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Running a Server at Freezing Temperatures? 196

Posted by Cliff
from the brrrrr! dept.
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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Running a Server at Freezing Temperatures?

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  • overclock? (Score:2, Funny)

    by fcheslack (712576)
    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).
  • by Rufus88 (748752) on Friday December 03, 2004 @01:50PM (#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.
    • by HyperbolicParabaloid (220184) on Friday December 03, 2004 @01:59PM (#10988644) Journal
      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.
      • 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.
      • I wouldn't worry about humidity levels, Though NY tends to get lots of Snow, it's actually very dry air all winter long. As long as it stays inside a garage he shoud be fine. I would be more concerned with making sure the Hard drive platters don't stop spinning. Once it is up and running and as long as it stays running he won't have a problem till the spring thaw, and then mositure might be a probelm.

        The Of course I would have a nice Athlon burning in the box to keep the parts toasty warm.
        • If your motherboard supports it, get one of the fans that comes on only when a certain bios-reported temperature threshold is passed (optionally, build it yourself).
          Then, install a 40 watt lightbulb (or 2) in the case; wire it so that the light bulb(s)is on when the fan is off.
          Disconnect any fans that pull air into the case, as opposed to out of the case.
          Make sure there are no holes large enough for critters to get in the case.
          Cover all the vent areas (except for power supply exhaust) with air filter sponge

      • I'd be more concerned about moisture.

        I wouldn't.

        As long as the machine is kept up and warm, it is a hot spot and moisture will tend to migrate away and condense where it is cooler. Dewpoint in the winter is likely to be pretty low, even in the garage or basement.

        Like others have said, make sure your hard drive keeps warm. For other parts, make sure they stay about the same temperature. The CPU or mobo temperature monitor built in to a lot of PC's might help the system cry wolf if it gets too hot or too

    • 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.

      • by sakusha (441986) on Friday December 03, 2004 @02:32PM (#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.
        • by itwerx (165526) <itwerx@gmail.com> on Friday December 03, 2004 @04:29PM (#10990818) Homepage
          ...it's an issue of thermal expansion of the platters.

          Also a consideration in tape drive head alignment.
        • by dasunt (249686) on Friday December 03, 2004 @04:40PM (#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.

          • by wayne606 (211893) on Friday December 03, 2004 @05:46PM (#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)
          • 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).

            Umm, you've got that a bit backwards. The fan bearings will also freeze up in very cold temps that are likely to be encountered in an unheated garage, so you'd have to keep the fans warmed too. You don't want to shut

            • by sakusha (441986) on Saturday December 04, 2004 @01:39AM (#10994758)
              Oh yeah, I forgot, there's one other component that will fail under severely low temps: barrel capacitors. They're generally filled with a semi-liquid paste that can freeze at low temps, unless you've got mil-spec computers like the guy who described his aircraft maintenance computers that are rated for operating temps down to -70F. Look at some of the overclocker websites with experimental liquid nitrogen cooling, they take great pains to cool only the CPU chip, if they cool the whole motherboard, the capacitors freeze and fail.
    • by tdemark (512406) on Friday December 03, 2004 @02:30PM (#10989141) Homepage
      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
      • 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.
      • 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.
        • No, it won't.

          What he described is used in the construction industry as a 'rod oven' (see the post above) for keeping the moisture out of welding rods or as a cure box to keep concrete test cylinders from freezing.

          The favorite rod oven is a mini-fridge with a 40-watt bulb installed in it. However, we build the cure boxes out of plywood and line them with blueboard (dense styrofoam sheeting, about an inch thick or so).

          Since the computer produces heat on it's own, a good option (if you can find an acceptabl
    • 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.
  • by pease1 (134187) <bbunge.ladyandtramp@com> on Friday December 03, 2004 @01:52PM (#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.
  • by duffbeer703 (177751) * on Friday December 03, 2004 @01:53PM (#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.
  • Check the specs (Score:3, Informative)

    by lrdviperscorpian (686743) on Friday December 03, 2004 @01:55PM (#10988577) Journal
    Look up the specs on all the hardware. Most have an operating temps guideline. If your within it you should be alright.
    • 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 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vasqzr (619165) <{vasqzr} {at} {netscape.net}> on Friday December 03, 2004 @01:55PM (#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 (Score:4, Informative)

      by ivan256 (17499) * on Friday December 03, 2004 @02:49PM (#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...
    • try junkyards (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mckwant (65143)
      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 l
      • Re:try junkyards (Score:3, Informative)

        by TykeClone (668449) *
        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!)
      • I was sorting a bunch of donated computers for a non-profit org. one time, and some of the computers were complete junk, the mobos and cases were all corroded, etc. There was one that had about half an inch of orange dust all over everything. At first, I thought it was rust, but then I noticed a srong aromatic smell. It turned out that the computer had been in a tea factory, and the orange powder was tea dust. The computer still worked fine (well, except for the fact that it was a 286).
      • Are you kidding, they don't make PC parts like they used to. Especially graphics cards which have potentially the worst record among PC parts to fry. Every person I know who's a regular gamer has to put up with at least one RMA from NVidia or ATI.

