Computers mounted on forklifts, metal stamping facilities, in-vehicle computers, data-logging on bridges. What’s the connection? Shock and vibration. If you are in an environment where your computer is going to be knocked around, vibrated, shocked or just shaken every which way, you’ll need to make sure your PC is vibration resistant. Let’s take a look at 6 tips to make a vibration resistant PC.
1 – Vibration Resistant PC Platter Drives: Make your Hard Drives Solid State
First and foremost, the easiest thing to do is replace all hard drives in the computer with Solid State Drives (SSD). While you can get shock pads to mitigate vibration effects, platter hard drives are very sensitive to shock – swift blows can cause damage to the platter, and vibration – constant shaking will throw the read and write heads out of alignment – which just means they should be gone. SSDs have no moving parts, and are perfect to take the shake. However, cables that connect SSDs are another matter.
2 – PC Cables: The Weak Link
Connections are the greatest points of failure for cables inside your PC. Either a steady shake or a swift blow can easily knock a cable loose. The first priority? Remove any and all superfluous or extra-long cables. If it is not in use, get rid of it. If it is a multi-function cable and you don’t use all the functions, replace it. Eliminating all dangly bits prevents that much more movement within the system.
The X, the Y and the Z – When you think about vibration, remember it is not just back and forth or up and down. Vibration can happen in three dimensions. When analyzing your need, don’t forget the Z axis or you might watch your PC fall to pieces.
If you aren’t using zip-ties, it’s time to start. Use them to connect various free floating cables together and minimize movement. But beware, bundling cables is a fine art in itself. You want it taut, but not too taut, so the slightest motion doesn’t pull a connection out; snug, but not too snug, so no sharp edges or heat sources damage the cables; and well secured, but not too secured, so the zip-ties don’t hurt the wires. In the end remember: The fewer moving parts, the better.
3 – PC Fans: Prone to Failure
Speaking of fewer moving parts, go fanless. This is right up there with removing platter drives as a quick and easy way to remove a point of failure. In a vibration-prone environment, a fan is often one of the first parts to fail. Whether it is a good shock that just breaks the fan or a constant vibration that slowly warps it, when the fan goes, your system is soon to follow. Going fanless requires a motherboard designed to stay cool with heatpipes, heat sink, thermal paste and other passive cooling methods, so take that into account when selecting a board and system.
4 – PC Motherboards: The Mother of All Problems
Put aside I/O & processing power for a moment and focus on a motherboard’s capacity to resist vibration. First, look at the size of the motherboard, and more specifically the distance between the points that connect it to the case. The more space there is between connection points, the more wobble. Like a piece of sheet metal held between your hands and shaken, the motherboard will flex and shake. Smaller form factors like Mini-ITX have close screws, reducing the wobble. Fanless boards will also tend to have a heat pipe, which rests on the board, and a pad under the board. This creates an additional anchor point and is another good argument for going fanless.q
Keep an eye out for certain motherboards designed from the ground up to resist vibration. These feature stiffer boards, fewer components that might shake themselves loose or break (like Electrolytic Capacitors), strategically placed rubber bumpers, and power supplies that can take a pounding. However, the best motherboard in the world – with the best drives and cabling – still needs to go in a good case – the chassis.
5 – PC Chassis: Make it Hardshell for Vibration Resistance
Selecting a good chassis is the second to last big hurdle to creating a vibration resistant PC. Start with a look at the case design. When it comes to dealing with vibration, as stated above, the stiffer the better. If it is not stiff enough, the case and the motherboard can begin vibrating at different frequencies, which can be disastrous. This usually excludes plastic cases, so when looking at the metal case, how it is designed will tell you a lot. Folded metal is superior to multiple pieces screwed together. The more parts there are to the case, the more chances there are for it to have room to move. Finally, look at the placements of the mounting brackets, and if the chassis you are looking at doesn’t mount, just walk away.
Screws: While it’s not necessarily its own topic, it’s worth bringing you the choice of screws when dealing with vibrations. Normal screws can, over the course of time, shake loose. Anyone who has an office chair can attest to the subtle but inevitable need to tighten things up every once in a while. However, re-tightening is not always an option, especially in remote deployments. System screws need to stay in, so threadlocking screws are a quick and easy solution
6 – Mount your PC: Pick a Good Spot to Minimize Vibrations
Imagine a PC sitting on top of a washing machine in motion. The PC will dance all over the place! If you place your hand on it, it will move less violently. This is what mounting does. By attaching the PC to a larger object, even if that object is in motion, it reduces the vibration and shock. Even so, you just need to pick the right spot with the least vibration. With specially designed mounts, like Vibration Isolation Mounting Kits, that vibration can be further mitigated. As mentioned above, keep an eye on where the mounts are.
Vibration Resistant PC Takeaway
Vibration is a serious issue and an unprepared PC can be torn apart by even the smallest of vibrations over time. If you are hearing a rattle from your PC, watch out and take a good hard look at your environment. Then, make sure you have the right PC with the right protection. You may not be able to say that your PC is “vibration-proof”. But there is a lot you can do to mitigate the risks of vibration.
Solution Spotlight: Vibration Verification
OnLogic’s engineers have expertise in solving vibration concerns, and a vast toolbox of solutions to match your particular need. Contact one of our specialists to consult on your environment and put together a verified system that can handle whatever you can throw at it. Explore our Rugged Line to browse systems with enhanced vibration resistance.
Note – this was originally posted on December 10, 2013. It was updated for content on January 19, 2021.