Review (June 2007)
By Kevin Nakano
Most consumers tend to ignore the issue of thermal management until it is too late and components fail. Electronics that reside in closed cabinets or in locations that offer little ventilation often fall victim to overheating. While complete failure of the component is the end result, fatigue to the internal components increases when operating temperatures rise significantly. Keeping temperatures down will help increase the life and reliability of the electronics. A company called Active Thermal Management (ATM) has recently introduced their latest Dual-Mode Component Cooler, designed to operate in one of two modes to quietly cool home theater components which have insufficient air circulation and ventilation. The design features a black powder-coated metal housing, a pair of high-quality, low profile 120mm fans along with a magnetic-base thermal switch that can be remotely placed on the hot area of a component. The Dual-Mode Component Cooler comes configured in the Shelf mode as shown in the above photo, but can easily be reconfigured into the Base operating mode.
Two removeable panels are designed to block air from penetrating the top of the housing in the Shelf mode. The cooler is set up to be placed on top of the hot component when configured in the Shelf mode. The fans are held in place with 1-inch stand-offs, which keep them flush with the top of the component placed underneath. In this configuration air is forced down into the unit as cooler air is drawn in from the sides of the cooling housing. This works well as long as the component being cooled has openings on top for the air to be blown inside. There may be some cases where this does not work well. For example, our Dish Network ViP622 DVR lacks any opening on the top of the chassis, so this configuration would not work for us. However, the Base mode will work and can be easily configured by simply removing the flow panels and flipping over the fans.
The Base mode has the fans mounted directly to the surface of the cooling housing. Changing the configuration is easy and anyone handy with a screwdriver can do it quickly. In this configuration, the fans are reversed so that air flows out of the top of the housing. This allows the cooling housing to be placed underneath the hot component so that cooler air is forced into the chassis. The sturdy metal design of the Dual Mode Cooler chassis will handle components as heavy as 100 pounds. Our ViP622 DVR fits nicely on top of the component cooler with plenty of space all around the unit. Neither configuration has fan covers to protect fingers from getting caught in the openings, so it is wise to leave power off until the component cooler is installed. Since our satellite receiver has a slotted bottom panel, this configuration works well for us. The best part is it looks good while providing peace of mind.
Not much changes inside of the cooling housing. We took some measurement with and without the Dual-Mode Component Cooler installed in our system. Our cabinet offers limited space and virtually no air circulation. This makes the cooling very challenging. Thankfully, the DVR has a built-in fan to help prevent a full meltdown, especially when the unit is recording. However, it gets so hot that I cannot keep my hand on the top of the chassis without experiencing pain. We allowed the DVR to reach a steady-state temperature without the use of the component cooler and the top of the chassis hit an appauling 117° F. Once the Dual-Mode Component Cooler was installed, the steady-state temperature dropped to around 110° F. While this temperature is still on the high side, it cooled down the unit considerably even though it was in a confined space. Better results would be expected if the unit was installed in an opening with more space. Looking at the design it may be possible to decrease the resistance used to supply the fans power, thereby increasing the voltage and air flow. The downside would be more fan noise.
The Dual-Mode Component Cooler has a simple yet effective design for increasing the air flow as temperatures rise. Rather than a gradual increase in air flow, this design uses one of two speeds based on the temperature sensor. The magnetic clip that holds the sensor can be placed on the component to optimize the sensitive trip point. The magnet is strong so it will stay attached to most metal surfaces, exept aluminum.
Although the fans used on the Dual-Mode Component Cooler are rated for 12-volts, they operate at much lower voltages in this unit. This keeps the noise level down and decreases the rated air flow of the fans themselves. The trade-off is a good one that most users would want to have in their home theater or audio system.
The 9VDC, 500mA power adapter provides more than enough power for the cooling system. The fans have power resistors in series with the incoming voltage to limit power to the fans. In the quietest mode of operation, the fans only see about 4VDC or one-third of their rated voltage. This still provides good air flow to help keep components cool under light loading. Should the temperature increase to a point of tripping the sensor, the voltage to the fans increase to about 5.8VDC. While this is still less than half of the rated voltage, the fans increase in RPM and air flow increases. Even at this higher flow rate, the fans are still fairly quite in the chassis and are far quieter than the built-in fans in the Dish Network DVR. This variable cooling approach is different than the earlier designs we saw from ATM. The new design is much more simple and less expensive and probably more reliable. Components that are always on such as our DVR, make perfect candidates for this component cooler.
- Kevin Nakano
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