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How to prevent condensation damage?


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#1
Badedyret

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Hi everyone

Last week my workstation broke down. Since I was not capable of diagnose the problem myself I sent it off to diagnostics. After a while they finally found the problem: Water damage! CPU, GPU and Motherboard were all corroded by saltwater intrusion - a high-end build that was only 14 months old (running 24/7 most of the time).

Now first off let me assure you that I have never spilled or had any kind of liquid close to the computer, so it has to be condensation forming within the computer despite the quite expensive Antec P183 casing.

I live in the sub-tropics with a relative humidity that's normally around 70-85%, average temperatures around summers are 25-29 degrees (Celcius). I also live within 2 minutes walking distance of the Pacific ocean, and keep my window open basically all day long, so I'm guessing there's a lot of salt in the air as well which would add to the corrosive properties of the condensation. I run the computer 24/7, and the window is almost always open.

So naturally I am now wondering how I can avoid similar damage in the future. Closing the window will most likely raise the room temperature to uncomfortable levels, and while it might decrease the salt in the air I don't think the humidity will be decreased.

I guess my question is: Is a dehumidifier/Aircon the way to go while keeping the windows shut as much as possible, or has anyone a better solution or idea? Any ideas or suggestions are most welcome... Especially if any of you have ever had a similar experience.

Cheers
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#2
ScHwErV

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If I lived in the subtropics, you wouldn't ever find me without the windows closed and the air conditioner running. The first thing an AC unit will do for you is drop the humidity, that just comes with making it cooler in the room. Also, for the AC to be effective, your windows will need to be closed.

If you love the weather normally and the conditions where you live, and you're serious about keeping your computer safe, I recommend doing like us systems administrators have to do for our equipment. Take a room in the house and make it climate controlled. Take your computer room, stick a window AC unit in the window, and keep the door closed. The AC unit will keep the humidity down and the closed window/doors should help with some of the salt problem. I'm not sure this will fix your problem, but it certainly should help.
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#3
admin

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A bit radical, but I'd consider an oil filled case.

Posted Image

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtufuXLvOok&feature=player_embedded
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#4
Badedyret

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Thanks for the advice guys. That submerged rig really sparked my interest and definitely something I want to try at some point when I have more time and money to experiment. It's amazing how they accomplish to keep the temperature at 47 degrees on a overclocked 4.6ghz machine on full workload! However given my current situation I guess the safest route to take is to apply climate control to my office even though I loathe AC and closed rooms.

Thanks again for your advice. I really appreciate it. :D
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#5
devper94

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I'd say: silica gel. You can buy lots of it, and it can be reused repeatedly by heating it. A dehumidifier sounds nice, too. Just keep the case cool, so your computer won't overheat.
A permanent AC room eats LOTS of energy, and isn't quite worth it except for servers.
About the oil-filled case... That will get REALLY messy very soon, especially if you want to upgrade it.
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#6
Tomk

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I've been thinking about this... and it's a bit of a perplexing issue.

Condensation cannot occur unless the surface that the moisture "collects" on drops below the dew point. I've never dealt with this in regards to computers... but as a contractor I've dealt with condensation in various applications... the most serious being indoor, heated swimming pools. You will not get condensation on surfaces as long as you maintain 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the temperature of the moisture. In a pool environment... we set up the HVAC system to maintain 5 degrees over the water temperature, which gives a little safety factor to compensate for stagnant air -"dead" spaces like corners of the room. When setting up a computer room... yes it is typical to install air conditioning, but that is to provide adequate cooling to the computers. Because of this cooling, in a high humidity area, we must also install the dehumidifiers. If you just cool the air, especially metal surfaces will soon run water -steel pipes, exterior surfaces of file cabinets, aluminum window surrounds.

Now let's take an example of those filing cabinets. Typically you will see the condensation on the outside of the cabinet, but I haven't seen a problem created inside the cabinet. Maybe this is due to the absorption properties of the papers, etc. inside the cabinet... but I believe it is because the stagnant air in the cabinet stays "warm" compared to the conditioned air on the outside. It is not at all uncommon for the temperature inside the file cabinet to be a degree or two warmer than the air in the main room. Therefore the moisture condenses on the exterior before the air inside cools to the dew point. As the air temperature "equalizes" between the two spaces, so does the moisture content of the air, and the "extra" moisture continues to form on the exterior of the cabinet until equality is reached... thus the dewpoint has moved out of reach again so the interior of the cabinet remains relatively dry.

In the case of a computer box... I have to think that the temperature inside the box is warmer than the outside air. Otherwise, you have yourself one heck of a cooling system. The air is also disturbed by the fans which also helps to discourage condensation. Because warmer air can hold more moisture than cooler air... I can even understand the remote possibility of condensation forming inside the box if the machine was turned off every night.... the moisture in the warmer air could imaginably condense onto the interior surfaces of the box after the fans stopped and the air became stagnant against the cooler metal housing... but you stated that your machine runs 24/7.

