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Running a Server at Freezing Temperatures?

Cliff posted more than 9 years ago | from the brrrrr! dept.

Hardware 196

mw13068 asks: "As a part of a backup solution, I'm thinking of running a backup server in my unheated, unattached garage. I live in central New York State, and the temperatures very often drop below zero degrees Celsius. The computer is a Pentium III Celeron running at 733MHz. Has anyone else tried this sort of thing? If you have, please share your experiences."

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196 comments

overclock? (3, Funny)

fcheslack (712576) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988453)

is it just me, or are other people thinking he should overclock it to make sure its nice and warm (excuses to overclock are always good).

CPU probably irrelevant (4, Insightful)

Rufus88 (748752) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988509)

The computer is a Pentium III Celeron running at 733MHz.

I'd be less concerned about what type and speed the CPU is, and more concerned about a hard drive seizing up.

Re:CPU probably irrelevant (5, Interesting)

HyperbolicParabaloid (220184) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988644)

this is a good point. I've watched in horror as a colleague brought his laptop in from his car in teh middle of a Burlington VT winter (comparable to Upstate NY) and fired it right up. The hard-drive did not survive.
In your case the hard drive would never have shut down, and the CPU might help keep it warm. Maybe putting a blanket over it in October and taking it off in May....

Also, I'd be more concerned about moisture. You probably will have very high humidity levels in the unheated garage when there is dew forming outside.
But again, if you cover the machine, the heat from the CPU might be enough to keep the humidty down.
I think a nice wool-polyester blend from L.L.Bean would be just right.

Re:CPU probably irrelevant (1)

revxul (463513) | more than 9 years ago | (#10989931)

I know full well the problems of a Burlington VT winter as well. My supposedly heated apartment would be down to freezing when I got up in the dark early morning to open the deli at City Market and I noticed some performance hits. Nothing completely tragic though.

The pains of renting an apartment in a house full of "those damn college kids."

Re:CPU probably irrelevant (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 9 years ago | (#10992244)

if the fans on the power supply, cpu, and case are tempature controled you might must insulate the case with some foam blocks on the outside and see what happens.

Re:CPU probably irrelevant (2, Interesting)

neitzsche (520188) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988685)

Agreed. Whatever disks he has in it will melt in the summertime. Maybe running the backup server only once a week when the outdoor temperature is over 50 deg. f.? My unattached garage had huge temperature fluctuations. And an occasional washing machine overflow.

Re:CPU probably irrelevant (4, Informative)

sakusha (441986) | more than 9 years ago | (#10989183)

It's not an issue of hard drives melting, it's an issue of thermal expansion of the platters. Hard drive platters go through a normal amount of expansion because solids expand when heated and contract when cooled. Drive controllers are designed to recalibrate occasionally to check for expansion, to insure the heads are positioned correctly, off-track positioning leads to errors. But I seriously doubt the calibration would work outside the range of temps designed into the controller.
Another issue is lubrication viscosity. Lubricants become more viscous at low temps, if it got really cold, the lubricants in the drive spindle could actually become solid, freezing the bearings and burning out the motor.

Re:CPU probably irrelevant (3, Informative)

itwerx (165526) | more than 9 years ago | (#10990818)

...it's an issue of thermal expansion of the platters.

Also a consideration in tape drive head alignment.

Re:CPU probably irrelevant (3, Insightful)

dasunt (249686) | more than 9 years ago | (#10990926)

It's not an issue of hard drives melting, it's an issue of thermal expansion of the platters. Hard drive platters go through a normal amount of expansion because solids expand when heated and contract when cooled.

A solution:

Get long enough cables so that the HDD can be in its own small case.

Excluding the hard drive, the only thing that will be hurt by cold temperatures are the fans. Hook up a thermostat to the CPU fan and the case fan. Good. Now the fans will shut off when its cold (protecting their bearings) and turn on when its warm (protecting the computer from overheating).

Stick the hard drive in its own container. Add a small wattage lightbulb for heat. Probably needs a thermostat for that, so you don't overheat it. Give the container some ventilation - making the ventilation not very productive to flow (consider a "U" shaped vent) and adding another thermostat controlled fan should work.

Test the temperatures in a warm and a cold environment, and then let it run.

PS: "Disc thermostat" is what you might want to google for. Mouser.com has a good selection, for about $5 each, but the spec sheet says 120/240V. If I understand *how* they are made, they should work with a 12V fan, but I'm not an electronic's engineer.

Re:CPU probably irrelevant (3, Informative)

wayne606 (211893) | more than 9 years ago | (#10991717)

I wouldn't suggest shutting down the CPU fan no matter what. It can be very cold a few inches from the CPU and the heat sink too hot to touch... Without a fan your system will turn itself off within a minute or two (if you are lucky)

Re:CPU probably irrelevant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10988973)

What is a "Pentium III celeron" ? There are Celerons, and there are Pentium III's. These are not the same chip.

Re:CPU probably irrelevant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10989406)

A Pentium III Celeron would be a Celeron based on P3 technology instead of P2 or P4...

Re:CPU probably irrelevant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10993922)

actually, some Celerons were just PIII's with 1/2 their cache disabled.

Re:CPU probably irrelevant (4, Funny)

tdemark (512406) | more than 9 years ago | (#10989141)

Two letters and two words:

E Z Bake Oven

Seriously.

Get a rubbermaid or similar box is just a tad wider than the computer case is tall, 18" taller than the computer is wide and about a foot longer than the computer is deep.

