Hate Sink: Epilogue

It turns out that the Notorious K.R.I.D. had a work-supplied, Pentium-4-based Dell system with a noisy, rattling heat-sink fan that was slowly driving him nuts.

Blame for this rests solely and squarely with Dell: their standard practice since time immemorial has been to equip their machines with a large, semi-passive CPU heatsink, place an exhaust fan on the back of the machine, and connect the two with a plastic shroud. In theory, this is a better approach than the standard one involving a fan blowing air onto the heat sink: Dell’s approach draws air over the heat sink and then ejects it from the machine, rather than running the risk of simply recycling the same ever-hotter air. It would be a better approach in practice, too, if Dell would only find some way of turning the shroud into something other than a bullhorn to amplify the fan’s roar.

So we set about removing the Dell heat sink, and replacing it with the infamous PIPE101. This process was surprisingly complicated, and involved a number of unexpected discoveries.

  1. The thermal tape which Dell uses as an interface between the CPU and heatsink is surprisingly sticky. Sticky enough, at least, to pull the CPU right out of the locked ZIF socket. I didn’t know that was possible. Miraculously, none of the pins were bent.
  2. Dell, in keeping with its tradition of reinventing perfectly good wheels whenever possible, used a non-standard retaining bracket for the heatsink. Bastards.
  3. Mercifully, they didn’t have the inclination or the opportunity to deviate from the standard spacing for the heatsink-bracket retention holes. Consequently there was hope that if we could track down a spare Socket 478 heatsink-retention bracket, we’d be in business. Thanks to the ever-helpful folks at BlueBonePC, we obtained one.
  4. This was when we discovered that while the spacing on the holes is standard, the placement of certain capacitors near the CPU is not; a standard heatsink-retention bracket will not fit without modification. Dirk promptly supplied the neecessary modification by clipping out part of our bracket, in a way that didn’t seem to compromise its function. (Bastards!)
  5. The rest of the installation went relatively smoothly. The PIPE101 fit into the available space with room to spare, and Thermaltake’s approach to Socket 478 retention proved far less squirrelly than their take on Socket 939. Of course, it was only after I’d installed heatsink and fan that I realized I’d forgotten the backing plate on the other side of the motherboard, but never mind. I was even able to remove the heatsink without simultaneously extracting the CPU this time.

We then attached an exhaust fan to the back of the case through means so crude you really don’t want to know about them — I have only one word to say on the matter: “wingnuts” — reconnected the machine, and fired it up. Miraculously, it booted despite the astounding amounts of abuse and vendor-unapproved handling to which we had subjected it.

At last report, it is running strong, but silent. Dirk is happy, and so am I, to have found a suitable home for the heatsink at last.

(I’m also happy in no small measure because Dirk reciprocated by expertly tuning up my bike, from out-of-true wheel to balky front derailleur to slow leak in front tire. He also replaced my despised toe-clip pedals with a pair of Speedplay Frogs which he sold to me at friend prices, and with which I have rapidly fallen in love. Better than just do all these things for me and present a fait accompli at the end, he let me observe every step, so that I have half a chance of doing for myself in future.)

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