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Old 09-04-2008, 05:40 PM   #1
KingBling
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Thumbs up Cooling: The ultimate air cooling tutorial guide.

This is a detailed guide for the newbie and the die hard over-clocker alike. While I try to be as professional, accurate and informative as possible, I am sure that many here may have more to add and or comment on. However, I am sure this will be a helpful tutorial.

Proper cooling is a must for PC component longevity and stable operation. This is because heat is a byproduct of any electrical\mechanical device and PCs in particular generate a lot of it. Heat is like cancer – it spreads. Not only are certain components notorious heat generators, they heat up their surrounding components as well, resulting in the system as a whole rising in temperature.

High temperatures affect the system in a negative way. Slightly high temperatures cause everything from random lockups to computer restarts without warning. Very high temperatures may render one or more components permanently damaged.

To give you an idea about just how hot a component like the CPU can get, consider that many people have burned their fingers while touching a hot CPU.

PC problems caused by temperature:
1. Permanent component damage. The main board’s copper traces and solder joints can crack and split. Components like CPUs and chipsets literally burn internally (you can actually see the area as scorched). Damaged components can go on limping, working incorrectly and corrupting data, while looking like another problem or even going undetected for quite some time.
2. Component “creep”. When metal heats up, it expands. When it cools, it contracts. Where this becomes a problem is when a poorly cooled “seated” component’s power-up, power-down cycles causes it to slowly “creep” out of their socket\slot.
3. Disk errors. As with the component “creep” problem, expansion\contraction of the metal disk platters in a hard disk cause read\write errors. This is because the read\write head gets positioned differently relative to the platter center in some drives when reading and writing as the platter diameter changes.

One can see from the above list of temperature related problems that a) proper cooling must be provided, and b) A PC’s temperature should remain as constant as possible.

PC temperature is affected by several things:
1. The components themselves. Certain components are notorious heat generators, such as the CPU, GPU, chipset and disk drives. There is no way to avoid this – it can only be dealt with.
2. The component placement. The layout of components within a case and on the selected main board should ensure that the “heat generators” are in the way of the airflow.
3. The cooling scheme. Heat is energy and thus cannot be destroyed. All cooling schemes that is or ever will be work by “simply” transferring heat away from the source. How efficient the scheme is at doing this will partially determine how cool your PC will be and whether that particular scheme is right for your setup.
4. Thermal Paste. The type, amount and application of thermal compound affect how efficiently heat is transferred from a component to its heat sink for dissipation.
5. Room temperature. No matter how good of an air-cooling setup you implement, nothing can bring a PCs temperature below that of the air used to cool it.
6. Pollution (particles within the air such as smoke). Smoke and other contaminants within the air corrode the components of a PC and buildup a layer insulating all components, preventing heat from being transferred.
7. Dust buildup. Dust acts as an insulator. Its buildup prevents heat from being transferred and also clogs the PC’s fans and heat sinks.
8. Location. This is important. Dust buildup occurs most quickly (thus more frequent cleaning sessions) next to an open window. Also direct sunlight from a window heats up your PC’s interior. A PC’s environment plays a role and must not be overlooked.
9. Over-clocking. Over-clocking a component means running it at speeds higher than that component was designed for. The extra heat comes from the fact that an over-clocked component requires more power to run at the higher speeds.
10. The PC enclosure (case). Cases should be picked with beauty as the last priority. Cases are not simply an empty box to house a PC’s components where any will do. The material used in the cases construction will either aid or hinder cooling. Aluminum and steel are the two metals used in a practical case. Aluminum transfers heat better than steel, but also vibrates in rhythm with the installed fans. This causes more noise. Further, cases should be picked to have good air-flow, which means that is designed to not obstruct the air passing through and to support the installment of case fans. An example of bad case air-flow is when you have the air intake fan(s) placed in a lousy position, such as in front of a metal section of the case. Even after a good case has been selected air can be obstructed. Things such as a rat’s nest of cables and other such obstructions are like stepping on a garden hose: the water will not flow so-good. If air can’t pass properly through the case, heat can’t be properly carried away

Air-cooling is based on a system of fans and heat sinks, thermal paste, air ducts, and other misc hardware such as air filters.