Put a few 2x4 spacers at the bottom of the box (to hold the computer off the "floor" of the box) and place the computer in on it's side.

Cut a few holes on the "back" side of the box to run wires into - use heavy foam, rubber, or "great stuff" to seal the holes after the wires have been run.

Mount a light (with ceramic base) to the back of the box, about halfway from the upper side of the computer and the top of the box. Wire this light to an extension cord. You probably wouldn't need more than a 40W light bulb to keep the computer warm in the coldest of weather.

Put the top on. An E Z Bake Over to keep your computer warm.

Of course, there is no guarantee that this will (a) work, (b) not fry your computer, (c) not electrocute you, and (d) not burn down your house and/or garage. So: USE AT YOUR OWN RISK.

- Tony

Or use an old fridge (1)

MaxQuordlepleen (236397) | more than 9 years ago | (#10989548)

At my old workplace, we had to keep welding rods at a reasonable temperature during Southern Ontario winters (cold!), so we put a lightbulb into an old fridge and used that.

Re:CPU probably irrelevant (2, Insightful)

citadelgrad (612423) | more than 9 years ago | (#10993045)

I would think that even a low wattage bulb would still be a major fire hazard. Don't get me wrong I think this is a good idea but I would try it without the bulb first. The Drives may provide enough heat for the computer to work well.

Re:CPU probably irrelevant (1)

RestiffBard (110729) | more than 9 years ago | (#10990853)

1. how does the HDD seize up? It's supposed to be a backup server. that means its on all the time right? also, it's a celeron 733. not a cold to the touch chip.

2. if its such a vital thing then put it in a house. if your house burns down so does the garage 9 out of 10. unattached or not.

Mice cause cancer in computers (5, Informative)

pease1 (134187) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988537)

Make sure your case is hardened. Every little critter, including mice, will want to live in the warm case. We had a computer in an astronomical observatory dome and mice built their nest on the CPU. The acid in urine from the mice destroyed the motherboard.

Re:Mice cause cancer in computers (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10988674)

The [...] urine [...] destroyed the motherboard.

Only on ./ could this be modded informative... and it actually was.

Re:Mice cause cancer in computers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10988872)

Good we are on /. then...

Re:Mice cause cancer in computers (2, Informative)

dgsoftnz (718965) | more than 9 years ago | (#10994484)

Just terrible. I have that happen all the time. I now know to make sure that all of the card slots in the back have either a card or a blanking plate, otherwise the mice realy do make a mess

It'll run faster ... (1)

Dark$ide (732508) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988550)

Isn't cryogenic computing the best way to get more speed out of your processor. Heat is the worst enemy we have.

Disks & Power supplies (3, Interesting)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988554)

The electronic should be ok, but you may run into problems with power supplies, cpu fans and disks. The lubricants on bearings change viscosities and may gum up or stop working right.

I'd be more worried about dust and dirt... video chips and cpus are always warm, and dust will be caked on the chips and cause them to overheat.

I used to work at a company that ran state park reservation systems. Sometimes I'd see machines that came from the field where they were kept in park ranger booths and were absolutely filthy. I believe the PC repair staff would end up cleaning each PC out and replacing hard disks annually.

So IMHO, I wouldn't keep backups outdoors.

Re:Disks & Power supplies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10989477)

The electronic should be ok, but you may run into problems with power supplies, cpu fans and disks. The lubricants on bearings change viscosities and may gum up or stop working right.

There are nights in late fall and throughout winter where my room gets a bit cold, which causes one or both of the CPU fans from spinning up correctly, mostly at lower voltages. Plugging the fans into a full 12V source helps, bit sputters a bit. Once the case temperature and the air between the fan and heatsink warm up, the fans spin fine.

Re:Disks & Power supplies (1)

two_socks (516862) | more than 9 years ago | (#10991270)

Which company did you work for?

Sealed Case (1)

whodunnit (238223) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988559)

Not sure if this would genereate Too much heat, but you could always just make a sealed, or almost sealed case that just recirculates the air inside the case and does not pull in any of the cold air from outside. Seems like this would keep things nice and warm inside the case.

Re:Sealed Case (1)

spikestabber (644578) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988633)

Great idea, keep the warmth in and the critters out.

Re:Sealed Case (1)

vasqzr (619165) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988811)


Sealed case?

I'm thinking you might get condensation without any circulation.

Re:Sealed Case (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10989811)

Ooh, ooh, vacuum seal it!

Re:Sealed Case (1)

BinaryOpty (736955) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988866)

It would eventually generate too much heat. You'd have a one sided system: massive amounts of energy going in (electricity) and very little coming back out. Eventually the heat generated by the CPU will heat up the air inside of the case to a point where a heatsink will do nothing as the air is the same temperature as the CPU and by the time you reach that point you're screwed anyway.

The cold is not the problem. The problem is the ball bearing grease viscosities and the problem of creatures making their home inside of the case. If the case has crappy fans then the grease of the ball bearings is probable horribly cheap and only will work at room temperature. Even more a problem is the critters as they will get into the case no matter what, unless you seal it off completely. And since sealing it off completely is not a good idea for a fan-driven computer, the only alternative would be to water cool it.

So, to protect your garage computer from all of the mice in your cold garage, you'd need to seal it off and cool it anyways (or possibly have some sort of case metal that moves heat through it really well and let the garage temp handle the cooling, but this way isn't good unless his garage is cold year round).

