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How Quiet is your HTPC?

Discussion in 'Desktop & Laptop Computers Forum' started by PannyAdams, Mar 15, 2005.

  1. PannyAdams

    PannyAdams
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    I have been promising a few people on the forum a post about silencing my HTPC. So here it is. If you have any questions feel free to ask them. Like wise if you have any tips or improvements let me know!

    Firstly, I have the excellent Silverstone LC10. I have seen quite a few cases and whilst its not the best, it’s probably in the top 3 and it is less than half the price of the DIGN and Claritas. Especially if you buy it from where I got mine:

    http://linitx.com/product_info.php?products_id=610

    Don’t ask me how these guys sell it for £85 but £35 less than their competitors I didn’t ask questions! I won’t do a full review of the LC10 here, there are 3 or 4 very good reviews that can be found easily via a google search. In short, it is a well designed and built case that looks very pretty and has a lot of space. It has a few problems but they can be got round with a few simple mods.

    Firstly, the buddle fans (1x80mm, 2x60mm) are good quality but noisy. They push a lot of air so you can reduce the noise by running them slower with a fan controller or cheaply by soldering a resistor or two inline. I bought new Silenx fans, they are expensive but they move the most air for the least decibles!

    The first problem is the location of the inlet fan at the front. It sucks air in through the front USB ports, sound jacks and some side vents. Because of this and the cables it has a lot of wind noise exactly where you don’t want it – at the front. So I cut a new inlet hole in the floor of the case just behind the front foot. The case stands about 20mm off the ground so it takes in a nice supply of clean air very quietly:

    See the first two attached pictures.

    I dealt with the other sources of noise in pretty standard ways. The CPU (a Athlon 64 3000) is cooled with a Zalman CPNS 7700 which fits easily in the case and keeps the CPU below 40c at the lowest speed setting even when maxed out encoding a DivX. The Zalman is not silient but it is very quite and the 120mm fan helps cool other components like the northbridge and fanless graphics card. I could go for a fanless solution like the Scythe heatpipe cooler but I’m happy with the Zalman and the CPU temperatures.

    Elsewhere I have used a 450w Silenx PSU. Again it is very quiet but not silent. There are a number of fanless PSUs on the market, but it is new technology and they are quite low on power and reviews say they get quite hot.

    Next up are the Hard Drives. I have 4 250gb Seagate Barracudas giving me a Terabyte of storage! I have played with the Samsung Spinpoint discs and I still think the Barracudas are quietest – It is just a shame they don’t have a facility to let you reduce the rpm and hence the noise. The first problem is the storage. The LC10 has 4 internal 3.5 bays but Hard Drive noise is born via vibration, from the spindle down the screws that hold them in the bay into the case and out into the air around.. There are two main ways to reduce Hard Drive noise – the first (and most effective) for quiet drives like Barracudas is suspending them. This can be done easily by making a cradle out of elastic bands in a 5.25 bay and suspending the drive in the air. Sadly there is no room for this in the LC10. The next method is the one sold through sites like quite PC – that is to enclose the drive. This also has downfalls, firstly it requires a 5.25 bay (a no no in the LC10) and also by enclosing the drive the heat from the drive cannot dissipate properly. I settled on a custom version that uses both these principle and tries to overcome some of the shortcomings.

    The general idea is to sandwich the drives between aluminium plate. This 4mm plate is thick enough to absorb some of the drive noise, but unlike commercial solution it wicks the heat away from the drives keeping them very cool:

    See the third attached image.

    I then enclosed the sides with some furniture foam that I had cut. The overall effect reduced the drive noise significantly but it is still not silent! To fit these enclosures in the LC10, I removed the 3x3.5 bay from the from centre of the case, the main sandwich of 3 drives sits in this space and some of the space to the left of it (orientated at right angles to the DVD RW). To reduce any noise borne to the case, the sandwich is not attached, instead sitting on a foam bed.

    The last drive sits in a single sandwich in the 5.25 internal bay above the DVD RW.

    See the fourth attached image.

    To enclose the drives, the raw materials cost less than £20! Much less than a single enclosure from quiet PC and far more efficient and effective!

    Finally, the case is insulated with foam. I made a mistake, by buying cheap Speeze foam from e-bay. This makes a difference, but having seen the Acousti foam it oozes quality and is definitely worth the extra £20.

    The result is a top quality HTPC that is very quiet (although I am now obsessed by noise and never satisfied). The only noise audible from more than a foot away is the hard drives. Personally if the only thing you can hear is hard drives then your PC is pretty damn quiet. It runs cool – the case varies between 28c and 35c with a room temperature of 20c. The CPU typically runs at 35c topping out at 40c.
     

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  2. Synchro

    Synchro
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    I can suggest this case, for anyone wishing a really quiet solution. thumbs up from me. took me a while to figure out the darn instrcutions for mounting the hdd's but once i had, it all made sense.

    Antec Sonata Piano Black Quiet Case - 380W TruePower Silent PSU

    Check out the net for the best price's. I got mine from overclockers.co.uk

    http://www.overclockers.co.uk/acatalog/Antec_Cases.html
     
  3. dekoded

    dekoded
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    Great mods, very resourceful!