Heat sinks
Heat sinks are large metal (preferably copper as it is the best conductor short from gold) structures attached to a component that provide a large surface area for heat dissipation. The larger the surface are, the greater the dissipation. Therefore, heat sinks are almost always “finned”, and in some cases the fins themselves are finned. The heat sink is glued or clamped onto the component, with good pressure exerted if clamped, by screws or push-pins. While push-pins are relatively safe, in terms of pressure exerted, screws must be fastened cautiously as not exert too much pressure and thus crack the circuit board mounting the component.
Heat sinks come in two flavors, in terms of material used: copper and aluminum. As a conductor and therefore heat sink, copper is far better than aluminum, but is more expensive.
I suggest using as large copper heat sinks as available because no PC use heat sink I have ever seen\heard of is heavy enough to actually damage the main board no matter what the main board’s orientation is.

Fans
Fans provide a jet of air to carry heat away. Fans come in a wide variety of just about every characteristic. The following is a short summary of the most important (PC fan motors are exclusively brushless and axial and will therefore not be mentioned) PC fan characteristics:
• Size. Many sizes exist for fans, usually square, and specified by width\height. 80mm and 120mm fans are the most common among case mounted fans. The thing to know here is that larger fans tend to rotate slower and thus give less noise overall. They also tend be more powerful.
• Speed. All fan models are different in terms of speed. Fan speed is measures in rotations per minute (RPM). The higher the speed, the more the airflow and noise for same size fans. Try to go for slower yet larger fans.
• Air-flow. This is the amount of air pushed by the fan. It is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM) and is in practice determined for the most part by fan size and speed.
• Voltage. PC fans usually are designed to work off of 12v DC. Any PC fan can run at lower voltages than the one it was designed for. The lower the voltage, the lower the RPM, the lower the airflow, the lower the noise. This is the basis upon which fan controllers work. A potentiometer (variable resistor) alters the voltage supplied to the fan and therefore providing fan speed control. Many people use the technique to lower fan noise as much as possible. Some even run a large number of fans at low voltages to make up for airflow lost. With a proper cooling scheme, such setups can be avoided.
I personally, and for good reasons, discourage the use of such devices. Variable resistors are notorious for breaking down quickly. Ever notice how the volume control on a speaker or cassette player, which is a variable resistor, starts acting funny after a relatively short time, making crackling noises at first then giving outbursts of the sound being played before they start requiring you to fiddle with them for some time just to get loud enough noise out? Same thing with fan controllers. And believe me; anybody with a fan controller spends a lot of time “fine tuning” for the desired speed\noise levels.
• Mechanism. The mechanism is basically the fan bearings. Types include sleeve, rifle, ball, and fluid bearings. Of these, ball bearing fans are the most common. From a noise perspective, fluid bearing fans are the quietest, with ball bearing fans second. These are the only two fans I would recommend using. They are also the most expensive.
• Mounting. Certain fans cannot be mounted vertically, namely sleeve bearing fans. The rest can be mounted in any orientation. Some fans are designed to be mounted from only one side, but most have screw holes on both sides. Single sided fans have fixed roles as either intake or exhaust. Double sided fans can be mounted as an intake or exhaust fan, with their airflow direction reversible by simply flipping the fan onto its other side.
Airflow direction is usually, on any quality fan, designated on the thin side of fan itself as well as rotation direction by the use of labeled arrows.
• Blades. The size, curvature, and smoothness of a fan blade determine the airflow. The larger and smoother the blade, the greater the CFM.
• Noise. Many things contribute to fan noise. One is the fan itself, due to its mechanics. Another is the fan’s placement. Some fans, when mounted onto a case fan grill in the form of holes on the chassis itself will give a whining sound that is very annoying.
• Connector. Fans require power to work. This is provided directly or indirectly by the power supply. Most off the shelf case fans come with a Molex connector such as those used by older PATA drives. Two of the four pins are actually used (12v and ground). Some fans use a smaller 3 pin connector, with the third pin connected to a sensor built into the fan for RPM reading. Still, another type of fan for use with the CPU exists. These use a smaller four pin connector, with the fourth pin being a control signal carrier. Both the 3 pin and 4 pin fan connectors plug into and is powered through the main board.
Case fans with Molex connectors run directly off the power supply. These connectors are large, clunky and ugly. I will post a tutorial later on how to fix this problem by swapping them with smaller ones.
• Bling (No pun intended). Fans can come as transparent, and if so, with LEDs (light emitting diode) mounted to give a colorful presentation. This has absolutely nothing to do with the fan’s operation or quality.
Fan grills
Intake and exhaust case fans are covered by one or two grills which may be in the form of a grid of holes in the case itself or as a separate piece screwed onto the case. They serve a dual purpose: first, they protect one’s fingers from accidents, and second, they prevent foreign objects from entering the case. A grill is mandatory. I cannot stress this enough.

