Ion Wind Cooled 0dB Computer
I have wanted to do this project for a few years now. While it’s was a relatively quick build, the time from the photo shoot to publish has been an extremely long and rocky road. Regardless in the end we have produced the first ionic cooling system for your high end gaming system. This system produces absolutely no noise and in fact has no moving parts at all. While this is a proof of concept it proves that you can get the CFM you need to cool a system efficiently with no moving parts and no increase in power consumption.
When I decided to do this project I never expected that it would end up being a litmus test for my resolve and goals for InventGeek. When I finished this project and started the testing period I never expected the results to be as good as they actually turned out to be. Of course I expected that it would perform the task given, and I realized that no one had done something like this yet.Nevertheless when the testing was rolling along I realized that this was a really viable solution. Before long I had investors and patents and resale rights deals all whirling around my head like a swarm of bees with lasers in there mouths. Yah sure it sounds real tempting to play with a bunch of laser bees to sell the rights to an idea or patent and basically be able to retire at a ripe young age, nevertheless the comforts that it could bring to my family.
About the same time I was interviewed by a local news reporter about the site. That event triggered something inside of me. I found in preparation for the interview that I had take some introspective time and ultimately I had to curb all my projects and priorities in life to bring closure to my perspective on the site.
What is the purpose of InventGeek? Nothing more complex than to provide ideas and solutions to a community with the intent that they will be experimented with and developed further. I am happy to say that that is how it will stay.
So why did I decide to put this project together? It has not been done yet for starters. It’s a somewhat radical way of looking at a cooling solution and I think of myself as a slightly eccentric radical. But more over there are some real benefits from a silent system or even a system that cleans the air before it enters the case.While products like this produce more negative ion than positive and thus impart a overall negative charge to whatever they blow on, its is possible to buy a neutral ion generating power supply from Amazing1.com for instance. These types of ion generators are used in server rooms and clean rooms all over the world as they are designed to remove pollutants from the air as well as neutralize any static buildup at all on any surface. With our ionic filter system, we need to just remove a single diode to remove the negative ion production.
The Electrostatic Precipitator (or ion wind generator):
The electrostatic precipitator, or in other words the ion wind generator that we will be using for this project is an off the shelf part. We picked up our “ionic air cleaner” off of eBay for about 65.00 as it is a knock off of a more reknowned brand, but gets the job done. One thing to watch out for is the wiring in the unit it’s self. If we had plugged this in prior to the tear apart we might have burned our house down. Look for shorts or missing insulation on wires inside the unit and use hot glue to insulate and protect them if needed.
The case we chose to use for this project is the Thermaltake Armor case. We chose this case for a few reasons. First off it is a full sized tower and an amazing case that I have tremendous experience with. Secondly it has a good amount of useful space in it for all the modifications we will need to do for this to work out. Thirdly its thermal characteristics and airflow design are ideal for this project. Now one thing to point out here is we chose to do this project with this case prior to Thermaltake sponsoring us and in fact ordered the case from newegg. It just so happened that they offered us this case with the sponsorship. So I suppose a free armor case was the icing on the cake… but it was not what made us choose this product.
The Power Supply:
One of the items we had to overcome with this project was the removal of all moving parts. Some moving parts are hard to remove as alternatives don’t exist. The power supply is often the make or break items in a computer as far as stability is concerned. There are several fanless power supplies out on the market with nearly identical specs. But we chose to use this Thermaltake power supply in our project because Thermaltake was kind enough to donate it. The reason we are able to get away with a 350 watt power supply is the fact we have no moving parts. No motors to spin up. The lack of internal harddrives really helped in power conservation.
The CPU Cooler:
One Challenge to overcome in a fanless system is the CPU’s heat output. In traditional CPU heatsinks large blocks of metal are combined with high RPM fans to keep the CPU happy and cool. The new breed of fanless heatsinks and even the newer high performance heatsinks use a technology that has become more popular in recent years. Heat pipes use hollow tubes filled with a blend of unique chemicals to help pull away and dissipate heat from the CPU. A fanless heatsink uses several heat pipes and a large heat spreader to help pull heat away from the CPU and dissipate it in the case either through alternate airflow or from convection.
The VGA Cooler :
All mid to high end video cards have GPU fans and often employ non-standard materials like copper that help in the dissipation of heat. When we started this project we were just going to use a NVIDIA 5200 video card by EVGA that has a large pancake heatsink on it. Thermaltake to the rescue again. With Thermaltake’s offer we were able to upgrade to a much better card, the NVIDIA 7800 GTX and thus rounding out our zero moving part system.
