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Open Compute Wants To Make Biodegradable Servers

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the for-the-sarlacc dept.

Earth 102

1sockchuck writes "The Open Compute Project has challenged students at Purdue University to develop a biodegradable server chassis. Although the steel used in most server chassis can be recycled, the OCP says it wants to "explore designs that retain the needed resiliency but push the boundaries of sustainability," even allowing a chassis to be composted. The project aligns with Facebook's goal of separating the technology refresh cycle for CPUs and other components from the surrounding chassis and racks. The Purdue students will tackle this issue next semester, but Slashdot readers can brainstorm the issue now. Is a biodegradable server chassis viable? If so, can it be affordable?"

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102 comments

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That's all well and good (4, Insightful)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 2 years ago | (#41923479)

But the steel in the chassis is probably the most environmentally friendly part of a server.

Re:That's all well and good (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41923671)

This. Isn't there no limit to the number of times steel can be recycled? Also, chassis shouldn't be replaced that often, no? Why are we wasting effort on the longest lasting, most sustainable portion of the computer?

Re:That's all well and good (4, Insightful)

jdray (645332) | about 2 years ago | (#41923705)

Because someone had a "brilliant" marketing idea, no concept of the technical viability, and no interest in doing proper research. Instead, they get something up on Slashdot and let us tell them whether it's a good idea or not.

Re:That's all well and good (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41925873)

An opportunity to get yet more stupid burdensome laws passed

Re:That's all well and good (2)

Servaas (1050156) | about 2 years ago | (#41923805)

How is Open Compute Project funded? Does anyone know? Ideas like these are good case for cutting said funding.

Re:That's all well and good (1)

Desler (1608317) | about 2 years ago | (#41925353)

It's funded by private investors and the companies who make up its board. I'm guessing you'll have to talk to them about cutting funding but I doubt you'll get much traction.

Re:That's all well and good (1)

icebike (68054) | about 2 years ago | (#41924501)

This. Isn't there no limit to the number of times steel can be recycled? Also, chassis shouldn't be replaced that often, no? Why are we wasting effort on the longest lasting, most sustainable portion of the computer?

Exactly. The one part that can be used over and over again (due to hard won standardization) is now likely to succumb to the first sprinkler system accident.

Meanwhile the mother boards and add-in cards need nasty and toxic methods of resource recovery, usually carried out in place that have no environmental controls.

Why not come up with a mother board substrate that you simple heat at moderate temperatures to leave a flow of of recoverable molten substrate, with components and circuitry left sitting like a ship in dry-dock?

Biodegradability is not all that desirable. Ease of recycling is. These people conflate the two, perhaps due to their "throw it away and get a new one" upbringing.

Re:That's all well and good (1)

Panaflex (13191) | about 2 years ago | (#41928857)

I've worked on a project where we printed circuits on glass. It worked well, you could etch basic CPU's and CCD circuits right on the surface. The only problems are keeping it clean, heat dissipation, and through-hole contacts. I see glass as the right way moving forward. Etching numerous redundancies can be cleaned up at testing as you have an enormous amount of space unlike silicone. We've already got experience in LCD tech here, why not build the whole thing on glass?

Re:That's all well and good (1)

OolimPhon (1120895) | about 2 years ago | (#41930535)

That's fine until you drop the server while installing it...

Re:That's all well and good (1)

Panaflex (13191) | about 2 years ago | (#41933391)

The glass can be bonded to a thin plexiglass layer - would be almost bulletproof.

Re:That's all well and good (2)

Derek Pomery (2028) | about 2 years ago | (#41924113)

From chatting with someone who was working on the bamboo bike project, my understanding is that its advantages in no particular order were:
1) Much lighter than steel, although of lower durability
2) Novelty
3) The epoxies used to hold the bamboo together and reinforce the bikes could be cheaply shipped in quantity to bike shops in Africa where bamboo was readily available but machined steel bike frames were not.

Presumably a steel frame, despite the weight, would last longer, but might be harder to repair in some areas.

I don't really know too much of the project, but I think the first world bamboo bikes were more about novelty.
I don't think the bamboo bike is even that much cheaper than a carbon composite bike since the shops aren't mass producing.

