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Old 13th January, 2005, 01:20 AM
GrahamGarside's Avatar
Join Date: September 2004
Location: England
Posts: 4,572

Post Recommended List - Quiet PC


For a quiet system your best friend is a cool cpu, a compromise between heat and performance

The best option for a quiet system with no regard for performance is the VIA EPIA systems. These are based around the ITX form factor and run from 533mhz-1.2ghz, slow by today's standards and with poor floating point units these aren't ideal for a performance based system but this isn't their target market. For a simple web browsing/office pc or perhaps a web/file server or router this is plenty of power, and the faster chips along with their onboard MPEG2 acceleration also have enough grunt to build a HTPC (Home Theatre PC)
They include a single pci slot which will happily take either a tv tuner, soundcard or network card depending on it's purpose.

The next option is an in between of performance and power. The Athlon XP Mobile, many of you are already using these because of their overclocking benefits but they also do great for running a quiet system. These only use 45W or 35W in the case of the low power version which by it's self is very cool. But also offer under clocking/volting options to get them even cooler. They offer the perfect balance of performance and heat, though you will need a board that supports them.,00.html

The final option is one for max performance but with consideration for heat. The Athlon 64. Now these cpu's are by no means quiet. 89W could probably cook an egg. But these cpu's are very heat resistant. 70C is not a big problem if you aren't looking for extreme overclocking. With this in mind A quiet cooler with a slow speed fan is the best option, even still you probably still won't see this temperature. The other good aspect of this processor is cool&quiet. In theory this should reduce the clock speed and vcore in accordance to the cpu's load. Currently though it doesn't appear to be very effective. But the important thing is, the multiplier is unlocked downwards (and upwards on a FX chip) and the voltage is also adjustable downwards. You can underclock and undervolt an Athlon 64 to 800mhz at 0.8V (maybe higher voltage dependant on the chip) at this speed you can still watch a DVD or DivX, still browse the internet and listen to music and almost anything else you would use a computer for and the cpu probably wouldn't even need it's fan on, not at a high speed anyway.

This program allows you to change the the FSB, Multiplier and Vcore of Athlon 64 chips. It['s a useful way of running at slow speeds when power is not needed, and quickly bringing the speed back up when it is.,00.html

One other CPU worth a mention is the Intel Pentium-M. It's a hybrid P3/P4 chip taking the best elements of both architectures. It's primary use is in laptops but it's specifications scream for it to be used in a quiet system. It has an incredibly low power rating (around 20W) it performs roughly in line with P4's at twice the clock speed and has Speedstep technology which is similar to Cool&Quiet. The problem is though the lack of available boards for it, and also the price, both boards and chips are very expensive.


The next major source of heat in most modern computer is the GPU. Thanks the rapid development and acceptance of the GPU, we are now using chips with more transistors than out CPU's and most peoples GPU probably runs hotter than their cpu.

The best option to keep the heat and noise down in this area is a low powered card. If you don't need advanced 3D functions then the video card can be cooled entirely passively.
Several boards include integrated solutions that are more than powerful enough for these purposes, the two best being nforce for Athlons and ATI's RADEON 9100/9100 PRO IGP which is a very powerful solution being the only IGP to offer both a TnL unit (transform and lighting) and pixel/vertex shaders.
The RADEON XPRESS 200 may also be worth looking at in the near future for Athlon 64 systems, offering full DirectX 9 support and PCI-E

My add in card recommendation would be a card based on the ATI Radeon 9200/9250/SE. I recommend this over the Nvidia Geforce FX5200 simply because it costs less, thought the Geforce does have a little more 3D grunt. You still get the great 2D engine found in the faster hotter cards, including hardware accelerated mpeg2, dual display including a DVI socket, and most importantly if you wish to use the pc for media purposes a tv-out port. It does still have 3D function, however limited, and will manage older games, even some newer games with detail levels turned down but don't expect to be plying Doom 3 or Farcry on this.

If you desire something that can handle most games but don't need the top end then it's a choice between the Sapphire ATI Radeon 9600XT Ultimate which offers passive cooling and the HIS ATI Radeon 9800 Pro IceQ which uses an artic cooing cooler which benefits from having a much, much better cooler than ati offer as standard, a variable fan which can be turned up only for games, and also exhausts the heat directly out of the back of the pc preventing the card from significantly affecting the case temperature.
Both of these options have enough grunt for all games currently available while not running too fast and hot to make cooling them quietly possible.

