Two Hard Drive Coolers Compared

Configuration And Benchmarks

The Configuration

Table 3 : System Hardware
Item Detail
Processor Intel 2.4 GHz Pentium 4
Motherboard Compaq D51S
RAM Corsair Value RAM 2 x 512MB PC3200
Hard Disk Drive Seagate Cheetah Ultra 320 ST336607LW
Network On-board 100 Mb/s Ethernet
GPU On-Board
PSU Compaq proprietary
Case Compaq SFF
OS Windows XP with all updates

The choice of using a SFF PC to test drive coolers was made in an effort to limit the cooling capacity attributable to the case itself. This chassis only receives internal airflow from its small PSU.

For this test, we installed the drive as a secondary disk so that we tax it without affecting the performance of the OS. We picked the 10,000 RPM Seagate Cheetah Ultra 320 model ST336607LW to generate as much heat as possible.

We then installed the drive in the normal optical drive slot. Drive temperatures were taken off the top of the drive on the platter area near the Seagate sticker and on the spindle at the bottom of the drive. Testing was performed with no cooler attached, each cooler attached with no fans, and each cooler attached with both fans running. To create as much activity (and thus, heat) as possible on the drive, a format was started on one portion of the drive, HDTach was run against the drive, and a 12 GB single file plus 4 GB of small files were copied to it. This created an exceedingly busy storage environment, and therefore a very warm drive.

The Benchmarks

To measure idle temperatures, the unit was left off overnight, then powered on for 30 minutes before reading any temperatures. The room temperature was monitored and any changes are accounted for here. All temperatures are shown in degrees C and are the peak temperatures achieved after running the tests for a minimum of 30 minutes and until no changes were seen for more than 10 minutes.

Table 4 : Temperatures Under Heavy Load
Hard Drive Cooler Peak Bottom Peak Top Peak Room
None 54 46 28
iSurf II 39 33 27
iSurf II no fans 48 41 26
SHF-1 38 34 27
SHF-1 no fans 46 41 26

This testing revealed that both drive coolers worked pretty much as advertised. Our workout really put the coolers to the test—the table below shows the cooling results :

Table 5 : Results
Hard Drive Cooler Difference From Room Cooling Improvement Over Air-Only Variation Top to Bottom
None 26 0 8
iSurf II 12 -14 6
iSurf II no fans 22 -4 7
SHF-1 11 -15 4
SHF-1 no fans 20 -6 5

Clearly in these test the coolers provided excellent cooling of the drives, reaching up to 15 C cooler than with case cooling only. It was also interesting to see that even just installing the coolers helps to lower the temperature—the coolers by themselves really do work.

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  • virtualban
    I once got two hdd coolers that were just fans that were mounted under the hdd, and they were cheap enough and performed good enough. Seeing the small difference between heatsink or no heatsink, I believe just fans can do it most of the time. Anyway, a well ventilated case is the better choice!
  • Anonymous
    I wonder how they longevity of the fans work.

    I've tried two disk cooler models ($10 ea) that were
    types of fans that screwed onto the drive (15K SCSI). One used 2 tiny fans, maybe 2x50mm? -- the other a fan as wide as the HD -- about 70mm. They were by the same company, vantec, and the larger fan had about 80% more airflow at lower RPM's. Rated dB's were about the same. They both brought down the drive between 15C-20C (from +50C -> low 30's (as low as 30C). They both were made from Aluminum. I liked the double-fan model better, on aesthetics -- and it had a lower profile, but after 6 months, the fans wore out! -- I'd open her up and see the fans barely turning. So I'm hoping the larger fan at a lower RPM will have a longer life -- it also might be I got a bum unit. But for $10 ea, they're worth a try. I had a drive cooler that installed in the entire 5" drive space and it also had a real tiny fan -- (fitting vertically in the drive case) -- but the little fan was the first thing to stop working. So I'm a bit leary about those little fans.

    I'm looking for some remote monitoring solutions, -- something to allow me to place probes in the computer and can be read by software -- at least the computer would know when there was a problem. As it is now, it's such an old computer, it just hangs when it gets too hot and on bootup, you might see a thermal failure if it was a cpu fan that stopped....bear skins and stone knives (440BX motherboard, circa 1999)
  • nirgal
    How does a 2.5" slot mount compare to the results?
    And which 2.5" slot do I want compared? All of them.
    A floppy disk slot is different from the extra HD slots in terms of air flow - even if there were no front fan or even an option for it.
  • colthorn
    The variation for the SHF-1 is 6 not 4 ;)
  • Anonymous
    Good article Bob!
  • jhansonxi
    According to a white paper from Google Labs which details their drive failure statistics for nine months (they have thousands in their server farms) drives aren't really affected by heat:
  • kittle
    Got any noise measurements handy? The term "low fan noise" is rather subjective.

    Personally I found it much easier to mount a fan at the back of my case and put my HDDs near the front and let the fan draw air over the 3 drives that needed cooling. with the above approach you would need 1 cooler for each drive. $10 per cooler is $30 total. my single case fan cost me about $7 -- and its probably quieter than the above coolers.

    As for drives getting too hot? ive seen several die in my past due to overheating.
  • Peter Mauritius
    During my long experience in assembling PC's, the very first thing I would stay away from is adding a fan on a hard disk to cool it! In a desktop casing, the hard disk is already being cooled, first by conduction, since the disk is screwed along both its sides to the casing chassis. Secondly, a casing or chassis fan, if installed, is already extracting or blowing air within the casing, causing such airflow to cool down the hard disk.