Re:That's all well and good (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41924863)

From chatting with someone who was working on the bamboo bike project, my understanding is that its advantages in no particular order were: 1) Much lighter than steel, although of lower durability ...

In other words not as safe? As in people getting impaled during a wreck?

Re:That's all well and good (1)

Derek Pomery (2028) | about 2 years ago | (#41925035)

Well, carbon composites aren't as durable as steel either.
I don't think there's much risk of empalement. I think they do act much like the composites, esp when coated in epoxy.

Random googling yields:
http://www.menziesbamboobikes.com/strength-and-durability-of-menzies-frames.html [menziesbamboobikes.com]
and
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo_bicycle [wikipedia.org]
and
http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/environment/how-to-build-a-bamboo-bike#slide-1 [popularmechanics.com]

A few of these claim greater durability than steel. I find that hard to believe, and I recall he was mentioning delaminating issues similar to carbon fibre.

http://durianrider.org/2011/05/28/bamboo-road-bike-review/ [durianrider.org]
This review seems to claim better durability than the bikes he tries.
Although the bamboo pieces do look stockier than a carbon fibre.

"This is one bike you can really ride hard and not have to worry about chipping the 2mm carbon downtube"

So, dunno, actually sounds pretty cool.
I do know that steel frames are heavy and tiring to use.

not incosnsistent (2)

Immerman (2627577) | about 2 years ago | (#41927347)

"Lighter but less durable than steel"
and
"More durable than steel"
are not necessarily inconsistent statements, depending on how you're measuring - dimensionally a 1" bamboo rod will be considerably lighter than a steel tube with the same cross-section, but will likely be less durable. On the other hand a 1lb bamboo rod may be considerably more durable than a 1lb steel rod since the bamboo will be much thicker to reach the same weight, not to mention its extensive organic structural reinforcements.

Note that I have no idea what the reality is, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that both claims are 100% valid. As for composites - well I can't say I'd be at all surprised if an organic structure micro-engineered at the cellular level were both stronger and more durable than the crude human-made composites, there's a reason bio-mimicry is an increasingly popular engineering strategy.

Re:That's all well and good (1)

jenningsthecat (1525947) | about 2 years ago | (#41929027)

Just as stupid as bamboo and cardboard bikes. There's nothing wrong with using steel or aluminium for your bike frame. If you treat it right, it will last 20+ years, at which point it can be recycled into a new bike. Even if you leave it out in the rain, the frame will most likely still last 10+ years, its the rest of the components that really don't like rain that much.

That's not really a relevant comparison. The server chassis won't have to be locked to a lamppost in a vain attempt to thwart thieves, whereas bikes are stolen all the time. If my cheap cardboard bike is stolen, I won't cry much. And the city I live in could buy thousands of them for a minuscule portion of our transit budget and make them available for people to use at will, with the effect of making mass transit much more viable, convenient, and attractive.

As for server chassis, biodegradable ones may also be cheaper, lighter, and easier to manufacture. If they are, they could be a real advantage for server farms in depressed areas where heavy industry isn't up to snuff. Not to mention the lower shipping costs, and possibly smaller carbon footprint.

I'll get off your lawn now...

Re:That's all well and good (3, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 2 years ago | (#41923931)

Yep Steel is 100% recyclable. It is also "biodegradable" as well. Steel changes into iron oxide which is the same as iron ore. It will enrich the soil with iron which is a nutrient. Boom a steel enclosure is already fits all the requirements.
 

Re:That's all well and good (1)

TopSpin (753) | about 2 years ago | (#41924597)

Rust is not biodegradation. Rust may be just as effective wrt sustainability, and this may all be superfluous greeny nonsense, but oxidization is not a biological process.

Re:That's all well and good (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 2 years ago | (#41926487)

Rust is not biodegradation.

Sometimes it is. [wikipedia.org]

Re:That's all well and good (1)

snaFu07 (1111263) | about 2 years ago | (#41926519)

What is breathing then? What is iron in blood for? Why does life flourish around sunken steel ships?

cause versus effect (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 2 years ago | (#41927395)

No one's claiming iron oxide isn't biologically valuable, but when you see a rusty piece of equipment or old iron can sitting in a field the odds are that it didn't rust *because of* biological activity, hence it is *not* bio-degradation (i.e biologically-driven degradation).

