A New GN Series: TLDR, with Custom Animations for Heatpipes & Heatsinks

By Published September 14, 2016 at 12:50 pm

We're starting a new series of educational videos -- they all are, but these are more targeted -- that will include custom animations to explain goings-on within components. The goal is to use animations to better visualize low-level component interactions that may not be visible to the human eye, or may be too abstract to demonstrate without an animation. We piloted this idea with our "What is NAND?" article and video, which included a custom animation and many in-house graphics to illustrate SSD design. Today, we're releasing our first official TLDR episode: "TLDR - How Heatpipes & Air Coolers Work."

In this video, we illustrate a guide that we originally wrote and published in 2012. The content explains the inner workings of CPU and GPU air coolers, including heatpipes, finned heatsinks, contact made between the IHS & coldplate, the TIM between that contact, and vapor chambers. The in-house animation was made by Andrew Coleman, who splits video production workload with Keegan Gallick. Take a look here:


The goal of this series is to be more consumable for video audiences than some of our more in-depth coverage, and to explore the potential of animating some of our educational content. It's also a matter of bandwidth: I'm still leading most of the article workload personally, and that means there are occasionally difficulties with juggling video scripting / hosting and editorial / written work. To help balance the load between video and editorial teams, we will be producing these TLDR videos largely as one-offs (without article components) to help space the workload for more in-depth website articles. We'll run stories similar to this one for each TLDR, and those will contain some behind-the-scenes information on the making of the animation or script.

In this case, the animation was actually something of a technological challenge. Andrew used Blender to build-out the CPU cooler in full 3D, using an old NZXT T40 that we had as a reference model. The animation features particle effects for demonstration of the liquid flow within the heatpipes, and uses light bounces to beautify the heatsink to some extent. This was originally done in an extreme fashion, and we were bouncing light off of all the fins within the heatsink. The effect was fantastic, visually, but ate into render times so much that it became impossible to output reasonably. We looked into render farms, but they'd cost upwards of $400 to render half the animation. Ultimately, the decision was to perform a gradient/fade transition to move the fins from semi-transparent to fully opaque part-way through the animation. This dropped our render times from a staggering 3.5 hours per frame to about 30 minutes per frame, and that's on our 4960X + Titan XM system. This issue took us a few months of side work to figure out, and (behind the scenes note, here) resulted in the longest production time ever for a GN video. It sat in purgatory for about 5 months as we played around with various settings in free time. The video was originally shot in April.

We also learned a lot about rendering animations on this type of hardware. Blender doesn't work particularly well with new cards, so our makeshift 3x GTX 1080 + 1x GTX 980 Ti rig was actually worse than running Kepler or all Maxwell cards. Blender is adding CUDA support for the Pascal cards, but wasn't ready at the time of our rendering. Another trick learned was to reduce the tile size of the render on the CPU, which significantly improved render time per frame when loading the CPU. With 3300 frames to render, every second saved counted.

We're hoping to explore render pipelines in the near future, knowing all this, but we've got more content to make for now. Stick around for the next TLDR!

Editorial: Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke
Video & Animation: Andrew "ColossalCake" Coleman

Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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