A Quiet PC Project

First off, let me say that I’m not a gamer. I don’t run an SLI or Crossfire setup (where multiple high-performance graphics cards work closely with the motherboard to create a better and faster image). I do build systems, however, that are the next step down from gamers’ rigs using high performance processors, matched memories (and loads of it), two disk drives in a RAID 0 configuration, and so forth. While my computers don’t run as hot as gamers’ rigs, they do run hotter than the run-of-the-mill setup. This means that there are more fans moving air in and out of the case to keep the system cool. Add this noise to the two disk drives in the
box, and you can have more noise than is comfortable in a quiet office environment.

The patient in this surgery was already constructed with an Antec Sonata II case; among the quietest cases around. Disk drives are mounted with rubber grommets and the one system fan in the rear of case is 12cm in diameter and also mounted with rubber connectors. The rubber keeps vibration from the drives and fans from being transferred to the case. The larger fan – most fans are 8cm in diameter – means that it can spin more slowly while moving more air through the case. The original setup used a stock Intel CPU cooler; an ATI Radeon video card with a small, extremely annoying, high frequency fan; two Hitachi Deskstar 160GB SATA drives; and an Antec 350W power supply.

The CPU cooler was replaced with a Zalman CNPS7700-Cu. This is a
large fan surrounded by huge copper fins to help dissipate heat from the processor. The graphics card was
replaced by a new, but last generation ATI Radeon card (no gaming required) that has a huge heatsink wrapped around it and, therefore, doesn’t need a fan. The disk drives were replaced with two Samsung Spinpoint drives that are not only cooler and quieter, but faster as
well.  The main system fan was replaced
with a SilenX Ixtrema 12cm quiet fan. 
And finally, the power supply was replaced with a SilenX 350W Ixtrema
Pro Series power supply.  To round out
the changes, all interior surfaces of the case not covered with electronics
were covered with Dynamat sound deadening material. 

The new power supply had the
single biggest impact.  The SilenX power
supply is whisper quiet.  It’s pretty
unreal.  The new CPU cooler did loads as
well.  The whiney little fan in the stock
cooler spins fast and makes loads-o-noise. 
The replacement cooler is much quieter. 
Getting rid of the high-pitched scream of the graphics card fan made a
big impact.  Perhaps more because of the
change in frequency of the noise from the machine than from its absolute drop
in volume.  The change in drives was an
interesting exercise, with small results, though.  The change in the system fan did nothing – a reasonable
12cm fan is spinning slowly enough that it’s hard to improve on the sound characteristics
of it. 

So, what’s the bottom
line?  An average dead-silent home is
usually about 40db.  60db is a normal
conversation.  The original PC ran at
about 56db.  My sound pressure level
meter doesn’t measure anything below 50db and the new, quiet pc doesn’t even
register at that level in normal running. 
While booting, where the drives are being hit a lot, the meter reads
about 52db, although I can only get this reading by placing the meter within
inches of the machine.  From .5 meters
away, again there is no reading.  Subjectively,
I work in a home office that is very quiet. 
The PC is almost imperceptible now.

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