Improving CPU cooling on a college student budget – Beau Safken
Howdy Y’all, Beau Safken here with a topic that most of you don’t deal with but, for college students, every dollar counts.
I recently got an XP 1800+, Epox 8k3a, 256 Crucial PC2100, and lots of 99 cent fans. After assembling this computer, I was dumbfounded to find that the computer was running at 52C at idle and 61C at load. WOW, after reading the Overclockers Forums for a long time before acquiring this computer, I knew that those were horrible temperatures.
So the stage was set for a project that I would now focus all my energy and thought – after I see Austin Powers. But nevertheless here’s what I am setting out to do:
I know a lot of you guys are thinking: What’s he thinking, the stock HSF is junk – just replace it? Or why use that many fans to cool the case when the CPU is still getting hot from that thermal insulating blanket that’s on his HSF and CPU? Well here’s Your Answer:
WHY NOT! If you’re building a Cruncher, why spend 40 dollars on a good HSF if you can get good enough performance out of the HSF that’s included!!
You’re Poor – like me at the moment – and you want to overclock on a college student budget.
Well let’s begin our quest to find out where those pesky Celsius’s have gone and get rid of them. I feel that the best way to start this article is with a little list of all the components on the system that I am using at the beginning of this project:
- Palomino XP 1800+ AGOGA – 1.533 GHz stock with 133 x 11.5 Multiplier
- Stock heat sink, fan, and Thermal pad
- Epox 8k3a
- Crucial PC2100 256 MB DDR RAM
- 12 G Maxtor ATA33 HD
- Mid-tower case with 400 watt PSU
- Voodoo 5 5500 PCI
- Best Value 56k modem
- Arctic Silver 3
- 4 92mm 12v fans, 2 120mm fans 24v, 2 80mm 24v fans – might use them all or not. 99 cent fans, so what I do use I’ll deduct from the budget, K?
Given the fact that I have only allotted myself 10 dollars to get this computer cooler, I will have to be very clever about this. Note that for parts of this project, I already had some of the materials, therefore they will NOT go against my 10 dollar budget unless noted. If I had to buy something at a store I will note it in the following format: VINYL BOLTS AND HEXNUTS – Total budget left – Price of part = Total remaining budget.
I assume that most people that work with computers will have the items that I list and will not have to buy them.If not, mow a lawn or something..LOL. Here is the list of miscellaneous parts and stuff that I have used for this project:
- Good Computer tool kit – I bought one a long time ago. You should get one if you don’t already. They make life much easier.
- Static Band – get one NOW, why fry a part from static
- Static bags for components
- Y-Power cable cords
- Masking tape
- Table Lamp
- 600 or better grit Wet/Dry Sandpaper
- Sturdy non-static surface
- All your Manuals…MOBO, CPU etc…
- Electric wire splicing kit with various connectors. Mostly Butt connecters…
- Wire cutters
- X-acto blade – I prefer the pointy tapered ones….Everyone uses them right?
- Multimeter to check fans…Why put in a broken fan anyway.
- Electric tape – I prefer Vinyl
Some other stuff…I’ll note materials as I go through the sections at the start of each section so you know what I’m using in each section.
OK, you know what to expect so let’s get this article started already!!!!
- A built computer
- SETI for testing
- Glass of something nice to drink…Green tea for me, Chilled
Everyone knows that you need a starting point to begin so Lets get started with a picture of the machine itself:
This is a side shot of my case before we get started so y’all know what I’m dealing with. Nothing special, but it will be getting a makeover soon, I assure you – just be patient. From here I removed the side panel – I love side panels – makes life nice and easy.
Unfortunately I had accidentally turned on the flash and didn’t realize the picture would be unusable – I apologize. Just use your Imagination: Most of the important parts are out in the open and the usual rat’s nest of wires and cables that you see in most systems.
There are three fans in this case right now: One 92mm exhaust fan and two 92mm intake fans.
$10 – (.99 x 3 = 2.97) = $7.03 Left.
