The Oil Computer

Markus Leonhardt has come up with an ingenious way to cool his computer. He immerses the entire thing in vegetable oil:

Markus Leonhardt has taken the shortest route possible to liquid cooling.
1. throw motherboard in fish tank
2. cover in vegetable oil
3. there is no step 3
Markus has been using this system for over a year. it is quiet and is cooled by the still functional fans circulating the oil. he has swapped components and even successfully used pulled hardware in other pcs.

This just boggles my mind. Wouldn't immersing your computer in vegetable oil short circuit it, or something like that? I also would have thought it would overload the fan motors. There are color pictures of the Oil Computer here, as well as more description, though most of it is in German. (via Reality Carnival)


Posted on Thu May 12, 2005


I'd have to check, but I don't *think* veggie oil is conductive.. Though I'd think mineral or petroleum oils might be a bit better in terms of not gunking up so badly.

Oooh.. Use mineral oil, and have a plexiglass case, with the same refractive index, making it look like the computer parts are suspended inside what looks like a solid block of plastic... Get some heat ripples, but otherwise..

You would have to have the CDRom drives outside the mess. HDs are sealed nicely, though
Posted by Bobcat  on  Thu May 12, 2005  at  11:34 PM
On the first picture, it shows the computer is running something. But the oil is flat and undisturbed. With all the fans, electric charges, and what not, wouldn't you expect the oil to be swirling around a bit? He could probably hoax this by putting it in an empty fishtank and Photoshopping in some transparent yellow.
Posted by Nick  in  USA  on  Fri May 13, 2005  at  03:55 AM
This was on Photofiction.
It is real, apparently.
Of course, there's no real way to tell over the internet, but yeah.

-The King
Posted by The King  on  Fri May 13, 2005  at  05:22 AM
Various different types of veg oil might give better or worse "gunking up" problems. Corn oil is pretty extreme for gunk -- it accumulates on pots and pans if you're not obsessive about getting it off. Not so canola or olive oil.

However, heated oil does have a stronger scent, even before it starts getting "off" (semi-rancid/oxidized.) You'd have to be sure you liked the smell before you did this.
Posted by cvirtue  on  Fri May 13, 2005  at  07:07 AM
Immerersing a motherboard and components in a non-conductive liquid as a means of cooling is not unheard of nor new; it is, in fact, a very effecient means of cooling a system, albieit a rather messy one. There was a story on slashdot not too long ago about a user sealing his machine case with caulk, swapping the disks out with solid-state, and filling the case with mineral oil.
Posted by UsuallyDark  in  Glendale, CA  on  Fri May 13, 2005  at  09:17 AM
FYI, search on "overclocking". There is a whole subculture of people who try to make their PC's go faster than their stated speed. Various cooling techniques is one thing they do. Cooling electronics with some type of oil is a stardard technique in general. Power transmission tranformers are cooled with oil. PCB's (those nasty environmental poisons) were used to make those oils fire retardant.
Posted by Peter  on  Fri May 13, 2005  at  02:27 PM
As long as he was using something like canola or peanut oil, I don't think he'd have any problems. (Other than a peanut butter smell from the peanut oil)
Olive oil is a bit too delicate, it would tend to oxidize and clump up after awhile. (Similar problem with corn oil.)
Amd from the pictures, he has the hard drive and CD taped to the outside of the aquarium, out of the oil.
One interesting problem I read about on Slashdot (they discussed this yesterday) was from one reader who had done something similar: If the aquarium is higher than than the mouse, keyboard, or other periphials, the cables tend to siphon oil out of the tank.
Of course this is an old idea in computers. Some old IBM mainframes used oil cooling to keep their magnetic core memory cool, the cases actually had a dipstick! (I can just picture some IT guy in coveralls saying "Well here's why yer server is slow, she's a quart low on oil!") wink
Posted by Captain DaFt  on  Fri May 13, 2005  at  02:46 PM
I don't care whether it works or not; it's disgusting.
There's no way I want to sit all day in an office that smells like a Fry Baby.
Posted by Big Gary, pedantic again  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Fri May 13, 2005  at  04:23 PM
Never fear... an overclocker is here (ok well maybe you should fear us sometimes).

What causes conductivity in fluids is disolved metal ions like Iron, Copper, aluminum & disolved salts like NaCl (table salt), KCl, & various others. Pure H20 will not conduct electricity. This is why overclockers with water cooling systems use distilled water which has no disolved ions in it (or at least not enough to be an issue). If the oil used has enough metal ions or salts in solution there is the chance that you can get a short. Its important to know what cooking oil he is using as that will hint at the possibility of it not having any of these disolved ions.

Usually computer parts are placed in a chemical called Saphire (with one p; it's not spelled like the gem stone) by Tyco or in Mineral Spirits which is a mineral oil. It would be possible to use Distilled Water for this if you could keep ions from disolving into it but its much easier for ions to disolve into water than the two chemicals mentioned above (water is the universal solvant as they say) so its not practical.

