Total Drek

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Tuesday, July 06, 2004

It comes with a freezer, two ice trays, and 32 megs of RAM

So, welcome back to part two of our two part post: "The Two Part Post!"

You gotta love the name, eh?

As you'll recall from yesterday, I've been bitching and moaning about the amount of heat accumulating in my computer. To solve this problem, I've decided to try building a computer in a fridge. Specifically, a mini-fridge. Yes, these staples of office and dorm life will finally serve a more noble purpose.

The first step was acquiring the fridge. As I live in a college town, this proved to be simpler than you might think. Now, many people might suggest perusing the want ads or checking eBay. I, on the other hand, walked my dog. That's right, I walked my dog. What does this have to do with acquiring a mini-fridge? Not a goddamn thing, except that during one such walk I happened upon a mini-fridge resting in a neighbor's front yard, with a sign on it that said "free." Well, it might have actually said "Do not take" but I'm pretty sure it said "free." In any case, I managed to acquire a functioning mini-fridge absolutely free of charge. I'll tell you, this goes a long way towards making up for all those used condoms my neighbor leaves in the gutters. Not all the way, mind you, but a long way.

So, the fridge was taken care of. The next step was to acquire a computer to use for testing. See, I've never built a computer in a fridge, so I decided it would be wise to use a specially trained stunt computer the first time out of the gate. Amazingly, this proved to be an easy step, as all I had to do was look in my closet. Several months earlier I had acquired an old, decrepit Compaq. The seller had inadvertently screwed up the specs and sold me a 133 mhz system instead of a 1.33 ghz system. I would be mad, but it came with a 15" Sony monitor and cost me $25. Yeah, exactly. In any case, I stripped the computer for parts and stored it in a closet. Now, amazingly, I had a purpose for this piece of festering crap. The position of "stunt computer" was filled.

The next step was to acquire a drill, for cutting holes in the side for cables. This I borrowed from a friend, and got a set of titanium-coated borer bits from my father, who has metric tons of that type of crap just lying around. Last, but not least, I acquired a cardinal-themed outdoor thermometer, for use in tracking temperature in the computer.

At last I settled down to work. The first step was to drill a hole in the side of the fridge for monitor, power, and I/O cables. This turned out to be more difficult than expected, as you know if you've ever tried to drill a hole through a fridge. So, basically, you don't know, but take it from me, it's hard. An added difficulty was the insulation inside; made from polyurethane, this stuff smells awful and turns into a fine dust that I am convinced now lines my lungs, and will shorten my life by several years. However, after a lengthy drilling process, punctuated by a lot of swearing, I had dug out an adequate hole.

From here, I righted the fridge, reinserted the shelves, and began installing the computer. This phase of the operation could best be described as the "jigsaw" phase, as I was trying to find a configuration of parts that would allow everything to be connected and still allow the cables to exit the fridge. Ultimately I decided to put the power supply, HDD, and CD-ROM on the main shelf and the mainboard and floppy drive underneath, with power and IDE cables snaking through the shelf grille. You can see that this is a little awkward, but is nevertheless serviceable.

Once these components were installed and connected, I ran the necessary cables through the hole in the fridge and connected the keyboard, mouse, and monitor. The power cable, needless to say, I left unplugged. Now, obviously, the cables themselves are narrower than their connectors, thus meaning I had a large hole in the side of the fridge that needed to be plugged. If it wasn't plugged, it was doubtful that the fridge would cool itself adequately. What to use to plug this hole, however?

Fortunately, I had a solution. My roomie and I often save the thick sheets of drier lint that accumulate when we do laundry. This happens to make excellent tinder when I go camping. In this case, a large wad of it crammed into the open space made excellent insulation. As you can see the lint wad totally fills the space in question.

With all the components in place:

I closed the fridge door and plugged the fridge in. Instantly the happy little hum of the compressor came on, and I settled down to wait. Well, actually, I went running. I'm a little too hyper to settle down for anything. When I checked after forty minutes, the fridge had reached its desired temperature of 60 degrees fahrenheit. It was time. So, I opened the door, switched on the power supply, and waited for the magic to happen. Of course, no magic happened. So I plugged the damn computer IN, switched on the power supply, and felt like an absolute moron.

Amazingly enough, the computer came on flawlessly.

It runs just fine in the fridge and, so far, the temperature is staying between 60 and 65 degress (with a lot of margin for error, since I have to open the bloody door to look at the cardinal-themed thermometer), depending on what the system is doing. My refrigerated computer, henceforth to be known as the IceBox, is a tentative success.

So, does this mean that a fridge is the perfect place to build your next computer? Eh. I don't know. So far, this system runs fine, but the IceBox is using the guts of an old computer. As we all know performance=heat, so more modern equipment with video cards and other doo-dads is going to produce considerably more heat. A refrigerator is, ultimately, designed to cool material that is NOT generating heat itself. That means the fridge can take its own sweet time about cooling it. Why does that matter? Well, if we assume that the fridge can remove 5 joules of heat from the inner chamber per minute, anything can be kept cold inside the fridge SO LONG as it produces 5 joules of heat per minute or LESS. If it produces more heat per minute than that, internal temperature will gradually rise. In this case, all that insulation in the fridge will work against you, rather than for you, and cook your computer. The next step for me is to start working the CPU in the IceBox harder and see what happens to the heat level.

And if that goes well, we may just have to try building something a little more powerful in there. And if THAT works, I have only one thing to say:

At the next LAN party, your ass will belong to me.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

this stuff smells awful and turns into a fine dust that I am convinced now lines my lungs, and will shorten my life by several years.Yes, but you are protected from freezer burn.

I have to open the bloody door to look at the cardinal-themed thermometerTry an indoor-outdoor thermometer. It will have a wire that you can run inside the fridge. No more opening the door. To get really fancy, how about a webcam inside the fridge? Check temperature and condensation from anywhere!

- Alan

Tuesday, July 06, 2004 8:42:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...

Actually, Alan, I considered the indoor-outdoor thermometer. I went with the styling cardinal-themed thermometer because it was cheap. Let's face it, I used a stunt computer because there was every chance that, when I switched things on, something Very Bad would happen. If I was going to blow the thing up in the first five minutes, I didn't want to torch a slightly more pricey temperature sensor at the same time.

If the testing goes well and I decide to build a more powerful system into the fridge, I'll spring for a more sophisticated thermometer.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004 3:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I plan on putting my 2.13ghz machine into an fridge as well...Do you think it would stay cool still...I was thinking if that wouldnt workout i could use an icebox...

Saturday, June 03, 2006 3:06:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Hey Joshua,

Sadly, I don't think your plan will work. I tried something similar later on (the post is here) and the fridge couldn't cool the computer fast enough. If you have any alternative design ideas, though, I'd love to hear them.

If you insist on trying it, my advice is to splice some extra wire into the power supply and locate it outside the fridge.

Sunday, June 04, 2006 9:19:00 AM  

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