These were placed in the stock positions and mounted like the manufacturer wanted them to be – kind of. The exhaust fan on the left was for an 80mm fan slot, but I had four 92mm fans around so they got used. Just center the 92mm fan in the 80mm spot and draw an outline of the inside part of the fan onto the case. Also mark the new holes where the fan will have to be mounted.
Use your drill and make your holes. As you can see from the picture, the holes for the 92mm are just a little outside the 80mm holes, so you should be fine. I just used some screws that I found around the house for this fan because who cares – can’t see it anyway usually right?
As for the two intake fans, I stacked them on top of each other and used some spare twist ties on them to hold them to the case, making sure they stayed together. For this section of the project, that is what I did to start out my new system – but that will change (once again – patience).
OK so here’s the story: I have one well placed exhaust fan and two intake fans that I can’t feel from inside the case because of all the clutter and cords in the way, not to mention bad placement. Here is the MBM5 readout of the Temps with SETI running at Full Blast:
If your eyes aren’t good, I’ll tell ya the temps: System temp is 38C and CPU temp is 60C. Although the CPU monitor doesn’t say 100, it’s at load – Just haven’t configured properly, that’s all. These temps are nothing to brag about but that’s why I am writing this article. We will get these temperatures down and then after we get them down far enough, we’ll jack them up again by overclocking. So let’s begin the first phase of the project:
Phase 1: CLEAN UP YOUR ROOM!!!
- Zip-Ties or Cable Ties: $7.03 – 1.27 = $5.76 Left
- Baggy Twist ties
- 2 Vinyl Bolts ($.20 x 2 = $.40) and hex nuts ($.13 x 2 = $.26) (Size 8) $5.76 – .66 = $5.10 Left
- Electrical tape
LOL…didn’t mean to scare you all with that flashback to your childhood, but it’s true. Our computers are part of our lives. Here’s a picture of the finished product so we can get started on how to do it:
I would hope it would be, considering you’re taking your time to read this.
OK, so you can guess what that means: Yep, tidying up cable to improve airflow through the case. As you have seen, I will try and unclutter my case by using round cables, slot fans, watercooling, etc. Wait a sec! I only have $5.10 left of my budget. I can’t afford those things!
So what will I do then? MAKE MY OWN ROUND CABLES!! Here’s how you do it:
Just take your normal air-restricting IDE cable and fold them up on each other. Then, using your cable ties, make them into round cables. If you look at the right side of the picture, you can see an example of what it looks like. Do this for both your IDE and Floppy cable. Then what I did was run them around the outside or edge of my hard drive cage, securing them in place with Cable ties as I went along.
Then I looked at my situation again and decided to move the ATX power cable away from the front of my heat sink fan. I used three cable ties to do this. Take two of your cable ties to make a little chain and tie it to your case thru the unused parallel openings – now you have a mounting for your third cable tie.
Wrap it around the ATX power cables and then secure the loop around the little chain to pull those cords out of the way of your heat sink fan. Now I should have a lot better Air flow than I had before.
Next will be those pesky two intake fans that are on the front of my computer. The stock configuration calls for two 80mm fans to pull air thru the front. If you haven’t noticed, I like using bigger fans than the manufacturer uses. This time however, since the 92mm fans kind of fit nicely in the front slots, I thought I could use them for directing my airflow. This picture is of the setup:
Use some imagination and imagine the top picture and the bottom as one unit. The Bottom one was setup first. Using the holes that where drilled in the front of the case, I was able to us one vinyl bolt and the diagonal corners of the fan to secure it. It is a little crooked but hey, who will see it anyway – right?
This will give me the airflow I need on the bottom to cool my Voodoo 5. That card gets really hot. The next fan was kind of a seat of the pants type of install. What I did was secure the top of the fan first to the highest stock holes and you may be saying “Hey, they won’t stack on top of each other!!”
Well you’re right, so I tilted it so that the top intake fan points slightly up and towards my heat sink and exhaust fan. Then I secured the bottom half of the top fan using some cable ties to the top of the bottom fan. Now what else can I do?
