We're a little crazy, about science!

Technical difficulties

This is my current cooling setup, which I picked because I needed a replacement ASAP and I thought this would last me until after I graduated and not less than a year.

Well if it isn’t the consequences of my own actions. Or maybe not, maybe I’m just unlucky. I am once again having desktop computer troubles. It’s the return of the heat issue, thankfully this time I caught it somewhat early (I think). Since this seems to be a reoccurring issue I think we’ll try to fix it with a slightly more permanent solution. The problem? The cost, this couldn’t have happened at a worse time, but not all is lost, at least not yet.

I was having some issues with my computer the other day. Things were very laggy and I wasn’t doing enough with the computer to justify the lag. At first I assumed that it was an update/something in the background/maybe some sort of error. So I updated the computer, restarted, and the problem persisted. Then I felt a chill run down my back. I had seen this before, so I checked my CPU temperature and it was a tosty 69 degrees Celsius, the maximum temperature for this particular CPU? 68 degrees Celsius. My heat problem was back.

For those unfamiliar with my computer troubles, a quick rundown. When I started in the PhD program I shelled out a lot (for me) of money to build a PC that would let me perform the very complex and computationally intensive tasks I needed to do. The money was very well spent and I’m happy to say that I don’t regret the purchase at all. Especially during the pandemic the computer has been a lifesaver. It’s given me the ability to do some very cool stuff in a very short amount of time. In short, I love the computer, but the cooling system doesn’t love me.

The first time this happened I chalked it up to buying a bad water cooler (more here). If you’re not a tech person, your CPU is the brain of the computer and it gets HOT! Normally in a laptop or even some desktops you can stick what’s called a heatsink, which pulls heat away from the CPU, and then just use a fan to take the heat away. Everything is happy, the computer runs okay, you can go on about your day. My CPU is not one that can be air cooled (technically it can, but it’s not optimal).

I’m using a 32 core threadripper 2990wx and at the time of purchase it was the top of the line processor that I could get (see: afford). The bulk of my computer build cost went into that CPU. Since air cooling wasn’t a good option, I went the watercooled route. Watercooling is how your car engine manages to not melt, if you’ve ever had your car overheat you know what I mean. Air is a poor conductor of heat, so we take the heat away using water, pass it through a large radiator, and remove the heat that way. It works great, until it doesn’t. The last two systems I’ve bought have been fully closed systems, you don’t need to do maintenance on this type of system.

When this happened the first time I ripped it out and popped in a brand new water cooler that I thought would be a good fix, or at least one that would last the remainder of my degree. I cover the first time this happened in detail and the rebuild here. It’s been almost a year and the computer has been great! The temps have been well within range and I was happy, but like I said that is no longer the case and now I need to fix it before the temps get even higher and the computer starts throttling back even more. The previous time this happened I didn’t catch the problem until it was in the low 80’s so I’m lucky that I knew what was happening this time around. You don’t normally expect your watercooler to fail, much less twice.

If I had to guess, the pump is clogged. The coolant has a tendency to turn to sludge after a while. It doesn’t always happen, but I’ve seen reviews of my current watercooler mentioning this problem before. Since it’s a sealed system I can’t fix it, I need to toss it and replace it, so what’s the game plan now?

My choices are fairly limited and as of right now I don’t have a paycheck, so I can’t throw a lot of money at it without maxing one of my credit cards in the process. The best option would be to custom build a water cooling system. Companies sell pieces for this type of build and so there are several options for me to choose from. It would give me the freedom to customize the system for my needs. There are some space considerations I need to think about, but overall this may be the option I need to choose because I really don’t want to have to keep spending money like this.

The benefits of this would be, again the customization aspect, but also the cost would be roughly the same. It may cost slightly more depending on what I want to do, but since money is a factor I wouldn’t be able to go too crazy. Long-term this option would be cheaper and better. I wouldn’t have to keep replacing the enclosed system, I would just flush the system I build every year or so and replace the coolant. Also I can finally get a full coverage block for the CPU instead of the mostly covered block I’m using now (currently the block is a circle the size of the square CPU, not ideal). The downside is it would take significantly more time to do than just tossing in a replacement cooler.

In the end I think it’s really the only option and even if it costs slightly more money and a lot more time, it will keep me from having to write yet another post on the problems I’m facing. I really don’t want to have to spend money like that right now, but I also can’t do the work that I need to get done without my desktop working properly, so I don’t think I have much of a choice.

You know, it’s never a good time for something to break, but I have to say this is a particularly bad time for this to happen.


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