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6/10

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It feels like only yesterday that I killed my Celeron 400A, by de-capping it and it putting on a TEC back to front. If this wasn't in a dual processor machine, I would have been pretty upset, as having no computer when you're 15 is a bit of a downer.

A TEC, is of course a Thermo-Electric Cooler. A quick search for TEC, or the Peltier effect on Google will very quickly bring up more information on how this works than you'd ever wanted. Essentially, it is an electric powered heat pump. Typically, when used with a computer's CPU, it is a 40mm ceramic sandwich, that fits in between the CPU heatsink and the CPU itself. The cold side cools the processor and then the heatsink cools the hot side.

TECs are incredibly inefficient, so generate a lot more heat that they actually pump. There is also an issue of condensation, as a powerful enough TEC can bring a CPU well below ambient temperature.

TEC's are fiddly, annoying and dangerous. 10 years ago, they were reserved for only the most daring, and generally for people using water coolers, due to their much better ability to cope with heat. When a TEC fails, it's bad news, as you're left with a ceramic block inbetween your CPU and heatsink. Ceramic is a very good insulator, but an incredibly poor conductor, naturally.

So to be approached by what seems to be a professional outfit, about a heatsink and TEC combo, I was a little surprised. The cooler I'm looking at, is the MA-7131-i, by MACS. This promises to dramatically reduce processor temperatures.

In order to cope with condensation issues, the cooler has a control unit that fits in to a 5.25in bay. This requires a Molex connector to power it, which in turn powers the cooler and TEC as well. The two buttons on the front allow you to cycle through the different backlight colours of the LCD, and change between Celsius and Fahrenheit. Implanted on the cool side of the TEC is a thermistor. The control unit uses this to gauge how much cooling needs to be done. This is a way of preventing condensation – if the temperature starts to get too cold, it will switch off the TEC and lower the fan speed.

Annoyingly, the thermistor is rather delicate and during the installation of the cooler, I managed to snap all 3 legs off of it, as there were wires leveraging off it. This is poor design and I imagine I wouldn't be the only person to do so.

This has the effect of telling the unit that it runs too hot and leaving the TEC and fan on maximum. It also sets off the alarm which constantly beeps every 5 seconds. If this were an alarming situation, I would be grateful of being told – but as it's not, it's incredibly annoying. I remedied this, by opening up the unit and disconnecting the PCB with the LCD panel and alarm on. This didn't affect the power circuitry at all, but merely shut the thing up.

This is a dangerous scenario to be in. If my computer went in to suspend, the TEC would keep going, while the processor would be giving out little or no heat. This would result in ice forming on the motherboard – which is deadly!

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