    The real problem with installing hard disk fans is that the forced air actually forces much increased air volumes across the disk, resulting in dust accumulating on its underside, i.e. the PCB. Now, depending on the environment in which the PC is working, this accumulated dust in fact damages the hard disks through the controller! What I'm saying is that the theoretical life increase in letting a disk run cooler is negated several folds by the shorts on its PCB.

    This has been my experience. Morever I remember reading somewhere that normal high temperature running of a hard disk is NOT detrimental to its lifespan.

  • jkflipflop98
    . . .or you can just point a case fan at your drives.
  • bydesign
    Nearly pointless devices. Heat simpley isn't an issue 99% of the time. Your review should spell that out.
  • asdasd123123
    100% waste of money, install the HDDs in a ventilated bay, add a slow spinning 80mm or 120 depending on your case, and heat is basically gone.

    The ONLY thing that makes hdd's overheat is stale air, as natural convection is nearly non existent on a square block of metal.

    The faintest breeze cools them adequately.
    Every last hdd case I ever saw or tested either heated the case, or added massive amounts of noise.
  • ceteras
    asdasd123123100% waste of money, install the HDDs in a ventilated bay, add a slow spinning 80mm or 120 depending on your case, and heat is basically gone.The ONLY thing that makes hdd's overheat is stale air, as natural convection is nearly non existent on a square block of metal.The faintest breeze cools them adequately.Every last hdd case I ever saw or tested either heated the case, or added massive amounts of noise.

    I once put a small cooler on top of a HDD that was getting too hot.
    The cooler ran at a slow rpm, and was only blowing a "faint breeze".
    The HDD had a normal temperature with the cooler on, although it was not screwed into the case (I was just testing).

    I only read this article to find out about the noise, from a trusted source, but I guess THG is not one...
  • milesk
    Back in the days of having computers/servers that needed to run 24/7 and the offices we were in didn't have air conditioning... I found that put fans and aluminum heat sinks on top of them to draw the heat away did allow the drives to last longer.
    Heat kills electronic components... another thing that I've discovered with research is that heat can be drawn away from a Hard Drive from the sides where the screws are quicker than through the top of the drive.
    There are some rails that have been developed that focus on the sides and moving heat away from the drive.
    If you look at this model by Antec... you can really see the sides which are maximum aluminum so it can draw the heat from the body of the drive.
    Also, this unit has a digital temp readout on it.
    Case Airflow, room temperature, all play a very important part of life of drives and pc's. Also, spending the money and going with a proven winner like power supplies is another lifesaver.
  • raybay
    Toms Hardware is slipping down the slimey slope into marketing. Hard drive coolers and case fans are seldeom helpful, and rarely needed.
  • woogie_boogie
    Ventilate your case. Be sure there are no stagnate spots in it. Air goes in the front and side and out the back and top and vwallah! problem solved. I understand why people want to keep everything as cool as possible so if a HDD cooler helps you sleep at night than you better get one :-)
  • BillLake
    Hi Guys,

    Thanks for the feedback and I agree that a good case is a better solution. As my quote says "a good case can provide the air flow require" However, if you are stuck with a bad case, a system like the SFF HP in the article, you can use one of these to help the heat issues that are created by not ventilating the heat from a fast drive.

  • I
    The testing showed the drive was not too hot without the cooler. The one main benefit of having it is not the hard drive, it's reducing impedance to airflow so the rear exhaust fan moves more air through the whole system.

    9 times out of 10 (including SFF systems) simply taking the front bay plate off and drilling a bunch of tiny holes in it will suffice, though that looks a little ghetto so another option is to take some perforated metal screening, cut it to size and fold the edges so that it can screw to the bay through the regular optical drive mounting holes. By screening I mean heavy stuff like many cases use over the fan holes, not the type of screening found in a screen door.

    It would've been interesting to have sound level measurements (or did I overlook them?) because it's not likely that a pair of 4500 RPM fans put up against the front wall of these would only produce 21dB. It seems like deception to me when manufacturers give you the rating of one fan in free air then sell you a product suggesting that product isn't any louder as intended to be used than one of the fans in free air.
  • EllisGL
    Hmm I want to use a bunch of AFB1212GHE Rev C Fans from Delta to cool my HDD to the max! =)
  • BillLake
    For those saying that this is not an issue, let me put it this way, room temperature was about 22 C during this testing, the area with the PC rose to 28 due to the heat generated in my lab area. The peak High temp without a cooler was 54 and the peak operating temperature of the drive is 55 as is the Raptor drives, see here

    So just another couple of degrees this drive is over its operating temp as may others be. So these are a very niche product, they do work and that is what they are supposed to do.

    I did not have a way to measure the sound but it was not loud at all, it really surprised me but they were not as loud as the PSU or CPU fan, I really heard that noise and this just blended in. Again sorry I could not provide dB.
  • Anonymous
    Great review Bill. Thanks for all the info. My thinking is "What can it hurt?" I can't think of a reason. If these devices hurt your system I could see all the fuss being warranted but its a heat sink with fans, no big deal. It can only do good. If someone wants to spend $30 bucks on a hdd cooler, let him, what can it hurt? Many people are flaming this article but I'm asking myself why? There are so many things that can go wrong with ones system that the extra 'peace of mind' may be worth it for some. I read above that heat isn't an issue 99% of the time, but I still can't surpress the thought in my mind that heat is bad for all electronics; including hdds. Moreover, 1% of the time is huge! For someone with an extra 30 bucks, why not make it not an issue 100% of the time. Lastly, its not like the coolers did nothing or didn't perform. 20 degrees cooler is very impressive! A $1.50 a degree is cheap!

    Stay cool,
    - Bob-