Re:That's all well and good (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41924155)

And more importantly, wouldn't a chassis that's able to be composted also be flammable? Not a good idea in a server farm!

Re:That's all well and good (1)

Desler (1608317) | about 2 years ago | (#41925423)

wouldn't a chassis that's able to be composted also be flammable?

No. Biodegradability has nothing to do with flammability.

Re:That's all well and good (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41924521)

Agreed, I was wondering what they were doing about all the rare earths in the server after reading the headline, then saw it was about the chassis. I was promptly disillusioned.

Re:That's all well and good (1)

Artraze (600366) | about 2 years ago | (#41924583)

Of course. To anyone that actually cares about this metals are fantastic. They are plentiful, they're durable enough to last as long as you want them to (and through additional applications, i.e. reuse), and when you're done, they're some of the most easily sorted and recycled materials around. (They even decay, to an extent, as pointed out by another.)

But remember that's not what 'green' is about these days. It's not _really_ about doing things in, shall we say, a responsible manner. Instead, it's really a back-to-basics/nature movement where people feel that humans are pushing too hard, lost their connection with nature, etc and it's time to use that tech to bring us full circle [tvtropes.org] (if you can excuse the hyperbolic trope reference). It's why you see things like "biodegradable" spec'ed over things like 'durable and reusable'... they want to see servers that they can mulch and grow a flower on rather than ones that will last decades only to be returned to industry and not nature.

Why not just reuse a chassis? (1)

perpenso (1613749) | about 2 years ago | (#41924799)

But the steel in the chassis is probably the most environmentally friendly part of a server.

Durable too. Why not just reuse the chassis? Replace power supplies, boards, drives, etc as needed.

On the PC side I purchased some nice(*) Antec cases 10+ years ago and they are still in use. For some the motherboards and hard drives have been upgraded three times. I think one power supply had to be replaced.

(*) In the sturdy and easy to work on sense, not the transparent doors and blue LEDs sense.

Re:That's all well and good (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#41925199)

But the steel in the chassis is probably the most environmentally friendly part of a server.

Also, unless you are going blade-level nuts about density(which the highly cost-sensitive massive cloud guys don't generally seem to be), it's the part of the server that can be standardized with little more than some basic agreement about screw holes and airflow...

There have been improvements; but a 1995-vintage ATX case can be trivially populated with hardware purchased today(even an AT case could probably be bodged, with a few standoffs and some swearing). Worst case, a part that is essentially 100% steel is something that you won't exactly have to fight to get a recycler to accept.

Re:That's all well and good (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 2 years ago | (#41925391)

If you get a bunch of them, a scrap metal place will pay you for them.

Re:That's all well and good (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 2 years ago | (#41925435)

And it's the IDEAL material... It's strong enough for rack-mounting. it flexes and bends under extreme loads instead of cracking. It's naturally an RF shield, and provides electrical grounding in case of an accident with the 200+volt lines coming in. It needs minimal thickness to provide sufficient strength. It's non-flammable. And even conducts away some of the heat. And if you really want to insist that it "bio-degrade" you need only poor some water, chlorine, or other oxidizer on it to very quickly degrade it to sand.

Even if you find something cheaper that's thin and strong enough, you'll still have to wrap it in steel foil...

Re:That's all well and good (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#41925669)

That's a nice idea, but iron mining is usually done by scraping the tops off of mountains and that sort of thing, steel refining is horribly polluting, and so is steel recycling. You could probably make a natural composite using a lot less energy that would do the same job. We have massive infrastructure for steel production and many of the externalities are simply ignored, with the end result that the whole world suffers them rather than just those who use the steel.

Re:That's all well and good (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 2 years ago | (#41925955)

Would the natural composite have the same EMI shielding properties as steel? What about heat conduction? What about safety? If the chassis isn't earthed, everything must be double-insulated.
Recycling steel is mostly electricity.
The chassis in a server is both the easiest to recycle and easiest to reuse.