        My pentium I running matrox millenium video card with no fan and a 2 gig HD has out lasted every PC I have today. No, I didn't need to stick it in a garage.

  • by xutopia (469129) on Friday December 03, 2004 @01:56PM (#10988593) Homepage
    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.

    • by Linuxathome (242573) on Friday December 03, 2004 @02:11PM (#10988824) Homepage Journal
      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.

      • 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.
    • 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

    • by alienw (585907) <alienw DOT slashdot AT gmail DOT com> on Friday December 03, 2004 @02:20PM (#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.
  • by Oinos (140188) on Friday December 03, 2004 @01:56PM (#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.
    • You must have been able to keep the garage fairly warm with that too :)
    • 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.
    • Well I understand your case of not having the space, I don't have that problem and sort of like the idea that the 800 watts of my whole rig (two boxes, one monitor, plus gear) are helping to warm the INSIDE of my house, keeping the heater from having to kick-on so often.

      I've got a decent-sized apartment, but there is DEFINITELY a benefit from having the equivalent of half a space heater running all the time. Also helps justify leaving them on 24/7, the excess energy use is reducing my other energy costs.
  • 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 SCSI drives in my mail and web server get too hot to pick up after about 5-10 minutes. I've modified the case to have a couple of fans blowing on them. I don't think they would stick, even at extremely low outside temperatures...
  • by nusratt (751548) on Friday December 03, 2004 @02:07PM (#10988771) Journal
    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.
  • 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.
  • by Naikrovek (667) <jjohnson@[ ].com ['psg' in gap]> on Friday December 03, 2004 @02:11PM (#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.
    • 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.
    • Many BIOS allow for a hard-drive spin-up before booting. It would be wise if this was set for it's longest setting. This would give the CPU a chance to heat up the case a bit.
  • 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.

  • Mice (Score:4, Funny)

    by wanerious (712877) on Friday December 03, 2004 @02:23PM (#10989036) Homepage
    Yes, mice will chew through all exposed cables, especially if you put peanut butter on them.
    • Re:Mice (Score:5, Funny)

      by rusty0101 (565565) on Friday December 03, 2004 @02:53PM (#10989501) Homepage Journal
      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 (Score:3, Funny)

        by ScrewMaster (602015)
        Mice are hard on electronics. When I was a kid back in the sixties, we had a Lowrey console organ in our living room. One year a field mouse got in (unbeknownst to us) and apparently spent quite a bit of time in the guts of that organ. The machine began to fail in odd ways, some keys only working sometimes, making unusual sounds for some stops, and other bizarreness (remember, this was in the days when everything was discrete analog, it was jam-packed with wires and circuit boards.) Finally Dad opened t
    • My junior year at college the power went out for half the campus just before finals and stayed out for a week. It turned out that a mouse had gotten into a conduit in the power generation facility and started chewing. Soon it caused a short and then no more mouse and no more wires.
  • 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 fe
    • 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 cooli
      • We had old IBM 4683 cash registers in our stores, installed in the late 1980s. They were 80286 based. We had machines installed in the bath and bedding departments. Think of all the lint and fibers coming off thousands of towels being folded day in and day out, year after year. Picture your dryer lint trap, and multiply that lint until it filled the case.

        Darn machines never even slowed down. An IBM engineer even showed me a vial of "IBM Retail Dirt" [ibm.com] that they created for testing cash registers in env

  • by Engineer-Poet (795260) on Friday December 03, 2004 @02:32PM (#10989193) Homepage Journal
    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.

  • by QuantumRiff (120817) on Friday December 03, 2004 @02:49PM (#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.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      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.
    • never turn off fans. (might freeze if they stop, and not start again)

      Is this really a problem? It would seem that if it became warm enough that the fans would need to come back on, it would be warm enough that they would.
  • by gothzilla (676407) on Friday December 03, 2004 @02:59PM (#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.
  • by Lendrick (314723) on Friday December 03, 2004 @03:09PM (#10989731) Homepage Journal
    It ought to keep your garage nice and warm. Problem solved. :)
  • 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
  • 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.

  • add heat (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TimButterfield (16686) on Friday December 03, 2004 @04:23PM (#10990745) Homepage

    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.

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

  • Check this out for cooling concerns:
    Liquid Nitrogen 5GHz CPU [tomshardware.com].
  • by thomasdn (800430) on Friday December 03, 2004 @05:40PM (#10991639) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • 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....
  • 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, a
  • Warm moderators (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DaoudaW (533025) on Friday December 03, 2004 @08:18PM (#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.
    • It's not an issue of cold, it's an issue of freezing. It's like when you start your car in a frosty winter day... notice it's taking those few extra cranks to turn over and then sounds like crap for awhile? I think you could probably go fanless if you had a good heatsink and consistent low temperature, or at least a smaller fan.

      The warmth issues are - as mentioned above - about your moving parts. Unless you enclose the drive properly enough to contain the CPU heat, your issue will be with the drives faili
  • I wouldn't worry about it, that X-box case looks pretty macho. If it can't take the punishment, it deserves to die.
  • I've got a bunch (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ONOIML8 (23262) on Saturday December 04, 2004 @12:27AM (#10994514) Homepage
    I've got a bunch of computers running in unheated mountain top radio sites without too many problems.

