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  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  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!") 😉
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  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 😉.
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 😊 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,  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  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  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  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  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  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  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
Yeah this is real, but you use mineral oil not veg oil as stated before. I did this myself in 99-01 with an old (Well not that old at the time) Celeron 400.

I got the idea from this site:
Posted by Mustard  on  Tue Sep 06, 2005  at  03:35 AM
Actully it does work. Olive oil doesn't conduct..
Posted by Caboose Kid  on  Wed Sep 21, 2005  at  01:13 PM
For all non-believers:
set up a bowl with tabwater
set up a bowl with oil

buy yourrself a voltmeter, wires, battery, lightbulb (small one)

make a circuit with the bulb, voltmeter, wires and battery

leave two wires unconnected
close the circuit by placing the wire-ends in the water, LET THEM NOT TOUCH EACH OTHER!

watch your volt-meter

add salt to the water (1 spoon or so), stire the water

step 4, but with oil

redo step 5

conclusion: oil does not short-circuit
conclusion 2: oil is an insulator
conclusion 3: added salt in the water = lover insulation (=higher conduction)

WARNING do not try this with ac homepower! you get killed or wounded!
Posted by nilis  on  Mon Oct 17, 2005  at  03:22 AM
Can anyone say: Science Project? I've tried this a time or two before with older systems (K6 crap). For my upcoming Junior science fair, I'm going to build my old P4 system into a fish tank. I'll use mineral oil and go all out with the fake aquatic plants and fake fish/ light kits. Woot.
Posted by Bad Karma  on  Sat Nov 05, 2005  at  01:01 AM
Posted by I_Smell_Tuna  on  Wed Dec 14, 2005  at  09:42 PM
how about some kind of adaptor that lets you put
your processor off your mother bord then you could cool it all sorts of ways!
Posted by inuyasha  on  Tue Jan 10, 2006  at  10:41 AM
ITS DONE!!! I built my Oil PC! I'll post pics on my homepage, and post that addy here as soon as I can find my digicam. Here are the stats:

1800 mhz Pentium 4
Nvidia Geforce 4 MX420 64 meg video card
256 M/bytes PC2700 DDR RAM
And a measly 6.2 gig hard drive which has just barely enough space for Windows XP Professional and some proggies like winamp and some good MP3s.
No oil yet, waiting a couple of weeks until my HS science fair to fill it up, but it looks really trippy.
Posted by Bad Karma  on  Tue Jan 10, 2006  at  04:30 PM
Hey. The thing works. But it works WITHOUT any fans. To do this oil tank REMOVE ALL FANS. There is no need for fans with oil.
Posted by OperatorIV  on  Wed Jan 11, 2006  at  05:31 PM
Besides, assuming the fans don't burn out from the resistance first, wouldn't they just turn oil into vaseline or margarine?
Posted by PolarBoy  on  Mon Jan 23, 2006  at  12:32 PM
I wonder what he was thinking as he was pouring a bottle of cooking oil all over his new motherboard...
Posted by dan  on  Tue Jan 31, 2006  at  02:11 PM
im pretty sure this is wat he wrote in his journal that nite

dear diary,
i got high today for the first time, it was fun and then i noticed my pc was running very loudly, well of course me being high made me very irratated. so i went to the kitchen to get somethin to eat, remember im high. i grabbed random things and returned to the computer. i grabbed wat i thought was a 2 liter of soda i of course soon found out wat it was, and dropped the bottle, uh oh oils not for computers. but then i noticed it was still runing i of course thought this was entirely possible so i ran to the local walmart, literally ran. i bout a fish tank and oil, i was set for this expiriment. i put all my computer stuff in the tank except for the cd-rom drive and psu then poored in the oil the computer was still working. i thought i was a genious. now as i look back, that took a hella long time to clean up and i never did eat anything.

