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How To: Properly Plan And Pick Parts For An Air-Cooled PC, Part 1

Back To Basics On Cooling

At least in Europe, the summer wasn't really all that warm (Ed.: Yeah, try living in Bakersfield, CA). But for a PC owner or do-it-yourself builder, the issues of waste heat, cooling, and ambient temperature are always worth thinking about. That's why we're going to start at the very beginning in this, our introduction to cooling. Every year we have new readers, and every year we see some of the same questions posed in our forums. The very last thing we want is for an expensive project to fail as a result of a mistake made in the most basic tenets of keeping hardware running at acceptable temperatures.

Because the topic is extensive, and because we want to offer a comprehensive tutorial, we'll present the whole story in two parts (the second of which will appear next week).

So, first we'll talk about the best sort of chassis, including the mounting location of the power supply. Then, we'll take a look at the potential drawbacks of other solutions. Optimized airflow is the most important consideration in an air-cooled system, so we plan to go into a lot of detail on that. Then, we'll take a look at classic case fans, and show why even a beginner doesn't need to be afraid of applying thermal paste. If you also bear in mind the importance of having space between your multi-GPU configuration and understand why the often-maligned side-panel fan can be useful, your PC will be better-equipped to survive next summer's heat.

  • compton
    After reading the charts of PSU placement and the GPU cooling diagrams, I'm even more convinced that my Lian Li PCA05-NB is a great solution. The motherboard is upside down, so that GPUs (In my case an axial fan gpu) faces towards the top. The CPU is now at the bottom back of the case and with the rear fan acting as an intake and not exhaust, you get great CPU cooling. The PSU mounts in the bottome front as well. The great part of this design is all the heat ends up in the top. As an option, you can vent the top to release the heat rising from the GPUs, but I like the case because it has very little venting. Through unusual case design and careful component selection I have an almost silent system - but with overclocked CPU and GPUs. The front fan is the exhaust, but has a bezel over it. With a few bucks worth of acoustic dampening material I can even hear myself think sometimes. I regard low temps and low noise output to be two sides of the same coin, but I know that many seem to not mind loud systems and mainly just care about temps. It's never been easier to build a near-silent system, even with high performance gear.

    If you plan ahead of time, you can make a super quiet and cool running system. It's easier to build a cool and quiet system from the start than retroactively go back and try to make a noisy (and/or hot) system quiet with great temps.

    I'll be waiting for article 2.
    Reply
  • Mark Heath
    Good timing as the Australian summer approaches. You guys in the US think you have it hot :S
    Reply
  • buzznut
    Guten hunger YAH!
    Reply
  • JOSHSKORN
    I want my next PC to be able to play Crysis AND make me hot dogs and Iced Frappuccinos.

    All kidding aside...curious though, the test setup is on AMD CPUs. What about Intel CPUs? I would assume many of the concepts are similar.
    Reply
  • 100100
    Finally! A definitive article on how to air cool effectively! :D
    Reply
  • frostmachine
    Great guide. I live in a perpetually hot n dusty place. This will come in handy.

    Would be better if there's some tips on dust management.
    Reply
  • beetlejuicegr
    heh i am just showing you a pic from my pc that the airflow is totally different because there is a watercooling system on the cpu, i hope that the picture is self explanatory for all.
    ?rel=ugc]http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/828/mypcairflow.jpg/]
    Reply
  • amirp
    Hey I have a question... for the PSU you say to not put it in upside down (ie. with it's opening facing up into the chassis..) but this is how I have mine in my ANTEC300 case since there is little room between bottom of case and the PSU if mounted right-side up. So what should I do?!!
    Reply
  • BulkZerker
    amirpHey I have a question... for the PSU you say to not put it in upside down (ie. with it's opening facing up into the chassis..) but this is how I have mine in my ANTEC300 case since there is little room between bottom of case and the PSU if mounted right-side up. So what should I do?!!
    PSU's don't pull that much air, normally. So unless your Unit kicks it's fan speed way up there then don't royy abotu it and do as suggested. If it doesn't work then you can always just flip it back to where it was.
    Reply
  • darkrydr3
    BeetlejuiceGr, your cpu core temps are pushing 70 or 90 degrees C... thats hot!
    Reply