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I've recently built a HTPC, and my research did not suggest that I needed any cooling beyond that provided by the CPU/PSU. Given the specs I describe below, would you say I'm at risk for overheating? I've basically got an intel celeron 2.7ghz dual core processor and two 1tb 7200rpm hard drives in an HTPC case (which, as far as I can tell, is a slightly thinner mid sized ATX case that sits on its side). One neat happy accident is that each component is essentially in a different corner of the case -- CPU in one corner, PSU in another, and a hard drive living in each of the other two corners.

The CPU and PSU both have a cooling fan that vents out of the case, which means that the hard drives get basically no airflow outside that provided by the normal circulation of the room -- they've got room to breathe and the case does allow for circulation -- it just doesn't force any to occur. But again, they don't see much heat other than that they generate themselves, either -- they're off in their respective no-man's-land inside the case.

So, the question: do you think heat will be an issue? Do hard drives generate enough heat on their own that it needs to be actively evacuated, or can it safely radiate away provided it's got enough room for that to happen?

  • Have you monitored your system temperature? How hot did they run? Did you look up for how do the similar builds to yours run in terms of temperature? – Varaquilex Oct 1 '15 at 22:48
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The disk drives absolutely do generate a lot of heat and you probably do need active cooling on them.

If the drives get too hot [or too cold], the life is shortened and they may fail. If they get really too hot, they may fail quickly (e.g. after two months instead of two years). The ideal range is 25 degrees (C) to 40 degrees (C). See http://www.buildcomputers.net/hdd-temperature.html

Most SATA drives can report temperature as part of their SMART data. Just get a utility that displays this. With the right one, it could be set up to monitor continuously and post a warning if a drive gets above/below a threshold

In my system, I have venting holes on the case front with a fan drawing air inward toward the back directly across the drives. That is, the fan is directly behind the case front, blowing on the drives which are 1/4 inch away from the fan. When this fan failed [I got lazy and didn't replace it on my normal 6 month rotation], the drives overheated and 2 of the 3 became flaky, died, and had to be replaced.

Note that my case had the usual exhaust fan at the back, and an additional fan on one side. They weren't enough to protect the disks because they didn't provide the airflow to the drives directly.

So, I do recommend active drive cooling--YMMV

UPDATE:

Ok, your disk temp is within range, but that's light loading.

If you want to go the extra distance, because you've got a brand new system, I'd stress it a bit at maximum load and remeasure. Don't know if you're using WinX or Linux/BSD on your system, but you can probably find a program that does just that.

This will get all CPU cores going at 100% and will continuously copy data back and forth between your disks into junk/temp directories that you can delete later. Run it overnight, with the temperature program logging [say] every five minutes. That way, you're assured.

In the good old days, most vendors would burn in a system for five days before shipping. That's because of "infant mortality"--a chip will usually fail early, or last 20 years. Today, you're lucky if you get five minutes or five hours of burn in before a vendor ships :-).

So, if you run the above test for five days [you can pause it if you want to watch a video], you'll be doing your own QA. That way, you can have total confidence in your system before you start loading it up with video files, etc. IMO, well worth it.

This might help detect hot spots, if your system has any. Run the test. Then power off the system. Probe around inside and see if anything seems warm/hot to the touch [usual caveats about static electricity apply]. CPU will be fine with a properly installed CPU cooler, so no need to probe that.

What about airflow across the motherboard and RAM chips?

A number of cases these days come with the drive bay fan built in. But, even if you don't want to go for that, I'd probably add at least one fan, and not rely on ambient. The standard place is the exhaust fan at the back. Each case design has its own place to put this.

Power supply fans are designed to keep just the power supply cool. Switching supplies generate a fair amount of heat. Their fans are not intended to function as the primary exhaust fan of the system. It puts an additional load on them that they're not designed for.

For example, I just measured my system:

Room Ambient: 25.0 C
Exhaust:      29.5 C
Power Supply: 35.8 C

Replacing a case fan is relatively easy. Replacing a power supply fan is more difficult [if you can even find a replacement fan]. Also, consider the dust factor. That's what kills most fans. So, periodic cleaning, but sometimes, even with cleaning, you're better off with replacement. Having a separate exhaust fan will reduce the amount of dust/gunk that gets vectored through the supply.

A fan is $10 and protecting a >$1000 investment.

Also, it is fall. On my system, I might be able to reduce the fans, but in summer, that's a different story.

BTW, if you do decide to add one, I like Enermax fans. I've got the 3-speed adjustable ones. Enermax has just about the highest CFM I've been able to find. And, despite the yak-yak about fan noise, they're just as quiet as the so called "quiet" fans [which probably advertise "quiet" because they can't match the CFM]

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  • Thanks for the info -- I'll look into that and get back to you in a few hours. – bvoyelr Oct 1 '15 at 23:20
  • Strangely enough, I've been running the system under typical load (streaming a movie) for about half an hour now, and both disks are reading around 36 degrees (C), which is about what their temp read while idle. CPU is a happy panda as well. – bvoyelr Oct 2 '15 at 0:18
  • @bvoyelr I've updated my answer, based on your feedback. In particular, see the stress testing part and the part about the power supply fan loading [the latter is probably more important]. – Craig Estey Oct 2 '15 at 4:51
  • I'm running Ubuntu -- I've got a day or so before I can adequately research and execute load testing options (though I think I've seen a system test built into Ubuntu that might fit the bill), so I welcome any input on my options if you know of any. But yeah, the "fan cost protecting computer cost" thing is the main reason I'm pursuing this thought -- though it's more like "a $10 fan protecting a $200 investment." This is not a high performance system ;) – bvoyelr Oct 2 '15 at 12:25
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    Lastly, marking as answered even if I eventually find that I don't need a fan. Since the answer will differ for everyone, "test test test" is actually the answer! – bvoyelr Oct 2 '15 at 12:29
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You should be OK with passively heating your hard drives - although they do generate non-insignificant amounts of heat, most cases do not have specific fans to cool the hard drives - unless they are high performance drives.

You will probably find that the pressure differential caused by the PSU fan is enough to cause airflow across the hard drives and cool them adequately.

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