I have a lot of storage. No surprise, given my background, but all those storage devices sure can heat things up, especially when you keep them in a closed cabinet like I do! That’s why I’m pleased by the new fan setup I just installed and thought I would share it with you.
The Problem With Heat
Computers need protection from overheating, especially mechanical bits like hard disk drives. Yet many of us like to keep these noisy things sealed up in a cabinet or compartment. This can be a real issue for mechanical bits like hard disk drives which generate a lot of heat and can fail if not kept cool.
My home workstation features three such cabinets. One contains a new third-generation Drobo with four disk drives, an ioSafe single-drive fire- and water-proof storage box, and a Drobo S which mostly sits unused. The next cabinet is my ghetto archival system, consisting of six Seagate FreeAgent and Backup Plus hard disk drives attached to a USB3 hub. Then there’s the lower cabinet with my tower computer.
It’s great to be able to shut the door on all this, but it does get uncomfortably warm in there when I do! I recently recorded the computer cabinet at over 100º F (38º C), which is really bad for disks and similar devices. So rather than power everything down all the time or leave the doors open when I’m using them, I began investigating how to add better cooling.
A Few Good Fans
Not knowing what my options were, I first tried simple passive venting. I removed the useless overhead light fixtures in my upper cabinets, leaving an 8 cm hole at the top. And I punched out a few extra access panels on the lower cabinet to allow air to circulate better. But the cabinets were still uncomfortably warm with the doors shut.
I knew I wanted to add some fans, but I didn’t want some kind of jury-rigged cyclone-sounding monster to take over my workstation. I wanted something smart(ish) that would monitor the temperature and only turn on the fans when needed since all of my hard disk drives spin down when I’m not using them, generating much less heat. Smart fans would use less power and make less noise than a permanently-on solution.
AC Infinity Case Fans
A quick search of Amazon revealed a likely suitor: AC Infinity specializes in cooling fans for electronics and audio/video cabinets. They sell two different fan types:
- Panel-mount fans intended to be mounted permanently and ventilate through a square hole in a case
- Free-standing fans with rubber feet intended to be placed above or below an electronic device needing extra cooling
Both fan types use standard USB cables for power and control and both can be daisy-chained. Each fan comes with an in-line switch in the USB cable to turn it on or off as well as a simple AC adapter for power.
By themselves, the AC Infinity fans are an excellent choice for my needs. They’re versatile, can be placed where I need them, and are designed to be quiet and reliable. I selected a twin-fan free-standing setup for my upper cases (one fan for each) and a larger panel-mount fan for my computer cabinet.
- AC Infinity AI-MPF80A2 Quiet Dual 80mm USB Fan – Rather than set this above or below an Xbox or A/V receiver, I placed one of these fans above each 80 mm hole left vacant after I removed the light socket, pulling air up and out. I also created a custom shroud to direct airflow better.
- AC Infinity AI-CFS120BA Single 120 Quiet Cabinet Fan – I mounted this fan to the top of the back wall of my computer cabinet, pushing air out. I plugged it right into a USB port on the computer so it will come on whenever the computer is powered on.
AC Infinity AI-ATC Smart Fan Controller
AC Infinity also makes a fan controller for these fans, and this really enhances the setup. The AI-ATC has a temperature probe and two USB ports to power and control a set of fans. It has a “smart” mode which varies the fan speed according to the temperature detected and the set point. There are three levels: High, medium, and low, and it will also turn the fans off entirely if the cabinet temperature is enough below the set point.
The fan controller is intended to be panel-mounted through a hole, but I didn’t want to cut even more holes. So I created a bracket using Tinkercad to fit the AI-ATC. I then printed this out on my AIO Robotics Zeus 3D printer.
I admit I went a bit nuts with the design, but the result is very satisfying: The bracket can be used as a stand or to hang the AI-ATC from above. It fits perfectly, with holes to attach the plate using the OEM nuts and bolts. I even added a bit of an angle to the adapter so it will tilt back slightly for easier viewing!
I’m pleased with the solution to my cabinet cooling problems. The AC Infinity fans are quiet and effective, especially in combination with the AI-ATC smart controller. My drives can now keep their cool with the cabinet door closed and I had fun designing and 3D printing the mounting bracket. The best part is the cost: The whole package of fans and controller cost under $60 shipped!
- AC Infinity AI-ATC, Fan Thermostat and Speed Controller
- AC Infinity AI-MPF80A2 Quiet Dual 80mm USB Fan
- AC Infinity AI-CFS120BA Single 120 Quiet Cabinet Fan
Disclaimer: I have no relationship to AC Infinity but I’m pretty happy with their fans. The Amazon links pay me a commission because why not? But no one is forcing you to buy or click through.