Well, the manufacturer of my case put little grills on the front, OK if I was running an 80mm fan but I’m not. So out comes the hacksaw and pliers. I cut the holes the same as for the exhaust fan. Now we have good airflow. Almost perfect airflow from the front to the back of the case. With all of this air will it help our temperatures any?? Let’s see:
Well so it wasn’t a huge decrease but that is 2C that we don’t have to worry about. Now our temps are 31C in system and 55C on the CPU. That’s pretty good if ya ask me. Figure for a little house cleaning, pointing fans properly and making our own brand of round cables that isn’t too bad. Now we will perform a little surgery on this system. AKA: HELLO ARCTIC SILVER 3!!!!!
Phase 2: Scalpel Please?
- Arctic Silver 3 THERMAL: GREASE NOT ADHESIVE $5.10 – 4.95 = .15left
- Arctic Silver Application instructions printed out before opening the case. Here’s a link for those instructions
- Table lamp or light source
- X-acto hobby knife
- Plastic sandwich bag
- Rubbing alcohol or Nail polish remover WITH Acetone
- Paper towels
- Lint-free cloth: Lens cloths or Sunglass cleaner cloth
- 600 or better grit WET/DRY sandpaper
- Mirror or piece of glass
- Masking tape
- Computer tool kit
- STATIC BAND
- And of course another beverage: Maybe another green tea…Yum…
OK you guessed it – we are applying Arctic Silver 3 here. Since we used the thermal pad for the phase change media in the other tests, this will be how to get rid of that “Thermal Pad”. By thermal pad obviously it’s the pad AMD recommends you use always. I’m writing this article for people who already own a system, so if you didn’t build your machine, more than likely you have a thermal pad.
Arctic Silver 3 can be found cheaply on the web from $4.95 – $8.25 depending on where you go. This is probably the best thing you can do for your computer to drop temperatures in my opinion. The cost to temperature drop ratio is huge. Just get some!!
OK – first off, let’s get ready to power down and pull our computer apart. Don’t forget to print the instructions if you haven’t done this before – kind of hard to do when your chip is staring you in the face. Now it’s all pulled apart right? Sorry for no pictures of a pulled apart and cleaned CPU, but the Arctic Silver instructions should have a better description and pictures than I could provide with my junky digital camera.
Make sure when you are ready to pull your heat sink off your CPU to be relaxed. Don’t chip the die because you were in a hurry. Apply slight pressure to the heat sink clip while you’re holding the heat sink softly and pull it off. Not literally, but you get the picture.
You will notice that the thermal pad has really melted and made a mess of your beautiful CPU. I hate those things!!! They are like a cross between bubblegum and tree sap. This is where your buddy Goo Gone (GG) comes into play.
Using a Q-tip apply some of the GG to it. Make sure it isn’t soaking wet and use your paper towel to dab some off. Use this around your die and on it to loosen up the now dead thermal pad material. It will be really hard to get off, but using a CLEAN credit card (in my case, a library card) to SLOWLY start peeling the old sticky material away. Do this until you see no more pink thermal material.
Now get out your rubbing alcohol and using the Q-tip, clean the area again to get everything off. Arctic Silver needs a very clean surface to work well. Now let’s deal with the heat sink:
Using the same GG to rubbing alcohol method, clean the thermal material off the heat sink until it looks like this:
See how nice the heat sink surface looks. DON’T BE FOOLED!!! This is in need of a good bit of “lapping”. Lapping refers to the use of sandpaper to make a flatter surface for the thermal material to get into. By lapping the heat sink, what we are doing is taking the peaks and valleys that the uneven surface of the heat sink has now and making them smaller so that the thermal material can transfer heat better from the die to the heat sink.
Here is how ya do it: Below is a picture of a lapping device:
Basically a mirror or piece of glass to ensure that your surface is completely level and even. What I did was take my sandpaper and make it big enough to cover the surface, taping it in place using masking tape. To lube the paper, I used a mixture of water and a little bit of dish soap. Why dish soap? Well think about it – you wash your hands to get dirt and grime off them. The soap helps to remove the sanding debris from the surface better than water itself.
Holding your heat sink flat on this device, make little circles alternating directions, then switch to finer papers till you get a mirror finish. That means that your sanded the Mt. Everest size peaks and valleys of your heat sink down to like some pleasant rolling hills. Ah ya, like pleasant rolling hills better right?? Well you should.
