The Silent Personal Cluster

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I can plead the 5th.  My wife yells into the garage and I don’t hear her.  Why?  I’m partially deaf.  After having spent my childhood enduring countless ear infections and my professional life on a noisy data center floor, my hearing has suffered.  Small clusters are loud.  Large clusters are deafening.  What if it didn’t have to be so?  Cluster Monkey posted an interested article a few weeks ago by Jon Tegner detailing his journey through building a passively-cooled personal cluster system.

Oddly enough, the journey started out as a home theater PC project.  Naturally, heat and noise are both issues plaguing high end audio video systems.

Myself and others also use HPC systems and we were intrigued to see if this cooling technology could be applied to small clusters. Perhaps the term PHPC Personal High Performance Computing is a possibility. [Tegner]

As all good engineers do, they started out with a basic set of goals and principles by which to build out the personal cluster.  A small excerpt of these includes:

  • “Hide” the cooling surfaces by aligning it with the structure of the components.
  • Let the cooling surfaces be vertical, so that the “buoyancy effect” (heat rises) can be exploited.
  • Arrange the cooling surfaces to form a (vertical) channel with one inlet at the bottom and one outlet at the top.
  • Use conduction through a material of high heat conductivity (or heat pipes) to transfer heat to the walls on both sides of this channel.
  • Use a thermally isolating layer to cover the exterior of the channel so that as large part of the heat as possible is transferred to the interior of the channel.
  • By connecting the inlet and outlet of the channel to the atmosphere outside the building the major part of the generated heat is not released in the server room (thereby minimizing the need for air conditioning).

Jon and his group ended up building two prototypes.  Both were successful in building functional personal clusters.  Each had its own set of nuances.  All in all, I think it was a huge success.  I sincerely enjoy seeing these grassroots technology efforts brave new ground in manipulating their silicon environments into something wild and new.  If you’re interested in personal clusters and/or their progression into the future, I highly suggest reading the article here.