Re:That's all well and good (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#41926207)

Apple solved the EMI shielding on their plastic cases with a spray-on coating. I imagine you could probably do it with foil. Recycling steel is mostly electricity, but it also has horrid emissions.

Re:That's all well and good (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 2 years ago | (#41926861)

and the coating will need to be removed to recycle the plastic. If that costs too much, the plastic will be dumped.

Re:That's all well and good (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41926905)

And if the steel chassis use good standard, you can replace parts inside and use the chassis for 500 years witout recycling. Yes, sustanable utility.

Make it from wood. (3, Interesting)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 2 years ago | (#41923495)

And then you can make a nice little fire when the server gets too old.

Re:Make it from wood. (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#41923679)

Yep.

Seriously, does this need a "brainstorm"?

Re:Make it from wood. (2)

Genda (560240) | about 2 years ago | (#41923767)

Actually some woods burn much better than others. Certain corks and barks are terrible at burning. One might also consider a composite, a laminate of wood and biodegradable plastics that would be light, very strong, and function well in a server environment. One would need to include a foil layer inside for noise isolation and conductive pads for grounding, but other than that, its doable.

One other possibility might be a wood/carbon fiber/polymer paste that can be cured into a super hard, light, biodegradable material. The cool part is that you could 3D print your computer chassis. Imagine all the cool (literally cool) exotic passive and active subsystems you could incorporate into a printed chassis. This would be a very exciting possibility. Hmmm maybe I just came up with this summers Maker Project!

Re:Make it from wood. (1)

rhook (943951) | about 2 years ago | (#41923987)

Cutting down trees is not green at all.

Wood product are "green". (1)

perpenso (1613749) | about 2 years ago | (#41924901)

Cutting down trees is not green at all.

Trees are renewable, cut one down plant a replacement.
Wood products sequester carbon.

Re:Make it from wood. (1)

LongearedBat (1665481) | about 2 years ago | (#41930061)

You mean when the server shorts out?

It actually seems like a bad idea... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41923503)

These are servers. Making a quick-swap motherboard standard for them sounds like a win, but no reasonably priced competitive substance offers the strength and RF shielding of a steel box.

And why would we care about biodegradable when we have steel? It is reusable until obsolete and then recyclable into other useful steel objects.

Re:It actually seems like a bad idea... (1)

mlts (1038732) | about 2 years ago | (#41923871)

Maybe even go to a passive backplane where the chassis itself that is made out of aluminum and steel stays put, while components can be swapped out as needed. New standard of connecting HDDs? Swap the bay out, but leave everything else. The I/O ports on the front need updated? Pull that module out and put in an updated one with the latest video port. Voltage goes from 120VAC to 340DC? Out comes the power supply and in goes a DC/DC converter.

People talk about environmentally friendly machines. However, the first thing that should be done is to minimize the use of plastic since that is much harder to recycle [1] as opposed to metal that can be relatively easily reused. Yes, a metal case is more expensive, but I've seen people reuse cases for generations of components.

After going with a metal case, the next thing is trying to minimize the use of PCB material, as that and chips can't be recycled. This is why it is better to go with a passive backplane computer so only the boards that are outdated would need replacing as opposed to complete systems.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. Reduce the amount of stuff that needs to be replaced at any given time. Reuse existing chassis and components, and minimize the amount of stuff that can't be recycled.

[1]: Plastics can be down-cycled, that is it. The only way to truly recycle plastic is to have a thermal depolymerization plant that boils the plastic back into short chain crude.

Re:It actually seems like a bad idea... (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 2 years ago | (#41925187)

These are servers. Making a quick-swap motherboard standard for them sounds like a win, but no reasonably priced competitive substance offers the strength and RF shielding of a steel box.

This... Maybe it's time to separate the case (which provides structural support and RF shielding) from the chassis (to which the electronic components are mounted).

Wrong order? (3, Insightful)

nweaver (113078) | about 2 years ago | (#41923505)

If the goal is to make the chassis and CPU lifetime different, make the chassis strong and easy to upgrade. Which means the chassis has the potential to have the longest lifetime, so why make it degradeable?

