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Hitachi, NEC embrace liquid-cooled hard drives

Japanese electronics giants Hitachi and NEC have announced the joint development of a liquid-based cooling system for hard drives in everyday desktop PCs. Although this isn’t the first time liquid cooling systems have been applied to hard drives—Koolance has been offering liquid-based cooling systems for many PC components (including drives) for quite a while—NEC’s and HItachi’s motives seem a little different than your everyday cooling aficionado. Instead of trying to crank out every last ounce of performance from a gaming rig, server, or media-immersive system, Hitachi and NEC adopted liquid cooling in pursuit of trying to make desktop PCs quieter.

According to the companies, the new cooling system reduces PC operating noise by about a third from approximately 30 db to 25 db—the latter is below the level of a typical whisper, and quieter than typical hard disk-based living room systems like digital video recorders. The systems’ cold plates use 0.09mm grooves in the heat exchanger fin to optimize heat transfer, and the system uses a newly developed “down-flow” method to optimize coolant flow through the system. NEC and Hitachi further reduced noise by wrapping the entire hard disk in a noise-absorbing material and isolating it from vibration: although the insulation probably increased the hard disk’s cooling requirements (hence, the liquid cooling!), the companies claim the moves reduce the hard drives’ noise output by as much as 10 db. The liquid cooling also means the system can use a quieter, low-speed fan than a typical air-based cooling system.

“In recent years, the heat value and heat density of PCs has been increasing along with enhancement of CPU performance and memory capacity; making it essential to not only cool the CPU, but also other devices such as the HDD,” the company said in a press release. “As a result, systems that simultaneously realize significant enhancements in cooling efficiency and low noise through the slow down of cooling fans are being highly sought after.”

HItachi and NEC see a future for its liquid-based cooling system in hard drive-based consumer electronics like DVRs, media center PCs, and other systems which occupy users’ living space, rather than being relegated to an office or closet. NEC plans to include the system in consumer desktop PCs offered to the Japanese market “in the near future.” If the technology pays off, the companies will likely offer it in additional markets, or license the system to other manufacturers.

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