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Discussion Starter #1
Is it possible to build a great desktop PC that can be used for general work as well as HTPC duties, and that makes absolutely no noise?


My current PC is a Shuttle with a dual-DVI graphics card – and, believe it or not, a pair of 10m DVI cables to drive some flat panels. The long DVI cables allow the Shuttle to live in a closet – but you can guess at 1920x1080 you can get “sparklies†from time to time. The reason I put the PC in the closet? NOISE. I hate any extraneous sound coming from any piece of electronics. Period. The Shuttle is a very stable, lovely PC. It still has fans, and it still makes noise. Blechh!


What follows is kind of detailed, but I hope it sparks a lively discussion of the tradeoffs.

What I want:
  • A “reasonably†fast processor. A Pentium-M is probably enough. I live in California, so energy costs are high. The Aopen system described below would only draw ~35W at idle and ~50W under load.
  • Two 400GB drives (the Hitachi 7K400 looks good). Why not 500GB? It’s above the knee of the $/GB curve. Ideally I’d like to be able to create two partitions, one RAID 0 and one RAID 1 on the same pair of drives ( "Matrix RAID" ). This involves getting a board with the ICH6R chip (limited to some Intel 9XX cards).
  • 2GB of memory. (Yeah, I know it’s not needed for an HTPC – but remember, this is also my work desktop.)
  • The ability to drive two independent displays.
  • Enough slots to plug in a few tuners, etc.

Two possible approaches:
  1. Use a Pentium-M mobo with a 915 chipset. Such beasts are newly available. In particular, the Aopen i915Fa-HFS looks pretty tantalizing. It’s a standard ATX card, so would work with any case. It also has HDTV-out. http://usa.aopen.com/products/mb/i915GMm-HFS.htm
  2. Use a “normal†mobo, but use an “extreme case.†I’ve found two options for noiseless cases, the A-Tech HeatSync and the Zalman TNN. Both are pricey, but both look pretty decent (at least in their own marketing materials).

    http://www.atechfabrication.com/prod...tsync_6000.htm
    http://www.zalmanusa.com/usa/product...dx=64&code=020

Common Issues:
  • I’d use one of the fanless power supplies. There’s a pretty decent discussion of the options at http://www.xyzcomputing.com/index.ph...d=278&Itemid=2 . The Zalman already includes its own fanless PSU.
  • The hard disks need to be quieted. One approach is to wrap the hard disks in noise dampening and cooling sleeves (they turn 3.5†drives into 5.25†drives for mounting purposes). See http://www.aerocool.us/p-cooler/hb-101/hb101.htm . The Zalman case has this built-in (as an option). The A-Tech case doesn’t, and in fact, won’t support a 2nd HDD or a regular DVD drive.
  • I’d have to either use the 915’s built-in graphics or get a fanless graphics card. Yes, to get a 2nd display using the built-in graphics I’d have to get a Matrox PCI-Express 1X card, but then I could even run three monitors! See http://www.matrox.com/mga/corp/enter...ts/gseries.cfm for details.

Anybody think of anything else? I'm pulling the trigger on this in a few weeks, so interesting ideas would be greatly appreciated.


Cheers,


Richard


(Disclosure: I work for a computer company; this project, however, is not work-related.)
 

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htpc has two functions...one is to display the movied on your screen, typically, the second is to store a mountain of movies.


i believe you can build a silent pc that can handle the display function...'

'

the hottest items will be your processor, and the video card.


i know gigabyte makes a x700pro radeon that has passive cooling...this card is hdtv ready via a dongle.


processor cooling...i leave that up to you.


as for the storage part.you are not going to be able to have local storage that is silent....because large hard drives generate tons of heat. you cannot "wrap" them in sound insulating stuff and keep them cool and quiet...not gonna happen.


if you really want quiet..you need a second computer/server on a network, that holds your movies. get a big ugly case with lots of fans to keep your drives cool...locate the server somewhere else so the fan noise doesn't matter.


now you only have to worry about a quiet computer to run the display....
 

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Discussion Starter #3

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Quote:
Originally Posted by richardkaufmann
Is it possible to build a great desktop PC that can be used for general work as well as HTPC duties, and that makes absolutely no noise?


My current PC is a Shuttle with a dual-DVI graphics card – and, believe it or not, a pair of 10m DVI cables to drive some flat panels. The long DVI cables allow the Shuttle to live in a closet – but you can guess at 1920x1080 you can get “sparklies†from time to time. The reason I put the PC in the closet? NOISE. I hate any extraneous sound coming from any piece of electronics. Period. The Shuttle is a very stable, lovely PC. It still has fans, and it still makes noise. Blechh!


