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On the Case of the Quiet PC - System Cases
Written by Graham Garside   
Tuesday, 01 February 2005 07:16
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On the Case of the Quiet PC
Video Choices
Quiet Chipset Cooling
Hard Drives
CPU Coolers
Graphics Card Cooling
Cooling Fans
Power Supplies
System Cases
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System Cases

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 Zalman's 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.

Link: Zalman website

Zalman TNN 500A case
Zalman TNN 500A case

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-EU case

SLK3700-BQE UK case

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.

NT01 Cooler

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.

TJ06 case

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.

LC01 case

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.

Scythe's e-Otonashi fanless EPIA-M cooling case

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