Finally if top performance is what you want, but still want it kept as quiet as possible then my first recommendation would be the Galaxy Glacier GeForce 6800 128MB. This card Like HIS models uses an artic cooler instead of a stock cooler, benefiting from quiet cooling, exhausting the heat and also offering better cooling than the standard cooler for overclocking. There are GT and Ultra versions available but these add to the problem of keeping temperatures down and many standard 6800 cards can be unlocked to the full 16 pipelines anyway. This card also features 2.2ns ram which is faster than the reference 6800.
Also worth considering if you prefer ATI are HIS cards based on the X800pro and X800XT, like the 9800pro cad these feature the artic cooler rather than a stock cooler.

Chipsets Coolers

Along with the graphics card the chipset cooler is usually one of the most annoying sources of noise. Due to it's small size they are often fitted with small fans, usually of the incredibly cheap variety, spinning at high speeds and producing a lot of noise in the nigh frequency range that really grates. The best solution is to plan and go for a board using passive cooling. All chipsets can be passively cooled, manufacturers decisions to go with a fan either stem from overclocking appeal, or saving money. A small heatsink and cheap fan will cost them less than a better passive heatsink and give similar levels of cooling. If you have a board with a fan cooled northbridge or wish to improve you cooling for overclocking without resorting to adding a fan then I would recommend the Zalman ZM-NB47J Northbridge Cooler

Hard drives

Once you've solved the problems of the noise created by cooling fans you will probably be unpleasantly surprised just how loud a hard drive can be. Noise from the hard drive comes from three things. First is the disk spinning. Just like a fan motor spinning creates noise so to does the disk, and remember modern disk drives usually spin at 7200rpm, at this speed the pitch is going to be high and piercing. Secondly comes from head seeks. This is the head moving in order to find the data on a drive and the sound can vary from slight clicking to full on loud crunching noises. Lastly are vibrations from the hard rive through the case, this comes from the drive spinning and causes the entire case to resonate, usually a low to mid range hum.

The second and third problems are the easiest to fix. To prevent the drive causing the case to vibrate you need to de-couple it. this means to prevent metal to metal contact. There are several methods for this, one simple method is rubber grommets between the case and drive (or something similar). Another more extreme approach is suspending the drive with cord of some kind. A good article on this can be found here

Finally if you really want to make the drive as quiet as possible you can try an enclosure, these often aid cooling as well.
The smart drive is a good choice for this though very pricey.

Then it's onto the hard rive it's self. Some models simply make lots of noise regardless of what you try. Western digital drives are notorious for being loud. Hitachi drives though quite quiet in operation make a loud head reset screeching noise. Maxtor's aren't too noisy, but are audible and not suitable for a system aiming at being silent

The best choice for a 7200 rpm drive is the Samsung SpinPoint's. These offer low noise levels and good performance but only go up to 160GB capacity

It's worth mentioning at this point something called AAM. Basically some hard rives have the ability to change between performance and quiet. Maxtor, Hitachi and Samsung drives support this I believe, and some Seagate drives do, but most newer drives don't. This is unfortunate because there are mixed reports on Seagate drives across the web. It seems some drives come set to quiet mode, I myself have 2 7200.7 models that appear to be. But others have drives which they report to be quite loud, and for legal reasons Seagate drives don't include the ability to change this setting.

The feature tool on this page will allow you to alter your drives AAM setting on supported drives.

Taking into account this problem I can't really recommend Seagate drives. Though they are quiet and offer high storage capacity's and speed, it's risky as to whether it would be a quiet or performance drive that you would get.