What follows is kind of detailed, but I hope it sparks a lively discussion of the tradeoffs.

What I want:
  • A “reasonably†fast processor. A Pentium-M is probably enough. I live in California, so energy costs are high. The Aopen system described below would only draw ~35W at idle and ~50W under load.
  • Possible (you can probably get essentially silent with an Athlon 64 even).

    Quote:
    Two 400GB drives (the Hitachi 7K400 looks good). Why not 500GB? It’s above the knee of the $/GB curve. Ideally I’d like to be able to create two partitions, one RAID 0 and one RAID 1 on the same pair of drives ( "Matrix RAID" ). This involves getting a board with the ICH6R chip (limited to some Intel 9XX cards).
    Not gona happen, you aren't going to get 7200rpm drive silent. As for your raid, don't bother, I don't konw what this RAID-0 and 1 with 2 drive's crap is, but it sounds like a crock. I think you'll get neither speed nor redundancy with that, at best you'll get one or the other.


    How I see this working is thus, two partitions on each drive, from that you can choose RAID-0 across drives or RAID-1 across drives. Lets start with the way that get's you redundancy, mirror each partition to the other drive. Now all that's left is two RAID-1 partitions that you would apply RAID-1 to. But what's the net, you're trying to run RAID-0 with two partitions on the same drive. This will be significantly slower (than a single) since the drive will have to seek back and forth for each stripe. It will have to read each stripe sequentially instead of in parallel.


    The other option is the reverse. In this case you'd have RAID-0 across drives. Now first the reduncancy (the mirror) is stored on the same drive, so if a drive goes out, you still loose half the data, meaning the array is destroyed. Now ignoring that, you'd think you'd get an increase in speed due to the RAID-0, but in reality you're writing 2x as much data to the drive and increasing the seeking, so net it would probably be slower.

    That is my thoughs on how this "Matrix RAID" could work, I have no evidence of it. It sounds like a scam to me, like the RAID-5 bundled on some boards, only worse.

    Quote:
    2GB of memory. (Yeah, I know it’s not needed for an HTPC – but remember, this is also my work desktop.)

    The ability to drive two independent displays.

    Enough slots to plug in a few tuners, etc.
Quote:
Two possible approaches:
  1. Use a Pentium-M mobo with a 915 chipset. Such beasts are newly available. In particular, the Aopen i915Fa-HFS looks pretty tantalizing. It’s a standard ATX card, so would work with any case. It also has HDTV-out. http://usa.aopen.com/products/mb/i915GMm-HFS.htm
  2. Use a “normal†mobo, but use an “extreme case.†I’ve found two options for noiseless cases, the A-Tech HeatSync and the Zalman TNN. Both are pricey, but both look pretty decent (at least in their own marketing materials).

    http://www.atechfabrication.com/prod...tsync_6000.htm
    http://www.zalmanusa.com/usa/product...dx=64&code=020

Common Issues:
  • I'm very happy with my Antec Phantom.

    Quote:
    The hard disks need to be quieted. One approach is to wrap the hard disks in noise dampening and cooling sleeves (they turn 3.5†drives into 5.25†drives for mounting purposes). See http://www.aerocool.us/p-cooler/hb-101/hb101.htm . The Zalman case has this built-in (as an option). The A-Tech case doesn’t, and in fact, won’t support a 2nd HDD or a regular DVD drive.
    Put them in another room and cool the crap out of them or don't bother. IMO.

    Quote:
    I’d have to either use the 915’s built-in graphics or get a fanless graphics card. Yes, to get a 2nd display using the built-in graphics I’d have to get a Matrox PCI-Express 1X card, but then I could even run three monitors! See http://www.matrox.com/mga/corp/enter...ts/gseries.cfm for details.
I wouldn't touch onboard with a 10-foot pole, it may be better than it was, but it's still nothing compared to standalone. Gigabyte makes 6600s and 6800s in a fanless variety.

Quote:
Anybody think of anything else? I'm pulling the trigger on this in a few weeks, so interesting ideas would be greatly appreciated.


Cheers,


Richard


(Disclosure: I work for a computer company; this project, however, is not work-related.)
First, IMO a multi-purpose PC is inferior to a single purpose one in pure performance. Of course it has the advantage that you'd need multiple, single purpose PCs to do the same thing. What I would do is build a new, single purpose PC (either for HTPC duties or desktop duties) and transition your current PC to the vacant role.