Carboard? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41923515)

I'd suggest a rigid cardboard (think egg-cartons)... or even some kind of wood... but the steel in the present chassis isnt there for just structure, it provides a degree of electromagnetic shielding. Having a Faraday cage around your compute systems is beneficial.

Re:Carboard? (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about 2 years ago | (#41923855)

Gee, lets take a device that uses household-level AC current, and in the process of using it produces enough heat to fry an egg (and shortly after, itself) and put it in a flammable container.

How could it go wrong?

Re:Carboard? (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about 2 years ago | (#41924047)

Being Fireproof aside the bigger issue is heat dissipation. Wood, Cardboard, and Most Plastics are good insulators of heat. That means all heat generated will need to go out threw the fans and not the case. Stone would have my vote. A nice Granite or Marble Server, would really make the server room look classy. Although each serve will need to take up at least an extra 2u, and add an addition 100lbs to the server.

Re:Carboard? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41924265)

Greek columns that compute?

Re:Carboard? (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about 2 years ago | (#41924489)

That would be heavy as hell but would look something fancy...

Bonus points: it's nonconductive as well! (well, depending on the mineral content of that particular stone)

The stench is strong with this one (3, Funny)

oldhack (1037484) | about 2 years ago | (#41923555)

The stench of PR gibberish is overwhelming.

Re:The stench is strong with this one (2)

jdray (645332) | about 2 years ago | (#41923673)

That may be the decomposing server chassis. The heat generated by a rack full of them would probably start the composting process.

Who needs a chassis? (1)

Andy Prough (2730467) | about 2 years ago | (#41923575)

Who among us has not run a 'puter with the chassis taken apart for months at a time? Get some good airflow, and don't spill your coffee on the components.

Re:Who needs a chassis? (2)

dyingtolive (1393037) | about 2 years ago | (#41923741)

When I was a poor college student, my linux box was my old computer parts zip-tied into an old shoebox. There's your biodegradable chasis right there. Tell me when you've figured out how to make the stuff that's actually harmful to the environment biodegradable.

Re:Who needs a chassis? (1)

Andy Prough (2730467) | about 2 years ago | (#41924475)

Absolutely - and I've run a couple minus the shoebox and zip-ties - just sat a motherboard and power supply on an old card table and plugged it in. Ran a box fan over it all.

Re:Who needs a chassis? (1)

White Flame (1074973) | about 2 years ago | (#41927123)

Ah, the best idea so far: Poor college students. Pay them to hold servers up.

Manuel says "Fuego!" (3, Insightful)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | about 2 years ago | (#41923583)

I'm thinking there is some UL or ISO or Euro standard that makes it difficult to make server chassis out of flammable materials, and stack dozens of them in a rack, while running 240VAC through them and with lots of cooling air to fan the flames.

Re:Manuel says "Fuego!" (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#41925259)

I'm thinking there is some UL or ISO or Euro standard that makes it difficult to make server chassis out of flammable materials, and stack dozens of them in a rack, while running 240VAC through them and with lots of cooling air to fan the flames.

Don't worry, we can just add halogenated flame-retardants to our environmentally friendly chassis until it passes code...

My Brainstorm activity: (1, Offtopic)

foma84 (2079302) | about 2 years ago | (#41923611)

Don't.
Really. There are SO MANY BETTER TOPICS to explore instead of wasting time with this... mess.
Pretty please.

Bugs (literally) (2)

Dwedit (232252) | about 2 years ago | (#41923633)

I don't want insects and fungi eating away at a computer chassis while the computer inside is still operating. Recyclable materials sound like a better idea than something that prematurely falls apart and rots away.

Re:Bugs (literally) (1)

Andy Prough (2730467) | about 2 years ago | (#41923655)

Don't tell me you've never opened an old system and found a spider's nest.

Re:Bugs (literally) (1)

operagost (62405) | about 2 years ago | (#41924163)

Yeah, but the spider wasn't actually eating the chassis.

Re:Bugs (literally) (1)

Andy Prough (2730467) | about 2 years ago | (#41924441)

Yeah, but the spider wasn't actually eating the chassis.

