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Installing Fanless Computers: Important Dos and Don’ts

By ·Categories: Depend OnLogic, Tech Explained·Published On: April 14th, 2021·4.4 min read·

Fanless computers offer so many advantages including versatile mounting options, efficient power use, and enhanced reliability just to name a few. But, installing fanless computers can be a new experience for those accustomed to using more traditional, actively cooled systems. Thanks to their versatility, fanless computers aren’t always installed sitting on a desk like their consumer grade counterparts. With that installation flexibility, comes a few considerations that are easy to overlook for the uninitiated. Here are some things to keep in mind that can make or break your next fanless computer-based industrial IoT, Industry 4.0 or edge computing project.

Every project is unique, and there will likely be other aspects of your install that you’ll need to consider (contact us to talk through them), but these guidelines will give you a solid place to start. To learn more about how fanless cooling works, check out our Tech Edge episode on the subject.

When installing fanless computers, do…

Carefully consider where you install it.

  • Make sure no other heat-producing equipment is located below the PC, and that nothing is mounted above it that could be sensitive to the heat rising off the PC’s heatsink fins. Allowing adequate space around the system for air to pass over the fins will also help ensure optimal performance.

Install the computer facing the “right” way.

  • Remember that heat rises, so you’ll get optimal cooling performance if the heatsink fins are facing up when the computer is mounted on a horizontal surface, or perpendicular (pointing ceiling to floor) when mounting on a vertical surface. Fanless systems can be installed with the cooling fins facing down if the optimal location requires it (under a table for instance), but be aware that cooling efficiency may be impacted.

Expect the computer to get warm.

  • Fanless cooling relies on a combination of internal conduction and external convection to move heat from internal components to the external cooling fins where it can be dissipated into the air. Your system being hot to the touch means that the cooling solution is working as it should. Of course, excessive surface heat can indicate an issue, so if external surface temperatures exceed 70°C (158°F), you should assess your installation and consult with a Solution Specialist.

Use a dedicated power supply.

  • When possible, use the computer’s own power supply and keep its power input independent from other equipment. For example, if powering from a DC bus – avoid sharing a common DC source with any inductive load (motor, switches, solenoids, relay switches). These devices can create backwards voltage spike conditions that can damage computer equipment. Even 12 and 24 volt relays can create hundreds or thousands of volts of fly-back voltage through the power bus.

Account for other environmental concerns.

  • Our fanless PCs are sturdy, but they are not invulnerable to environmental contaminants. Shield the PC from dust and debris as much as possible to optimize performance and longevity. Consider using our optional port blocking kit to enhance ingress protection. 

When installing fanless computers, don’t…

Stack anything on top of your fanless PCs.

  • Proper airflow over the cooling fins is essential for fanless cooling. Stacking additional equipment or other items on top of the fins will inhibit cooling capabilities and may cause system damage over time.

Install systems in a fully enclosed area.

  • Our fanless cooling solutions are very efficient, but if your system is installed in an enclosed location, like a vehicle trunk or unventilated cabinet, ambient temperatures can quickly rise beyond specified limits.

Use just any power adapter.

  • As mentioned above, how your system is powered is vital to proper performance. The power adapter supplied with your fanless PC may provide electrical protections not native to the PC. Without those protections damage can result. Verify the computer has the required protections if DC power is being used or if another power source is being considered.

Forget about cable management.

  • Fanless industrial computers are frequently subjected to wear and tear from every angle. To ensure secure connections and long-term reliability, don’t rely exclusively on connectors to support the weight of a cable over time. Cables can fail at strain points or damage connector pins from cross loading or vibration wear.

Install the system in direct sunlight.

  • Solar gain (the increase in temperature caused by solar radiation) adds up to 90W per square foot of thermal
    load. Whether the sun shines on the computer itself, or on an enclosure with the computer inside, try to limit
    direct sun exposure.

Expect setup to be challenging.

  • Though they are built to more strict specifications, our fanless computers are as easy to set up as an off the shelf PC. In most cases you will find a similar selection of ports, software options, and settings. Of course, if you have any questions, reach out to our team

As we mentioned, every project and computer installation is unique, but these tips should help ensure a proper fanless computer installation and help you avoid potentially costly errors. OnLogic computers are used for everything from medical solutions to monitoring mining equipment underground, and every application has its own requirements and best practices, so don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions.

Still looking for the right computer for your next project? Browse our full line of industrial computers here.

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About the Author: Darek Fanton

Darek is the Communications Manager at OnLogic. His passion for both journalism and technology has led him from the newsrooms of local papers to the manufacturing floor of IBM. His background in news gathering has him always on the lookout for the latest in emerging tech and the best ways to share that information with readers. In addition to his affinity for words, Darek is a music lover, juggler and huge fan of terrible jokes.