Guide to Silent PCs


OK, here is my first guide to Silent PCs. I’m going to change the way I do the PC guides to have essentially three guides:
* High-end guide for very fast full systems that are great price/performance. These are gamer and video editing machines mainly. Basically what I like to do and it will have overclocking recommendations typically.
* Mid-range guide for machines that are great price/performance. Not the cheapest out there, but the one that has the biggest bang for buck. These are the kind of machines that I would buy for say someone who want a good machine like the kids. Overclocking will also be the norm here.
* Silent PC guides for machines that don’t need super high performance say HTPC (Home Theater) or SOHO machines. This is the newest guide area that I’m starting with this entry. Ironically, this will be about underclocking to get it quiet and overclocking to get performance when you need it.
Why Silent PCs? Because we don’t all need something with 550 watt power supplies, six fans and super high Doom 3 performance or state of the art video editing. This is a guide for someone who just wants a PC to be a good toaster and just work. There is never going to the Cray super computer that is absolutely silent, but Silent PCs push on quiet at the expense of some but not all performance.
As an example, I just switched Alex’s machine to be cooler and quieter. Got rid of loud hard disk fans in a Raid enclosure, switched to a Silentboost CPU fan and an Antec TruePower 550 power supply. The result is that the power supply and the CPU fan actually shut down and the thing is dead quiet when it isn’t working.
Here now are some recommendations:
* “Arm Systems”: These folks specialized in quiet PCs. They will build to order and they got a good review from The right choice if you don’t what to DIY. They have both 754-socket and 939-socket systems. Nice thing is that if they don’t carry the component, you can say don’t include and then install yourself. Pricing look spretty competitive.
* “CPUs”: Interesting regularly updated piece about the best CPUs. Basically it says that the best ones would be Pentium M chips if you could get them for desktop. These are incredibly fast (I’m typing on one now), but cost $700 (!!), so if you can’t get them, the Athlon 64 is a great choice because it implements Quiet and Cool, so it actually reduces power consumption by underclocking and undervolting when not used much (e.g., when you are browsing the Internet or using Office), but you can set the high end to overclock when you need lots of power. Ultra quiets are from VIAs Pentium clones that only burn 10 watts (vs. 80 watts in an Athlon monster).
* “Power Supply”: The power supply fan has got to be the biggest source of noise in all my machines. On our Shuttle SS51G, SN85G4 and SK45G2, the 40mm tiny power supply fan is incredibly loud and cycles like crazy as an example. SilentPC actually rates supplies on quality and quietness. Personally, I think that people incredibly underinvest in power supply quality which is one reason I’m having a hard time buying more Shuttle’s with their small 250 watt supplies. The PSUs that SilentPC likes are for the bigger mid-tower sized boxes. For instance they think the Antec TruePower 550 I use is an 8 of 10 in quality but 6 out of 10 in noise production. They really like the “Seasonic”: line. The Super Silencer is 38 dBA/1m at 300 watts vs. 34 dBm for Super Tornado. The Tornado is quieter since it has a large 120mm fan while the Silencer uses an ordinary 80mm fan. They come in a range of wattages from 300, 400 to 460 watts and you can get them from Frys. 400 watts is about $99 and is the minimum I’d consider for a typical system with graphics card.
* “Hard Drives”: SilentPC doesn’t think any Western Digital drive is very quite, thinks the Seagate 7200.7 is OK (7 out of 10), but that the Samsung SP1604N is a very quiet drive.
* “Heat Sink”: and “Fan”: . They rate heat sinks separately and like the Zalman 7000-AlCu and recently the Scythe “FCS-50”: came in a close second.
* “Case”: Cases need to be soundproofed and have good flow. SilentPC likes equally the StealthPC Foundation kit by “ARM Systems’+ and Kong Kai FK330 for $139+shipping from Directron, The ARM Systems is a built up system so you can’t just get the case, they use the Ever Case ECE4252 though and then add foam and more fans. Then the second best are the stock cases including the “Coolcase”: modified Chenbro PC-610 called the Mod 2 for $139 delivered. Finally, equal to the Coolcase are the stock Ever Case ECE4252 for $60 from, Chenbro PC-610 and the Yeon Yang “Mars” YY-5603. These all require the installation of really quiet 120mm and 80mm fans though.
* “Fans”: We are really in nerd soup now. The best 80mm fan looks like the Panaflo FBA08A12L1A, but try the Arctic Cooling Artic Fan Pro TC which has a thermistor so it changes speed automatically. In 120mm size, try the Pabst 4412GL, it doesn’t have automatic speed control though.
Where do you get all these, well besides the usual online suspects, there are some folks specializing particularly for components check out:
* “End PC Noise”: Has a big selection of fans and other components.

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