Thermal paste
Thermal compound is the “link” between components and their heat sinks. Its necessity stems from the fact that gaps between a component and its heat sink, no matter how much ‘safe’ pressure is applied, is inevitable. Gaps decrease the surface area for thermal transfer of heat. This is true even if you could, theoretically, sand down the two surfaces, which you can’t. Thermal paste or compound works by filling these gaps. It is thermally conductive, and very easy to apply.
Thermal paste is many times applied incorrectly. Some people over do it and think “the more the better”. This is false. Only a very thin layer is required to exclude air gaps and anything more will reduce thermal transfer. The reason is simple: a thicker layer increases the space between the component and the heat sink. Further, if too much is applied, there is a risk of it flowing onto the main board, short circuiting it.
Various types of thermal paste exist: ceramic, metal, and liquid metal based. Of these, ceramic based paste is the most common and least expensive type. The metal based types, however, are better in performance but can be very expensive. Extreme overclockers (yes, us) should most probably go for the metal based ones.

As you can see, in air-cooling systems there is a lot of room for mistake, and the designing of a proper setup is not as easy as it looks. The idea (and challenge) is to place the right fan in the right place and the right heat sink on the right components with the right application of thermal paste all within the right case.

What is strived for should be neither fan count nor extreme airflow, but rather efficient transfer from the component to a smooth airflow exiting the system. This is the mindset one should have.

Air cooling schemes
Air cooling systems are composed of two subsystems: one for getting air into and out of the PC case, and another for dealing with air within the case and putting it to good use. First, the case airflow.
In the beginning, these fell into one of two categories: negative and positive pressure designs. Negative pressure cooling is the oldest, and most common type. Basically, the idea is to have exhaust fans expel air out from the case, creating a vacuum of sorts within the case, which sucks in new air from the various vents provided by the case. Positive pressure, also called reverse-flow designs, have more air bieng sucked in than expelled, causing an increased pressure within the case, forcing the air out through the various case vents. If you happen to be the owner of a windowed case, you can see what effect the various schemes have on dust and any other particles that may be in the air, simply place a cigarrette in front of the intake and watch as the smoke circulates.

Then, as hotter and hotter running components started appearing, cases started appearing with more fan support, having both intake and exhaust fans. Based on the fans, fan speed (which, by the use of a controller, can vary), and fan directions used, one could come up with negative, positive, or even neutral pressure designs.

Neutral pressure designs provide the best cooling. This is because the exhaust fans are expelling air at as close to the same rate as the intake fans are sucking air in as possible, minimizing "hot spots" which are areas where the air is standing still. The result is a constant air flow, with no air waiting to get in or get out. This means that at any given time, new air is always present to carry heat away from a hot component. Today, I recommend every system be cooled like this. For it to work, simply have the CFM sum of all intake fans equal to the CFM sum of all exhaust fans.

