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Sub-ambient or below freezing cooling using a freezer's compressor

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April 1, 2012 12:15:40 AM

Being a good friend, I decided to help one of my computer enthusiast friends with planning a new build. I do not know of all of the hardware that will be used since he is still deciding. However, I do know he wants sub-ambient or below freezing cooling for at least for the CPU and will be building his own case out of wood.

However, he does not have the budget for a phase cooling system, but he does have an old functional freezer compressor and a budget for other cooling system components. I doubt that the compressor would be able to handle the load, since the freezer that the compressor was savaged from had a dimension of around 1x1x1 meter.

The current planned route of the cooled water will be (letters indicate branching):

1. Pump
2. Reservoir with compressor's copper tubes coiling through it
3. CPU (i5 2500k)
4a. GPU 1 (GTX 680, Radeon 7970, or Radeon 7950)
4b. GPU 2
4c. GPU 3
5. Intake radiator 1 (cools intake air)
6. Intake radiator 2 (cools intake air)
7. RAM, right side
8. RAM, left side
April 1, 2012 2:08:33 AM

Maybe something to pay attention to is if there is going to be condensation on the copper tubes and other pieces. You know sort of like when you have a can of cold soda and you bring it outside on a hot summer day and water starts to collect on the can.
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April 1, 2012 2:38:01 AM

The intake radiators are angled downward and a drip pan is placed at the bottom of the case to collect the water. The question is, how effective will it be remove enough water from the intake air to prevent condensation?

I also forgot to mention about an extra pump and radiator(s) connecting directly to the compressor (located in a separate compartment), as the extracted heat has to go somewhere. How much radiator area would we need if we use 140mm or 200mm fans?
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April 1, 2012 3:11:23 AM

It would depend on the dimensions of the radiator. Match the fans to the surface area of the radiator. So, if you had a 400mm wide x 400mm high radiator, you should use (4) 200mm case fans (it would look like a square pattern). A good 200mm should move about 100 cfm of hot air. I hope this helps.
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April 1, 2012 5:09:47 AM

After having a phone conversation, he decided that it was too risky as the CPU water block would be significantly more cold than the cooled air.

The second possible plan:

(Air cooling)
1. Pump
2. Reservoir with compressor
3. Heat sink

(Component cooling)
1. Reservoir
2. Pump
3. Small heat sink
4. CPU
5. Heat sink
6. GPUs
7. Heat sink
8a. RAM, right side
8b. RAM, left side


Essentially, the compressor doesn't directly cool the components. It cools the air before the air reaches the components.

Cooling system 1, or 2?...
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April 1, 2012 2:57:15 PM

I would go with (component cooling 1-8b). It's far more complex and you would gain the experience and knowledge with managing such an elaborate system.
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April 1, 2012 11:37:47 PM

wow! that's hard core man when it comes to fabrication. this is about as hard as it gets, here is a another way to look at compressor systems. try building blocks that are attached directly to the system where the cold side radiator would go. not to mention the hard lines going to each of your components than seal the condenser and hot side radiator. then pipe the water out of the house, no more problem with condensation.( if you insolated the blocks) wow! this is fun. the results are better to, but really this is hard to do, unless you have a lot of tool's for this sort of thing.
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April 1, 2012 11:50:31 PM

You have to be careful that your cooling system is keeping the parts above the condensing temperature of your particular environment (which may change slightly day to day). If your cooling system is running full tilt while your computer is idling/sleeping you may end up with some condensation creeping down your cooling tubes.
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April 2, 2012 12:04:03 AM

For build 2, our plan is to position the compressor's tubes over the collection pan. The only concern is that the airflow would be sufficient to thrown the water droplets onto the cooling radiator's pull fans and potentially cause a short-circuit.

