asetek Vapochill XE Vapor Phase Cooling System

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asetek Vapochill XE Vapor Phase Cooling System - Page 2

asetek Vapochill Extreme Edition
How can cooling be such a hot topic?

Written by: Robert Maloney
September 29, 2003

Setup of the Vapochill XE
Anybody up for a cold one?

We knew it was going to be anything but a normal day in the HotHardware labs when the large cardboard box came in from Denmark.  A two-person team of the BigWop and myself carried it out to my car, where I promptly drove it home and placed it in a corner of my lab.  Intrigue set in - being my first time with a Vapochill CPU Cooling Kit, I was eager to find out what was in the box.  We hastily pulled out two baggies that were packed with all sorts of cables and manuals and placed these aside.  It was the big, black case we were after, and we removed it from the box and took a long gander.  Huge is one adjective we could use, but it doesn't convey enough of the actual feeling when faced with the Vapochill for the first time.  Awe seems to fit the bill much better.  The other cases in the room seemingly shrunk away from the Vapochill in fear, like Imperial Stormtroopers trying to avoid Darth Vader's gaze.  Indeed, even we succumbed to the Vapochill's power, and faced with the daunting task of putting everything together, we paused for a moment and placed the Vapochill unit back into the box for the time being.

     

Peeking back into the box sometime later, we figured I would try and get a handle on what this was all about.  "RTFM" is a common acronym used in the technology fields, so it was the manual that we plucked from the bundle and sat down for some heady reading.  After a brief introduction to vapor phase cooling, we hit upon the system checklist and matched it with what we found in the ziploc bags.  In the bag that the manual was taken from, there was a an all-important power cable connector, ChillControl software on a 3.5" floppy used with the supplied serial/RJ-45 cable, an I/O shield as well as various clips and screws for mounting the motherboard and drives.  The other bag contained the assorted pieces used for the CPU-kit assembly.  Paralleling the section found in the manual was another guide on how to install the CPU-Kit for Socket 478 Pentium 4 motherboards.  The large foam pieces are used in, around, and under the CPU socket, and with the tube of Heat Conduction Compound (HCC) are used to prevent condensation.  Two self-adhesive pin heaters, one for each side of the board, are also included as well as two steel bars with locking rings to modify the socket for assembly.

     

After getting to the back cover of the manual, we figured that we had a fair idea of what I needed to do to get started, but being the curious sort we disassembled the case to get a better view of the refrigeration unit.  The main panels are attached using thumbscrews, making removal a quick and easy process.  There is ample room in the lower section of the case for any assortment of drives and other hardware, and plenty of spots for mounting additional case fans for cooling other components.  While the CPU will be handled by the CPU kit, heat is still being generated by the hard drive, video card, etc. and it couldn't hurt to add a large case fan or two.  The motherboard tray can be removed for mounting the board using the supplied plastic attachment clips.  The upper section of the case is kept separate from the main assembly, and it was here that the Cooling Kit is found.  It looks like a bunch of coils and hoses at first, but one can quickly pick out the major pieces: the compressor, condenser, and evaporator hose.  This hose snakes down through an opening into the lower section becoming the actual preassembled CPU-kit, with the foam-encased copper end which will be placed over the CPU.

     

We started to put the outer shell back on to get ready to assemble the Vapochill using the Epox 4PDA2+ v2 board that we reviewed a couple weeks back.  While the front panel fit perfectly, the back panel was more of a chore.  One of the clips didn't seem to fit well, and it took some sliding back and forth to get the panel to fit, although it continued to bow out slightly towards the middle.  Since these units are manufactured and shipped from Denmark, it's quite possible for things to get banged around a bit, so it's hard to really fault asetek here.  What we did find lacking, however, was the overall "feel" of the front bezel.  The plastic felt thin and easily breakable, and more than once did we fret when a corner got stuck while manipulating the case during assembly.  Considering the price that a Vapochill demands, the case should be constructed from better materials.  In comparison, we have a $100 Chieftec Dragon here in the labs that not only feels like its constructed better, but the side panels have cleaner edges and fit easier together.  In its defense, however, the Vapochill's primary selling point is its cooling mechanism, and not its looks, so we won't make too much of a fuss here.

When it came to the actual assembly, we followed the manual step by step.  Although we are quite familiar with setting up a normal system, we had to take double looks in the manual to see how the CPU-kit assembly varies from installing a standard air-cooled heatsink/fan.  While the manual does cover all of the necessary procedures, there were a few steps that we felt could have been expanded on or explained better. Eventually, we would follow the same steps that Dave outlined in his Vapochill PE review, and you can click here to see his thorough discussion on the topic.  Originally, this system was setup without the copious amounts of Heat Conduction Compound, as asetek recommends assuring compatibility between the board and the Vapochill unit before finalizing the system.  With everything set up correctly, we crossed our fingers and hit the Power button.  A few dashes flashed on the LED Display, and then the temperature began to count down from 10 degrees, then 5, and down below zero.  Apparent success, until the motherboard began to boot.  If you recall, the Epox 4PDA2+ v2 motherboard has its own diagnostics routine, which caused the board to power up, run a system check, then power down and restart again.  This extra step caused the ChillControl unit to blurt out an error code that, when decoded, informed us that too much pressure had begun to build up in the compressor.  We waited a few minutes for the pressure to abide, and then were able to boot successfully.  While rare, this is one issue to watch out for and asetek keeps an updated motherboard compatibility list on their website that aspiring builders should pay mention to.

  

After we had booted and were convinced that the system was stable and that the Vapochill unit was keeping our CPU sufficiently cool, we quickly disassembled the CPU-kit by unscrewing the two long screws around the socket.  We used most of the HCC now, by squeezing out the compound all over the CPU pins, into and around the holes in the socket, basically filling any gaps where condensation might form.  After reassembly, we booted into Windows again, and let it run for another 15 minutes, again looking for any trouble.  With nothing showing up on the radar screen, we powered down one last time, and slid the back panel off to access the ChillControl unit.  One end of the cable plugs into the RJ-45 jack, while the other end is then connected to an available serial port (make sure to enable the port in the BIOS first).  The ChillControl software is loaded in directly from the floppy disk from a DOS window.  The Status area on the left displays the current temperatures and fan speeds.  On the right is the Configuration Area, where we could change the hold and start temperatures, raise or lower the fan speeds, as well as manually enter in the CPU speed in MHz.  We made few changes in ChillControl, lowering the Hold temperature to -20 degrees Celcius and raising the Fan Speed to 85%.  Rumor has it that a Windows version should be in the works, which should make this process even easier.

   How low can we go?  

 

Tags:  cooling, system, Cool, STEM, ASETEK, AP, K

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