Now as for silencing, if you throw enough money at it, you can probably silence anything. But that's not the most cost effective way. A little planning, some wise component selection, and some pragmatism will give you the same result for less money.


Pick the fanless components you can to start with, PSU, and Video card specifically. Then pick a CPU with a reasonable power consumption for the power you need (Athlon 64 Venice cores are good, so are Northwood core P4s). Pentium-Ms seem nice, until you get to the outrageous prices, and pathetic motherboard choices, you end up giving up a lot for a little better power footprint. Then pick some good fans (ie Panaflos, or other respected fans). And now for the pragmatism, you might be able to silence HDDs, by stuffing them in foam, but is that good for them? Heat is an HDDs worst enemy, and wrapping them in foam can't be good. Practically, it's best just to stick the drives elsewhere. There are a couple of products for building a NAS. As for case, you could buy a "silent" case, and I almost did (an Atech) but I tried some things first, namely:


Modified my case (Ahanix D.Vine 4) for 80mm exhaust fans.

Added a Passive PSU (Antec Phantom)

Already had a Zalman 7000 CPU HSF

Already had a Passive Gigabyte 6800

Moved my storage to my media server (other room)

Added a laptop HDD for local OS/App install.

Added a fan controller (mCubed T-Balancer).


The only issue (sound wise) left is a Sunon fan with some bushing noise.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
HeartSurgeon, the Hitachi 400GB SATA drive runs at 9.6W idle. Two of them will draw under 20W idle and ~30W under load. The TNN case can get rid of this heat with ease.


I know a lot of folks are attracted to this, but remember, I'm trying to cut down overall power consumption. Powering up another noisy beast of a server (@>100W) isn't attractive to me.


Now if I just lived in TN or some other place with cheap power!
 

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You're in the wrong place if leaving a server running in a closet 24/7 bothers you because of the power bill, yet you'll consider throwing away thousands for a pre-built "silent" pc.


You need a good swift kick in your logic. :)



Troy
 

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My advice is to stick with having a normal PC in the closest since it will be both cheaper and faster than trying to make a silent PC. As for the issue with DVI the simplest solution is this DVI extender from Gefen . At $200 per booster it may seem a little expensive but it will save you a lot of money compared to trying to a make a silent PC. As for the Matrix RAID option I would recommend avoiding it and instead have three hard drives. One hard drive at 200 GB for the OS and important files with two 400 GB hard drives in a RAID 0 configuration for speed.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by richardkaufmann
http://www.atechfabrication.com/prod...tsync_6000.htm

[*] The hard disks need to be quieted. One approach is to wrap the hard disks in noise dampening and cooling sleeves (they turn 3.5†drives into 5.25†drives for mounting purposes). See http://www.aerocool.us/p-cooler/hb-101/hb101.htm . The Zalman case has this built-in (as an option). The A-Tech case doesn’t, and in fact, won’t support a 2nd HDD or a regular DVD drive.
Hi Richard,


The HeatSync 6000 that you reference above will accommodate a second hard drive when using a thin slot loading DVD drive. I believe it will support a regular DVD drive, but you will lose the second hard drive capability.


Currently it does not support mounting the drives in enclosures.


Refer to this thread:

A-Tech Fabrication HTPC Case: update


Larry
 

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god bless you and your data if you believe that large hard drives are cooled adequately by passive systems...


large drives get pretty darn hot (you need to feel on after it's been on for awhile to appreciate how hot they get).


best of luck to you.


p.s. i haven't seen a single review anywhere with the tnn case loaded with multple huge hard drives....i've got 10 250 gig western digitals, and a couple of maxtor diamonmax sata 300gig drives..they all get blazing hot
 

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I have a water cooled computer which is very quite. Koolance brand parts. Watercoolling still uses fans, which cause some noise. Anything with a fan will make some noise. Look for a system cooled with peltiers. Don't be fooled by promises of quite fans.
 

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While assembling your own PC from the pieces provides a great sense of engineering pride there are a couple of companies which build silent fanless HTPCs for less than the Vodoo offerings.


Here are two more companies that sell fanless systems

NiveusMedia

Deltatronic has noise dampening drive cases


For passively cooled large hard drives I would probably go with slower spinning discs. The older 5400rpm 300GB Maxtor drives run only hand warm in continuous use.



