Fanless Intel Atom D945GCLF2

As posted before, I installed a Windows Home Server at home using an Intel dual-core Atom processor on a 945GC based motherboard (D945GCLF2). The only problem with this setup is the cooling system. Even if the Atom CPU runs on extremely low power and is surprisingly fanless, the actual chipset on the motherboard (which also includes the video adapter by the way) needs way more power and better cooling.

The fan that comes with the motherboard is very small and extremely LOUD! I mean, it has a really annoying, high pitched, humming sound. All the time.  :S And since the server will be powered on almost always, I needed to change that into something less noisy.

I bought a Zalman ZM-NBF47 chipset cooler: a very cool looking heatsink which should work just fine.

Installing the ZM-NBF47

Removing the standard fan and preparing to install the ZM-NBF47.

So, the first step is to remove the standard fan. The Intel board uses loops instead of screws to fix the heatsink in place: this should make removing and installing somewhat easier (you don't have to flip the board over). However, the Zalman heatsink's hooks aren't completely compatible with the loops on the motherboard and the heatsink is a bit to large anyway. Therefore I had to attach the heatsink in a somewhat oblique position (almost touching the CPU heatsink and the RAM bank), while also slightly bending the loops on the motherboard in order to make the hooks fit.

Here's a picture of the slighty bended loops on the board:

The slightly bended loops on the Intel motherboard.

Be very careful when twisting the two metal loops in place and do not apply to much force.

Now, you'll notice that the "flower" of the heatsink has a central, high section and two lower sides with different widths. Putting the larger side against the RAM should give you a bit more space to place the heatsink, without having it touch other components. The two hooks are screwed to the heatsink sticking out at almost 90 degrees. This is the final result:

The final result with the Zalman ZM-NBF47 installed.

The final result with the Zalman ZM-NBF47 installed.

Testing the chipset temperature

After starting the system (and hoping that it still boots  :)), you should check out the chipset and CPU temperature. Because the chipset is so close to the CPU (and the two heatsinks almost touch) it is possible that a higher chipset temperature could make the processor overheat.

Try installing SpeedFan, which should automatically detect all temperature sensors of your motherboard and display their values. The 945GC chipset theoretically is able to run even with quite high temperatures, but I suppose that 50-60 C° should be the target ideal temperature.

I even bought an Aerocool Easywatch temperature monitor that can be installed in the floppy drive. It provides three sensors to be installed on the CPU, the VGA (in this case the motherboard chipset) and somewhere in the case (in my case I put it on a hard disk). Easywatch displays the temperatures on the front panel and automatically manages the speed of up to three fans.

The Aerocool Easywatch in action.

It works quite nicely. Remeber to correctly set the limit temperatures on the monitor, or it will start beeping with no reason.  :)

Stress testing

Also useful: in order to check the stability of the system and how hot it becomes when the CPU is running at 100%, I suggest you install Prime95 and let it run for some time. If the system doesn't crash, you should be fine.  ;)

With the ZM-NBF47 heatsink installed, the server peaks at approximately 55 C° CPU temperature after running Prime95 for some time, which is quite good.
And the noise is gone! Woohoo!