Condensation Prevention

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While water is a great way to cool your computer, overclockers are always looking for new ways to cool their processors. The natural progression is to move towards Peltier/Thermoelectric, or Phase Change Coolers. Both of these technologies have been around for years and offer the ability to cool your processor to below ambient temperatures. Phase Change in particular can produce temperatures well below zero. While cold temperatures will help you to overclock your processor and lead to great satisfaction, your joy may be short lived if you do not take into account the effects of condensation! A little water on the wrong part could lead to a big headache. With this caution in mind, I have decided to write a short article to help you prevent condensation and possible damage to your computer.

According to the dictionary, condensation is a “process by which a gas or vapor changes to a liquid.” In our case, the gas in question is water in the form of humidity in the air. When water in the air comes in contact with a cold surface, it condenses and forms water droplets. We’ve all seen how a cold glass of ice water forms water droplets in just a matter of minutes. These droplets while harmless to you and I, pose a threat to your computers electrical components. Water droplets forming on your processor, or motherboard can cause a short circuit and possibly permanently damage your computer. Therefore, it’s essential that we prevent condensation from forming in the first place!

As the saying goes, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” This holds true for condensation prevention. I have seen some pretty wild approaches over the years. The basic idea is to prevent air from coming into direct contact with your cooled motherboard and processor. This involves using materials to insulate the motherboard and processor.

Here are some ideas that might work but I don’t recommend them:

Encase your motherboard and processor in foam. This involves using spray on foam to encase your motherboard and processor in a protective foam cocoon. This approach actually works, but the problem is taking the foam out afterwards. The form hardens and gets into every little crevice. We decline this approach because of it’s more or less permanent nature and lack of accessibility.
Air Drying – I’ve seen folks hook up high powered fans that blow across the cooled components. The idea here is to basically dry the condensation up before it actually has a chance to form. This approach works as long as it can keep up with the condensation being formed. If it’s a particularly humid day this approach might fail or it may not be possible to move enough air to keep the components dry.
So, what method do we recommend? First, I have to give credit where it’s due. I originally learned method years ago from Swiftech. I’m sure it’s a very common approach that has been around a long time. This method is tried and true. It’s not hard to do but you need to be thorough.

Materials and Tools Required – conformal coating, dielectric grease, silicone adhesive, neoprene, isopropyl alcohol, lint free tissue, small paint brush.

Step 1: Using a lint free tissue and isopropyl alcohol clean the motherboard PCB around the base of the socket. Also clean the back side of your motherboard.

Step 2: Apply a conformal coating to the motherboard PCB. Red X Corona Dope will provide a protective coating that is resilient to a wide range of temperatures. More importantly, the conformal coating will protect your motherboard from the dreaded condensation. The coating can be safely applied to electrical components. It should at least cover your motherboard a few inches around the base of the CPU socket. There’s really no reason why it couldn’t be used to completely coat the motherboard. Keep in mine though that you don’t want the conformal coating inside of any PCI slots, AGP Slot, CPU socket pin holes or other such places where it would prevent electrical contact. Duh! Also, don’t forget the back side of your mobo. We’re dealing with cold temperatures and the backside of your motherboard is going to get cold too!

Step 2: Are we having fun yet? We’ll need a thin sheet of neoprene material. You can find thin sheets with peel away adhesive backing. Cut a square sheet that’s going to go on the backside of your motherboard behind the processor. This will be our 2nd line of defense.

Step 3: Now, we want to seal the base of the CPU socket from air getting under the PCB. Take your tube of Rubber Silicone Adhesive Sealant and seal around the base of your CPU socket. This prevents any air from getting under your CPU socket and up into the pins. Let dry.

Step 4: Grease it up! Now we take our tube of Luberex Dielectric Grease and we squeeze the grease into the pin holes of the CPU socket. If you’re CPU socket is “empty” in the middle you can also fill it up. Rub the grease into the pin holes to make sure they are full of grease. (Tip: If your socket is empty in the middle you can fill it up with grease to prevent any possibility of air entering).

At this point your motherboard and CPU socket are protected. However, you will still have to deal with attaching your cooling unit to your processor. The cooling unit itself will usually provide a method for insulating the processor and cooling unit itself. The most common method of insulation is a neoprene gasket which forms a seal between the cooling unit and CPU. If you have a ECT Prometeia Phase Change unit it uses a different approach. It comes with soft rubbery material called Seal String that is used to form an airtight seal between the Prometeia freezer head and CPU. What ever method is used it’s important to make sure that you have double checked your installation and that your CPU and motherboard are completely insulated.

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