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Project Lab: Building a 'Silent' PC from Legacy Hardware

Subject: Editorial, Systems
Manufacturer: General
Tagged: silent, legacy

The Premise

Most IT workers or computer enthusiasts tend to ‘accumulate’ computer and electronics gear over time. Over the years it is easy to end up with piles of old and outdated computer parts, components and electronics–whether it’s an old Pentium machine that your work was throwing out, RAM chips you no longer needed after your last upgrade, or an old CRT monitor that your cousin wasn’t sure what to do with. Tossing the accumulated hardware out with the next trash pickup doesn’t even enter the equation, because there’s that slight possibility you might need it someday.

I myself have one (or two, and maybe half an attic…) closet full of old stuff ranging from my old Commodore 64/1541 Floppy disk drive with Zork 5.25” floppies, to a set of four 30 pin 1 MB/70ns SIMM chips that cost $100 each as upgrades to my first 486 DX2/50 Mhz Compudyne PC back in 1989. (Yes, you read that right, $100 for 1 MB of memory.) No matter if you have it all crammed into one closet or spread all over your house, you likely have a collection of gear dating back to the days of punch cards, single button joysticks, and InvisiClues guides.

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Occasionally I’ll look into my own closet and lament all the ‘wasted’ technology that resides there. I’m convinced much of the hardware still has some sparks of life left. As a result, I am always looking for a reason to revive some of it from the dead. Since they’ve already been bought and paid for, it feels almost blasphemous to the technology gods not to do something with the hardware. In some cases, it might not be worth the effort, (Windows Vista on an old Micron Transport Trek2 PII-300 laptop doesn’t end well for anyone). In others cases, you can build something fun or useful using parts that you have sitting around and are waiting for a new lease on life.  

Continue reading our look at building a legacy PC with existing hardware you might already have!!

In my case, I've been experimenting a bit with podcasting and audio/video recording recently. One thing that has been an issue in general is background noise that is getting picked up during the recording. With a half way decent microphone, you can pick up background noise–and in my case–my dual GPU and overclocked CPU gaming machine was audibly humming along in the background audio.  Audio mixing tools like Audacity and Levelator allow you to run noise removal algorithms and pull out much of the background noise to smooth things out, but it’s just better to just avoid recording the background noise in the first place.

My first thought was to come up with some way to isolate the machine from where I was recording by either soundproofing the case, or just locating the machine somewhere else. Unfortunately, that would require some long and expensive cables or a good deal of case insulation–which could lead to heat issues. Personally, I’d much rather spend my time elbows-deep in PC components than foam egg crates. So I decided to see if I could put together a 'silent' PC with hardware that I already had lying around. 

My podcast audio/video recording process uses simple tools like Skype and Audacity that don’t require a lot of horsepower. I do any intensive activities–like encoding and mixing–on another machine, so I simply need this machine to capture raw audio and video streams without adding any background noise to the recording itself. I should be able to reuse some of the gear from my ‘Closet of Misfit Tech Toys’ for that purpose. To make things a little more interesting, I gave myself a pie in the sky goal to try to build the machine with no moving parts at all–if possible. Considering just about all of the unwanted noise coming from a PC is caused by moving fans, spindles and platters, it’d be a win-win scenario.

August 20, 2012 | 08:41 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

i have 2 pentium 4's in the house that still run like brand new.

January 10, 2014 | 05:30 AM - Posted by scrap metal (not verified)

i also use that product.. no problem now it self it is good and best.

August 21, 2012 | 07:18 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Your desk is the best part of the whole project!! =)

August 21, 2012 | 11:26 AM - Posted by Chris Barbere

Heh, thanks! Tried a couple of setups before I figured it was better to just keep things simple. :)

August 21, 2012 | 08:13 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Possibly a bigger heatsink on CPU and open chassis would lower temps without need of fans?

August 21, 2012 | 11:27 AM - Posted by Chris Barbere

Probably would work, though I was trying to keep costs at a minimum and use gear I had on hand. I'm sure with a big enough heat sink, you can easily go fully fanless.

