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Cool Hand Luke
Jeff Pasternack

Some longtime readers of this column may recall that in July of 2002 I purchased a racing computer from Falcon Northwest after a debacle inflicted upon me by Dell. Among its highly-tweaked parts was a graphics card that featured liquid cooling. This seemed counter-intuitive at the time, because the last thing I wanted inside my computer was liquid, especially since the reason I needed a new computer was because my old one was baptized with 8 ounces of Diet Mountain Dew. To my technopeasant mind, it seemed that marketing a computer with liquid inside would generate as much interest as, say, marketing blood pressure cuffs as a Kevorkian scarf for terminally ill pets (thanks to Ill Will Press for the phrase).

Sony and Apple have computers with a liquid cooling system and other manufacturers are rolling them out as well. The reason for liquid cooling is that fans and heat sinks don’t cool chipsets fast enough. The hotter a chipset runs, the more likely it is to overheat and harm the chip, causing the system to become unstable. Once the domain of people who over clock their chips (make them run faster than advised by the manufacturer, i.e. a 2.0ghz chip running at 2.4ghz), liquid cooling seems to be the next fad.

Speaking of populist movements, I’ve been a fan of EA Sports’ Madden football series since I had it on my Sega back in 1992. As far as video games go, it’s probably the single greatest franchise in gaming history and, with the 2005 release, the game continues to make great strides in every category. While the artificial intelligence (AI) that runs the gaming has advanced, the game’s news and email features (yes, players email you to gripe about not playing enough) are in dire need of a context engine. My current franchise is about to play the Houston Texans, which have a 3-7 record, yet the local paper refers to Houston as the top team in their division, which it isn’t.

When Madden 92 came out, the game controller had a multi-directional thumb pad (D-pad) and three buttons. Gaming can be addictive and it can suck you in for hours. After playing for a while, between plays, I’d wipe my sweaty palms on the thigh of my pants or wear ventilated driving gloves. Geek! Can’t let something like sweat interfere with my gaming, you know. But sweaty palms have been a problem for gamers going back to the Atari and Coleco days and the hand wipe became a subconscious process.

My new game controller has eleven buttons, two joysticks and one D-pad. Perhaps best of all, sweaty palms have gone the way of the Blue Screen of Death. How? The new controller has a built in fan that pushes air over and around my hands through ventilated grips. How great is that? Now my arthritic, carpal tunnel-afflicted hands can play for hours without getting sweaty. The Nyko AirFlow EX gives a whole new meaning to the term “Cool Hand Luke.”

Using air or water as a coolant is an age-old process, whether it is bakers cooling their breads, blacksmiths cooling metal, smokers cooling pipe smoke and men cooling their libido. Cooling technologies are found in practically all houses, appliances and vehicles and now, advances in nanotechnology, chemistry and quantum physics are pushing cooling technologies to a whole new level. Feel the excitement!

So right around here is when I’m supposed to pull in some independent thinker for their thoughts on the new paradigms of cooling technologies. I considered calling a quantum physicist working out at UC Berkeley and listen for 30 minutes whilst he or she rattles on about the use of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), a technology which seems to “manipulate quantum information in a thimble of chloroform” or “transferring xenon polarization to the molecules used to perform NMR quantum computations.” If I worked for the New York Times, I might even file an expense report for a fictitious trip out there to see a real physicist. As it is, I don’t work for the Times and, quite frankly, I’m not that desperate for the word count.

While researching liquid cooling, I came across many personal cooling systems that you wear like a vest. There was a liquid-cooled machine gun called the Browning 1917 that the US Army decided was too bulky. There are liquid-cooled voice coils and tweeters. But for the most part, Googling “liquid cooling” brings up many sites that discuss liquid-cooled computers.

I decided to run an experiment in the TechnoPeasant laboratory. I wanted to know if I was more productive as a writer using a computer powered by a Pentium II 400mhz with 512mb RAM, circa 1998, versus a Pentium 2.53ghz with 512mb RAM, circa 2002. Both boxes run Windows 2000. I discovered that, aside from the task of actually opening of MS Word, the time it took to type and print the same 1051 word piece was roughly the same; the six second difference in favor of the PII 400 was due to two sneezes. I decided that I would further test my hypothesis and added the typing of an email to my editor, browsing my 10 favorite web sites and playing 3 games of the rarely-played Minesweeper. Or, in other words, the same tasks a former marketing coordinator of mine used to do when she arrived for work. I discovered that, except for the time it took to open the programs, my times were also approximately the same.

So what can we conclude from this experiment? For those of us who use a word processor, email and a web browser, a computer equipped with a P4 2.53 chipset does not appreciably improve productivity when compared to that of a P II 400. Liquid-cooled versions of these same computers, while not available for the testing, would likely produce the same results. If tested independently from any other prior knowledge, one might also surmise that the allegedly faster chipset decreases productivity due to the onset of sneezing. Of course, we know that to be silly. Just as silly as having a liquid-cooled computer, eh Luke?


Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at