Meh - spiders won't eat bio-recyclable-cardboard crap either. Their more into flies. Pour a bunch of honey on the bottom of the box and ants will eat their way in.

Re:Bugs (literally) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41924045)

Why not? this would be great for the government (and industry) standard of leaving outdated machines in a closet to collect dust. The next logical step is for them to turn into said dust.

materials? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41923675)

soy-plastic or maybe mdf?

Dumb idea. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41923721)

As everyone else already explained...
The chassis not only provides structural support, it serves as EM shielding.
Steel is 100% recyclable, unlike most other computer components.
If you want to avoid even that... standardize boards and other components and reuse the chassis.

PLGA (1)

kencurry (471519) | about 2 years ago | (#41923725)

mold it from HMW PLGA, I'm going to guess a good mole ratio for this project will be 80:20. It will be pretty stable as long as you keep it dry, then throw it away after a couple of years. It will biodegrade into glycolic and lactic acid.

Don't they call a biodegradeable server chassis (1)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | about 2 years ago | (#41923739)

Don't they call a biodegradable server chassis a brain?

Re:Don't they call a biodegradeable server chassis (2)

boristdog (133725) | about 2 years ago | (#41923915)

No, they call it a skull.

Fewer servers - efficient code (1)

gr8_phk (621180) | about 2 years ago | (#41923749)

Lets start writing code in more efficient languages so they can use fewer servers. Does anyone have a data on the relative performance of code written in different languages? Which ones have the lowest carbon footprint for various tasks?

Re:Fewer servers - efficient code (1)

silas_moeckel (234313) | about 2 years ago | (#41924125)

No idea as to the code but can say there a HUGE differences between developers and how efficient there code is.

Re:Fewer servers - efficient code (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41926477)

I'm sorry.
Their.

I'm so terribly sorry.
Posted anon to hide my shame.

Recycle (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41923775)

Seems more practical to design chassis that can be re-used, and manufactured out of a 100% recyclable material.

This is a bad idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41923835)

Part of the reason why systems use metal is because the metal can pull static away from sensitive components. Using a biodegradable option (like plant polymers) wouldn't allow the static to go anywhere, and cause the static to arc once built up enough. The static build-up from just dust blowing around your chassis would be disastrous to sensitive components.

There are much bigger fish to fry when looking at computer design than the metal chassis. One such would be to come up with a lead-less solder. That would have much more environmental impact.

Re:This is a bad idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41923979)

Lead-free solders have existed for years.

Green Fun (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41923837)

Composting? If it's biodegradeable plastic, or wood they're thinking of, it sounds a little iffy from an EMI/EMC perspective. (electromagnetic compatibility, not EMC Corp. :)

There are metallized paints or metal vapor deposition techniques that might be used to mitigate these problems if the students insist on using plastic or wood or some such nonsense.

From Purdue: What would happen if these chassis could be placed in compost instead?
I reject the question for reasons of silliness.

How about designing a reliable chassis that lasts a decade or two so it doesn't need to be trashed/recycled/composted(ha) after a few years?

what about making them more reusable? (2)

bzipitidoo (647217) | about 2 years ago | (#41923905)

The PC case really has not changed significantly since the 1980s, since everyone figured out that separate keyboards are better than integrated ones. Most of the differences are fairly trivial, but often just enough to make it more convenient to buy a new case. One thing I find surprising is that the size of the average desktop computer case hasn't changed much. I would have thought they'd all have shrunk to the size of a shoe box or smaller by now. Seems the driving force keeping the size constant is the need for heat dissipation.

We could do better. Still, we've done fairly well. The CD and DVD drives are the same size as the old 5.25" floppy drive. Hard drives also standardized on that size for a while, then moved to another standardized size, 3.5". We still see the AT style power supply space and mounting points. The physical expansion slot of the XT and the Apple ][ is still with us even though the underlying bus has changed dramatically. The old RS-232 serial port is still around in places, and where it has been replaced, it's with another standard, USB.

