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

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

Changes and the Final Build

Build 2

After a few days the new parts showed up, and I swapped out the following:

CPU Fan/Heatsink: Replaced the original Intel OEM Heatsink/Cooler with the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Heatsink and 120mm Fan.

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Hard Drive: Replaced the WD 160 GB Caviar Blue with the OCZ Agility 3 120 GB SSD (AGT3-25SAT3-120G). The OCZ has read speeds up to 525 MB/s (280 MB/s on my motherboards SATA 3Gb/s ports) and write speeds up to 500 MB/s (260 MB/s on the 3Gb/s ports). Even though I took a performance hit because of the 3 Gb/s ports, I was still getting over 4x the speed from the WD drive while using less power and making zero sound.

Power Supply: Replaced the TR2-430 with the SeaSonic SS-460FL 460W. The SeaSonic is fanless, 80 plus gold certified, and fully modular. As a bonus, I didn’t need the Molex-to-SATA converters anymore.

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Once again, everything booted up fine. Despite the SSD being hobbled by the 3Gb/s ports on the motherboard, the SSD flew through the Windows 7 install. At idle speeds, I couldn’t hear any noticeable sound coming from the machine, and I was seeing an average temperature of 31C across the cores with a max temp of 45C. I then fired up the Prime95 and Furmark CPU and GPU stress tests at the same time to see what would happen with both of them at full load. At that point, I started to just barely hear some noise if I got up close to the case. Average temperatures crept up to 45C across the cores with a max temperature of 49C on one of the cores.

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At this point, I was pretty happy with the overall build and would have stopped there if it weren’t for my secondary goal of having no moving parts. For grins, I decided to try running the CPU with just the heatsink, removing the 120mm fan. Hopefully I won’t burn down the house.

Build 3

For build 3 I made the following change:

CPU Fan/Heatsink: Left the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Heatsink on, but removed the 120mm Fan.

For the moment, I had met my goal of building a machine with no moving parts. At first, dropping the fan seemed to have no adverse effects on the system other than pushing the temperatures up a bit. At idle, I was seeing an average temperature of 35C between the cores and a max temperature of 50C on Core 0. There was no joy after that and things started to get a bit hairy when I put the system under load with Prime95 and Furmark. Within a minute or so it was up to an average temperature of 70C with a max temperature of 75C and didn’t appear to be slowing down. 

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While I’m sure the E3300 could have handled that heat and a bit more, the temperature continued ticking up a degree or two every few moments–and didn’t appear to be slowing down. Since I’m not fond of the smell of burnt silicon, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and pulled the plug on the ‘no moving parts’ build. [Perhaps this monsterous heatsink could have provided passive CPU cooling.]

Final Build

For the final build I put the 120mm fan back on the Cooler Master. Since I’d given up on the ‘no moving parts’ bit, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to add at least one case fan to pull the heat out of the machine. I just wanted to make sure the fans were as quiet and efficient as possible.  The Cooler Master fan is a variable speed 120mm fan which will spin up and down between 600-2000 RPM depending on the temperatures.  epending on the fan speed, it can push anywhere from 21 to 76 CFM of air while putting out between 13 and 32 dBA of noise. At lower speeds, it’s not even audible from right outside the case. As for the case fan I wanted to add, I didn’t want to use the old M9 blue light specials. Some quick research led me to the Scythe 120mm Slipstream case fan (SY1225SL12L.)

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A special configuration of the fan blades lets it run at just 800 RPM and still move 40 CFM of air while putting out just over 10 dBA of noise. For comparison, 10 dBA is equivalent to quiet breathing, leaves rustling or about 1/32 of the noise from a normal conversation. As if that wasn’t enough to tempt me, it is priced at only $11! Running the machine with both fans, I was seeing temperatures averaging 29C across both cores with a max of 38C on Core 0 at idle. With the machine under full Prime 95/Furmark load I still couldn’t hear the fans–and temperatures averaged 44C with a max of 48C for Core 0.

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As a final piece of the puzzle, I decided to upgrade the webcam from the old Logitech 9000 Pro to a new Logitech C920. The C920 a big improvement over the 9000 pro, and comes with Carl Zeiss lens and the capability to do full 1080p video capture. For $85, I believe it capped off a great budget audio/video recording and podcasting machine.

The final parts list for my silent audio/video recording/podcasting machine were:

• Motherboard: Gigabyte P35 DS3R (LGA 775) – Already had, $0.
• CPU: Celeron E3300 – Already had, $0.
• CPU Fan/Heatsink: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Heatsink w/120mm Fan – Already had, $0.
• Memory: 4 x 1 GB Kingston HyperX DDR2 800 – Already had, $0.
• GPU: Sapphire Radeon HD5450 (10292DDR3L) – Already had, $0.
• HD: OCZ Agility 3 120 GB (AGT3-25SAT3-120G) SSD – Had to purchase, $120.
• PSU: SeaSonic SS-460FL 460W – Had to purchase, $115.
• NIC: Intel Pro/1000 GT Desktop – Already had, $0.
• Case: Thermaltake M9 – Already had, $0.
• Case Fan: Scythe 120MM SY1224SL12L Case Fan – Had to purchase, $11.
• Monitor: Soyo 24” Topaz S LCD – Already had, $0.
• Microphone: Blue Yeti USB Microphone – Already had, $0.
• Headphones: Audio Technica ATH-M30 – Already had, $0.
• Webcam: Logitech C920 Webcam – Had to purchase, $85.

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Conclusion

Using components you already have lying around, you may very well be able to build a nearly ‘silent’ PC. With that said, unless you have some newer components available, you may not be able to go truly ‘silent’ without spending some money. Low RPM fans, fanless power supplies, and SSD’s are key to the quest for quiet. While I ended up spending around $330 for my project, only $250 of that was related to noise. A quick search online for custom built “Quiet PC’s” show prices upwards of $4,000, so depending on your computing needs and what you already have lying around, it very well could be worth the time and effort it takes to put together your own Quiet PC. 

Even if you just want to drop the noise level of your main machine, a few upgrades can drop your sound levels considerably. I had a blast building the machine, and I am always on the lookout for ways reuse old components that would have otherwise just sat in my closet (and gone to waste). For $250 I was able to build a machine that fits all my needs and forces me to look at the Hard Drive light to see if it is flashing when I push the power button to tell that it’s on.

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August 20, 2012 | 11:41 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

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

January 10, 2014 | 08:30 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 | 10:18 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

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

August 21, 2012 | 02:26 PM - 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 | 11:13 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 | 02:27 PM - 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 | 05:19 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 | 07:55 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 | 03:58 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.

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August 22, 2012 | 10:39 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 | 10:39 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 | 07:35 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 | 09:05 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 | 02:23 PM - 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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