In the beginning, CP’s had a single fan: the power supply fan. Power supplies all served a dual purpose back then, powering and cooling the PC. Then came more advanced components with more heat generation. This led “optionally” to a second fan placed in the rear. It, along with the power supply fan was all that was needed – with the exception, of course, of vents along the side of the case.
Today, heat generation is such a problem that PC’s are being fit with many fans pushing air in and out of the case.
The problem that presents itself is a tricky one. The following questions must be answered in order to solve this problem and come up with a suitable cooling scheme for your PC:
• How many fans? Enough to get your target total CFM\noise values. Having more slow fans as opposed to few fast fans helps lessen noise.
• What size fans? Depends on your target CFM\noise values and the role of the fan as well as whether you’re going for positive\negative\neutral pressure setups. It also depends on the mounting space provided by the case for a particular fan.
• What speed fans? Depends on your target CFM and the role of the fan as well as whether you’re going for positive\negative\neutral pressure setups.
• What type fans? Always get the best ball or fluid bearing ones you can as these are relatively inexpensive and ensure long life and quietness. Some fans are specially designed quite, even though all fans should be specially designed to be quite. I recommend those.
• What fan direction? Using the markings on your fan, point the blow direction ******ds for exhaust and inwards for intake. If no markings are present (a really cheap and cheesy fan), and you have some experience with this type of thing, hook up the case fan to a 12V 300mA DC transformer and carefully place your palm in front of the fan and “feel it”. Fin pointing direction is misleading as you do not know the rotation direction on such fans.
• What fan CFM? Too little total CFM and your case will overheat. Too much and your PC will sound like a turbo jet. Not to mention the unimaginable amount of dust that will accumulate. I mention this because some people get carried away. The answer depends on you setup, but strive for “just enough CFM”. Temperature monitoring will be your guide.
• Where to put the fans? Based on years of research, it has been found that the best way to setup your cooling scheme is as follows: air intake from the bottom front of the case, exhaust from the top rear. The reason is that cool air sinks while hot air rises.
• When to stop? Once a setup has been implemented, testing must begin. Based on temperature readings, adjust your scheme. Once all component temperatures are within their respective norm, stop.

Internally, try to divide the airflow, using fans, according to component cooling requirements. Strategically, try to place the component’s fan blow direction in the direction of the airflow provided by the case fans. Many of the above points for case fan setup apply here as well.

Some known good mods
Extreme cable management mods, when done properly and by an one experienced in dealing with electrical wiring, is a very good mod. It clears the way for good airflow and presents a cleaner looking system. Connector replacing, cable grouping (by ties or within sleeving) and other such mods fit within this category.

Dust accumulation insulates components from the air intended to cool them. One way to overcome this is to constantly disassemble the PC and clean it. Depending on how dusty the PC’s operating environment is, this could be tiring. Another way is to install fan air filters. Only intake fans require a filter and they trap much of the dust entering a system. True, filters reduce and hinder airflow, but dust prevents heat transfer and constant cleaning is tiresome. Only you can decide whether the air filtering benefits outweigh the reduced airflow.
Note: Ghetto air filters can be created from stretching some regulare (not fishnet) pantyhose between the fan and the mounting

Noise suppression mods such as placing rubber grommets between a case fan and the chassis, secured by rubber screws are great. Not only cheap, they actually work. Another benificial mod, not applicable in windowed cases, is lining the case’s panels with sound suppression foam.

Some known bad mods
The first has to be the “placing a PC within a refrigerator” idea. This never works. Heat is never removed fast enough (try timing the cooling of a hot meal which, unlike a PC, is not a continuous heat generator), and condensation of vapor causes short circuits that fry the components.

Another mod that is disastrous is when one removes the case's perforated metal fan mounting (good), leaving an open hole with the fan exposed (bad). Some modders like to remove them in the pursuit of greater air-flow, which can be substantial. However, if you do this, make sure to cover it up with a metal grill or a clean cut of suitable wire mesh sandwiched between the fan and the opening, as those grills greatly reduce dust and foreign object intake and protect you from harm.

Some people believe in running a PC with its case open, or with no case at all. The idea is that since we are striving to get adequate air in the PC, this is best. No, all you do is destroy airflow and relying on simple convection, negating the case fans.

A final word
I believe I have covered the most important stuff in air-cooling a PC. If you have any corrections or have spotted any worthy of mentioning topics that I have overlooked, I encourage you to alert me so I can edit, edit and edit…

Typing something in word and placing it in the board text editor isn't as easy as you would think: formating goes all wrong...