CPU Cooler

There are three options for cooling your processor quietly. First Passive. This will be fine for the VIA EPIA range, and perhaps even for an underclocked Athlon XP-M. But realistically you are much better off aiming at using the lowest noise fan possible and the most efficient heatsink possible.
For this the best is the Thermalright XP-120. A large heatpipe based cooler, able to fit a 120mm fan allowing lower rpm's to be used and thus less noise and is compatible with both Intel Pentium 4's and AMD Athlon 64's. There are clearance issues with this so take a look at the compatible motherboard list here: - S478 - LGA 775 - Athlon 64

Specs can be found here:

If it doesn't fit then there is the XP-90, a smaller version for use with 92mm fans but you should also check the compatibility of this

Specs can be found here:

For Athlon XP owners there is the SI-97 using similar heatpipe design the the XP range and able to fit a 92mm fan

Computability is good apart from some gigabyte boards but check here first:

If these options are too expensive for you then the next best things are Zalman Coolers their best being the CNPS7700-Cu and CNPS7700-AlCu. These are very large coolers with 120mm fans integrated so there may be clearance issues check Zalmans site first before buying
If these don't fit or are too expensive then there are 92mm versions offering very similar performance. - CNPS-7000-AlCu - CNPS-7000-Cu - CNPS-7700-AlCu - CNPS-7700-Cu

A comparison can be found between the 4 coolers here:

But for the ultimate in quiet and efficient cooling there is water cooling. And zalman have this covered as well with the RESERATOR 1. A passive cooled water cooling system so the only noise would be from the water pump.

A special mention should also go to Artic cooling. Their range of coolers are both effective, quiet and very inexpensive. If you are looking to cool quietly on a budget they are without a doubt the best choice.

Graphics Card Cooling

Suffering the same problem as chipset cooling, graphics cards are often provided with cheap small high rpm fans. Listed in the graphics card section are several models which either make do with passive cooling or very quiet stock coolers.

If you wish to go down the route of passive cooling then Zalman have the best option here with the ZM80C-HP and ZM80D-HP. These are passively cooled heatsinks that use either single or dual heatpipes to transfer heat from the core to a large heatsink situated on the back of the card (ZM80C-HP single, ZM80D-HP dual).
By offering a much larger surface area than any standard cooler they are able to keep even the most modern card cool when provided with suitable case airflow. And this may be where their weakness lies. Though the card it's self will no longer make noise, it is still reliant on airflow and thus will need a good amount of air moving through the case while at the same time adding the the case ambient temperature. So though they may be silent the best solution for keeping noise down probably comes from using a quiet fan on the card, which is an available option for these cards.

The next option also provides a much larger surface area than a standard gpu cooler. Artic cooling provide a large range of graphics card coolers for all ATI and Nvidia models. These use a large heatsink with a ducted fan exhausting the air directly out of the rear of the case. These are the coolers used on all the recommended quiet graphics cards and as such also come highly recommended here. You do loose a pci slot, but it is recommended that you keep the pci slot directly next to the graphics card free any way so as to not block airflow, and unlike other dual slot affairs the next pci slot after that is still usable thanks to the ducted exhaust system.


The primary source of noise from any pc over the years fans have gone from being an added extra to essential to the safe runnings of a modern pc.
Most peoples systems probably use quite cheap fans, not designed with noise in mind and quite often poorly executed.
The trick for keeping fan noise down is bigger, slower and well planned and placed. Most systems probably have between 4 and 8 fans in, usually stuck where ever the manufacturer could be bothered or where the case allows and often given little thought. With careful planning it's possible to keep a system running cool and quietly with as little as 4 fans including psu, cpu and graphics, but 5 are recommended.
The most important position to keep a fan is at the rear as an exhaust. This will take al that hot air from the cpu cooler and dump it out of the case. Here a 120mm fan is best, but often cases only allow for 80mm. In such a case (excuse the pun) it may be worth using a fan adapter to allow either a 92mm fan, maybe even a 120mm fan. The difference in noise and airflow is well worth it.
The other position you may consider putting a fan is as an intake fan near the bottom and close to the front of the pc so as to allow a controlled path though the pc, cooling every component as it goes along. Again here a 120mm fan is best, though 80/92mm is acceptable.
In a system aimed at being quiet no more than this is needed. The psu will also likely have at least 1 fan acting as an exhaust as do the video cards recommended above. In such an example as this it may prove more effective in a single case fan configuration to have it as the intake due to there already being two effective exhausts.

Nexus Real Silent Case Fans are generally accepted as being the lowest noise fans. With the voltage turned down they become all but inaudible so these are the number one recommendation for all fan sizes.