Re:what about making them more reusable? (1)

mlts (1038732) | about 2 years ago | (#41924077)

The latest change I've seen to a desktop case was to use a netbook motherboard with an external power supply brick that plugs in. Yes, the box may have one 3.5" HDD and a full size optical drive, but there is a lot of wasted space in its ATX-sized format.

One reason why the cases are the size they are is due to the heat dumping requirements of modern CPUs. Even though cards have shrunk, HDDs have gone from 5.25" to 3.5", and to 2.5" in the enterprise, the CPU, GPU, and even RAM need the room freed up to get air past them.

Maybe the next step is a standard size desktop case paired with a standard way of doing liquid cooling with intelligent valves which can sense leaks and shut off as well as allow connects/disconnects with relative ease (and offer a high amount of disconnection/connection cycles.)

Combine liquid cooling and perhaps a passive backplane system (so we can move from video cards and motherboards to CPU cards, GPU cards, and I/O cards), and that would be a major advance in the every day workhorse desktop world.

Re:what about making them more reusable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41924407)

Heat dumping requirements of modern CPUs?
A i7-3770 uses less power than a 10 year old P4.
More like "introduction of 100W+ graphics cards". THAT was the last major change that required redesigning ATX case airflow.

Re:what about making them more reusable? (1)

dkf (304284) | about 2 years ago | (#41924491)

Maybe the next step is a standard size desktop case paired with a standard way of doing liquid cooling with intelligent valves which can sense leaks and shut off as well as allow connects/disconnects with relative ease (and offer a high amount of disconnection/connection cycles.)

You'll still need lots of space for the radiator required for getting that heat out of the liquid. Either that means you're using a large case, or you're using a very hot case (problematic in a different way), or you're going to have external connections on the case for getting coolant in and out. Running external tubing for cooling is probably going to make you wish you were just dealing with cables, as anyone who's ever dealt with plumbing problems will tell you...

Re:what about making them more reusable? (1)

mlts (1038732) | about 2 years ago | (#41924677)

Agreed. That is the one thing that needs some heavy duty engineering work (reliable tubing with valves that can sense leaks between sections and automatically cut off as well as cutting off when connecting/disconnecting.) However, if someone can make "smart pipes" which can do this without making messes in the server room, they will make a mint. It is a lot cheaper to plop a heat exchanger and use a building's chilled water supply than it is to use multiple CRACs.

Re:what about making them more reusable? (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 2 years ago | (#41925319)

the CPU, GPU, and even RAM need the room freed up to get air past them.

Not true at all. The airflow is limited by the size of intakes and exhaust ports... Any volume larger than that is wasted.

Servers that used to be 3-4U are now 2U, or even 1U. Manufacturers have long since switched from ATX to microATX, and even a decade ago were aggressively pursuing smaller form factors: http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid=SAMBA845GV-PB-2R&cat=SYS [geeks.com]

Lay out your motherboard on a table, then stick a 3" (for 92mm) or 4" (for 120mm) duct from the CPU to the exhaust, and that's all the space you need. Cases are larger because we can't lay a DVD-Burner sideways and assume the mobo wont have huge capacitors sticking up from there...

Re:what about making them more reusable? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#41925623)

Not true at all. The airflow is limited by the size of intakes and exhaust ports... Any volume larger than that is wasted.

That would be true only if you had perfectly laminar flow inside the case, which is never true. The airflow is limited by a number of factors, of which the size of the intake and exhaust ports are only the most obvious.

Re:what about making them more reusable? (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 2 years ago | (#41926157)

That would be true only if you had perfectly laminar flow inside the case, which is never true.

It's very, very easy to install ducting in PC cases, which works extremely well.

Re:what about making them more reusable? (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 2 years ago | (#41925225)

The PC case really has not changed significantly since the 1980s, since everyone figured out that separate keyboards are better than integrated ones

Only if your definition of "change" is so wide-open that you only care if the SHAPE is different.

Yes, they've all been rectangles since the 80s, but there have been more significant changes in that time. AT's toggle switch gave way to ATX's push-button, and smaller size. MicroATX allows everything to be significantly smaller, to the point that you can mount your computer to the back of your monitor [mini-box.com] .