For build 1, it's like build 2, except the compressor directly cools the components and any excess sub-ambient water would be pumped to the intake radiator. I'm not sure how much insulation we can throw at the condensation problem, but since it will be a custom case, it's possible to shift the tubes down and away from the motherboard so the water drips away from it. The cooling water essentially travels around the case in a circle.
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April 2, 2012 12:06:14 AM

or here is another idea. have a radiator built that fits the existing freezer, drill two holes and pipe or tube the water from the freezer to the computer. the antifreeze will be below freezing but you still have to insulate the lines, and blocks. depending on the clock some blocks will be fine without it, but the lines they have to be insulated. you can even use more radiators to isolate each component, jest drill some more holes it the freezer. foam works well for the purpose of stopping condensation, but is not as easy to apply as you might think you will need something to form it. I used plastic pipe with a slit cut down the center large enough for the tubing, than lined it with wax paper so I could remove the plastic tubing once the foam cured. there is a lot of fun here but it does take time to do it right.
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April 2, 2012 1:38:56 AM

A Bad Day said:
For build 2, our plan is to position the compressor's tubes over the collection pan. The only concern is that the airflow would be sufficient to thrown the water droplets onto the cooling radiator's pull fans and potentially cause a short-circuit.

For build 1, it's like build 2, except the compressor directly cools the components and any excess sub-ambient water would be pumped to the intake radiator. I'm not sure how much insulation we can throw at the condensation problem, but since it will be a custom case, it's possible to shift the tubes down and away from the motherboard so the water drips away from it. The cooling water essentially travels around the case in a circle.


oh yea, here is a another good point you will need to add a good lubricant to the system as subfreezing temps will cause the pump and other seals to become brittle and weak (they'll leak). if this happens it could be catastrophic. man there is a lot to this by the way fill free to chime in at any time I'm not trying to Wright a book
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April 2, 2012 2:56:25 PM

This isn't going to work like you think- a household freezer or fridge isn't designed to continually run (even if you force it to do so) and it certainly isn't designed to constantly remove several hundred watts of heat on a continual basis. You'd be better off using the compressor and coils to setup phase change or a water chiller rather than trying to put radiators inside a household chiller.

This has been tested many times before, but it always seems to come up a couple times a month. If you are going to test, please keep some well documented notes and report back with initial temps and long-term load testing. You'll want to run your CPU/GPU at high loads for several hours to ensure the compressor can handle the loads.
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April 2, 2012 3:13:15 PM

good questions, antifreeze will solve the freezing issue, after shut down. but as far as the unit going out fast, well you can cheat by heavily insolating the thermostat agents the weather changes inside the box, so that the unit will shut down (this is not the best way). the preferred method would be to use a ardino in its place(the thermostat) and simply program a length of time that the unit will be on and how long it will be off. their problem solved and the compressor no longer burns up in 3 months, if it even lasts that long. (you have to thank outside of the box) I mean you're using this stuff for things that it was never intended for, so of course you will have to make changes to how it was originally designed to operate. hay I have never been on a forum before as a active participant. always thought I needed more experience, but now I am starting to get old, and I feel that I have enough of a knowledge base to be of assistance to some people. I'm not trying to step on your toes, but I have built this set up, it was on a 10 year old freezer, and it lasted 7 more years before it gave out and died on us.
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April 2, 2012 3:17:53 PM

That's fine, I have just only seen that this fails for everyone who attempts this setup. If you can get it working and provide some details on the modifications you make, temps, extended run-time, please do. I'm not trying to discourage you- I've just only seen the fridge/freezer setup fail and basically become an isolator once the compressor fails. That, and the fact these compressors aren't designed to remove that much heat from these fridge/freezers.
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April 2, 2012 3:39:44 PM

here are the issues we ran into, first figuring out the timings for the compressor. we ended up with 10 min on and 30 min off fixed during the time that the computer was on. it did not matter what the temps inside the freezer where, because our goal was to extend playing time. and in that we did succeed, the temps at idol would hover around the 40 F range, but after you started playing it wasn't that it didn't heat up it just took longer. went from two hours to six hours of game play. when the computer was off the off times on the freezer changed to 1hr off and on times where 3 min fixed. it still is a freezer and it retains cold air as long as it's not being heated up by hot water being circulated into it.
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April 2, 2012 5:54:24 PM