Re:Sealed Case (2, Informative)

NarcolepticTerrorPoo (677069) | more than 9 years ago | (#10990539)

Much like a car's water cooling system you want the air to circulate in a closed loop until it's reaches a certain temp and then you want to open the loop and dump the heat.

You also want the circulation within the case to be good so that you don't end up with hot or cold spots (cooked/frozen).

You'd also want to use a heat exchanger to preheat the incoming air to above freezing so that you don't get instant condensation from the inrush of sub zero moist air and make sure there is a fail safe in case the control system dies.

Check the specs (3, Informative)

lrdviperscorpian (686743) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988577)

Look up the specs on all the hardware. Most have an operating temps guideline. If your within it you should be alright.

Re:Check the specs (1)

Glonoinha (587375) | more than 9 years ago | (#10991925)

From Hitachi :

Operating Environmental characteristics
Ambient temperature 5 to 55 C
Relative humidity (non-condensing) 8% to 90%

Thus freezing would be a little too cold for current production drives.

Garages (3, Insightful)

vasqzr (619165) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988582)

It seems like every car repair garage I go to has a shop computer for looking up parts etc.

They almost always are in the main garage, and aren't heated at night. They seem to work fine.

You will have mice and other animals trying to live in it, and using the bathroom in it. A guy that worked at a lumberyard brought a PC in for us to upgrade, and the first thing we found when we opened the case was mouse turds.

Re:Garages (3, Informative)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 9 years ago | (#10989440)

My stepdad has a garage and I maintain his systems (or at least talk him through it on the phone if I can get away with not going there it). The average lifespan of a machine there is about a year. He used to use DEC VT-100s. Those things lasted 10+ years easily (except the keyboards), but in a PC, he needs new fans every six months or so and a new hard drive every year or so. FOr his current batch I've got him using rack mount equipment since it has built-in air filtration, but he hasn't been using it long enough for me to tell you if that's helping.

We keep his server in a dehumidified space in a rack with doors and air filters over all the openings. That machine seems to be OK...

Re:Garages (1)

jonadab (583620) | more than 9 years ago | (#10994316)

> He used to use DEC VT-100s. Those things lasted 10+ years easily (except the
> keyboards), but in a PC, he needs new fans every six months or so and a
> new hard drive every year or so.

The VT100s don't have fans or hard drives in them, which explains why they're
okay. They're really little more than a monitor and keyboard, with a little
interface circuitry. (We use VT510s at work.) But VTs by themselves won't
do much -- they've got to be hooked up to a computer (usually either a Vax
or an Alpha). I suppose the computer was kept indoors with his old setup,
with CAT4 or somesuch running out to the VTs. If he wants the same sort
of setup with PCs, you could run a long KVM extension cable from the garage
in to an indoor PC. (This won't help for the OP's backup solution though.)

Re:Garages (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10989878)

Are "turds" like shit or something?

You got the brain banana?

try junkyards (2, Interesting)

mckwant (65143) | more than 9 years ago | (#10990313)

I used to install computer systems in junkyards. Think 40 year old railroad cars converted into "office" space. Obviously, these places are, generally speaking, environmental nightmares. I was always waiting for the ground to catch fire when one of the owners tossed out a cigarette butt.

I saw computers shut into closets at 100 degrees F, ones where they used PVC tubing for the wiring, and had rainwater dripping down into the floor where the PC was stored, you name it. We had one RMA where the box had literally about half an inch of crud on the motherboard, and that one was in because they were upgrading (the box worked just fine).

Surprisingly, we had relatively few computer failures. Occasionally, we'd have to actually detach the temperature sensors that went off when the interior of the box got to 130F, but I don't recall the boxes coming back even after that.

Eventually, I arrived at the conclusion that PCs are a lot sturdier than we tend to give them credit for. Short of insect/rodent invasions, I can't think a fifty degree garage would be problematic, especially if you're leaving it on most of the time.

Re:try junkyards (2, Informative)

TykeClone (668449) | more than 9 years ago | (#10990800)

Garage north of the mason-dixon during the winter usually have temperatures much, much less than 50F. In northern Iowa, the temperature inside the garage can get down to 0F (don't even think about how cold it is outside!)

Re:try junkyards (1)

jonadab (583620) | more than 9 years ago | (#10994360)

> I can't think a fifty degree garage would be problematic

Fifty would be fine -- that's room temperature, or vanishingly close to it.

But he's talking about leaving this in an unattached (to the house),
unheated garage, year-round. In the wintertime, it could get down to twenty
below. That's *not* room temperature. In fact, it's coat-wearing weather.
Also garages tend to heat up quite a lot in the summer (probably because
there's nothing between the roof, which the sun heats directly, and the
main interior -- houses are protected by their attics) -- if it's 100
outside, it could get to 130 inside the garage easily, and that also is
definitely not room temperature (and, with the CPU producing heat, the
inside of the PC case would be warmer yet).

Re:Garages (1)

kendoka (473386) | more than 9 years ago | (#10991232)

How warm is it during the day? Since the hard disk is a mechanical device, it should work fine as long as you don't try to start it while it's still cold.

I would be concerned about humidity (2, Insightful)

xutopia (469129) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988593)

however do keep in mind that some hardware is built around the idea that it will work between a maxium and minium temperature. At lower temperatures electrical wires have less resistance and it could do some damage (theoretically of course) to some electronic components.