Full-height PCI is giving way to half-height cards wherever possible, and smaller cases that are still fully capable are the result. SSDs are shrinking HDD sizes, and smaller cases with fewer fans results.

If anything, cases are changing too fast for companies to keep-up and put them into a standard... Instead, they just keep the screw holes in the same places, and tell you some boards won't fit...

Don't degrade: reuse and then recyle (1)

erice (13380) | about 2 years ago | (#41923917)

Biodegradation is wasteful. The only reason to do it is you can't keep the item out of the environment after it's (usualy short) useful life and you want to reduce the harm when this happens.

But a server chassi isn't anything like that.

1) It can be reused for quite a long time, saving a lot of energy and waste that would be required to make new short-live biodegradeable units
2) When it can no longer be re-used, it can be recycle quite easily.
3) Even if it does (stupidly) end up in the environment, it's made out if iron and iron is not harmful to life. Eventually it will rust but iron-oxide isn't harmful to life either.

Stupid idea (1)

Animats (122034) | about 2 years ago | (#41923937)

Stupid idea. Aluminum is easily and profitably recycled. On the other side, there's more biodegradable sludge available than anyone can use.

Servers or desktops? (1)

dacut (243842) | about 2 years ago | (#41923957)

I can see the benefit in doing this for desktops: most cases are non-standard, which means throwing it out when upgrade time comes around. I've toyed with the idea of making a standard ATX case out of paper pulp.

But servers? Ideally, they would be mostly caseless: think blades, or using the rack as the case; just slap a face on the front (to maintain proper airflow), and you're done.

Now, if we could make circuit boards more recyclable, that would be terrific. Though FR4 is already fiberglass; I suppose it could be dissolved in hydrofluoric acid and the metals recovered, though I have no idea how environmentally (un)friendly that is.

NeXT Cube chassis had the right idea. (1)

Picass0 (147474) | about 2 years ago | (#41923983)

It used a magnesium case. When you were done with it you just burn it.

Complete waste of time and effort (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41924067)

The chassis is the most sustainable and longest lived part of the system. I have cases that have seen multiple systems put into them. They last a long time then are easily scrapped for recycling. The problem isn't the chassis, but the pc-boards that make up the internal components. Make those easier to recycle for raw materials and you'll go a long way to making computers more environmentally friendly.

Composite and catalyzer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41924151)

Maybe some composite that when applied some catalyzer turns into degradable. So after service time is reached, just dump them into a catalyzer bath and let it rot away.

They're called... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41924339)

... brains. Someday we'll just bio-engineer servers using wetware with light amplification to enhance the signal for distribution over the fiber-optics network that will be used get the signal out for broadcast over the ansible network.

In the mean time it would be nice to be able to build computers w/o toxic materials that don't leach out of the landfills they end up in, but biodegradatinon isn't really the answer. What we need is manufacturing systems engineering that builds things to be reclaimed so that there's a zero-loss materials loss between reclamation and re-use.

recycle? Hmmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41924353)

Cow dung? Yeah... you can shape it into all kinds of shapes ... add new enclosures. Perfect substance.

Breaking down (1)

Cyko_01 (1092499) | about 2 years ago | (#41924669)

They bio-degrade, but the DELLs will still break down first

Let me guess (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about 2 years ago | (#41924705)

They put the chassis in water?

like these? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41924759)

http://recomputepc.com/

The concept is easy - but also easy to game... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41925185)

Biodegradeable? No problem. Make a system box out of plywood.

But, of course, the big companies won't do that. They'll use a plastic which degrades in sunlight, or a cellulose degrading plastic like supermarket bags. Then, after a 5-year life, your keyboard will go into disintegration mode. And you'll have to buy another. Making planned obsolescence into a politically correct procedure.

Long live the consumer-supported capitalist system...

Three words.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41925331)

HEMP COMPOSITE MATERIALS

Bitrot just became real (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41926053)

Now you cannot be sure if someone is stealing from your bank account, or it's just the server rotting away.

it's been done already. (1)

wherrera (235520) | about 2 years ago | (#41926159)

For the desktop, it's been done already HERE. [engadget.com]

Bitrot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41929449)

Guess the term finally comes to its real meaning.

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