oh yea, you will also need to add a good lubricant to the system as subfreezing temps at start up will cause seals to become brittle and break. the issue with using a A/C to blow cold air in the case is keeping the air dry, to do this would need a evap. unit to draw the air in and dry it out. with humidity filters on the intake side of evap. and on the exhaust side after the case to prevent moisture from seeping in when the system is off. also the exhaust from the evap. needs to have sealed ducking from it to the intake of the A/C this way insuring that the air is dry. the case must be sealed as well as condensation will occur on the outside of it and you do not won't this water to seep into the case either. so you can see there is a lot of work here. I'm sour I am forgetting some things so please feel free to ask.
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April 2, 2012 10:23:44 PM

Let me state this again.

The compressor only cools the air coming in by less than 10C. No crazy cooling, for now, unless if my friend gets his hands on another compressor.

The cooling intake heatsinks are tilted, allowing the water to drip into a collection pan. I doubt much water is going to be dripping into a wooden glued case.
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April 2, 2012 10:24:34 PM

here is a another way to look at the problem. Axes computers built a system years back that used an A/C to blow cold air in to the case. they archived this by sealing the components inside a vacuum tight gel pack that went completely around the components. the down side is that this unit was not upgradeable, but condensation was no longer a issue. you could recreate this effect by sealing the water blocks in to the gel packs and making sour that the plastic wrap around the gel packs and the motherboard melts a good seal to the tubing use a liquid foam for the wiring and a little silicone to seal the wrap around the wiring that way if condensation occurs on the tubing or the wiring it can't get to the mother board. as for the cd ROMs and hard drives the same process would apply. I would use a low heat plastic wrapping over the gel packs for the purpose of insuring that you get a good seal this way you can always cut squares out the material and keep putting them on top of each other until you do get a good seal to the tubing and wiring(EX : a material like shrink tubing would be ideal for this purpose) once you think that you have a good seal all the way around put it to a vacuum pump and see what happens, if it is sealed it, it will vacuum down to a tight structure around your components, at this point you will have to break the seal to upgrade components, than reseal. not to shore on the price for this adventure but give it a little thought
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April 3, 2012 2:44:02 AM

I think I'll use duct tape and get extra wood pieces for the case, and inform my friend of a need to separate the HDD bay from the rest of the computer. As long as the case doesn't lose too much cold air, it should be fine.
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April 3, 2012 3:32:42 AM

really, here is a easy way to test that theory. turn the cooling system on and off for for 3 to 4 tries rainy days will show worst case scenario, without the electronics in place but the blocks and everything in the case. you can have them jest kind of sitting in the bottom but have the water system running to and see what kind of condensation occurs on the back plate after shutting the system down for ten minutes, check the plate. keep in mind to use real on times 1 to 2 hours
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April 3, 2012 3:46:23 AM

it's like this, it's not being hot, neither is it being cold, that causes condensation. but a quick change between the two, and how much water is in the air around you when this change occurs.
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April 3, 2012 4:12:24 AM

You can use a thermostat to regulate the coolingtemps the compressor runs between - so it don´t need to run 24/7 - a cpu @ 100% usage @ 25 c is rarely seen anyway
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April 3, 2012 4:56:26 AM

correon said:
You can use a thermostat to regulate the coolingtemps the compressor runs between - so it don´t need to run 24/7 - a cpu @ 100% usage @ 25 c is rarely seen anyway


oh yea, back to the freezer cooler, man I am really getting an education here, would have never thought that so many people have failed at this, come on common sense will tell you how a freezer is designed to work. jest stand beside one and time how long it takes to turn on, and how long it is off. then remove all of the frozen food and put a card board box in it. now time the on/off intervals and how long it takes to return to the former timings, ok, now you know how that model is designed to run. now all you have to do is reproduce that signal and delay timings. the micro controller can reproduce all most any common electronic signal, by ether a digital signal or analog depending on what is necessary for the card on the freezer. the one that controls this sort of thing any way, all we are doing is fooling it to believe that the ardino, is the thermostat. this signal can be identified by the ardino as well, in most cases. otherwise use a oscilloscope to identify the on off signal that is necessary to turn the system on and off(the box represents max load that the compressor can handle).
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April 3, 2012 5:41:00 AM