Cheers


Thomas
 

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My HTPC which is still in development is high-performance yet completely passive cooled. It runs top notch fast and stable. Using this equipment:


- Case: mCubed HFX ( http://www.mcubed-tech.com/ )

- PSU: Silverstone ( http://www.silverstonetek.com/products-30nf.htm )

- Mobo: AOpen i915Ga-HFS

- Pentium M 760, 2GHz with EIST running @800MHz during 99% of all tasks

- Heatpipe for 479 Socket using HFX Case

- 2x 1GB Corsair Value RAM

- Vertical Silence HD Silencer/Cooler ( http://www.mcubed-tech.com/eng/hfx.htm )

- Seagate 7200.8 , 250GB

- Plextor PX-740A


Now the NB ist still active cooled but I will put a heatpipe next (for now I just unplugged the 40mm fan).


Everything runs great! Got 30-35° CPU temp, most tasks are done @800MHz using 5-10% cpu load. Got to put some heavy stress test on it to reach 50° (2 nights in a row prime95 and 3dmark simultaneous 100% load). The chassis remains also rather cool. PSU runs pretty cool as well. Only thing I can hear is the HD (in a silencer case though) clicking doing random seeks. The Samsung spinner got dead after 1 week of usage, so I put a 7200.8 (5 years warranty).


This is why I use a low-cost/small capacity HD -> I plan a RAID5 and have the client network booted or when available, using Gigabyte I-RAM cheap solid state solution ( http://www.anandtech.com/storage/showdoc.aspx?i=2480 ).

If the HDs are outsourced, the optical will follow, since I'd like to have my HTPC completely free of mechanics/legacy stuff (ripping will be done at the server then, and I never look DVDs from the DVD drive directly, anyway)


But then again, it will take quite some time until these stupid hard drives will be replaced for fast/quiet technologies. I also think about buying an atechfabrication.com mass storage case with 4x SATA or either 8x (but the active PSU inside doesn't convince me...an external laptop-style PSU would be nicer).


In the end, my goal ist to have a completely passive cooled high-performance htpc and I'm already very near that goal. Only problem field left ist the storage subsystem.


I can highly recommend a Pentium M desktop solution using one of both AOpen boards. Performance and responsiveness is just amazing! I tested 1080p wmvhd trailer stuff and don't even use the full 2GHz...it decodes fine and stutter free at [email protected]%..now how is that!


Marco
 

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The hitachi deskstar is very quiet, at least the PATA version is. It is sitting in my living room and you can't even hear the seek noise. You could also consider using 2.5" drives.


I had Seagate Barrcuda SATAs and they were super loud. The quiet versions everyone raves about are the PATAs. That was a year ago, maybe their SATAs are quieter now, but when I bought them, quiet mode could not be enabled. (a few threads on this are here).


If you're interested in the M then Asus makes a normal to M chip converter that works on a few of their MBs. Or just buy an M board.


Go to silentpcreview.com they have all the info you need.


My rig is almost totally silent even with fans. It's easier with an athlon.


p-iv 2.8G northwood w/Aerocool tower heatpipe plus 2 fans (came with some pretty quiet fans). 2 fans let me do push/pull which lets me get more cooling at lower fan speeds. Plus the case fan is right behind it.

ati 9600xt w/aerocool heatpipe passive cooling, this thing is massive too.

Zalman quiet power supply

Hitachi and Samsung PATA drives, both are really quiet.

all fans have Zalman Fanmates attached, which lower the fan speed. Note, the zalmans are the best others can cause clicking sounds.

Also I put silicon strips between the HDDs and the cages, and again between the cages and the chassis. This really quiets down noise from seek vibration. You can't put them on real hot drives though since the cage acts like a heatsink.

Foam lining all around inside the case.


The only thing I can hear is the pc speaker, and the darn DVD drive which is really loud when it first spins up. But there's not much you can do about that.


My Xbox is also super quiet, I opened it, put foam lining inside, and put a Fanmate on the fan. It never overheated or anything. I can finally have it on in the living room without it sounding like a wind tunnel.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by stanger89
Modified my case (Ahanix D.Vine 4) for 80mm exhaust fans.
stanger89,


Do you have pics or a writeup on this mod? I would be interested in doing the same to my case, too.


Thanks,


- Steve O.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by chrisBassOMatic
The only thing I can hear is the pc speaker, and the darn DVD drive which is really loud when it first spins up. But there's not much you can do about that.
Depending on your DVD drive, you might have some sound/performance settings. My Plextor 716 has a silent mode which basically brings the read speed to 1-2X, which is fine for DVD movie playback. You might be able to get your system even more quiet...


- Steve O.
 
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