Last edited by KingBling; 11-02-2008 at 11:04 AM.
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Old 09-04-2008, 10:29 PM   #2
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Nice guide.
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Old 09-04-2008, 11:48 PM   #3
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Agreed. Could be a bit hard to read for some folks, but I found it informative.
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Old 09-05-2008, 01:01 AM   #4
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Nice guide. You earned the title "King".
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Old 09-05-2008, 04:31 AM   #5
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Thanks, Like stated at the bottom of guide, I did this in Word. Had a big grin of my face up until I Control-Ved the text into the forum text editor and found my formating was gone...
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Old 09-05-2008, 04:45 AM   #6
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Really good guide... i'll reccommend that this be sticked.
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Old 09-05-2008, 07:48 AM   #7
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Nice job, KingBling! It was a good read, and it should cover a lot of questions that we see repeated here a lot.

Keep up the good work.
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Old 09-05-2008, 08:02 AM   #8
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First of all: Great guide man! Definitely deserves the stick.

While I'd be against mentioning specific heatsinks and such, because that varies so much as time goes on, and between socket types. I think maybe mention what thermal compounds are good? AS5 has been king of metal for a long time now - I don't see it being dethroned anytime soon, and is useful on any socket type - not model specific. Might also be worth mentioning ASCeramic for non metal (I believe it's the best of the non metals - not sure), and Artic Silver Ceramic Epoxy when you need thermal compound that also acts as a glue holding the heatsink on (such as for RAM, MOSFETs, etc).

Just an idea, not sure if I like it or not yet.

Once again, great guide! I especially liked the "Do not put your computer in the freezer" bit.
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Old 09-05-2008, 02:10 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sakesaru View Post
First of all: Great guide man! Definitely deserves the stick.

While I'd be against mentioning specific heatsinks and such, because that varies so much as time goes on, and between socket types. I think maybe mention what thermal compounds are good? AS5 has been king of metal for a long time now - I don't see it being dethroned anytime soon, and is useful on any socket type - not model specific. Might also be worth mentioning ASCeramic for non metal (I believe it's the best of the non metals - not sure), and Artic Silver Ceramic Epoxy when you need thermal compound that also acts as a glue holding the heatsink on (such as for RAM, MOSFETs, etc).

Just an idea, not sure if I like it or not yet.

Once again, great guide! I especially liked the "Do not put your computer in the freezer" bit.
Thank you, sir. There were several reasons not to do that. First, this is a guide\tutorial and thus I thought should be theoretical. Second, if I were to mention brands for one type of component, I'd have to, for completeness, mention brands for everything as to look right to the reader. Third, this is a huge post and the board rules does not mention if there is a size limit on posts. If so, I would not want the thing split into diferrent posts. By the way, is there? would sure help me next time. As in the guide, I plan to cover certain mods for cabel management such as replacing those humongous molex connectors with smaller, more tidy ones.

For the rest, thank you all. I need your thumbs up\down and your criticisms. It's the only way one can learn.
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Old 09-05-2008, 02:44 PM   #10
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Excellent Guide. Definitely worth being stickeyed.
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Old 09-05-2008, 03:53 PM   #11
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Nice guide. Sticky.

Anyone know how to retain formatting when pasting from a word processor? I'd guess wrapping it in quote or code tags might do it but I don't know for sure and I think making a post just to see would be a idea.
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Old 09-05-2008, 04:01 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by redout View Post
Nice guide. Sticky.

Anyone know how to retain formatting when pasting from a word processor? I'd guess wrapping it in quote or code tags might do it but I don't know for sure and I think making a post just to see would be a idea.
Well, if I was going to type a large post in a word processor before copy/pasting to a thread, I would mark it up in the word processor using BBCode tags. I would then leave spaces between paragraphs, and then once it's in the textarea for the post, I would indent where needed.

