When considering what goes into building a fanless PC, the first thing to think about is what doesn’t: a fan. Fanless computers are systems built around the idea of passive rather than active cooling, a factor that 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 with increased longevity, lower power consumption and greater stability.
It may sound like a simple concept, but fanless computing is a complex undertaking involving a lot of work long before the assembly process even begins.
How to Build a Fanless Computer
The 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 a Fanless PC Cool
A motherboard designed to be cooled with active airflow is generally equipped with a heatsink and integrated fan mounted atop the processor and one or more fans fixed in the housing of the system. A fanless PC does 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 which makes thermal management a formidable obstacle with the highest priority.
OnLogic’s fanless PCs, in both our Mini ITX and NUC lines, substitute a hefty block of aluminum for moving fans and flimsy heatsinks. This block, combined with our own purpose built cases, is designed to optimize heat distribution over as wide a surface area as possible. This is normally focused on the CPU as it is the most energy intensive component, 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.
Fanless vs. Solid State
It should also 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, but a fanless PC is not alway solid state as it may contain a platter drive or other components with moving parts. Solid state computing is widely accepted to significantly cut down on component failures by eliminating the inherent vulnerabilities of moving parts. However, while solid state storage options continue to draw more and more attention from PC users, some may not realize that 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, offering users longer lifecycles by providing fewer points of failure.
Of course it takes a lot of engineering to design systems that can be properly cooled without a fan. When it comes down to it, creating efficient and effective fanless computers is as much about what goes into them as what comes out.