Liquid Cooling Is Growing Up

As you have probably noted in the press, HP has launched two new workstations: the Z400 and Z800 with Asetek liquid cooling inside. First and foremost, this is obviously a validation of Asetek as a company as well as our products. Moving from the gaming segment with its requirements and in to a commercial segment with different requirements is not a trivial task. For those of you knowing what “Crossing the Chasm” theory is all about you will understand what I mean. Asetek successfully crossed the chasm from gaming.

With our roots in the overclocking and enthusiast space we will continuously and always be focusing on the gaming space. However as a company with an aggressive growth strategy we also have to move in to other segments and for us workstations is the first outside gaming. We have successfully sold to a few other workstation vendors like Boxx Technologies over the last couple of years, but HP is the first Tier 1 OEM to roll it out globally.

A lot of people do not really understand the difference between a high end PC and a true workstation. You cannot blame them as at the surface there might be a lot of similarities and even in Asetek we used to build our own CAD machines from enthusiast grade hardware, and while performance is definitely good enough, issues like reliability and compatibility often times are the problems. In other words workstations are PC’s that are built for CAD, simulation, visualization, FEM, CFD etc. in mind. When you buy an HP Workstation you will know that it works reliably for a number of years as well as you know that it WILL work with whatever CAD (or any other certified software solution) software you want it to run with. What this also means is obviously adding liquid cooling could not affect reliability in an adverse manner. Keeping this in mind it speaks volumes about the reliability of Asetek’s liquid cooling that HP with a share of nearly 40% of the workstation market, has integrated our solution.

In enthusiast environments the advantages of liquid cooling are very well understood. Less so in commercial aspects, so what is the fuss really about? Well first of all performance is a factor. When I founded the company a decade back Intel, AMD, the PC OEM’s and even motherboard makers like ASUS and ABIT (RIP) would not even talk to me about overclocking and if I tried to talk about it, they would not take me seriously… Ha what a different world! Today it is a key selling feature from all of the above with unlocked CPU multipliers, Turbo Boost, Speed Step and all the sweet names they can come up with as a cover for what it really is – overclocking!

As a long term supporter of Asetek you will know that we started with compressor cooling (VapoChill) and what we called thermal acceleration. Without going in to too much detail the idea is that if you keep the CPU silicon at lower temperatures than with for example air cooling, you can run the CPU at higher clock frequencies without losing reliability. Any given CPU is rated and binned to a clock frequency where it will operate safely in an air cooled environment. Now – if you change the game and actually cool the CPU better than it was designed for you can run it faster without overclocking (running it out of spec). That is exactly what Intel’s Turbo Boost Technology is all about. If designed in the right way our liquid cooling offers significantly better cooling than air, meaning that we can claim to run the CPU cooler, which again means that it will utilize its turbo boost more so than with the use of air cooling. In a workstation performance is obviously everything and there you go… Many workstation applications do actually not scale very well with adding cores meaning clock speed is still the best way to increase performance.

Secondly and in many views perhaps an even better value of our liquid cooling is the much lower noise associated with liquid cooling over air cooling. A feature also referred to as quiet computing. There is a fair amount of research – a good bit of it from Denmark, by the way – that shows office noise, including computer noise, reduces people’s productivity. In a workstation this is even more true than in a normal PC, because the workstation is actually being used! Not only used, but used by rather expensive human resources.

The average office PC nowadays is basically only being used in its unfair attempt to make Vista work. That aside it is spending most of its time in idle while the user surfs the web or is doing PowerPoint’s. The key here is that the fan on all coolers are speed (and thereby noise) regulated depending on CPU temperature (PWM). If the CPU is not stressed, and if it is not in a hot environment, it does not really get that hot. If it does not get hot, the fan speed and thereby the fan noise is acceptable.

However, in a workstation where the CPU can be loaded 100% for weeks at a time it is very different! I have personally tested a number of workstations and even the Apple Mac Pro makes a fair amount of noise at full CPU load. So what’s wrong with a noisy computer? Simply put the research shows that noise is detrimental to cognitive thinking, increases fatigue and stress. Since the people who use workstations are typically using them because of their cognitive and creative thinking abilities as well as their ability to meet deadlines, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to give them at tool that interferes with cognition, creates fatigue or causes needless stress.

So with HP’s Z400 and Z800 you can opt to pay a bit more and you will get a much quieter box. As a matter of fact the Z400 will be up to 3 dB(A) quieter with Asetek liquid cooling and the Z800 up to 8 dB(A) respectively. For a longer term investment such as a workstation this can increase the high value output of your employees for only a few extra bucks a month.

Congratulations to HP for being up front with the trends and offering innovative technology.

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