The System Core :
For this project we opted for some lower high end components for the system core. We chose to go with an ASUS motherboard, an Intel Pentium D dual core 3.2 GHZ CPU and some Kingston ram. The main reason we chose the Intel CPU is if for some reason there was a thermal issue it will self-protect the CPU unlike AMD’s. Granted the AMD may be cheaper and faster for a comparable system in some cases with some vendors. But I really don’t like the smell of burnt CPU in the morning. My K7 back in the day cured me of that. But if you really wanted a kick ass system I recommend the Intel Core 2 CPU’s and a good Abit or Asus Board. You should be able to get greater performance and less heat and power consumption.
For the ram to keep the system stable we felt some ram sinks would be a good idea. We didn’t want to nuke our 1 GB 50.00 stick of “Value Ram”…. Thermaltake also just so happened to have a solution for the system ram. The only down side is you can only run 2 sticks in dual channel with these babies due to their size. But 2 gig of ram for most people is a great amount. You could even use 2 Gig sticks if you needed it.
For our motherboard we needed to pick up a 20 to 24 pin power adapter and a 4 pin to 8 pin adapter as well. Now I actually bought this myself…. it turns out that ThermalTake makes some rocking products as this was the best and one of the cheapest packages I was able to find for both.
The hippocampus? or Memory storage solution of our project. For this project we opted to use 2 v1.2 Gigabyte I-Ram ram drive cards. Each card acts as a single 4 GB SATA Drive. We will be using 2 of these as our intention is to create a single 8 Gig raid 0 (striped) Array for not only drive volume considerations. But we really want to make our friends jealous with our system’s load times! These things are sick fast! You could compromise and do 2 SATA laptop hard drives in raid if you wanted to do a near no noise solution and save some money.
As our project will be using some high voltages in a potentially sensitive place we will be using some aluminum screen as grounding and shielding mesh around the ion cooler. This stuff is really easy to work with and all you need is a pair of scissors to cut and work with this material. 6.00 At big box mart.
I chose to use plexy in this project because it’s easy to work with and has good thermal and dielectric characteristics. Any noob to modding should learn how to both manipulate and shape plexy or at least order it from a plastics supplier cut to size. If you wanted you could use a couple blue LEDs and light the thing up like a Christmas tree!
The Operation Begins…
Our first step in this project is to free the ionic filter system form its skin. This is a simple and straight forward process. All that is needed is a medium sized Phillips screw driver and some time. Before we start: it is extremely important that you do not do any disassembly with the unit plugged in. This product uses very high voltages that can pose as a health hazard to the novice or expert geek / maker alike. Our first step in disassembly is to remove the foot from the filter. There are 4 screws in the bottom of the foot. With a tug it slides off as easy as that.
With the foot removed we will next be removing the filter blades from the filter. To do so grasp the handle in the top of the unit securely, pull in an upward motion until the blade unit is completely separated from the base unit. Set the blades aside for disassembly later. If you have difficulty with this step please close your browser and shut your computer off. Once the shutdown is complete slowly walk away from your computer and find a nice comfy place on your couch. Find any episode of Will and Grace or Friends and enjoy.
The next step is to remove the top. Inside the unit hidden under the filter blades handle are 4 screws holding the top of the unit on. Remove the screws and the top unit will slide off. There will be some extra lengths of wire as shown and a small circuit board screwed to top of the filter chamber under the controls. Remove the screws holding the board in place.
With the above steps complete remove the 4 screws (2 per side) on the sides of the unit. This will allow you to open the unit. The top and bottoms of the filter and electrode section are merely seated in a slot in the side of the body of the filter. There are 2 thin wires under tension via springs, use caution as you don’t want to break them or the top portion to pop out under tension.
Carefully remove the upper and lower portions of the ionic cooler and discard the body of the filter. There will be a long red medium gauge wire running the length of the body and attaching to the bottom of the top portion. Remove the single screw that attaches the pressure switch the wire is attached to. This is a sensor that activated the unit if the filter is seated. You will want to cut and splice these wires together with as little extra as possible.
The final step in the disassembly will be removing all the plastic body components from the electronics. There will be a single button on the top of the unit that can be removed with a couple screws. The controller logic board on the middle of the upper housing. The transformers, driver and fly back transformer in the lower section, all of which can be removed with a screw driver.
For this project’s assembly we chose to use plexy or acrylic in a transparent material. This aids in the illustration of this project as well as looks cool for this build we have a basic cut list. Plexy is fairly easy to work with for the novice as well.
2 – 5″ X 5″ 1/2
2 – 5″ X 16″ 3/4
1 -5″ X 6″ 1/2″
2 – 5″ X 3″ – with notches for blades equally separated apart
With the plexy box fully dried and cured, dry fit the components in the bottom of the cooler. Make sure you have room for everything to fit with ample room. Don’t get things too crowded here or you risk a short in the form of a rogue arc. They’re cool and all… but you wont move much air with one. After the dry fit is in place use a medium to high temperature glue gun and matching glue sticks to mount the components to the bottom of the housing. Letting the glue gun heat up and then rapidly pumping a pool of glue in the place you want to mount something was the easiest way to mount these components.