I'd say try it. It's an old machine anyways but try to check first if there isn't some temperature that it could reach that could be too low.

My advice is not that of a professional. Maybe some electronic engineer or electrician could give you better advice.

Re:I would be concerned about humidity (4, Interesting)

Linuxathome (242573) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988824)

Maybe to combat the humidity, ask your friends and family to save those little dessicant packs (easy to identify: says "Do not eat, silica gel") they get in shoe boxes, sometimes clothing pockets, leather bags, computer cases, laptop cases, etc. this Christmas. If you have a large enough hoard, you can put them in the case to soak up the moisture, if it builds up in there.

Re:I would be concerned about humidity (1)

sakusha (441986) | more than 9 years ago | (#10989099)

Silica gel absorbs moisture rapidly until it's saturated, which happens very quickly in open air. Didn't you ever notice those dessicant bags are usually inside hermetically sealed containers of food?
The usual process is to bake the moisture out in an oven. So you can't just toss in dessicant bags and forget about them, it would require constant maintenance.

Re:I would be concerned about humidity (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10989197)

Fans circulate air through the case. Desicant packs aren't going to cut unless you have enough to dry out the whole garage (or possibly the world).

Re:I would be concerned about humidity (1)

Lord Kano (13027) | more than 9 years ago | (#10994224)

Silica Gel can become saturated. You may want to dry it out in the oven. 250 degrees F for about 30 minutes should do it. As always use common sense when doing so.

LK

Re:I would be concerned about humidity (1)

j-turkey (187775) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988837)

however do keep in mind that some hardware is built around the idea that it will work between a maxium and minium temperature. At lower temperatures electrical wires have less resistance and it could do some damage (theoretically of course) to some electronic components.

This guy is spot on.

Humidity is always a concern. Flooding is also a concern. What kind of slab is the garage built on? Also, check the operating specifications for your hardware. It should be in the manual or on the website. Your hard drive(s) has moving parts, so it will have minimum and maximum ambient operating temperatures. Definitely make sure you're within those parameters.

Re:I would be concerned about humidity (1)

tzanger (1575) | more than 9 years ago | (#10994337)

This guy is spot on.

Uh, no, he's not.

The electrical resistance of copper and aluminum is does not change significantly over the temperature ranges one would expect to find in nature. These aren't exotic superconducting materials we're talking about, and if the design is that marginal that it will fail on a few micro-ohms of resistance change... well you'd be seeing far greater failures in normal environments due to regular old process variables during production of the circuit boards.

Re:I would be concerned about humidity (3, Informative)

alienw (585907) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988971)

At lower temperatures electrical wires have less resistance and it could do some damage (theoretically of course) to some electronic components.

Bullshit. Wire resistance in an electronic component should be negligible. The resistance change caused by temperature is just about impossible to detect without very sensitive instruments.

In general, electronics do not care about temperature much. Most chips, for instance, are rated from -40 to +70 degrees C. It's the mechanical stuff (hard drives and, to a lesser extent, fans) that you have to worry about. The only electrical problems that could occur would be related to condensation.

Been there, done that. (5, Informative)

Oinos (140188) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988595)

I ran a couple of dual PIII 450's in my garage in Minnesota last winter with no problem. I didn't have any room in my small apartment for them so I put them in the garage and used a couple of Linksys WAP11's in bridge mode to get them talking to my cable modem in my apartment. The average temp in the garage was about 5 degrees above zero last winter.

The one thing you need to watch out for though is static. When it gets cold and dry, you don't want to be ripping open your machines in the garage. My machines stayed up from October through last June without any problems.

Re:Been there, done that. (1)

TykeClone (668449) | more than 9 years ago | (#10990837)

You must have been able to keep the garage fairly warm with that too :)

Re:Been there, done that. (1)

RevAaron (125240) | more than 9 years ago | (#10990925)

Up here in Northern Minnesota (Duluth), I've had some cold weather machines that otherwise were fine but suffered spontaneous reboots. At first, it scared me (thought the machine was gunna die), but it kept on trucking- just rebooting for shits and giggles, where before when the machine was inside it had no problem.

Should be okay... (1)

AlphaOne (209575) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988612)

I'm not a storage expert, but I'd think if the system was left on 24x7 that the drives would generate enough heat to keep them stable at low temperatures.

Granted, I wouldn't dump liquid nitrogen on them or anything, but given that outdoor temperatures fluctuate slowly, I don't think there'd be any hardware issues.

One thing that I would do is make sure the system remains powered off after a power failure just to be safe. If the temperature is very low and the power goes out, the system will cool rapidly.

The elements. (1)

jakel2k (736582) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988645)

My main concern would be how protected would the computer be from the elements?

Here in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, there are some pretty heavy snow storms and it can get mighty cold. So if you use the garage you'll get the snow and all coming in. If the garage is in use then I would definitely make sure that the computer is not sitting on the floor, (snow and ice melting from the vehicle would form a nice puddle.)

Then there is the issue of dust and such. If you're using the garage, then the exhaust from the vehicle would also add to the wear and tear of computer.

If your garage is not actively being used then I would say that it is safe. The computer should in theory do better in the cold, (just as long as you don't have a lot of moisture. Water and computers don't mix.

I wouldnt trust it... (2, Informative)

Bilzmoude (811717) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988744)

Unless you know it is secure from rodents and bugs, and you are positive about the operating temperatures of your hardware, I wouldnt trust it.