Also recommended are Panaflo and Papst fans. Though not as quiet as Nexus they are more readily available from retailers and are still very quiet.

A special mention goes to Acoustifans. Many people are probably familiar with these as low noise fans. While it's true that they are much quiet than a standard case fan, they do not compare with the above recommended fans. They are however quite good for performance systems thanks to their temperature controlled speed. In low heat modes the fan will spin slow but using it's integrated thermal sensor it increases it's rpm independent of motherboard based fan control systems. This combined with running on a lower voltage would be a very effective automated quiet cooling system.

Power Supply's

Your power supply needs will vary greatly with what you intend your system to be used for. If you are building a mini-itx epia system which will only be used for web browsing and media functions then you will be able to get away with as little as 60W which can be done without a single fan using an external power supply kit. These have all the atx connectors on a small pcb and then this is powered by a psu similar to those used for notebooks. The heat source is kept out of the system and so needs no cooling.

For a full blown system 300W is a more realistic aim. The power supply's efficiency is key here, the more efficient the less heat is produced per Watt of power. Your average psu is probably around 60% efficient. So for every 100W needed around 60 would be give off as heat. You start pulling 200W+ and you already have a heat source on a par with a Prescott core. Most high quality psu's are around 70% efficient, this may not sound like much of an improvement but now for every 100W needed only 40 is give off as heat. The very best quiet psu's though are more like 78-82% efficient and so only around 25W of heat would be given off per 100W used, less than half that of a typical systems psu and also much more environmentally friendly using around 25% less power than a cheap psu.
For a typical system with no large power requirements (i.e. Not using a prescott, X800 or 6800 a 300W psu will be ample, especially one of high quality. The most recommended of which being the Seasonic Super Silencer 300. With 18A on the 12V line this is comparable to some 400W psu's and will cope with a reasonably demanding graphics card, cpu and drive array.

Unfortunately Seasonic psu's aren't highly available. So if you struggle tracking one down the next best thing is the Enermax Noisetaker 325 featuring two independent 16A, 12V lines.

For systems in need of more power there is the Super Silencer 400 or 460, offering 22A and 25A on the 12V line respectively this may not be as nigh as some people would like but it will still happily keep a Prescott and 6800 ticking over.

And if availability is again an issue Then the Enermax Noisetaker 475/485 or even 600W if you have the most power hungry of computers are the recommended choices.

A special note goes to the Antec Phantom 350W Fanless psu. Using it's entire case as a large heatsink this psu is able to operate without it's own fan. Thanks to it offering the highest efficiency available at >85% heat is kept to a minimum. But then with no form of active cooling it needs to, and will still get quite warm, plus you loose a case exhaust and in fact will add to case ambient temps meaning other fans will have to deal with it's heat possibly making it's being fanless irrelevant. If you were building a water cooled system then this would possibly be an option, but for standard air cooling you are much better with a quiet fan cooled psu.
"Well yes but I'm afraid I prematurely shot my wod on what was supposed to be a dry run if you will, so now I'm afraid I have something of a mess on my hands."

Tobias Fünke, M.D.

AOA Team fah
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Old 1st February, 2005, 03:33 PM
GrahamGarside's Avatar
Join Date: September 2004
Location: England
Posts: 4,572


Having all these quiet components is no good if you have a flimsy case which rattles and resonates, or allows little airflow forcing you to push your fans harder. Much is said of aluminiums cooling properties when used for cases. Personally I prefer to use coolers for cooling and stick to my case being for holding it all together. Aluminium makes a poor choice for a quiet case due to it's being light, so allows more sound through and vibrates more easily, and also aluminium cases are usually thinner than steel cases worsening alumiums suitability. So all but one case resomended here is made from steel.

The case that isn't made from steel, is ironically the best choice for a “silent” system. The TNN 500AF is Zalmans answer to the specialist market, for those who want a system with no active cooling and so no noise from air flow. This is incredibally expensive, you could build a top of the range system for the price of this case alone. But you will find nothing that cools to this level at this volume. This case basically works as one huge heatsink, being made from 5-7mm thick aluminium it's incredibally heavy and designed for workstations and servers used in environmnents where noise it not an option. Heat is transferred to the case material through use of heatpipes and cool the cpu and gpu. The psu is of the fanless variety with a high efficiency of 78%, not world leading but due to the impressive cooling not as much an issue as using a fanless psu in a regular system. It also comes with heatpipe coolers for the hardrives to help cope with the lack of airflow.