this was of course in german
Posted by nate  on  Thu Feb 09, 2006  at  08:52 PM
Oil for the most part is NOT conductive, so the computer will not short out. But, you would want to find out which oil to use as well. Technically water is not conductive either, the contaminants in the water (salts, minerals ...etc) are what the electrons travel on. SO! if u had a completely uncontaminated circuit you could submerge it in deionized water and get the same effect (of course any particles of material that flake off of the circuit will cause trouble.
Posted by anon  on  Wed Feb 22, 2006  at  07:01 PM
Also, deionized H20 is constantly searching for electrons to fill its valence level. Electrical current will cause the water to become charged (ionized) over a period of time. LIke you said, any mineral deposits on the board would further contaminate the water, decreasing its dielectric strength significantly. H20 is very impractical. Even if you could run the 100% of the water through a redistiller in a constant cycle, I doubt you could filter it enough to remove the risk of a short completely, and it would obviously be very expensive. Technically, ethanol isn't conductive. Of course, running 120 VAC through ethanol would result in an explosion or fire of decent size. Also not recommended. Your best bet would be something like super-refined oil (mineral oil) because it has been broken down and refined so much that its hydrocarbon chains won't break down, unlike cheaper oils (cooking, vegetable, baby oils) which cause raunchy smells and high viscosity. Mineral oil is also, at least relatively, inexpensive. You can buy it by the gallon at a hardware store or through chemical suppliers, for more or less $30.00 a gallon. Depending on your budget, you could also go with something that isn't oil at all, but rather an industrial grade superconducting fluid for capacitors or transformer units. Transformer oils run about $150.00 per gallon for the cheapest, recycled stuff, and upwards of $450.00 a gallon for the top notch stuff. I wish I could drop some names, but they escape me at the moment.

Posted by Bad Karma  on  Wed Feb 22, 2006  at  11:33 PM
is it possible that i could just throw my laptop in olive oil? that would be quite the fun and this thing has overheating problems...
Posted by Patt  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  01:15 AM
No, you can't. Here's why: 1) the hard drive on a laptop connects directly to the laptop's motherboard. On a regular PC, the hard drive interfaces via a cable, so the hard drive can be placed out of the oil. Because you are submerging the board, you would have to have the hard drive submerged as well, and you can't do that because it would ruin the drive.

2) Unless you were using an external keyboard and mouse, your keyboard would get junked up pretty fast from the oil.

3) Just because a PC is in oil doesn't mean it doesn't still need its heatsinks and fans. With a laptop, the heatsink and more specifically the fan are much weaker than those of a desktop. The fan would burn up rather quickly and you would have no circulation, causing your laptop to overheat.

4) Unless you physically removed all of the laptop casing, you would do MORE damage to your laptop than good by submerging it. Think about it, if you have a big fish tank with several gallons of oil, the heat is relatively evenly distributed, and because of the sheer amount of oil, the oil can effectively radiate that heat. If you were just submerging a laptop with its casing intact, the oil would fill the case, the heat from the components would transfer into the oil but have no way to escape efficiently, so it would continue to get hotter until the oil temperature equaled the temperatures of the compoenents, which would continue to get hotter until they burned out. Without adequate circulation, oil computers of any type, laptop or otherwise, are planned disasters.

Hope this offers some insight. If you have any questions, just write back to this board or direct any emails to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and I will help you out as best as I can. Oil PCs are great, I am typing this on one of mine right now....
Posted by Bad Karma  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  06:26 PM
Ummm, I think he was kidding, thanks for the info though!
Posted by Brandon  on  Fri Mar 24, 2006  at  01:20 PM
I had the idea to make a case which would be as small as possible, possibly 12 inches by 16 by 6 and immerse my motherboard, processor, video card, and power supply. Then I want to take this further and put a pump right above the processor, pumping it to a car's heater core with one fan cooling it, then have it pumped back into the case, underneath the motherboard. This would be very cheap since the plexiglass isnt much, mineral oil who knows, heater core about 10 dollars and pump 10 dollars on ebay. any thoughts? I would be pretty confident at it going below zero with that setup, just not sure how far below..
Posted by kenny  on  Tue May 02, 2006  at  10:17 AM
I've read about this before. There are numerous comments about fans burning up--yes, they would. You can't use fans in such a system. You use big heat sinks but no fans on them--remember, oil cools far better than air.
Posted by Loren  on  Wed May 10, 2006  at  10:32 PM
ashley the stuff they put in crays is made by 3m, im trying to find out how much it costs per gallon but from what ive read it sounds expensive, its called FC7100 but i cant find the price for it, ive heard good things about Fluorinert also by 3m.
Posted by Pablo HAssan  on  Fri Jun 02, 2006  at  10:19 PM
Flourinert is just over $545.00 new for 14 pounds of it, which is like 2 gallons. You can find it for about $179.00 per gallon, used. Not exactly practical.
Posted by Bad Karma  on  Sat Jun 03, 2006  at  12:35 AM
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