    Like me, you seem to be a bit obsessed when it comes to noisy PC's and have used a combination of off the shelf products as well as a few home-brew fixes.

    The only things I can add is that an even easier way to reduce fan supply voltage is to either use the 5v supply, or if that's too low, use the voltage difference between the +5v and +12v to give you 7 volts from a spare PSU connector.

    Also have you considered connecting a 'grounding' wire from your hard drive enclosure (possibly attached to one of the bolts) to your case as I have heard that it is possible for HDD'S to build up a static charge due to all those spinning platters and cause them to fail which is normally dissapated to ground via the HDD'S mounting screws, but if your drives are electrically isolated (on foam) then this can't happen.
    As I say this is more of a precaution than anything, but for might be worth considering. Aparrently the PSU connector isn't always designed to stop this problem. ;)
     
  4. Yandros

    Yandros
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    Good advice there Panny.

    Some thoughts to add...

    Zalman cooler - good choice!
    Fans - I use Papst thermally regulated (run at as low as 400rpm)
    Passive northbridge and graphics card cooling - yup, absolutely.
    Acoustipak is great lining - a must with lightweight cases.
    Seagate barracuda - good choice. I've got about a dozen of them going as external backup drives plus half a dozen in PCs. Not had a bad one yet.

    Changing the intake to the base is a good idea. I seem to recall reading that every change in direction of sound waves attenuates it significantly (can't remember the exact db). Our office PCs use Wavemaster cases, which have a baffle in front of the twin intake fans, and this makes the papst 80mms virtually inaudible. You can also buy or make boxes to attach to the exhaust fans to send the air through about 3 turns, lined with acoustic foam.

    I've not tried the fanless PSUs either, and I share your reservations. I'm very happy with the Zalman 400W low noise unit we use.

    Our self build ultra low noise office PCs are:

    Coolermaster Wavemaster Chassis
    Replaced all 3 case fans with Papst 80mm thermally regulated ones
    ASUS P4C800E Deluxe mobo with passive northbridge
    P4 3.2
    Zalman 7000 coolers, tuned to keep the CPU at about mid 30s.
    Sapphire Radeon 9600XT Ultimate (heatpipe cooling only)
    1x 120Gb Seagate Barracuda SATA drive, mounted behind the intakes.
    Zalman ZM400B noiseless PSU
    Acoustipak lining on sides.
    Cables all tied down tight for maximum airflow

    We run about 7 of these in an open plan office, and they are all massively drowned out by the pair of older 1Ghz Athlons with stock case and CPU cooling at the other end of the room. In a quietish office, we very seriously need the blue LEDs on the front to tell if they're switched on at all!
    As with your system, they're inaudible beyond 1ft away.

    The only component I'm not happy with is the DVD drives, so if anyone has a shortlist of silent DVDs, that would be appreciated for when I get around to making a HTPC for myself.
     
  5. PannyAdams

    PannyAdams
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    Jonnie

    I did think about the grounding issue with the disk modding, but assumed one of the four cables from the PSU must be Gnd. Anyone know for sure?

    Yandros

    I'm very interested by using redirection to reduce the volume from the rear exhaust fans. The fans themself are as good as silent, but the majority of the hard drive noise is now airborne and most noticable to the rear of the case (so I assume they are escaping through the exhaust). Do you have any links to designs or products?

    Until solid state disks come along the other solution could be to remove the disk array to a separate location.

    Lastly, I looked at the 9600XT ultimate, but for HTPC I beleive the 6600GT might just have the edge. See my post here:

    http://www.avforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=196526

    Panny
     
  6. Pbryanw

    Pbryanw
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    Wow, you've used almost the same components as me in your quest for a quiet PC. I use a SilenX PSU, case fans, Zalman CPU cooler and Seagate Barracudas. I now find the noisiest part of my computer is the Zalman so I'd be interested if anyone can suggest a quieter CPU cooler.

    I also recommend the mCubed T Balancer if you've got a lot of fans which need regulating. It's made a big difference to the noise of my case.

    The only problem I've found with building a quiet PC is that I'm now much more sensitive to the noise coming out of my PC and am forever after that elusive silent PC (without going into watercooling which is far too complicated for me).
     
  7. SimonInd

    SimonInd
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    I just thought I'd add that for those of a lazier disposition the Dell 8x00 series are pretty quiet. I've got a P4 2.66 and a P4 3.4 and while I've replaced the case fan with a Silenx 92mm model on the latter, the former has been running for over a year with stock cooling. The cases are plastic around a metal chassis and the drive mounts are plastic rails which seems to reduce vibration. I consider them both quiet enough for listening to music and they're about 1.5m from my seat.

    One day I'll build a machine myself but if I can buy a quiet machine that's close to what I need from the Outlet then I'm afraid my idleness kicks in...

    Simon
     
  8. Yandros

    Yandros
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  9. PannyAdams

    PannyAdams
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    Cool. Thanks for the links Yandros - I will let you know how I go.
     
  10. PannyAdams

    PannyAdams
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    OK. A quick prototype with a tin can, some glue and some foam has proved pretty effective. Will post a more polished solution when I've perfected it!
     

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