Oil baths: A better way to keep computers cool?

In the 1977 movie “Star Wars,” the droid C3P0 is lowered into a vat of oil for maintenance. In fact, one of the few non-complaint opinions he expresses in all of the movies was how good that oil bath was going to feel. Well, he may have been on to something.

Intel has been looking into new ways to keep computers cool, and one of them seems to have paid off after a year-long test. The company recruited Green Revolution Cooling, based in Austin, Texas, to make a rack that would submerge servers in mineral oil. Since the oil doesn’t conduct electricity, it makes for a good coolant.

But several modifications need to be done before you can go around dunking an off-the-shelf rack-mounted computer. The fans need to be removed, hard drives need to be either solid state or completely encased, and the processor’s heat sink should be designed for liquid, rather than air, cooling.

Also, you can’t just add a memory module or replace a component on a whim. The server needs to be pulled out of the tank and the oil drained first. And you have to be super-clean when working with the oil, because enough foreign particles could start to conduct electricity, shorting out everything. After a while, these precautions should become second-nature, though.

And the result — cutting power consumption for servers by 10 percent to 15 percent and for cooling equipment by about 90 percent — could be worth the effort.

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.

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Reader Comments

Fri, Sep 14, 2012 Old Foggey

I used to work on a radaar component back in my younger days that used a silicon oil chamber to totally immerse the magnetron to keep it cool as it generated something like 80KW of RF power. It was pretty effective in keeping that tube cooled and operating at max efficiency....what was new is old, what was old is new again.....

Fri, Sep 14, 2012

I have a friend that buit a machine and used this method for cooling. While it works, it is messy, and maintenance is a nightmare! Looks good on paper, but when put into practice, not such a good idea....

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