Also, you will need to check the operating temperatures of your motherboard, processor, hard drive, memory, and any other components, and make sure that they will work in the temperature range you expect. Operating temperatures are much more narrow than storage temperatures. The operating temperature, for example, of the Maxtor DiamondMax 10 is 0 to 60 degrees celcius. I am guessing your temperatures will get well below 0 degrees, so you will need to be certian before attempting it.

Also, what type of humidity do you get in this garage? Are you worried about data security? Can someone just walk into your garage, and fiddle with your server? Can the kids basketball hit it? All things to think about.

two reasons not to do it (3, Insightful)

nusratt (751548) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988771)

1. It sounds like the backup is for a server in the same house --
which isn't much of a backup, if your concern is environmental factors (power failure, fire, flood, theft, etc.).
And re power failure, a commercial location might get more responsive service when ice takes down a power line.

2. For virtually all hardware, there's a published spec of acceptable temperatures. You should check for your equipment.
Also, beware of humidity: any sudden introduction of moisture (e.g.,
-- from opening an attached kitchen entrance while cooking pasta,
-- or moisture from an engine exhaust or a garage-located frost-free freezer,
-- or a sudden rain when the weather goes above freezing faster than your equipment thaws)
could cause condensation on your equipment.

Re:two reasons not to do it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10990137)

She said it's an unattached garage, so at least the fire problem (and probably the theft problem) wouldn't likely hit both places at once. It's also not clear whether it's a server which needs to be connected to the outside world, and she said it's only part of the backup solution anyway. The moisture problem is still probably significant, though.

Re:two reasons not to do it (1)

nusratt (751548) | more than 9 years ago | (#10990300)

"unattached garage"

Sorry, missed that.
But I disagree that this addresses the risks for fire and theft.

I also disagree about the significance of "connected to the outside world":
a backup must be protective against simultaneous failure, *regardless* of the purpose of the primary (otherwise, you're contradicting the initial implied assumption of there even being a need for a backup).

Create a vent? (1)

dacarr (562277) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988791)

Rather than keeping the comp in the garage, perhaps it would be more optimal to keep it near the garage, and have a duct pulling cold air in from the garage? You get the benefits of cool air in winter, and you reduce the hazards of pests in the box.

constant temperature? (3, Informative)

Naikrovek (667) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988821)

I wouldn't worry too much about it being too cold. if you have a pusher fan, take that out. puller fans (that exhaust air, instead of pulling it in) will have the temp of the air inside the case, rather than the temp of the outside air. lubricants become more viscous with colder temps, so you want you fan to breathe the warmer air from inside the case.

you probably want to make it a smaller fan also, you don't want too much cold air going through. cold is good for CPUs but too much cold breaks solder joints.

if you can control your fan thermostatically i would recommend that. having computer parts get hot, then cold, then hot, then cold, then hot, then cold, due to day/night cycles KILLS solder joints quick. condensation is also a concern with widely varying temperatures. condensation is bad, of course.

as someone else said, rodent-proof the case and check it for infestation often. mice will chew right through sheet metal when they need to. Try mounting it on a wall somehow so rodents can't get to it.

i'm not worried about the below zero C temps, i'm worried about temperature fluctuation. using a smaller than OEM fan will keep what warm air there is inside the case there a little longer, and should keep the insides of the case above 0C constantly.

Re:constant temperature? (1)

Ioldanach (88584) | more than 9 years ago | (#10989094)

i'm not worried about the below zero C temps, i'm worried about temperature fluctuation. using a smaller than OEM fan will keep what warm air there is inside the case there a little longer, and should keep the insides of the case above 0C constantly.
I'd actually snip the hot fan wires and run them through an air conditioner thermostat. Set the thermostat to turn on above, say, 5C and let the heat generated by the processor and hard drives keep the case warm in winter.

Some components might handle it. (1)

ponos (122721) | more than 9 years ago | (#10988970)

Most components have working ranges. I believe that -5 degrees Celsius would be a safe bet for most electronics but below that and something might fail unexpectedly.

I would be most worried about temperature fluctuations. Generally speaking, hardware can handle a stable extreme condition, but even (commonly) minor events like an electric grid power failure or a reboot or a sudden ... sunshine might prove fatal. If your hardware is cheap you might want to try it but I'd consider an aggressive backup policy.

Haven't you noticed that hardware fails on powerup/powerdown in the majority of cases? Change is what stresses electronic circuits.

P.

Mice (3, Funny)

wanerious (712877) | more than 9 years ago | (#10989036)

Yes, mice will chew through all exposed cables, especially if you put peanut butter on them.

Re:Mice (4, Funny)

rusty0101 (565565) | more than 9 years ago | (#10989501)

Mice were so much of a problem, eating cables, leaving a mess on the table, etc, that I switched all of mine out for trackballs and tablets.

Re:Mice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10991826)

This happens to me, too. I get an insatiable craving for all things electrical, whenever I am covered in peanut butter.

Dust isn't that big of a problem (2, Informative)

rhpot1991 (799210) | more than 9 years ago | (#10989088)

I have had some overheating problems with my athlon xp 1900+ in the past, so I started to keep my windows in my bedroom open 24x7 durring the winter, this solved my overheating problems and the computer seemed to run better as I was sitting in front of it seeing my breath. As far as the dust goes, I used to work in an IT Dept. for a factory that made security doors for mall shops, They had some old computers through out the factory that were used to operate some of the machines. I did maintainance on a few of them and when they were opened there was literally a layer of thick dust covering everything inside, this didn't effect any internal parts, the only thing we ever had to replace on these pc's were floppy drives. I am talking pentium 1 generation boxes here, so I would venture that yours should be pretty safe since your garage should not produce near the amount of dust that this factory produced.