The next step is the mounting of the plate above the electronics that will contain the energizing wire and grounding plates. We chose not to build this in from the start as we didn’t know what our clearances would be. With the plexy wedged in place, apply some plexy bonding solvent at the seams. It will wick between the pieces for a strong bond. Let the glue cure overnight for a strong bond. At the same time, using some simple shop clamps, mount a 1/2 inch thick pre-drilled block of acrylic at the top and bottom of the unit 1 inch inside from the edges. Pre-drill holes in it for the charge wires.
Once the glue has cured you will want to run the wires. But in my testing I found that any sharp point or hard angle kink in the wire will actually unevenly emit a fancy blue plasma and really degrade the performance of the air flow. To mitigate this slightly round the holes so the wire doesn’t form a hard angle when pulled tight. Also use a small dab of hot glue to coat the wire once inserted.
So here is what it looks like with the wires strung. Make sure the wires are good and tight before you make anything permanent with gobs of hot glue. Its really important that there is no slack in the wires or the system will not work well. Sorry for the crappy paper backdrop.
Our next step is to cut a piece of plexy the same width as the inside of the cooling tower. Using a Dremel tool or any other working means cut 3 long holes for the blades of the filter to sit in. Glue and clamp it to the bottom of the unit. But do not do this to the top yet. Let the glue cure.
Using a pair of pliers remove the metal fins from the rest of the slide out filter body. On the backs of the fins there will be a plastic strip that the ends of the fins are inserted into to prevent any hard edges on the unit. Carefully remove these (they should slide right off) and save then for later.
Using a Dremel tool, cut the fins to fit the inside length of the unit from top to bottom. Do not use tin snips or anything that will deform the shape of the fins. Believe it or not it’s really important that there be no crimps in the metal.
With the 3 fins cut to size and the extra properly disposed of cut the plastic ends to the fins to size and reinstall them on the fins. Make sure they are seated fully by carefully tapping them with a rubber mallet.
The next step is to take the 3 fins and place them in the second acrylic bracket with the fins in place line the bottoms of the fins up in the slots created by the bottom bracket and tilt the fins into the unit. On the top of the unit lower the acrylic slotted piece one inch from the top and glue in place. The reason for the gap is the wire is below the tops of the fins for starters and there for less likely to be bothered by hard edges. Secondly if for some reason you need to remove the fins down the road its easier to remove the plexy bracket than if its’ whole surface was bonded to the plexy.
Now we start hooking up the power. We ordered a roll of 20Kv shielded wire from Digikey to extend the wire from the fly back transformer to the electrode wires in the front of the unit. These connections need to be made with great care so no shorts occur. If you wired the wires right on the blocks at the bottom blocks you should have the wire hop across and back up the other side. This is the optimal place to connect the wire. Drill a hole to fish it up to it, solder the connection and then insulate it with a healthy blob of hot glue.
On the rear of the unit run the second grounding wire to the blades of the filter and connect them with some wire and solder. Drilling a small hole to fish them through didn’t seem to bother the unit at all, perhaps its far enough from the electrode wires. Make the connections all with solder and insulate well with electrical tape and hot glue.
Now we get to the shielding part of the build. This is actually really easy. Take your aluminum screen and cut a piece larger than the openings on the ionic cooler. Using your hands and minding sharp edges fold the screen over the sides of the plexy. Next using some hot glue and a large flathead screwdriver lay a bead of hot glue down the edge of the plexy and use the screw driver to press the glue through the screen down to the plexy. Go slowly on this step and you should end up with a screen that is drum tight.
With the mesh done in the front and back there are two important things to do. Attach a grounding wire on the front screen and the rear screens leaving enough extra length so you can screw it to the metal inside of the case when installed for grounding. Secondly is to test that the unit still works and you didn’t blow anything up. Use caution on this step and don’t touch the unit while in operation just in case.
So here is our case right out of the box. The armor case gets its name from the 2 hinged metal flaps in the front. I use these cases exclusively at the company of my employment as well as personally and since switching I have had lots of near misses but no one kicking in the front of there system by accident. Any how the point is it’s a great case.
So step one in this assembly is to remove all the crap we won’t need in this case. No extra fans, drive caddies, or cross supports in the drivebays. Also we will remove the tool drawer in the bottom of the case. Basically we will strip it down to nothing.
Next we will install the power supply. This is a straightforward process, but we did hit one snag. The large heat pipe housing protruding from the rear of the power supply is square. The hole for cut out for a normal fanned power supply was circular. Not a big deal to fix, we just got our tin snips and cut a small quarter inch notch and it fit like a dream.