Clean this now “lapped” heat sink with the same goo-gone and rubbing alcohol method. Get everything VERY clean. Then follow the instructions on applying the Arctic Silver 3. Some hints:
Using the sandwich bag for applying the AS3 to the CPU’s die will help you to get an even surface. Or if you like, you can use the X-acto blade to apply a razor thin coat from corner to corner if your hand is steady enough. OK – it’s on right? Great lets put it together!!!
Make sure you are squared up and try not to move the heat sink much to reach the clips. This will mess up your layer of AS3 you spent so much time putting on. Let’s assemble the parts and see what happens to our temperatures (NOTE: AS3 will take about 50 hours or more of CPU time to achieve its full potential).
I was writing an article so these temps may get lower, but here are the immediate results after applying the stuff:
Well that may not seem like an improvement, BUT notice that my system temps have gone up some. Thats means my room has heated up so these are some misleading figures. But the morning after crunching SETI all night, my temps were around 53-54 degrees – a 2C difference. That’s pretty good – now I have to wait for a while till the stuff sets up right.
If my system temperatures have been getting hotter, why not bring some air from outside the case into the case. So our next section deals with Ducts.
Section 3: Man that case is Duct up!!
- Paper bag
- Light cardboard box…Popsicle box maybe?
- Masking tape
- Eating the contents of that Popsicle box is also REQUIRED!!!
Ok so let’s finish this beast off:
With only 15 cents of my budget left, our aim here is none other than to be CHEAP. OK – let’s see what we are trying to accomplish here before we get started.
As you can see, what happened here was the paper bag was used to supplement as a side panel. You should always do this. Why destroy a side panel because you found out your placement wasn’t that good. If you are wishing to put fans on a side panel, then use hard cardboard. But all I’m doing here is putting a duct to my heat sink fan, so have some fun and be creative – that’s the name of the game!!!
To start, what I did was just close up the side panel using the masking tape all around the edges to make sure that no air would be pulled from gaps between the case and the bag panel. After I found that my temps were about the same as before I turned my computer off.
Then using the X-Acto blade, I cut a square hole across from the heat sink. Then using the Popsicle box, I made my duct. FYI: If you use a box of scribblers, the side is exactly 60mm or the size of the heat sink fan.
I then made the duct and taped it to reduce the case air from getting in. I snugged it up around the heat sink fan and then secured the front of the duct to the paper bag side panel. Don’t put tape on the heat sink – seriously?
Now crank up your machine and check your temps. Here’s how mine came out:
Well would ya look at that: We got to 53C. Again, these are not at idle, but at load – I’m lazy and haven’t configured MBM5 yet. I let it run over night crunching SETI and I saw temps as low as 48C – that’s pretty good with an ambient room temperature of 22C or 82F. If my room wasn’t upstairs and wasn’t summer, these temps would probably be lower. But that’s life – right?
OK, so out of our budget of 10 dollars TOTAL, we used $9.85 of it. With the 15 cents left over I’m getting myself a stick of gum to celebrate. I am happy to say that from our work here we went from 60C to 53C or 60C to 48C if you count highest to lowest. That’s pretty impressive for fewer than ten dollars total. With this amount of cooling I thought I would do a little overclocking to see what we can do now, given that we can increase the temps 7C to be back where we started.
As you can tell, we can overclock to around 1619 MHz and our temps are still under what they would have been at the beginning of this article.
Being a locked AMD chip, the multiplier is going to be 11.5, but my front side bus is now up to 140.79 rather than the 133 that is stock. That shaved about 20 minutes per work unit while crunching SETI.
I hope this article has been informative and has helped some of you FINANCIALLY CHALLENGED people out there that overclocking IS for everyone. Just takes a little time and effort, but for a cooler computer time isn’t an issue is it. I hope to be putting an AX-7 and Delta stealth or a variable speed tornado on this system, Ss the paper bag will stay until that happens.
With tomorrow being my birthday, I think I can make that a reality. WOOP 20!!!