On a side note PCBs as mentioned above are polychlorinated biphenyls which are poisons & not Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) which are used in computers. I think its a good idea to clarify this early on just in case wink.
Posted by Moto7451  on  Fri May 13, 2005  at  07:52 PM
So what happens when the oil goes rancid? Which would take only a few days, if that? Do you have to go out and buy six more gallons of cooking oil twice a week? Wouldn't shit be growing on the computer parts after awhile, unless you took everything out periodically and meticulously scraped the oil off of it? (Using, I don't know, miniscule amount of Dawn on a q-tip to cut the stinking oil off the plastic and metal bits?)
Posted by Barghest  on  Fri May 13, 2005  at  08:20 PM
I'd love to see someone shove a P100 and go to work overclocking smile now THAT would be interesting.
Posted by Soldant  on  Fri May 13, 2005  at  09:31 PM
The gunk factor and the place smelling like vegetable oil makes me think that a petrochemical or mineral oil would be the best bet.. I suppose any reasonably non-conductive fluid medium would work. Heh.. Thinned-down petroleum jelly for a porn server? I wonder how conductive gasoline is..

As far as the fans go, they should work pretty well, and most newer systems let you control fan speed. Set it low so it's not overtaxing itself.

I imagine it'd work best with those 'copper fan' fanless heat sinks, along with a small 'case' fan stirring the mix..

Speaking of Case Fans, I'd like to do a mod someday where I take one of those huge square room fans and bolt it to the side.. I've seen a jury-rigged version, but I'm thinking the real deal..
Posted by Bobcat  on  Sat May 14, 2005  at  12:04 AM
This dates me - a lot - but it looks like Orac from 'Blakes Seven'. Albeit that it is yellow, like pee. I suppose the next step is to fill a tank with distilled water, and fish, and see how they like swimming around inside a computer. It wouldn't be at all practical, and there is a danger that the fish might fry themselves, but think of the kudos! A real fish-tank cooling system with real fish.
Posted by Ashley Pomeroy  on  Sat May 14, 2005  at  06:22 AM
And it's probably somewhere in German on the site, but does this vegetable oil set-up actually cool the computer more than fans? I don't mean in a general sense; specifically, in this case, does the vegetable oil give a lower core temperature (I assume the CPU thermometer still works). How about running the vegetable oil through a car radiator, so that he has air-cooled vegetable oil circulating in the tank? Freon? Whatever it was they put in Crays?
Posted by Ashley Pomeroy  on  Sat May 14, 2005  at  06:25 AM
Fish! There's an idea. Think of the possibilites... you could have them swimming around, feed them and such... and when they venture too close to a CPU fan... you'd have a quick and easy snack and food processor.

Seriously though I don't think the fish would enjoy it too much.
Posted by Soldant  on  Sat May 14, 2005  at  08:09 AM
If he puts his computer in vegetable oil, I think this would give a whole new meaning to the phrase "His computer got fried."

- OR -

Elvis can finally relate to computing.
Posted by Anonymous  on  Sat May 14, 2005  at  08:44 AM
"I suppose the next step is to fill a tank with distilled water, and fish, and see how they like swimming around inside a computer."

They wouldn't swim around for long. Distilled water would cause just about any fish to die rapidly of osmotic shock (in non-aquaristic terms, its body would be absorbing water much faster than it could get rid of it). I don't know how much dissolved solids you could have in the water before it would start shorting out the electronics, but I would guess not very much. Also, the fishes that come from the softest native waters also tend to come from the most acid waters, which would probably make everything corrode pretty fast. Finally, I don't know what the average temperature of the water in such a system would be, but if were above about 85 degrees F, it would kill all but a very few species of fish.
Posted by Big Gary, aquarist,  in  Dallas, Texas, USA  on  Sat May 14, 2005  at  03:28 PM
I know that this Popeye El Marinero would put his in Olive Oyl... Ha ha ha, I am killing myself. I am on the roll now. I love to Boogie. Rrrraoul
Posted by Raoul  on  Sat May 14, 2005  at  05:42 PM
I was thinking of adapting this by using liquid helium. Should definately keep the computer cool.
Posted by Saint Cad  on  Sat May 14, 2005  at  10:53 PM
If you put the whole pc in a deepfreeze (say minus 24 degrees Celcius) and let it cool rellay down. Start your pc. Would it be running slower?
Would your hard drive freeze?
Posted by Beasjt  on  Sun May 15, 2005  at  01:45 AM
I just can't figure out why anyone would think that this is real, just b/c he's got his computer parts dunked in a tank.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Sun May 15, 2005  at  10:10 AM
As has been said before this is not a new trick by any means. Any non-conductive oil will work, in this case sunflower oil. If the tank is kept sealed then there is much less chance of the oil going rancid (if you are using a non-mineral oil). One thing that has been mentioned here that is not true: You CAN'T use distilled water as it will tend to leech ions from anywhere it can get them from, eventually become conductive and fry your components.

