPM hard drive. Using a rheostat, the 80 mm fan in the power supply was slowed to 2100 RPM. It is now very quiet in comparison to the stock Intel Pentium 4 CPU fan that was removed. The hard drive, on the other hand, emitted an annoying high pitch whining noise. In pursuit of a quiet computer, the decision was made to install the hard drive in an enclosure to muffle this noise.

Hard Drive Enclosure Design Concept
A PacTec plastic enclosure was purchased, model FLX-7050, having the outside dimensions of 18 (L) x 13 (W) x 8 cm (H), (7 x 5 x 3"), which is adequate room to contain a hard drive. The enclosure is manufactured with ABS - 94VO plastic with a wall thickness of 3 mm (0.125").

To minimize noise emanating from the enclosure, the inside walls were lined with 4 mm (0.16") thick sound absorbing foam. This foam is normally used to muffle the sounds inside a computer case and has self adhesive backing which makes it easy to install.

The hard drive is an ATA 40 GB IBM Deskstar 60GXP, (model IC35LO40AVER07-0), with a recommended ambient operating temperature between 5 and 55 degrees C.

Mounting the drive in an enclosure elevates the drive operating temperature, and excessive heat could be detrimental to the drive. A higher temperature occurs for two reasons. First, the drive is normally mounted in a metal drive bay that acts as a heat sink and helps to lower the drive temperature. This would not be the situation with the drive in a plastic enclosure. Second, with the drive "encapsulated" in the enclosure, there is no air flow to cool the drive.

A simple test was performed to determine the impact of the plastic enclosure on the drive operating temperature. The drive was placed in the foam lined enclosure with the lid attached. During the test, the drive temperature was monitored using the software Drive Temperature by DaleSoft while the computer was used for various office applications such as word processing, emailing, and internet browsing. When not in the enclosure, the hard drive temperature varied between 35 and 39 degrees C. over a one hour period. When the hard drive was installed in the enclosure, the temperature soon rose to 45 degrees C. and the test was terminated. It was apparent the enclosure contributed to a higher operating temperature, and the decision was made to fabricate a water cooled heat sink for the drive.

Research on the internet indicated that water cooling a hard drive is not a new concept. There are various commercial products available and several computer enthusiasts have successfully built their own. Hard drive water cooling devices are usually based on one of the following three basic design concepts:

1. A water cooled plate, either mounted on the top or the bottom of the drive.
2. A water cooled block mounted on one side of the drive chassis.
3. Two water cooled blocks, one mounted on each side of the drive chassis.

The decision was made to design a hard drive water cooler incorporating all three concepts. Copper plate stock with the thickness of 1.6 mm (0.063") was selected as the heat sink material and bent into a "U" shape.

I am fortunate to have a neighbour who owns a metal forming brake and he graciously assisted with the bending of the sheet stock for the heat sink. The plan was to have the "U" shape heat sink slip snuggly over the hard drive and fasten it to the drive using machine screws. However, it was soon apparent there were difficulties with this design. After the bending operation, the width of the "U" was smaller than 102 mm (4") and would not fit around the hard drive. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to change the width using a hammer and forming blocks.

My neighbour claimed he could bend copper sheet to the exact dimension of 102 mm, but needed a couple of sample pieces for trial bending. However, rather than spend money on more copper sheet, the decision was made to redesign the heat sink and cut off one leg.

In retrospect, an "L" shape copper heat sink is easier to make than the "U" shape, and was found to be very effective for cooling a hard drive.

There was a slight problem with the "L" shaped heat sink not making full contact with the top of the hard drive. Lack of full contact would impede heat transfer, therefore a 90 degree aluminum bracket was constructed to solve this problem.

The aluminum bracket serves two functions. First, it holds the copper heat sink against the top of the drive to aid heat transfer. Second, it transfers heat from the side of the drive chassis to the copper heat sink.



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