The most popular manufacturer for quiet cases is probably Antec. Their low prices are the main reasons for this, but this doesn't detract from the quality of their cases.
The two best choices are the Antec SLK3700BQE and Antec SLK3000B, the SLK3700BQE comes with a 350W PSU which isn't perfect for quiet situations and much better are available. These two items are good value, and if your fond of using a dremmel then these cases make excellent projects. SLK3000B SLK3700BQE

If your willing to spend a little more on your case then the best solution comes from the company usually associated with HTPC cases Silverstone with their Temjin TJ06 PC case.
The unique thing about this case is it's take on airflow. Standard cases have a single path which air follows through the case, from the front of the case, past the hard drives, up to the cpu and out via the exhaust and psu. This method takes a lot of force because of it's none linear path, and also picks up a lot of heat before reaching the hottest components. BTX is a new design aiming at changing this by using a wind tunnel across the cpu and video card but needs a completely new case, motherboard and psu. Borrowing from BTX, the TJ06 uses a wind tunnel solely to cool the cpu, northbridge and ram and also positions the motherboard upside down to keep the cpu and psu away from one another. Using this method it's possible to even cool the cpu passively, and Silverstone offer a cooler recommended for use in this setup.

This wind tunnel style cooling is likely to become quite popular for quiet systems. Antec's soon to be released P180 uses a similar method, though rather than cooling the cpu this way, it has moved the psu to the bottom of the case and given it it's own wind tunnel, something that may prove very effective since something most people struggle with when making a system quiet is preventing psu's from increasing their fan speeds.

If your system is going to be used just for media purposes, and likely to be stored underneath a television, you aren't going to want a standard tower pc case.
Silverstone are one of the better known makers of cases suitable for this, and the best being the SST-LC01 HTPC Case. Keeping things quiet in such setups is more of a challenge than if you have the freedom of a full tower setup. So more consideration has to be given in the choice of components, lower power components will make keeping it cooled quietly much easier. If the pc is basically just going to be a media centre this doesn't make the use of such components a problem. A 3ghz+ cpu just isn't needed, especially when the main tasks will be video based, something most modern video processors help a lot with, and so the slower the better, less than 2ghz being ideal, and also the video card won't need fancy 3d functions, and so the lower end ATI and nvidia products with passive cooling will suffice.

If you are going to be putting a mini-itx system together your task of keeping things quiet is much more simple. The Scythe e-Otonashi fanless EPIA-M cooling case is ideal for an EPIA based media box. Being fanless the only source of noise (excluding electrical buzz) will be from the hard rive and/or optical drive, and so using a quiet, low rpm notebook drive you could build a system that would be all but inaudible from 1m+ away.


The last stage of getting your pc quiet, you've replaced every fan, turned down the voltage, undervolted your cpu, replaced your video cooler, de-coupled your quiet hardrives, and put it all in a steel, quiet case. but theres still that slight hum and whine that you just can't get away from. Every individual component is very quiet, but that slight noise of each added together is just noticable. This is where case dampening comes in. On it's own it won't sound proof your computer, but if you are at the stage where it's already very quiet it can do enough to cut out that last amount of noise.
I'm only going to recomend one product here. The materials used are quite expensive, even the budget products are $20. But to be truly effective for me it's all or nothing, if you are going to take to time and money to dampen your case it's worth going the whole hog.
Acousti Products have a variety of differant Acousti Packs, some precut for specific cases. Their top of the line product is the AcoustiPack™ Deluxe (v2).
This stuff is surprisingly heavy, it looks like foam, but this pack weighs 3kg

If you are on a budget you could consider rubber carpetting. This site here has some information on it.
"Well yes but I'm afraid I prematurely shot my wod on what was supposed to be a dry run if you will, so now I'm afraid I have something of a mess on my hands."

Tobias Fünke, M.D.

AOA Team fah
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