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Does running computers in cold weather damage anything? Answered

I hav a bunch of computers but not much space, so I run some of them in an unfinished part of my house. Because this part is unfinished it gets cold, very cold sometimes down to 10-15 degrees farenheit. I just wondered if there was any way this could damage any of my computer components. I want to make sure it is OK to do this.



As long as they are running constantly and it is cold enough that there is no condensation, you should be fine. (Water and electronics don't mix well)

If you shut them down for more than a minute or two, then it isn't a good idea to start computers up cold, but as long as they are running they are generating their own heat. 9 times out of 10 you will not run into a problem if you start a computer up cold, but there is that small chance. (And the chance gets larger the more you do it)

Side note here: there is a very crude data recovery technique which involves freezing the hard drive. :) (But like I said: very crude.)

I have used the freezing technique a couple of times to try and get a few files or a folder off of a dying drive for someone. You have a very small window to do it so it is only good for small files. I have wondered why it it works at all and I think it might be a couple of reasons. If the chips are going bad it might just keep them below the overheating point long enough to get some data flow through them. The other reason might be from the cold air being denser.
When they were setting up the new telescopes in Hawaii they had a big problem with the hard drives failing. After some investigation by the manufacturers they discovered that it was because of the high altitude. The drive heads actually float on a cushion of air that is pulled along by the platter spinning. They don't contact the drive platter. In the rarefied air on the mountain tops there was not enough air to form that cushion and so the heads were contacting the platters and getting worn down and destroyed. The solution was to used sealed and pressurized drive enclosures. So, what I am wondering is if the denser cold air from freezing a drive provides an extra cushion of air due to it being more dense. It could be just enough to give a worn head and platter a little extra space to enable them to read correctly for a short time. Crude, but for a desperate person who doesn't have the money to spend, sometimes a last hope.

Yes, you have the first part of why it works down, freezing does stop overheating for a few minutes. The second part is that the platters contract slightly (remember that when it is hot in a HD, metal will tend to expand.) The slight contraction makes it easier to spin on the cushion of air. (We aren't talking huge differences, but remember that the clarance between the platter and the head is very small. Also, the platters in the HDs being manufactured today are much more dense, and so the freezing method doesn't work as well anymore.

(And yes, to someone who did data recovery for a living less than a year ago, freezing is extremely crude)

From wikipedia
Commercial grade: 0 °C to 70 °C (sometimes −10 °C to 70 °C)
Industrial grade: −40 °C to 85 °C (sometimes −25 °C to 85 °C)
Military grade: −55 °C to 125 °C (sometimes -65 °C to 175 °C)

The sometimes is a bit of a gamble, but it was there so I included it.

So yes. For most consumer-grade computers, you could experience problems, since most consumer grade computers are made to meet commercial standards, not industrial or military thermal standards, and their temperature range only extends down to 32 degrees Farenheit (0 C).

Really overheating is the main problem in computers. If your computer works well in your cold room, I would not worry about it. Even on warmer weather, computers with the right design (badly designed computers tend to overheat), keep themselves cool with fans.

Ok just wanted to make sure cold weather wouldn't hurt any moving parts, like in the hard drive.

IF the drive is very cold, it MIGHT struggle to reach the right speed, but after a couple of minutes, it will be OK

+1 You could always get a small, cheap, portable heater with a fan (we can get them here for about $15); and run it when the temperatures are really cold. Chances are if its too cold for you, its still probably fine for your computer.


6 years ago

The only problem I have seen with this is with the fan bearings. The oil/grease in them gets pretty stiff in colder temperatures. Some of them might not turn or they will rumble pretty loudly. So if any of the fans don't appear to be running at the right speed you might want to change them out. The monitoring of them can be made easier with a fan controller. These can tell you the RPM of the fans and can even have alarms set in case a fan stops turning. While at first this might sound silly it can be a serious problem. First, the fans are pulling in the outside air and because of that they are exposed to the colder air first so they may never really get warm. Second, even in colder temps components will burn out with out air moving around. This is especially true of power supplies. Hard drive motors generate their own heat so after only a short time they will be up to their correct temperature. I have put hard drives in the freezer to get them down to zero F to do data recovery from them and it has not been a problem.
Monitors may appear to be dim, if they use ccf tubes for their backlight. The tubes, like room florescents, will not put out their full amount of light until they reach their proper temperature.
Chips and other components will love the cold. For them often the colder the better. Its the mechanical things that will have a problem with the cold.
One good thing is that the "waste" heat that is generated will work to heat the room so you get some benefit from it.

When the components are near or below freezing, you can get condensation on the boards, which can short things out, but storing them at that temperature should not do any damage, providing they are given time to warm up and dry out.

If they are running constantly, the waste heat should be sufficient to keep the inside of the case at a reasonable temperature.

You may want to look at what people do to prevent condensation when running phase-change or liquid nitrogen cooling systems.

Very cold rooms are dry since moisture is frozen.