Why_Fanless As PCs have become more powerful while becoming smaller in size, cooling methods and technologies have changed. The typical desktop PC tower that we’ve all used for decades always had two or three cooling fans inside the chassis to keep the electronic components cool and the PC running at top speed. The CPU typically has a fan mounted above its heat sink to keep the processor cool, and there is usually another fan near the power supply to circulate air and dissipate the heat. Some PCs have a third fan located somewhere else in the chassis to cool the rest of the motherboard components.

We’ve all been told to occasionally examine our PC’s chassis inside and out to remove dust and keep that air circulating – always a good rule of maintenance that few of us follow as often as we should. We’ve also become accustomed to the noise those fans make, reassuring us that our PC is humming along. However, sometimes that fan noise can be just too loud, intruding on our work environment. And as other PC form factors have evolved, like laptops, tablets, and all in one computers, there often isn’t room to place traditional cooling fans. New methods of cooling have evolved to solve those problems.

Fanless PC design is one solution for the noise problem. To implement a fanless solution, it all starts with the design of the PC, especially the CPU and the motherboard components. The primary cause of heat buildup in today’s PC is the heat generated by the CPU, as a function of the frequency and voltage at which it operates. Therefore, using CPUs that have lower power consumption (10 to 30 watts instead of a typical 90) will generate less heat and eliminate the need for a fan. These low-wattage CPUs have less computing power, but are certainly adequate for most business office applications such as word processing, spreadsheets, and Internet use. Silent operation versus slightly reduced computing power – that’s the tradeoff.

There are many other cooling methods available that also address the noise problem. One method is conductive cooling, used mostly in laptops. Components such as hard drives or optical drives are cooled by having contact with the computer’s frame, exchanging heat. Spot cooling is used for individual components or chips on the motherboard that have their own cooling systems using logic or temperature systems to vary the power used. Passive heat sink cooling of the CPU using copper base plates or fins without a fan is also common in many PCs today. Two other more exotic methods of cooling include water cooling (a self-contained circulating water system to cool the CPU), and a phase change unit (essentially a refrigerator for your CPU).

Lots of choices and options for cooling as PC technology marches on! What do you think will emerge as the primary cooling method for PCs in the next few years?