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Custom Desert Project

Posted on 2012-08-29
Medium Priority
Last Modified: 2012-09-19
Hi Guys,

This is a really random question but one i really need advice with.

I am dealing with a project that involves the following. I need to encase a motherboard and other random bits of circuitry in a steel, hermetically sealed enclosure. That's all fair and good but the environment this equipment will be running in is a desert. The temperature during summer can reach up to 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit). The problem this poses is the temperatures the equipment will have to operate in.

Cooling is the major issue. I was thinking of replacing one of the steel plates with aluminium or possibly even copper. A block of the selected metal would be fabricated into a custom heatsink plate. Following this i would bolt the motherboard on to the interior of the heatsink plate. Fans could then be attached on the exterior of the plate to cool the heatsink fins.

Unfortunately i don't think this would work as, because of the extreme heat, the fans will simply be blowing hot air over the already hot heatsink, thus rendering the whole thing useless.

After some research the only thing i have been able to find is air conditioning. To be honest though this wouldn't be practical as this unit is portable and will be moving all over the desert.

Any ideas would be very much appreciated. Thanks!
Question by:mhbland
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LVL 44

Assisted Solution

Darr247 earned 572 total points
ID: 38348436
The only feasible option I see is liquid cooling... you can seal around the hose exit/entry points to keep the enclosure hermetically sealed, remove the heat from the liquid then send it back in.


To keep it self-contained you could use a tall-enough tower to dedicate a couple of the drive bays to a unit like

They currently have an 'open box' (i.e. returned) unit for $50 less, but deals like that often don't last long.
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835106183R )

Author Comment

ID: 38348495
Hi Darr247,

I had considered a water cooling option. My only reservation is having to keep topping it up, which personally isn't a problem for me. However, when this unit is being moved around the desert by non-IT familiar users, I'm worried that this won't be done.

To be fair though i have to agree, liquid cooling seems like the only viable option. Was just hoping i might get some other alternatives i hadn't thought of before i am forced to resort to it.

Thanks for the input.
LVL 32

Assisted Solution

_ earned 288 total points
ID: 38348667
We are talking about trying to cool the interior of the case, not just the cpu, correct?

You might be able to rig something with a phase-change cooler:


but will probably be expensive and hard to find.

But I did find this site.
Looks like it might be interesting to poke around on. Might give you an idea.


Then there's Peltier Coolers:


Googling Peltier Coolers brings up some good links to sort through.
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LVL 44

Assisted Solution

Darr247 earned 572 total points
ID: 38348847
After the initial top-off (which is from surface tension bubbles which get flushed out to the reservoir), you should only need to check the level like once/month.

Self-contained units like that one that mounts in two 5.25'' drive bays or mounts on and cools only the CPU should not need refilling, either, but the latter would not really move the heat outside the enclosure as the former would.

Maybe this - http://www.xoxide.com/watcoolcas1.html - would have been a better place to start at xoxide (I'm getting an error every time I change pages there... ymmv), 'cause they offer lots of mounts for the radiators and reservoirs.

Good pics here

Whether you buy the coolant premixed or go with making your own as those guys discuss there, if the containers don't say "sterilized" I would put some in a 4 qt sauce pan and bring it to a boil before using it.  Buy a pan just for that purpose and mark it clearly with skull & crossbones to ensure it never gets used for food afterwards. 15 lbs of pressure for 15 minutes (i.e. autoclave) is not really required.
LVL 50

Assisted Solution

dbrunton earned 284 total points
ID: 38349059
What sort of processor are you looking at?

Do you really need a high powered processor or could you get away with a low powered one?

Something like an Atom processor requires minimum cooling compared to an Intel chip.

You are also talking about a heremetically sealed box.  Does this include hard disks as well?
LVL 93

Assisted Solution

nobus earned 284 total points
ID: 38349102
LVL 69

Assisted Solution

Callandor earned 284 total points
ID: 38349957
If you have abundant power, you could use a peltier-effect heatsink, which would create a cool plate on one side and a hot plate on the other.  As long as the ambient air temperature is lower than the hot side, you will have heat transfer.  The problem with any solution is that there can't be any cooling unless there is sufficient temperature differential between what you want to cool and the air around it.  The peltier and phase change coolers are the closest to a refrigeration unit, which is what you are looking for.  Peltier will have lower energy requirements.

See http://www.heatsink-guide.com/peltier.htm
LVL 25

Accepted Solution

kode99 earned 288 total points
ID: 38352989
You can get industrial components that can handle higher temperatures than consumer components.

Typically about 70 C for motherboards often called 'wide temperature'.  Here's an example board that is 70 C and has a 80 C variant,

You can also get solid state drive rated up to 85 C.

Your plan to use an aluminum plate and mount a heat sink on it with some air moving fans would likely be enough with higher rated components.  It is also simple plan and not prone to dust clogging problems.  Probably be good to have a duct to channel the air over the heat sink and double as a sun shield if this needs to be used outdoors.

Copper does provide about double the heat transfer of aluminum so cost allowing you could go that route.  Copper heat sinks are quite a bit more money vs an extruded aluminum.

Here's an example,


So a 10 inch wide heat sink for about $4.5 per inch long that you wanted.

If you did want to go with something liquid cooled take a look at chill plates,  basically a plate with piping build into it.  This could be used in the same way you planned to use the air cooled heat sink.


Just be sure that the radiator is easy to clean.  If it has too many fine and closely spaced fins the dust in the desert environment could be a big issue.  Probably want to be looking at higher quality components than typical consumer style water systems for this as well.

If you can keep the power supply outside the box,  or in a separate box so its not heating up rest of the system.

If the 'other random bits of circuitry' simple cannot be made to handle higher temperatures than you may need to go the thermoelectric route.  Though you may be able to use small modules directly attached to components much like a normal internal heat sink.  You can get a look at modules, controllers and prices through this site,


Blowing hot air over the heat sink will still cool the unit.  You will always get heat transfer as long as there is some temperature difference.  So as long as the internal temperature is higher than the external ambient temperature you will get cooling.  It's just not as efficient if the difference is small but forcing more air past the heat sink will improve the efficiency.  Barring a very fast temperature shift, like if you put the box in a oven,  the inside of your box is always going to be hotter than the ambient air temperature because it is producing heat.

Your internal temperature will also follow the external temperature fairly close once everything is warmed up and operating.  What this means is if your box is say 45 C inside and its 30 C outside then the outside temperature rises the internal temperature will also rise similarly.  So if it went to 45 C outside the box,  it will hit about 60 C inside.  Now if something changes to alter the efficiency of the heat transfer system like the fan slows,  heat sink gets covered etc.  or if the internals produce more heat than normal then the rate the heat is moved outside will change and the temperature difference would change.

One more thing,  having internal fans moving the air over the hotter components inside the sealed box will also help.  The bigger the box is the more the effect but even in a tight situation it will make a bit of a difference.  Same reason as above,  things that produce heat will be hotter than the air around them.

By gaining just an extra 10 C or so on the tolerance of your electronics it makes the cooling problem far more manageable.

Author Comment

ID: 38361873
Hi Guys,

Thanks for all the responses. Sorry for not responding, we are looking at the various options and will post once i have some news or questions.
LVL 32

Expert Comment

ID: 38362172
We will be here.  Have fun.     ; )
LVL 32

Expert Comment

ID: 38416224
Thank you much.    : )

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