Mac mini custom cooler

I built a custom Mac mini air cooler.

It seems like the simplest thing, but apparently no one else thought of it yet or considered it worthwhile.

This all started when my Macbook Pro, which I use for work, started having some heat issues. Not anything severe, really. I just noticed that the fan was always running. It’s understandable. I usually have tons of apps open, run a web server in the background, and push video to my 27-inch Apple display and two Dell 24-inch displays.

I understood why I was having heat issues, but running less apps or taking away a monitor were not viable options. So the only remaining solution was to increase cooling. That meant exploring the vast world of laptop coolers for something decent, and so far I’ve been quite happy with my Cooler Master cooler: http://www.coolermaster.com/mobile/laptops_and_ultrabooks/notepal-x-slim/

Now that my Macbook was running at an acceptable temperature, without having the fans constantly on max, I turned to my whirring Mac mini.

I love that little machine. http://www.apple.com/mac-mini/

I purchased the mini two years ago. I bought the base module with an i7 procedssor, and then I gutted it, tossed in 16gb of RAM and two OCZ Vertex 500gb drives in RAID 0 (it’s OK, I have time machine). You can do this too http://eshop.macsales.com/item/OWC/DIYIMM11D2/. The end result is an extremely powerful little machine that can comfortably sit on your desk.

The mini acted as my office work-horse until I started needing a more mobile solution (enter Macbook). Now it acts as a media server (thank you Plex https://plex.tv/) and torrent machine for sharing Linux distros. Transcoding video and serving it apparently requires a little processing power, especially on a machine without a dedicated graphics processor. It heats up quite a bit, the fans start whirring, and the little box heats up my whole cabinet.

Get a cooler for it? Like I did the laptop, right? I think not.

Apparently no one thought of the poor mini when making their products. There are a few stands that let you put it into vertical orientation, but I find that pretty ugly. If Steve wanted the mini to be vertical, then he would have made it that way!

For anyone interested, here’s how the cooling on the mini works: http://www.patentlyapple.com/patently-apple/2011/12/apple-reveals-the-mac-mini-from-design-to-removable-hard-drive.htmlBasically, it draws cool air from around the black circular base and spews hot hair out the little exhaust port in the back.

Amazingly, that’s quite a bit like a classic PC case. The difference? PC cases usually have intake and exhaust fans. They also tend to have a little more ground clearance than the mini.

So I did what any guy with a problem would do. I grabbed my son and played with Legos for a few hours. The end result was this little beauty.

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Consider this “version 1”. The model above uses a 200mm fan which proved to be just a little too big. It was really just a proof of concept though, and boy did it do its job. Simply using the stand passively dropped the temperatures about 5 degrees celsius. Using the fan dropped it about another 10 degrees! Aside from the cooling, the mini was way quieter. The case fan mounted inside was way quieter and more efficient that that tiny little blower in the mini. So the cumulative result was near silence.

Maybe it’s time for some small-scale production? I could go the lego route: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fED5J10hT10#t=342 and have my little guy take care of assembly. That may not be entirely cost or time efficient though. Plus, I think there may be some issue with child labor laws.

In reality, I’m thinking more along the lines of the Midi Fighter strategy. DJ Tech Tools built this awesome midi controller and scaled production rather nicely. The first version was quite simple, and they even offered a DIY kit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtmENdE38zc. I’m pretty sure I could achieve something similar with some acrylic or 3D printed parts. We’ll just have to see.