Typically, corrosion caused by "sea air" is exactly what you're describing. When the sun goes down... the surfaces with the best thermal conductivity cool fastest. Thus we typically see it on metal surfaces the most (wood has terrible thermal conductive properties). Salt is obviously corrosive... but though air around the ocean does actually contain some salt... it is minuscule. Wind blown vapor in the air can contain droplets of sea water that obviously contains salt... but I'm assuming that when the winds are blowing water vapor around... you probably close your windows. This vapor will quickly "fall" out of the air when wind currents aren't available to keep it aloft so you shouldn't find much in the relatively stagnant air of your home.

None of this helps your probem. It's all theory and supposition. I've not spent time in the tropics - let alone dealt with "moist" computers there. It's actually quite interesting though... and a bit perplexing. I hope someone stops by with a better explanation.
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#7
Troy

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtufuXLvOok&feature=player_embedded

At 3:06 in that video... Does anyone else spot what looks like a bulging/leaking capacitor??
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#8
Badedyret

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Hey again, and sorry for not being very responsive to your posts lately but I've been having some annoying internet problems, however thanks a lot for all the replies.

I've researched the Silica gel option and I've invested in four of these puppies:

http://www.silicagel...r-40-grams.html

I intend to place these within my computer (making sure they don't touch any fragile parts) and I hope that they can prevent condensation from forming. Another thing I intend to do is to close the expansion slots in my ANTEC P183 case in order to create a more closed environment.

http://www.hardwares...php?image=16431

As you can see the expansion slots on the P183 are open, and the slots were actually quite corroded upon inspection (Probably due to low-grade metal), so I'm thinking that closing them will help at least a bit.

Another idea is to get hold of an old soundboard and rip the parts out of it and use the board to mount one or two of those silica gel containers on it, and thus create a "dehumidifying" board so to speak.

Also here's a few pictures of the damage if anyone should be interested:

Graphic Card seen from the topside:
Posted Image

CPU (with the fan taken off):

Posted Image

Posted Image

Posted Image

Posted Image

If you look closely under the label “LOTES” there is a small gap. That gap was completely saturated with moist. :D

I wonder if closing that gap with a non-conductive cooling gel could prevent further instances of that happening?

Any comments welcome! ;)
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#9
devper94

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I have never seen a board THAT corroded.
If your area is that humid, I seriously recommend a dehumidifier that can run continuously. Silica gel won't work very well at that humidity, and you will have to heat it a lot for it to protect your board.
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#10
Troy

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It might work out cheaper just to move away from the beach? :D
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#11
Badedyret

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Haha, and let mother nature win? Never! hehe.

An interesting fact is that besides this desktop, we have 5 laptops in the household with three of them being used every day and all are older than the desktop computer. They don't run 24/7, but sometimes they do run a few days without being turned off.

All of these laptops are completely fine to this day!

I've also talked with the senior technical officer at my university. He suggested that I use a filter from a vacum cleaner and install it over my fan intake. According to him that filter will stop any salt particles from moving in and still allow ample air flow.

He also told me that since salt is a polar molecule it will attract water, meaning that if salt starts to deposit within the computer it will actually increase condensation around the salt concentration. So if I can stop the salt from getting into the computer I should also be able to slow condensation down considerably and remove the the worst of the corroding properties as well.

Damage might still be inevitable as long as I live at the beach but at least it should postpone the problem.

Any thoughts on this?
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#12
Troy

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It probably wouldn't be too difficult to modify the case with extra filters. That and the silica gel around the edges should hopefully cover it?
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#13
admin

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Wow, thanks for sharing the pics. They really are worth 1,000 words. Incredible.

Interesting problem.
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#14
Troy

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[quote name='badedyret]As you can see the expansion slots on the P183 are open' date=' and the slots were actually quite corroded upon inspection (Probably due to low-grade metal), so I'm thinking that closing them will help at least a bit.[/quote']

Also it's all the same sizes generally, so some closed-up ones from another computer will probably just fit nicely. Instead of using up silica gel for them or something.
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#15
Badedyret

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Good idea!

Maybe I should just invest in one of these? Or build one myself? hehe

Posted Image

If I replaced that default K&N dust filter with a high grade HEPA filter it should keep out the salt effectively. It would require some big heavy duty fans though. *sigh* I wish it was cheaper to protect yourself against the air!

Edit: Even if I kept the K&N filter it might be enough to fill the outer casing with silica gel maybe?

Edited by Badedyret, 24 January 2011 - 06:15 AM.

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