    The first thing I do is seal up the case as best as I can, mainly to keep rodents and bugs out. I then make any necessary BIOS changes to keep everything, especially the hard drive, running all the time.

    During the summer I do monthly PM checks and end up blowing out quite a bit of dust. My last PM check of the season is October and I don't get back up there until early July if I'm lucky.

  • I would worry about water condensing more than anything. As long as the drives keep spinning you shouldn't need to worry too much about them freezing and shattering, as in some earlier responses. However, think about the cold glass of lemonade on the patio table in the middle of August. Your CPU will become that patio table and every bit of air around it will be the cold glass of lemonade. I would worry about condensation and oxidation damage. Probably not enough water to explicitly short your stuff, b
    • The lemonade scenario doesn't work in this case. The heat exchange is reversed. In the lemonade example, warm, humid air meets with the cold air. Since cold air can't hold as much liquid as warm air, it condenses. In the computer, the cold air, humid or not, will not condense on a warmer object.

      The biggest problem is probably something like fire from a fan stopping working or something. The extra dust in a garage will clog fans and heat sinks much faster than normal. Clogged and/or stopped fans can cause a
      • You're right, for the CPU and heatsink, it's the reverse of what I described. I should have been more specific, my concern would be everything else on the inside of the case. So the CPU and heatsink would be the heatsource and the inside of the metal case, any cards, anything else that's cold metal inside the case would be the glass full of lemonade.

        I agree that it's probably the fans that would go first.
  • by holviala (124278) on Saturday December 04, 2004 @01:13PM (#10996613)
    I have an old IBM Aptiva P2/350 in a closet that's open to the outside and has very little insulation and a leaking door. It's been there for the last three years and it's still working fine 24/7 - the only times it's been down have been when the power has gone down.

    So, what's so special about this one?

    I live in Finland. It's cold here. It has survived weeks of -30C with NO problems. The only things that have borked are a CPU fan (which had no bearings to begin with) and a brand new Seagate hard drive which lasted for exactly two weeks - the replacement has worked fine for a year and a half now.

    I've been thinking about replacing the machine with a nice 4U industrial PC that I have laying around - it's just that the Aptiva has proven to work in extreme conditions so I'm not sure if I wanna replace it. Ever.
  • First, try and seal the garage as well as you can. Nothing expensive, just a little caulk on cracks, some weatherstripping for the doors, etc. Trap an air pocket in the garage and minimize the amount of air that comes in from outside.

    Next, get one of those little fifty-dollar electric space heaters and set it up so it blows on the backup server. It doesn't have to warm the whole garage, just the area around the server. If you can keep the area around the server up around fifty degrees, you're probably good
    • Here's another idea I just had: Build a plywood enclosure for the server and insulate it. Rig a small space heater so that it blows into an air tube leading into the enclosure (like the tubes they sell as replacement parts for dryers, you can get them at Sears). This way the garage can be freezing cold, but the computer will probably be up around 60 degrees. More efficient, too.

  • Too cold? (Score:2, Funny)

    by bob65 (590395)
    Just use an AMD spaceheater - no more problem.
  • Not the temperature. That's cool in more senses than one. Not the environment (if it's dry). The wildlife. Including the crazy two legged kind. I've already seen wacky stuff with pidgeons in servers so I figure you could have a bad time there.

    If you think I'm joking. I'm not. I had a simple network with my old machine as a server and a compact fluorescent in my work room... ... and Genghis the Gecko paid me a visit...

    Just one problem. Genghis was obviously a follower of that quiet gentleman at MS aka Stev
  • I had one of my old 700 Durons sit in my car all winter so I would have a PC available on the road, and never had any issues. It would always start right up when I needed it, no problems whatsoever. I think your biggest issue could be condensation over anything else. If that happens things could fry.
  • Put a blanket over the case and a cheap thermostat n the fan!
  • This has been beaten to death with ways to keep computers cool enough for overclocking.

    1. Keep it running.
    2. If you have to stop it to work on it, do the repairs there, in the cold.
    3. If you have to bring it inside, it'll take a few hours to let the condensation on it evaporate.
    4. No humidity is as bad as too much.

  • Why outside? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jeephistorian (746362)


    Why not select one object that is roughly the same size and move it to the garage instead...

    ...or find a space under/over/behind something else. I live in a small two room apartment with my wife and dog. We have five computers running and you can only see two of them. The others are tucked away in obscure places.

    ______________
  • We used to keep a 100 watt light bulb in our dogs' house. It actually kept it warm in the middle of the Wyoming winter. You can paint over it if you want, and place it in your case. You might not need anywhere near that amount of power. Perhaps a 60 watt would work, or less, since a case is smaller than a dog house. Hook it to a light switch, and turn it off when it gets warm out. If you spend a few extra bucks you can get a long life bulb. The whole solution, light switch included, will probably cos
  • and put an electric heating pad inside attached to one of the sides of the case? Most of the ATX tower cases I've seen have enough space between the motherboard tray and the side of the case for a heating pad.

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