Saturday, July 14, 2012

Building A Completely Silent PC

Under load, a PC fan becomes a distraction while listening to music with quiet passages, coding, etc.

So I built a couple of completely silent PCs. (The optical drive makes noise, but I only used it to load the OS.)

If you want to do the same, you'll need to follow steps similar to these:
  1. Get a fanless-PC chassis. These are also called "media PCs", and they're silent so they can be used in home theaters without distraction. There are several manufacturers. The best price/performance ratio seems to be Streacom. You can get them from Perfect Home Theater, and from Quiet PC. Both vendors are a pleasure to work with. The prices were better at Perfect Home Theater, but he was out of stock in silver, so I wound up getting them from Quiet PC, and then got the accessories from him. The FC8 chassis I used has the smallest footprint, but requires an external power supply. For our offices, there wasn't space on the rack for a flatter, wider chassis like the FC5, FC9, or FC10. Also, I wanted front-panel USB sockets. Be careful to get fanless, because Streacom makes other models that look like the fanless versions, but aren't. You can get them with remote controls, which is useful for media PCs, and useless for a regular PC.
  2. Get the necessary parts. You will need a motherboard, CPU, RAM, SSD, and, if you want an internal optical drive, the special slimline optical drives from Perfect Home Theater. I wanted a fast system, so I used an Intel DH67CF motherboard, Intel Core i7 3770S 3.1 GHz 4 Core LGA 1155 CPU, Crucial 8GB RAM, and Intel 520 180 GB SSD. Not being a gamer, the CPU's audio and video is perfectly adequate, so I didn't need any other cards. Make sure you select a motherboard that is compatible with the chassis (Streacom lists compatible boards on their site--make sure you get one with SATA 6). The CPU I used is the fastest 65W available for a motherboard compatible with the FC8.
  3. Get some thermal paste. Selecting a paste feels like it takes longer than building the PC (http://www.maximumpc.com/article/features/geek_tested_17_thermal_pastes_facehttp://benchmarkreviews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=150&Itemid=62). I wound up using Prolimatech PRO-PK1-5G, which is available from Newegg. The paste makes a mess no matter how hard you try to be careful, so be sure to put down some plastic or layers of paper towels, and wear some throwaway plastic or latex gloves if you have them.
  4. Follow the detailed and very helpful instructions on the Perfect Home Theater site. The two most-important pieces of information are the FC8 manual, and the connection map. Make sure you connect the SSD to a SATA 6 socket.
The only tools needed are two screwdrivers (small and really small), small wire cutters (if you want to cut off the floppy power pigtail), and a small cresent wrench (if you want to tighten the power socket more than finger tight, although finger tight seems pretty tight already). Magnetic screwdrivers are very helpful

There wasn't a lot of room between the micro-PSU and the right heatpipe, so I (gently!) bent the heatpipe up a bit, and cut off the Molex socket that faces into the case (because an identical socket on the other side of the micro-PSU faces away from the heatpipe).

I also cut off (carefully!) the power pigtail for a floppy drive, to remove a bit of clutter from the interior.

There are a number of small screws--get a bowl to put them in so they don't disappear.

It took about three hours to build the first one, due to fumbling around and learning how everything connects. The second took under an hour. (Those times do not include how long it took to load and configure the software.)

9 comments:

  1. Nice article, Jim. Another option, if you aren't trying for absolute silence, is one of Antec's sound-deadening cases.

    I bought their P182 case a few years ago (because it was noted as being super-quiet) and placed it right on top of my desk. Older PCs had been placed under the desk because they were obnoxiously loud.

    Antec's latest "quiet" case offering is well-received:
    http://computershopper.com/components/reviews/antec-performance-one-p280

    -SteveG

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  2. I have a couple of Antec cases, and they're pretty quiet, but even with big Zalman fans, there's a noise floor.

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  3. does your fanless CPU heatsink work well enough to keep the core temp at a safe level under load?

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  4. How did you do the A/V out? I have been planning on building a new box using an HDMI motherboard and driving my DVDO processor with it. Is this what you are doing?

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  5. Check Streacom's website for compatibility. If it's listed, then there's no problem--just push the thin metal plate with the connector cutouts into the chassis, and slide the motherboard into the plate. Then connect an HDMI cable to the motherboard. See Perfect Home Theater's installation guide for details.

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  6. http://www.fudzilla.com/home/item/28023-evga-shows-off-its-z77-mini-itx-motherboard
    The last pic shows a liquid nitrogen reservoir for the ultimate silent cooling :P

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  7. http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/5-ghz-project,731.html, but kind of blows the targeted form factor.

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