Re:Dust isn't that big of a problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10989140)

Dude, just get a length of dryer hose (or even vacuum cleaner hose) and run it out the bottom of the window, blocked the rest of the crack with cardboard. Connect it to a fan that sucks on the PC. That way, the PC is cold but you aren't.

It's called brain, my friend. USE THE NOODLE.

Re:Dust isn't that big of a problem (1)

linuxwrangler (582055) | more than 9 years ago | (#10989448)

Back in the day I traded the owner of a local woodworking store a spare keyboard for a block plane (this was when keyboards actually cost something). He had an AT&T 6300 in the shop. Once a week he would blow the dust out of the keyboard with the air-hose.

We popped the top on the case and it looked more like Death Valley than electronics. There were drifts of sawdust 2-6 cm deep. The motherboard was nowhere in sight. It ran fine.

Now that was with a 8086 running at something like 4.7 MHz - no CPU cooling fans needed. I wouldn't recommend that with a modern computer.

Re:Dust isn't that big of a problem (1)

rhpot1991 (799210) | more than 9 years ago | (#10989651)

We ended up taking one of the dust machines and blowing it out with some canned air. During the process we feared that it would no longer work once the dust was all gone, but it all ended fine. As long as you don't clog up any fans or have anything actually "burn" in there from the heat of the parts all should be fine. The poster's p3/celeron whatever it may be does not actually require a cpu fan so it should be able to survive our dust stories.

How to be absolutely sure it'll be okay (4, Informative)

Engineer-Poet (795260) | more than 9 years ago | (#10989193)

Get a case with a thermostatically-controlled main fan (not CPU fan, main fan). Put this in a 5-sided wooden box (hardened against critters, screened on the bottom) and insulate it with construction foam (inside) on four sides and the top. Half-inch foam will probably do. Vent the system fan out the bottom.

What this will do is create a "bubble" of warm air inside the box that is vented when the fan is running and stable when it is off. This will keep your box temperature roughly even. If you are concerned about cold-starting hard disks after a period of off-time, make sure you have a power supply which remains off after a power loss and add a 100 W light bulb inside the box. When you want to power the system back on, switch the bulb on and leave it for an hour or two before you hit the power button, then turn the bulb off again. Do not bring cold hardware into a warm, humid house to warm up - you will get condensation.

As long as you have the bottom of the box screened against critters and otherwise isolated, you probably won't have to worry about static or other environmental nastiness.

Mod Parent Up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10989663)

Mod Parent Up

Save on power, keep it inside (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10989269)

If you are running it all the time anyway, and heating your house, move it inside. That way the heat from the computer cuts down on your heating bills. Move it outside during the summer.

You can operate a computer in that environment just fine, if it is on all the time. The main problem is that dew can form on the components when it is off, and it might still be there when you start it up, if you turn it on and off. Equipment that is designed for unheated, open to the outdoors environments, is often designed so that when it turns on, just the power supply comes on for a period of time, blowing warm air through the case; this dries things out, and then it boots. Setting that up would be a pain in your situation.

Make a few BIOS settings (4, Informative)

QuantumRiff (120817) | more than 9 years ago | (#10989435)

Tell your PC to never turn off hard disks, never turn off fans. (might freeze if they stop, and not start again). Take the floppy out of the machine, and replace the hole in the front with a blank panel. It might be a good idea to do that with the CD/DVD drives as well. Make sure that the back of the case is all sealed up, (ie, no open holes for old PCI devices you no longer have). Lastly, Don't put anything over or close to it. Your going to need it to be able to suck in air, and evacuate the air with the fans. you do not want to be recycling the air (like you would if it was under a blanket) as it can increase the moisture of the air.

Re:Make a few BIOS settings (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10990439)


you do not want to be recycling the air (like you would if it was under a blanket) as it can increase the moisture of the air.

Please explain this statement, as it is a gross inconsistency with the laws of thermodynamics. Recirculated air, by definition, has no source to gain water vapor. And even if you meant relative humidity, recirculated air will likely be warmer than outside air, which will lower the relative humidity compared to the ambient air.

It doesn't get cold enough in NY (3, Interesting)

gothzilla (676407) | more than 9 years ago | (#10989591)

The temperatures in NY don't get low enough for you to worry about anything but condensation, as previous posters mentioned. When I was in the Air Force, the computers we used to troubleshoot avionics loved the cold. The shop could not get above 70F or we would start seeing problems. A buddy of mine went to Iceland and they opened all the doors to the shop one day in winter and got the shop to around -10F. He said the computers never ran better. You would have to get the computer pretty damn cold before you started seeing failures. We're talking the kind of cold that the cpu can't even think about warming up.
Condensation, bugs, and critters are your only concerns.

Re:It doesn't get cold enough in NY (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10989944)

uh, not all computer components like the cold. Anything that has moving parts for example (hard-drives, etc).

Have you considered getting an Athlon? (2, Funny)

Lendrick (314723) | more than 9 years ago | (#10989731)

It ought to keep your garage nice and warm. Problem solved. :)

in a freezer (1)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 9 years ago | (#10989782)

a buddy of mine put his mobo and suchwhat in a freezer so he could oc it like mad, but the humidity condensed on it and froze, and when it got warm it melted and destroyed it. you might face a similar problem.

always on? no problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10990288)

computers like the cold. mechanical things could have issues. but if you system is always on and not frozen when you first boot it you should have no problem as the disks will generate enough heat on their own to survive.