A Bad Day said:
Being a good friend, I decided to help one of my computer enthusiast friends with planning a new build. I do not know of all of the hardware that will be used since he is still deciding. However, I do know he wants sub-ambient or below freezing cooling for at least for the CPU and will be building his own case out of wood.

However, he does not have the budget for a phase cooling system, but he does have an old functional freezer compressor and a budget for other cooling system components. I doubt that the compressor would be able to handle the load, since the freezer that the compressor was savaged from had a dimension of around 1x1x1 meter.

The current planned route of the cooled water will be (letters indicate branching):

1. Pump
2. Reservoir with compressor's copper tubes coiling through it
3. CPU (i5 2500k)
4a. GPU 1 (GTX 680, Radeon 7970, or Radeon 7950)
4b. GPU 2
4c. GPU 3
5. Intake radiator 1 (cools intake air)
6. Intake radiator 2 (cools intake air)
7. RAM, right side
8. RAM, left side


Try something like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_NmRaEbB18 , on a smaller scale maybe, should work fine . compressor not a very good Idea IMHO , give it a try anyway , and don't try any of this on a new setup, use an old system a prescott maybe ...
You dont wanna ruin something you have spent lots of money on

All The Best :) 
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April 3, 2012 5:42:34 AM

oh yea the system we also had a built in thermal sensor on the compressor motor with would cause shutdown regardless of the signal from the micro controller jest like normal operation this was considered in the programming so the system would start back up once the flag was cleared.
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April 3, 2012 2:12:14 PM

Why not use the compressor to supercool coolant and then use either as a slushbox to exchange heat via heat exchangers in a closed loop, or simply pump through the loop?
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April 3, 2012 5:58:15 PM

well at that point your talking about so pretty serious modes to the freezer and as I have stated this is not the best way to use a compressor system that would be idea 1 (wow! that's hard core man when it comes to fabrication. this is about as hard as it gets, here is a another way to look at compressor systems. try building blocks that are attached directly to the system where the cold side radiator would go. not to mention the hard lines going to each of your components than seal the condenser and hot side radiator. then pipe the water out of the house, no more problem with condensation.( if you insolated the blocks) wow! this is fun. the results are better to, but really this is hard to do, unless you have a lot of tool's for this sort of thing.) but I do see where you are going with this idea well if you have two or three days in between the times that the computer will be on than this might be possible you have to give yourself and the compressor components enough time to cool before starting up a gene (and keep in mind that the freezer system that I built for this reason only lasted 7 more years that is because people do not empty there freezers every weekend and the only time that the comp was on was for 6 HR on sat and 6 HR on sun that is it for the rest of the week it was off it was a experiment and I choose my conditions well.) so if your only a weekend player, this is a option for you. but let's get real, this is not you. you would want to play with that baby every day, and you can't not with this kind of set up. but if you can give me a idea of what you're looking at for up times, in the hour range, and the kind of down times, that is days, that we will be dealing with I am shore the we can come up with a solution. the smaller the down time the more elaborate the system must become to meet thoughts needs.(meaning that the cost goes up to fabricate it)
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October 3, 2013 9:16:35 AM

What kind of interest would there be in a phase change system that could cool below -80°C? I have access to one.
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October 3, 2013 9:25:22 AM

the issue is that most CPU's will not turn on at below 0C temps and have issues operatong at below 0C temps so to use this the cpu it would need to have a high overclock to balence the temps to a above 0C range of operation.
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October 3, 2013 9:37:23 AM

Please do not post on threads that have been dormant for several months. Last post before today was April 3, 2012, more than 1.5 years ago.

Please open a new thread to explore your specific questions. Thanks.
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