I would like a silent computer. This has been a desire for some years. Once I was obsessed with speed, overclocking my processor and running a serious heatsink/fan on it at full tilt, but no more. Modern computers are plenty fast as is. What they are not, typically, is silent.
In putting together my latest computer, that was the ideal. Unachievable, Quixotic perhaps, but something to shoot for.
I purchased it from NCIX, a wonderful, online computer retailer who offer preconfigured machines in various categories, each one customizable via their configurator. Used to be I would put together computers myself, with parts acquired from a variety of sources, but thanks to the wonderful NCIX inventory I was able to specify what I wanted exactly, all from their web site. I was impressed. However, I would warn Vancouverites (BC, not Washington) to regard NCIX as strictly an online retailer, even though NCIX has retail stores there. The stores can get a little, er, congested. If you must pickup rather than have them deliver, do so on a weekday at 11 am. If you have to pick up on a Saturday, pack a lunch, some water, and something to read, perhaps Ramesh Menon’s excellent two volume English abridgment of the Indian classic, The Mahabharata.
Here are the guts of this machine.
Parts of significance to our quest for silence are as follows:
Case: Antec Sonata II. I chose this based on a recommendation from a friend. I should have done my homework myself, as this is not an ideal case for tinkerers. I had to take the power drill to it twice to make modifications. However, it is a good case for low noise, as it’s solidly built with fewer noise leaking seams than most cases. But be prepared to void your warranty if you want a set up other than the one Antec intended.
Motherboard: Asus P5B ATX. Doesn’t have any fans on any motherboard components, just nice heat sinks.
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E6600. I was somewhat saddened by this, as for years I have been an AMD user. But the Intel dual core processors run cooler than AMD’s current offerings. Cooler means less air needs to move to cool, which means slow fan speeds are possible, which means a quieter computer.
Processor Heatsink: Scythe Ninja Plus. With the word ‘Ninja’ in the name, you just know it has to be good.
(Image courtesy ovsem.net)
Is that not impressive? Looks like an office building. Heat is carried from the heat-sink by its various heat-pipes and distributed to the fins. Technically, you don’t even need a fan on this beauty. But I’ve put one on, because a certain amount of air flow in air cooling is simply non-negotiable. If you don’t put a fan on this puppy, then you’ll have to crank the case fans to compensate.
Scythe thoughtfully provides a 120mm fan with the Ninja.
Case Fans: Two 120mm Noctua NF-S12s, the 120mm Ninja fan, and as well a 120mm fan in the power supply. 120mm fans seem to be slowly replacing 80mm fans as the standard in computer cases. 120mm fans can use a slower speed to move the same amount of air as 80mm fans at a higher speed. Slower fan speed == less noise.
Here is a modification I made for the front intake fan. In its original configuration from NCIX, the Ninja fan was mounted on the left side of this drive bay. This strikes me as less than ideal, since hot air could recirculate. Ideally, the front intake fan should be as close as possible to the front. I have sacrificed several drive spaces in order to achieve this. The fan is attached in the upper right corner by two paper clips, and in the lower left with a sawed off chopstick jammed into place. As seen in an earlier pic, I moved the Ninja fan onto the Ninja itself.
In the original configuration, the rear fan was the one which came with the Sonata II case. It has three speeds. When I first fired this thing up it was disappointingly loud, as it was set too high. Sadly it was still too loud when set to low. It had to go.
The Antec fan was attached with rubber grommets, which is a nice touch for isolating vibrations from the fan. The NF-S12 fan likewise comes with rubber grommets, but there was no way I would be able to install them that way with the limited finger clearance afforded by the mighty, space consuming, Ninja heat-sink. Since I’m running the fan at a low speed, it fortunately isn’t an issue. Unfortunately, the size of the holes for the screws on the Sonata II aren’t standard, as I’m sure Antec couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to replace their case fan with another. Nothing my handy power drill couldn’t fix, however.
Another thing to note in the above picture is the sealed air intake grill at the lower right of the case. Antec provides the case with an internal tube sort of thing that attaches here on the inside and opens out over the cpu. NCIX just took it off when they put the computer together; otherwise there would not have been room for the Ninja. I’ve covered the intake with a piece of cardboard attached with “the handyman’s secret weapon,” duct tape.
We’re essentially trying to create a sort of wind tunnel. Air comes in from the front bottom, and exits through the rear exhaust fan and power supply. We don’t want air leaking in from the back. Or perhaps we do. But that’s a variable to isolate and experiment with on another day.
The two case fans and Ninja fan are connected to a Zalman Fanmate II fan speed controller.
This allows me to set the speed of the fans from one little knob. As you can probably guess, I’ve got it set as low as it will go.
If you are wondering at the wisdom of using those little y-cables to connect three 120mm fans to one fan controller, which is itself connected to a single power thingy on the motherboard, then good for you. If you try it and find that your computer begins to behave in strange and unusual ways, then don’t do it. It would be easier on the system, I think, to give each fan its own controller, or to get some fancy unit that sits in one of the upper drive bays to provide independent control of the fan speeds, but I like the simplicity of this arrangement. It’s also cheap. If it causes my computer to behave in strange and unusual ways, I’ll consider something pricier and more complicated then.
Power Supply: Corsair HX520 520 Watt. When I originally configured this machine using the NCIX configurator, I chose a Mushkin power supply of about the same wattage. For some reason, NCIX missed this, and the computer came with an Antec power supply. Too noisy. But it worked out well in the end, since I took a bit of time to do some googling, and discovered the Corsair HX520.
ere’s not much to say about this unit. It is very, very quiet, and fairly efficient for a consumer grade power supply. I’m very happy with it. Changing the power supply did, however, require a case modification to remove a horizontal arm Antec had riveted in place. Their air intake thingy attaches to it, but I’m not using it, and if I’d left it in place, changing the power supply would have meant removing the Ninja. The Sonata II unfortunately isn’t designed to let you simply slide the power supply out the back. After all, why would you want to change their power supply anyway? What, not good enough for you?
Video Card: Gigabyte GeForce 8600GT. I think this is an okay video card (I’m not a die hard gamer), certainly an upgrade from my old ATI Rage 128 All-In-Wonder. But the real selling point is that this card does not have a fan. It’s totally quiet.
It also uses some sort of heat-pipe technology to move heat to that black deal around the edge. It doesn’t have TV like the old All-In-Wonder, but that’s what the little card below it is for. It’s a Hauppauge Win TV PVR 150 TV card.
So, is it silent? Sadly, no. But it is very quiet, about half as loud as my old computer, which I had gone to some effort and expense to quieten as well. If the room is totally quiet I can barely hear it while sitting next to it.
Do the 120mm fans running at low speed adequately cool the system? I was talking about it with a geek friend, and he claims that I shouldn’t be concerned about cpu temperatures around 60 degrees Celsius, since these Intel dual core chips can take it. In the past I’ve considered anything over 40 degrees to be too hot, but I’m happy to believe that things have changed if it means a quieter PC. I’m certainly not going to go looking for confirmation, lest I discover he’s wrong. I’ll just live in quiet bliss until the cpu melts.
So there you have it. Consider this as a record of the heroic achievement of one man on a quest, rather than as advice from a schmuck who doesn’t realize he could be legally liable for it. If you take anything away from this to apply to your own computer, you do so at your own risk.