Project Lab: Building a 'Silent' PC from Legacy Hardware
Changes and the Final Build
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]
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.)
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.
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.
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.