Also you can't submerge the hard disks in the oil as they are not completely sealed - there is a hole with a microfilter to keep the air pressure equal to the outside pressure and this will allow oil to get in.

The reason this is used commercially is because oil has a higher specific heat capacity than air - also it ensures that all components can be cooled well. There is also less noise and no dust can be drawn into the system from nasty fans. The oil itself can be pumped away to be cooled by either a radiator or a phase-change system (fridge).

Have a look at this website for some guys who did a similar project using a synthetic ester.
Posted by Peter  in  Toulouse, France  on  Mon May 16, 2005  at  03:56 AM
Did they not used to have a stripped TV working in a bath of polyfluorocarbon liquid as part of an infomercial for a PFC lubricant? That's another non-conductive heat removing fluid.
Posted by DFStuckey  in  Auckland New Zealand  on  Tue May 17, 2005  at  03:11 AM
This really works, but organic oils are a bad idea as said before, they fall apart and form a sludge. I use a custom plexiglass box to cool 6 computer powersupplies, which inturn are used to supply power to my thermal electric cooler for my CPU, Northbridge, and GPU. Those powersupplies run at full load, 1050 watts of DC current, they generate alot of heat, and scary voltages, and I have yet to have one short out or burn out. I'll link a website of my setup when I dunk my motherboard in oil, due to the fact that I have horrible condensation/ice buildup on the motherboard due to the -10c to -40c temperatures that my computer runs at. For you nonbelievers, just wait =)
Posted by Chris Morrell  in  Augusta  on  Tue May 17, 2005  at  07:40 PM
To all the people out there that keep asking "is this possibe" just think about. How isn't it? As stated by i think about at least 8 different people oil is non-conductive (or conducts very little, we should hope) that it wouldn't short circuit the computer components.

One issue i do have with this is that doesn't oil absorb water from the atmosphere? My friends father (total geek) did a test of this about 4 years ago. He got vegetable oil and put it into a cup and has let it sit there up untill now. After 2 years the oil had water molecules mixed inside it from absorption from the atmosphere. Now normally that wouldn't be a problem because water is in fact more dense than oil, but even so after many many years you would still have small amounts of water molecules suspended inside the oil. So im guessing that the "oil computer" has to obviously have its oil changed every so often months. Which would really shit me as i am poor and lazy and don't like to re-do things that i have already set up.

I also read somewhere about someone who put dry ice on the bottom of the oil as to keep the oil cool. Because it sublimes and is never a liquid it would just pass through the oil, whether or not its conductive i have no idea. He overclocked it to about 2 times as fast as the core speed. He eventually poured liquid nitrogen over it and the whole system stopped... Would have been interesting though...
Posted by anti  on  Wed Jun 01, 2005  at  11:55 PM
Coolanol is a very very effective oil used to cool down radar jamming equipment. I used to work with it in the Air Force, but on a different plane than the one listed. Coolanol is a heavy duty cooing agent. and is an oil. it is perhaps the most viscus fluid that I know. one drop on the floor spreads out to several feet.
So, although i do think oil will cool his system, I doubt very much that the fans would operate for very long before burning out do to the viscosity of the vegetable oil.
Posted by boaz  in  nj  on  Wed Jun 15, 2005  at  07:07 PM

I started testing cooling using mineral oil. I am still making sure everything will work fine in the oil. I plan on seeing how far I can overclock it.
Posted by Mineral Oil  on  Sun Jul 03, 2005  at  03:07 PM
Ok people, lets try this, oil is not conductive. If it were your car would not run, yes I said your car. The coil for a car is basically a capacitor and stores electricity and is filled with, brace yourself, oil. Also to answer another question, yes it does cool the computer and very well infact. Someone else was inspired by the german guy that did this and this one did it in english as well as took video, so you can see the fans turning even while he's filling it up, so no its not photoshopped.
Posted by BinaryCortex  on  Fri Aug 05, 2005  at  06:43 PM
If any non-conductive material would do, would it be possible to run a computer in a bath of some supercold liquid, such as liquid CO2 maybe, and get the advanatages of superconductivity?

Or is this why they use liquid Nitrogen in some electronic systems?
Posted by DFSTuckey  in  Auckland New Zealand  on  Fri Aug 05, 2005  at  10:01 PM
Man, this isn't a hoax...if you think oil conducts eletricity...think again...oil doe NOT conduct eletricity, it conducts heat though....but i dont think the hdd needs to be heat dissipated though, cause cpu and gpu are generally the only things that require extreme heat dissipation... i dont think the fans even are plugged in in the picture, why would you need fans?
Posted by John  on  Thu Aug 25, 2005  at  08:31 PM
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