Running is easy, starting is hard. Think about: (1, Informative)

Myself (57572) | more than 9 years ago | (#10990506)

Oil viscosity is the most important factor here. The machine will be fine in steady-state operation, but if it's turned off for more than a few minutes, a cold start will be very difficult.

Cold-starts outdoors will require use of a heater. Blowing a hair-dryer (on low heat!) into the case for a few minutes prior to startup should warm the drives enough to spin freely, but consider this: During the warming period, the hard drive platters are stationary, and may heat asymmetrically. This means their thermal expansion will be uneven, throwing the spindle off balance and making it nearly impossible for the heads to track a cylinder. Depending on how the drive case is built and how the heat is applied, this may not be a concern. (Heat for 5 minutes, let sit for 1 minute, then power on?)

Of course, bringing it back indoors for startup would be an even worse idea, as moisture would condense on the cold metal. Whenever you bring hardware in from the cold, put it in a tightly closed plastic bag first, and leave it in the bag until it comes completely up to temperature. The relative humidity inside the bag will drop as it warms up, avoiding condensation concerns.

Fans are a bigger concern, as they don't generate much of their own heat like drives do. While it's likely that you won't need much cooling, a CPU fan is almost guaranteed to still be necessary. Look into tip-magnetic-driven (TMD) fans, whose design gives them more torque to overcome stiction at startup. Find one with ball bearings and replace the lube with a light machine oil.

I don't think dust is such a big concern, if the case provides air filtration, as any server case should. Just get the thing off the floor, out of dust-bunny territory. If the power supply fan is thermostatically controlled, airflow should be kept to a minimum and dust entry will be negligible. It still never hurts to pop the case off every few weeks and check. The poster might even have an air compressor in the garage! :)

Optical drives might be tricky, as they don't spin constantly. Luckily their motors are amazingly torquey and should have no problem spinning up even with cold bearings. If you can position the hard drive directly below the optical drive for heat sharing, so much the better.

These suggestions should keep you running to below freezing. If you get much below that, electrical characteristics of components start changing significantly, and you might have all sorts of weird problems. Look at the temperature-versus-value curves of various passives, and you'll see what I mean. Even clock crystals resonate faster because they've physically shrunk.

This hasn't addressed the first pressing question: Why? Except for acoustic noise, I can think of no reason to put a machine outside during winter. Consider that every watt of electricity you use gets turned straight into heat. Putting your electric heater outside simply means the energy gets wasted, rather than heating your house and lightening the load on your furnace. If you're paying for the energy anyway, why not keep it inside where it does some good?

Re:Running is easy, starting is hard. Think about: (1)

goatbar (661399) | more than 9 years ago | (#10993611)

When I was last in Antarctica, we used to hold our laptops over the stove before powering it on. And keeping batteries inside your jacket. Once things are running, life is pretty good even when it gets really cold... unless you get ice inside your devices (whoops!)

It's the condensation... (2, Informative)

go$$amer (218906) | more than 9 years ago | (#10990551)

Rapid temperature change is what you need to watch for - I used to run 486-PII machines in unheated buildings in Minnesota all the time, ambient temps over those winters and in my area (central) got as low as -40 (that's Fahrenheit and Celsius - the scales cross there...) no troubles that I can recall.

and I only had to worry about dust from the shop - BTW, under no circumstances put your box near anything that grinds metal! That's a real quick kill.

Is Antarctica Similar Enough? (1)

AllMightyPaul (553038) | more than 9 years ago | (#10990568)

You might look at this article on slashdot a while ago:

http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=04/09 /1 5/1953249&tid=160&tid=126&tid=14

It was about how they made a server run in Antarctica over the winter.

add heat (3, Interesting)

TimButterfield (16686) | more than 9 years ago | (#10990745)

There have quite a few suggestions on how to keep the computer warm by wrapping it, using a light bulb, etc. Another option is to just install a heater. We added a gas heater to our garage. It is a Modine Hot Dawg unit that hangs from the rafters. You could set it at a minimum setting to just keep the chill off things. Or, you could set the thermostat a bit higher and use the garage for something other than just storage, like a workshop. Of course, then you get into other issue with the computer like sawdust or dirt.

If you want to heat just the computer, there are some other options like a Heated kennel pad [petstreetmall.com] to set the computer on or even some heat tape [easyheat.com] like that used to keep pipes from freezing. Either of these type of things would probably transfer enough warmth through a metal case to keep the inside temperature above freezing. One advantage to the heat tape is that you could probably coil it inside the computer and leave the thermostat outside. This would keep it warm enough when it is cold, but not get too hot when the temps rise.

A garage floor is a great tempurature moderator in the summer, but it can really pull the heat from something when the temps drop outside. Uninsulated walls have a similar problem. Make sure you isolate/insulate from both as much as possible.

Not a good idea. (1)

Raven42rac (448205) | more than 9 years ago | (#10990755)

Hot CPU + cold air = condensation. Water inside a PC=bad.

Re:Not a good idea. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10990988)


Hot CPU + cold air = condensation. Water inside a PC=bad.


Wrong.

