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Building Fanless PCs: What Goes in and What Comes Out

By ·Categories: Tech Explained·Published On: May 8th, 2021·3.3 min read·

When considering what goes into building fanless PCs, the first thing to think about is what doesn’t: a fan. We build fanless computers around the idea of passive rather than active cooling. Removing the fan can greatly increase a system’s range of use and functionality. At OnLogic, we have a proven ability to take a motherboard from the fanned, actively cooled setting for which it was designed and transform it into a rugged, environment-resistant system. The end result is increased longevity, lower power consumption and greater stability.

It may sound like  a simple concept, but fanless computing is a complex undertaking. It involves a lot of work long before the assembly process even begins.

How to Build a Fanless Computer

OnLogic Heat SinkThe manufacturing process for a fanless system begins well before it is ever in the hands of our production team. Our engineering department develops a multi-function computer case around a subset of motherboards, each with it’s own heat dispersion system. When the specifications have been dialed in for mass production, with consideration given to all thermal aspects of the system in addition to normal constraints such as memory capacity and processing power, the assembling, and more importantly disassembling, can begin.

Keeping Fanless PCs Cool

A motherboard designed to be cooled with active airflow is generally equipped with a heatsink and integrated fan mounted atop the processor. There might also be one or more fans fixed in the housing of the system. Fanless PCs do away with the moving parts and airflow through the case and instead focuses on moving the heat out of the case. This may not sound like such a groundbreaking idea however some of our systems have ambient operating temperatures of up to 150 F. This high temperature makes thermal management a formidable obstacle with the highest priority.

OnLogic’s fanless PCs substitute a hefty block of aluminum for moving fans and flimsy heatsinks. This block, combined with our own hardshell fanless technology, is designed to optimize heat distribution over as wide a surface area as possible. This is normally focused on the CPU which generates the most heat. But, we’ve also developed solutions for storage and periphery, such as Wi-Fi. This allows us to to manage the same amount of thermal energy with a technology that makes a PC fan look complicated. However, without the research and real world stress testing our systems undergo, in chorus with an iterative design process, the aluminum block providing the conductivity between the CPU and the case would be just that, an aluminum block. Check out this Introduction to Fanless PC Cooling for more information on how we do it.

Fanless vs. Solid State

It should be noted that a solid state PC and a fanless PC are not one and the same. In a sense, a solid state PC (a computer with no moving parts) is always fanless. On the other hand, a fanless PC is not always solid state. Fanless PCs may contain platter drives or other components with moving parts. Solid state computing significantly cuts down on component failures by eliminating the vulnerabilities of moving parts. However, simply switching in an SSD doesn’t make the system solid state. In our experience, truly solid state systems, utilizing fanless chassis design and SSD storage, are significantly more reliable. These system offer longer lifecycles by providing fewer points of failure.

Of course, designing passively cooled systems takes a lot of engineering. When it comes down to it, creating efficient and effective fanless computers is as much about what goes into them as what comes out.

Want to learn more? Check out our whitepaper that explains the benefits of fanless computing and the 5 ways fanless computers can help your business.

Download white paper to learn how fanless computers can help your business

Note: Originally posted on January 28, 2015. Updates made to this blog post on May 8, 2021.

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OnLogic is a global industrial computer manufacturer that designs highly-configurable, solution-focused computers engineered for reliability for the IoT edge.
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