Next up is assembling the core. Mount the CPU in the motherboard per the manufacturer’s instructions. But don’t install the standard heatsink it came with. If you are using some spare or used parts in your assembly it is strongly recommended that you use some 99% rubbing alcohol to clean the surface of the CPU so you can get a good new thermal bond with the new heatsink.
Using some artic silver thermal paste and the appropriate application technique for the CPU we’re using, mount the fanless heatsink to the motherboard. One place here we deviated from the instructions is we mounted the heatsink 90 degrees. The reason we did this is the case will be a lower air flow case and we want to direct the air out the back of the case. If we had installed it normally we would have created a barrier right in front of the air outlet on the back of the case.
Here is a picture of the assembly progressing. The motherboard has been mounted and the IO shield has been installed. The heatsink and power supply are all camping out together happily.
Next up we assembled the GPU fanless heatsink. This is actually a very novel contraption. Designed to fit most video cards regardless of chip maker or vendor, although the install was a bit complex. It uses a lot of thermal grease and can be very messy to assemble. But in the end we were got it fully assembled. One really nice feature is the main heat pipe dumps the heat of the video cards GPU directly outside the back of the case. Very cool!
Another pic of our progress with the video card installed and the heatsink hanging out the back of the case. You can also see clearly all the space we have in the front of the case to mount the cooling system.
Next we install our ram now that all the fooling with bulky oversized parts is all done with. We have installed the ram sinks on the ram and it was a simple enough process. I wonder if a copper heat spreader would have worked better though…..
So out comes the big hitter! We installed 4 – 1 Gig sticks of DDR 400 in each of our ram drives. The cards are fairly large and have a battery onboard to maintain state as long as the power supply is plugged in and turned on and for 6-8 hours without. I recommend using ram with ramsinks on them to help promote heat dissipation.
With the ram drives installed, you can see it’s becoming cramped rather quickly. One thing we found in the testing process is it’s best to remove the slot covers between the 2 Ram Drive cards so some heat they generate can escape the case and not get up to the video card. Also be careful to position the cables so they don’t obstruct airflow.
Next up is to install the ionic cooler in the chassis. Make sure you push it back far enough you can get the front covers back in the case. Use a couple 1/4 inch brass screws to hold it in place for the long haul. Reinstall the drive bay covers in the case. The covers each have a washable mesh filter in them. Remove them to help with airflow.
Mount the control interface in the bay for the floppy drive. Connect the reset switch to the power switch of the ionic cooler and use a little hot glue to hold it in place in the drive bay. Also at this point cut the end off the plug on the ionic cooler and run it out the back of the case. There are some holes in this case right next to the power supply for a water cooling kit that will work out perfectly. Splice in an outlet end so you can power the ionic cooler and the power supply off one outlet.
During our testing we found that the aluminum fins on the heatsink would develop a slight negative charge to them when the cooler was running. To eliminate any risk of a discharge we ran a grounding wire from the chassis to the heatsink. It also helped support the heatsinks tremendous weight much better than without it and made me more comfortable about it. The only way this will work is if you’re using a 3 pronged plug and its grounded correctly. I wouldn’t run this system with 1950’s wiring in my house for instance.
So here is what the final assembly looks like. The final step that we need to do is remove one air leak in the top of the case. The case has a plastic panel in the top of the case for USB and audio hookups. It also has a fan mounting point and some ventilation holes. We just used some 2” wide packing tape to cover up the holes so we direct the air flow over the motherboard and power supply heatsinks.
This was a really fun project to do. Turning on this computer has to rank as one of the strangest experiences I have ever had. Pushing the power button on a computer and literally not hear anything at all. You watch the screen with deep anticipation wondering if you had done something wrong… the one or 2 seconds that pass as the system does the post tests just prior to displaying anything on the screen were truly torturous! Then pop and up comes the bios. You get in and configure it you your flavor, set up you raid and then go and watch the systems health stats.
Everything is running cool now, but how about under load? So we started the install of Windows XP 64 and for 15 agonizing minutes we didn’t know how things were doing temp wise. Finally Windows came up. We installed the motherboard utility and it’s running cool and happy! So we got all the drivers and updates on it. Rebooted a few times. And installed PC Mark and 3D Mark 2006.
The system ran like glass. Not a heat issue to be seen. And man is it fast with those drives. I can’t believe how fast Battlefield 2 or even the beta for Battlefield 2142 ran compared to my workhorse / core gaming systems. All in all I would say this was a success.
Comparison of other popular fan based cooling systems
By tremendous request I am starting to put together some more stats for you all. I didn’t realize this would be such a popular project! I will be adding new information here in the update as I get time to roll it out.