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Replacing the fan with a heat sink

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The NVIDIA Jetson TK1 is a nice development board. With that said, the little CPU fan cooler squeals like a stuck pig. It’s not horrible when you’re in a noisy area like a lab, but if you’re working in a quiet room the whine can be very wearing.

I decided to void my warranty and replace the fan with a passive heat sink. This is my first attempt at such an endeavor, and what happens in the video proves it.

I had read in the Jetson forums that there are a couple of alternatives that folks had been using, one of which is the Enzotech CNB-R1. I bought one through NewEgg:

The rest of the post describes what I learned during the process. Remembering that the installation is done while video recording, it’s actually easier to do than it looks on video.

First, there are two main issues with this particular heat sink. The first is that the mounting ring does not exactly align with the mounting holes in the dev board. The mounting ring holes are spaced at 59mm, the holes on the board are, I believe, 61mm. The pins that hold the ring in place are plastic and are flexible enough to snap into place despite the offset. However, I’m not a fan of putting extra stress on a board in that manner.

The second issue is that there probably isn’t enough cooling capacity to have the device run flat out 24/7 without forced airflow. With that said, I’m doing basic development which sees only short spurts of maximum performance so I’m not overly concerned about that issue. I know that the little thermal protectors will kick in to save things if really needed. I’ll still be on the lookout for thermal issues though. In the video I run the Smoke Particle demo which probably is a good little exercise for the chip, after about 20 minutes the readings for the CPU is about 90 degrees Celsius. I still need to run the tests to see the results of a board with the stock fan.

The installation isn’t difficult, popping off the old fan and removing the old thermal paste off was straightforward. Putting the copper heat sink on was a little challenging.

The thermal paste provided is of pretty high viscosity so spreading it out was a little difficult, especially without a good applicator. However, I still think the hardest part is getting the correct amount out of the applicator to begin with. Installing the mounting pins is a little tricky, I pressed on the board a little harder than I would have liked.

All in all, it was a pretty fun little exercise. When I did sit down and start coding on the Jetson again, it was a little eery to be in a silent room. I think I might miss my friend the fan …

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