August 22, 2012 | 02:19 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

A very nice build with parts laying around doing nothing. You can't beat that with a stick!

I pressed my old AMD Athlon 64-X2 4600+ back into service using its original MSI MB and 2GB of DDR RAM with a new Radeon 5450 1GB card and DVD drive, all running Windows 8 Release Preview. It is also very quiet and serves as my HTPC for the time being. It will run most hi-def videos and plays music just fine. Moreover, it runs my web browser with aplomb. I use my 52" HDTV for a monitor and it works perfectly well for my purposes!

Come on guys and gals! You must have something laying around that still has a few more years of usefulness! Have at it and let us know! :)

August 22, 2012 | 04:55 AM - Posted by Chris Barbere

How do you like the Windows 8 Media Center? I've got two Win 7 Media Center/HTPC's setup and been wondering if there's any reason to upgrade them to Win 8.

August 24, 2012 | 12:58 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I'm running an old socket 939 X2 3800+ with 2gb of ram and an nVidia 6600 in the man cave. It's attached to a 32" tv and I use it for web browsing and streaming content from the server or, eh, sports ;) I also installed air mouse so I can use my phone as a keyboard and mouse.

August 22, 2012 | 07:39 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Actually, I haven't fiddled with the Win 8 Media Centre yet. But, in my humble opinion, there is little reason to upgrade to Win 8 if you like Win 7. Win 8 runs a little easier on older gear, as it is built to leverage every part of your PC to gain whatever extra performance it can, including your video card, but the difference is pretty small in my experience. I am running Win 8 64 bit and with my Athlon 64 X2 4600+ it does run happily on just 2 GB of RAM. Still, Win 7 64 bit runs pretty well on 2 GB, too.

Running things that really tax a system like mine, like 60 fps HD video, it doesn't thank you for the work out and stutters a fair amount. However, if you can keep things down to 1080p at 30 or 24 fps, you won't have difficulties.

Of course, you don't want to run multimedia creation apps on this kind of machine, it is just too much for it handle without waiting a fairly long time for results. But playback of HD video and any kind of audio you please, works great.

Nevertheless, I don't think MS has anything special in Win 8. I, personally, don't like the interface at all and don't think many other people will either.

Hope that helps a bit.

August 25, 2012 | 07:39 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Great article! Typo on the last page. Fourth sentence of the section starting with 'Final Build' is missing a letter. Says 'depending'.

August 26, 2012 | 04:35 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I'm really happy to see this article. I've been working on the exact same project with a Biostar p45 board and an e3300 that I had lying around for a Windows 7 DVR box.

My main issues are similar to yours. The pc is in my bedroom so I need it to be quiet.

-Haven't found a socket 775 cooler that is quiet. Anyone have suggestions of what is currently available?

-Was eyeing up the same PSU but still need to order it.

-running a similar video card so good there

-need a large hdd for the television recordings. I suppose I could switch to an SSD and then copy the videos that I want to keep over to an external drive manually, I have a few usb3 enclosures with large drives in them

Chris, how come you didn't swap out the cpu fan with the quieter and newer one? Is it because of a 3 wire vs. 4 wire connector issue? No fan speed control on the new fan perhaps?

August 27, 2012 | 06:05 AM - Posted by Chris Barbere

Be careful with the external HD's, I've found those can be a lot louder than hiding a drive in your case. WD does make some "AV Class' hard drives that are built to be put into DVR's and run cooler/quieter that might be worth a look.

http://wdc.com/en/products/internal/av/

As for the CPU fan, I didn't swap it out with the Scythe because there was no simple way to mount it to the heatsink. If you look at the 212, you'll see the clips that hold the fan on the heatsink are actually molded to the fan and snap into a notch on the heatsink. It doesn't have metal clips, like many other heatsinks, that would have let me put and fan on.

August 28, 2012 | 11:23 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Chris, Thanks for the reply.

Just to clarify, I was thinking of simply using the externals only during file copy operations, and then just shutting them off otherwise. They won't need to be on 24/7.

I'd just mount the drives in the case but noise and power consupmption, as well as hours on the drives are all keeping me from installing them in the system.

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