Keep Your PC/Xbox/PS3/AppleTV From Overheating in a Closed Cabinet


We love to have tons of cool electronics hooked up to the big living room TV -- who doesn’t? But, if you’re like us, your significant other is less keen on seeing all that awesome black plastic and shiny metal, and you probably did the same thing we did: Went out and bought an overpriced, crappy piece of mass-produced furniture that has doors. Doors! And what do those doors do? They create hot pockets of electronics-killing heat that will shorten the life of our precious gear. All to keep the wife happy.

Fear not, heat haters. We put the Maximum PC brain trust to work in assembling a quick, quiet, and easy cooling solution for, well, just about any cabinet you’re willing to cut a hole in. We tested our solution with two of the hottest pieces of hardware we could find: an Xbox 360 and an AppleTV. With both boxed turned on, and with the door closed, the internal temperature of the cabinet quickly hit 130F. But after we mounted our heat-triggered fan, we saw the internal temperatures hovering a scant degree or two above room temperature. Want to find out how we did it? Read on!

What You'll Need

Collecting the right gear for your cabinet cooler is crucial to the success of this project. After all, you want to add a near-silent fan – it must move enough air to keep your precious electronic components cool, all without making noise that will annoy anyone sitting in your living room. For these reasons, we chose a low RPM fan that is thermally controlled. When the fan reaches about 75F, it flips on, and maxes out at about 800rpm as the temperature rises.

We were able to find a suitable fan in a kit with an AC-to-DC adapter for about $20, but, really, any low-speed, 12cm fan will do. We recommend choosing a fan that spins at less than 1000rpm to minimize noise. In addition to the fan and the AC/DC inverter, you’ll need appropriate depth #10 self starting screws, which you can get at your favorite neighborhood hardware store, as well as the screws that come with the fan to mount the grille.

Step 1: Clean Up the Mess

Phase one of our operation consisted of cleaning out our entire cabinet and exploring a few different options for the blowhole’s placement. After consulting the Internet and refreshing ourselves on basic rules of physics -- heat rises, who knew! -- we decided to place the blowhole on the back wall of the cabinet at the top of the enclosure.

After a little experimentation, we realized that separating the actual components from their respective power bricks and supporting gear let us move the hotter components to the top shelf of our cabinet. Keeping the hot gear on top reduces the temperature for other gear and keeps the whole cabinet looking neater. Before we did anything else, we went ahead and ran our cables to make sure that everything would reach before we started cutting, and so we could test the “before” temperature accurately. We didn’t yet dust inside our (admittedly filthy) cabinet, as it was going to get a whole lot messier when we busted out the hole saw.

Step 2: Cutting the Hole

If you’ve never used a hole saw before, it’s a little tricky. Generally, the wood that most entertainment centers are made from is pretty thin, so you don’t need to do anything complex, like drill sawdust channels . That said, we do recommend holding a large wooden block at the exit point for the hole; this will help prevent unsightly splintering; however, since we were drilling through to the back of our cabinet, which goes against the wall, we weren't particularly concerend if we marred the finish a bit. Alternately, you can start the hole from one side, then switch to the other side . When using the hole saw, use a relatively low speed, and pull it back regularly to remove sawdust buildup. This will prevent the blade from binding.

Next, you’ll need to drill four holes which you’ll use to mount the fan to your cabinet. We used the fan’s grille as a template, but you can also make a template with a piece of paper, some tape, and a pencil. Tape the template to the back of your cabinet and mark the four holes. We used a 1/4-inch bit to drill the four holes. Try to align the drill perfectly perpendicularly with the wood, otherwise your holes will be crooked and you’ll have a hard time getting the screws aligned with the fan.

Step 3: Mount the fan

Before you can mount the fan to your cabinet, you’ll probably want to determine which direction the fan blows. Typically, there’s a diagram on the side of the fan which shows the direction of airflow, but if your fan doesn’t have that, you can always plug it into the power brick and see which side air comes out of. You’ll want to mount the fan itself inside the cabinet, but orient it so that it blows warm air out of the enclosed area. It will be an exhaust fan. Once you’ve figured out the fan’s orientation, you should also screw the grille that comes with the fan to the side of the fan that will be inside your cabinet. The grille will prevent any stray wires inside your case from blocking the fan; this is important to do, and it will be much easier to attach when the fan’s outside your cabinet than inside it.

Next, it’s time to actually attach the fan to your cabinet. You’ll probably need a helper for this part, unless you’ve got incredibly long arms. Line up the fan on the inside of your cabinet with the four holes on the outside. Slide the #10 screw through the rubber washers you bought—the rubber washers will protect the wood on your cabinet should you overtighten the screws. Now screw in the screws. We used a drill to speed the process, but it’s important not to overtighten the screws. Leave them loose to start, so there’s a little wiggle space in case one of your holes doesn’t line up. Once all four screws have been started, tighten them down in a diagonal pattern.

Once the fan is mounted, you can connect it to power and give it a test spin. Hook it up to your power brick, close the cabinet door, and enjoy your new, longer-lasting, properly cooled components!

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