Warm air can hold more moisture than cold air. In really cold air, there is almost no humidity as it would have condensed already. The warm surface is at a higher temp than the air, so if it would condense at the temp of the CPU it would have already condensed out of the air.

Warm air + cold surface = condensation.
Cold air + warm surface = nothing.

Self heating (1)

raider_red (156642) | more than 9 years ago | (#10990883)

The heat from the CPU, Hard Drive, and power supply will probably keep it above freezing, but if you have a power failure, you'll want to get it inside the house to warm it up before attempting a restart.

Spinning up a frozen hard drive is a great way to cause data loss.

I'm doing (a warmer version) of this-- (1)

count3r (316207) | more than 9 years ago | (#10990895)

I just did this a month or so ago. My experience is that, because of the generated heat, the computers are not the problem. I've only tested this down to maybe 45 degrees (F), but the problem I've been seeing is with my small network switch. Basically the garage disappears from the network every night between about 2 and 7 am... But so far it's always come back :)

Liquid Nitrogen CPU Movie (1)

telstar (236404) | more than 9 years ago | (#10991403)

Check this out for cooling concerns:
Liquid Nitrogen 5GHz CPU [tomshardware.com] .

putting it all together (1)

HTL2001 (836298) | more than 9 years ago | (#10991489)

well, it seems that the "airtight" (or close to it) case would prevent the mice and the condensation problem, and if its cold enough heat should transmit to the outside good enough. mount it on chains from the ceiling (hehe) for protection, with some obstical.... like traps on the rafters or something

or encase it in treated wood (CCR-copper crome arsenic, should keep stuff out)

have a space heater, and heat the whole enclosure to start it up. low heat over a long time to avoid problems. other than that, its trial and error

Does it really matter? Its a Celeron! (1)

mr deprecation (834102) | more than 9 years ago | (#10991588)

I honestly don't think you'll have a problem. Like others before me have said, small bugs and animals trying to take advantage of the warmth is probably your biggest problem. And humidity shouldn't be an issue. I didn't think there was even any humidity in the air when its right around zero. Simple chemistry leads me to believe that(though I may be wrong) I have lived in Florida all my life and cold weather is very unfamiliar to me. I have relatives in Texas and Michigan, however, and when visiting them in the winter, its always very very dry outside. You have to realize that in the end, its just a 733mhz Celeron. Thats worth about $20 tops. If it fails (unlikely) just chalk it up to experimentation.

It worked fine for me! (3, Interesting)

thomasdn (800430) | more than 9 years ago | (#10991639)

I live in Denmark the temperature often drops below below zero degrees Celsius. I have had three Pentium servers running in my parents garage for about three and a half years now. I have had no problems with them that was related to the cold. Actually the only hardware that has been changed in the three and a half years is a new disk on one of the servers, a new cpu-fan on another. I think this is just normal for a PC running in three years.
All three of the servers have experienced uptimes on more than a year.

HDD Operating specs (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10991742)

Typical operating temperatures for hard disks is 5C to 55C

And they need to acclimate to the environment before you start them up..

Simple solution (1)

Geoffreyerffoeg (729040) | more than 9 years ago | (#10992008)

Just overclock the computer enough that the CPU heat will bring it to room temperature. After all, you've got the original cooling system working for you....

What about summer? (1)

Mikito (833242) | more than 9 years ago | (#10992213)

Do you plan on keeping this server in the garage year-round? I would also be concerned about the heat and humidity of a garage which (presumably) wouldn't have air-conditioning.

There are devices expressly for this (1)

deque_alpha (257777) | more than 9 years ago | (#10992457)

I used to do network installations at a Major North American University. We would occasionally have installs where our "networking closet" was just a big steel box on the outside of a building. Along with all the networking gear that went in these boxes there was a little tiny heater with a thermostat on it. We set it to about 50 degrees F. When it gets that cold, it turns on.

Build a little cabinet to house your computer and put one of these in here. I think we bought them from Graybar, but I'm not sure, as I just installed them, I didn't buy them. I'm sure Google would help...

tent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10992887)

Buy a small tent. Put computer in tent inside garage. Turn computer on. Close tent.

Warm moderators (3, Insightful)

DaoudaW (533025) | more than 9 years ago | (#10993189)

I just read through the comments at my usual mod level of 3. Every comment I read implied some need to keep the server warm. My own experience says that cold is not a problem. Heat is a problem, even in cold weather. Putting a computer in an insulated box is, in my opinion, a rather time-consuming way to destroy it.

So I decided to read all the comments. Lo and behold, the let it stay cold comments were there, but weren't being modded up. I'd take serious the overclocking suggestion; just generate a little more internal heat if you're worried about the cold.

Note to moderators: Don't jump on bandwagons. The "cold" commentators in this case were at least as "informative" and "insightful" as the "warm" commentators.

A standard incandescent light bulb should help. (1)

fwittekind (186517) | more than 9 years ago | (#10994138)

Put a standard incandescent light bulb in the case, it should be able to produce enough heat. Maybe have it switched with a thermal switch like http://dkc3.digikey.com/PDF/T043/1075.pdf [digikey.com] . Wouldn't be a bad idea to have the case fans switched with thermal switches as well (since you still want them half of the year). Don't forget to use a relay with the thermal switch & light bulb.

733 Celeron eh? (1)

PedanticSpellingTrol (746300) | more than 9 years ago | (#10994415)

I wouldn't worry about it, that X-box case looks pretty macho. If it can't take the punishment, it deserves to die.
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