I would also type it up in Textpad vs Word.
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Old 09-10-2008, 01:08 PM   #13
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thx kingbling people like you make it all worthwhile to join a site like this. keep up the good work
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Old 09-10-2008, 01:44 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by neoedward View Post
thx kingbling people like you make it all worthwhile to join a site like this. keep up the good work
Thanks & welcome to the forum (seems funny a noob welcoming a noob)
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Old 09-21-2008, 05:47 PM   #15
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Good info with alot of valueable insight on the subject.
Many thanks for taking the time and effort to post this.
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Old 10-07-2008, 04:07 PM   #16
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Nicely written guide. Even though I personally don't agree with a few thoughts in it, it covers pretty much all aspects of air cooling in fairly decent detail. Good job and congrats on your sticky.
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Old 10-07-2008, 07:42 PM   #17
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Nicely written guide. Even though I personally don't agree with a few thoughts in it, it covers pretty much all aspects of air cooling in fairly decent detail. Good job and congrats on your sticky.
Thank you, sir.
As I've stated, please post your corrections, insights, and any additions you may have. You stated you "don't agree with a few thoughts in it", please do tell. I am, after all, here to learn, and this sticky is intended to pass what I know on...
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Old 10-08-2008, 05:04 PM   #18
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OK. This statement right here for one.
Quote:
The floppy drive bay is one thing that, today, is absolutely useless. I recommend in all new systems the removal of the floppy drives because they are never used. Even BIOS updates can be done by USB flash drives. Floppy drives add cable clutter and die quickly. I do not however recommend you remove the drive bay. If anything, it serves as a duct guiding the air drawn into the case towards the main board.
FDD's are NOT useless. USB flash drives are not as reliable and have a higher failure rate than floppys. FDD's die no quicker than any other component. I still use a couple 10 year old FDD's without issue, and with proper cable management skills a A FDD ribbon cable can be made almost invisible. As for removing it, why bother if you're not going to remove the drive cage. Most FDD's are the same length as the cage so it doesn't interfere with airflow anyway.
Secondly, this statement.
Quote:
Another mod that is disastrous is the removal of fan grills. Some modders like to remove them in the pursuit of greater air-flow, which can be substantial. However, those grills greatly reduce dust and foreign object intake and protect you from harm. Their advantages far outweigh increased airflow. Please, do not remove them.
I assume that you mean the perforated metal grids that are stamped right in the case. These are a huge airflow restriction and air noise makers and SHOULD be removed, and replaced with a simple wire grill.
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Old 10-08-2008, 05:52 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Mr.Scott View Post
OK. This statement right here for one.

FDD's are NOT useless. USB flash drives are not as reliable and have a higher failure rate than floppys. FDD's die no quicker than any other component. I still use a couple 10 year old FDD's without issue, and with proper cable management skills a A FDD ribbon cable can be made almost invisible. As for removing it, why bother if you're not going to remove the drive cage. Most FDD's are the same length as the cage so it doesn't interfere with airflow anyway.
Secondly, this statement.

I assume that you mean the perforated metal grids that are stamped right in the case. These are a huge airflow restriction and air noise makers and SHOULD be removed, and replaced with a simple wire grill.
1. They don't make them like they used to. I have replaced my floppy drive a billion times with different brands each time hoping to get one that doesn't die on me. I agree with you, sir that people have 10 year old floppys running like new, but in my experience, they are ever so troublesome.
When it comes to proper FDD cabel management, I see you are referring to the folding of the cable into a tube or square like structure (cross-section). This damages the wires more often than not, especially at the end where the wires are fitted into thier connectors. This is due to the constant strain applied. I've replaced dozens of these in the systems I get due to this.
The drive cage I believe should be left as it guides air into the system's middle area, a sort of duct if you will, and has the added benifit as a "storage" area for some cabels, because not everyone is going to go for as big a mod as the murderbox (murderbox.com) and have redundent cabels removed and others shortened....

2. I was referring to the act remove this "perforated metal grids that are stamped right in the case" (couldn't have said it better) and leaving the hole open (no grill at all) as I have seen oh so many many times. Obviously, sir, I have not been clear on that and shall edit.

I thank you for your observations and constructive critisism, sir. On point 1 above, if you still see your way as better, I shall edit to go your way, because as I read, I find you are "much more better (captain Jack Sparrow) " than me at an increasing number of things. BTW I also find you to be very "efficient" when it comes to posting, saying something only when absolutely nessicary, and then only enough to make your point, unlike me.......
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Old 10-08-2008, 06:41 PM   #20
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Like I said, just pointing out a few things I disagree with. Just one man's opinion and preference. Your guide is fine.
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BTW I also find you to be very "efficient" when it comes to posting, saying something only when absolutely nessicary, and then only enough to make your point,
I'm not like that all the time. I can ramble on with the best of 'em.
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