Building a Quiet PC

When the first version of Windows Media Center was released in summer 2003, I decided it was time to build my first home theater PC. After I placed it in the living room, I realized I had made a terrible mistake: I had to turn the volume up to 11 just to drown out the noise of the HTPC! I couldn't believe how loud it was! For the next few months, I immersed myself in the world of silent PC enthusiasts. I must have reconfigured that system a dozen times to reduce the noise.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: is a community; is a storefront, AFAIK

My solution was way easier. I run the machine in another room, and the wires through the plasterboard. Sweet.

Great article, makes me wanna build a new PC. If I only had the money :slight_smile:

If you are having ‘WTF’ image issues, refer to this post:

and/or email me directly, rather than cluttering up the comments with off-topic stuff. I added a link to the front page on this topic, at the bottom of the left hand column.

What about watercooling? You can get complete sets for a few hundred bucks, and they’re quite easy to install.

We exchanged all desktop based PCs with notebooks in our office and machine noise reduced a lot.

At least for pure coding or office purposes (no gaming or game development) notebooks like the Dell Latitude D820 are perfect.

In combination with a docking station, keyboard/mouse and a TFT i never missed anything compared to a “real” PC. Plus the ability to take my real workstation with my while travelling is sooo sweat.

Now, see how those Apple guys did their homework:

The new Mac Pro is very quiet. Guess why?

I’ve been through this with quiet power supplies, CPU coolers, and GPU coolers. What almost no one will mention about nearly all “quiet” (particularly passive) cooling is that it doesn’t cool as well. You might be able to get by with lesser cooling if you mostly use productivity apps. However, if you are into gaming, it just won’t cut it. Your GPU will likely be generating polygons full tilt (at the highest resoltion it can productively handle) for hours on end. The CPU is constantly churning to support this, and the power supply will be feeding extra power to both for the duration.

I put “quiet” adjustable fans in my rig on the power supply and case, but found that when I’m gaming I pretty much have to crank them up to max (which is actually louder than normal) just to keep things stable.

I also replaced a dead GPU fan with one of those mongo Zalmon GPU heat sinks once (the kind that basicly encases both sides of the card with a enourmous heat sink). The thing still overheated after a couple hours of gameplay. It really sucks to be halfway through a WoW instance and have to shut down your rig for 5 minutes to let the GPU cool.

There’s always the DIY cooking-oil solution (requires 8 gallons)

I run the machine in another room, and the wires through the plasterboard

That’s cheating. :wink: My computer is under my desk at work, and I dislike crawling in under there to insert CDs or when I need to reset it.

all desktop based PCs with notebooks in our office and machine noise reduced a lot

This is a good plan for noise, but the tradeoff is that laptops are much less upgradeable than desktops. Try getting more than 2GB of memory in a laptop… or replacing the video card.

What about watercooling?

Too many moving parts and too much complexity. High-end air solutions do 95% as well as water these days-- with less fuss.

I put “quiet” adjustable fans in my rig on the power supply and case, but found that when I’m gaming I pretty much have to crank them up to max

What video card and CPU do you have? I use the X1900XTX with the AcceleroX1, along with an Athlon X2 4800+ using a Coolermaster Hyper-6 and my system is pretty quiet under gaming load.

Nice overview.

One thing though, these days, there is a good chance that the video card generates more heat than the CPU, at least when running demanding 3D apps, like games).

I don’t know about laptops as a noise reduction solution. They are often placed much closer to your ears than a desktop PC, their hard drives can be noisy. Their fans are noisy too, and the fact that the system fan is always spooling up and down make them more intrusive than if they were to run at a constant speed.

Just one question…

Stopping the fan in the middle of it and not the blades: did your advise come from first hand experience? :wink:

Great article, I’m going to start putting these ideas to work on my desktop. I especially like the egg crate foam idea. Who woulda thunk it? My concern is it’s also an insulator for heat. I fully understand what you where saying about leaving it for last. Cooling methods are definitely going to have to come first.

Off the silent talk…

With an aging Tivo and wanting some capatabilties to play divx,etc I looked into the WMC idea. So I threw together a quick system to try it out.

Maybe I am to far spoiled with the nice way Tivo just works fast and easily but I found WMC to be a big pain, even is better in some major ways.

I finally just decided to stick with the Tivo and get a $50 DVD that can play divx,xvid, and most of thoses other video,picture and music formats. It can read all the various CD and DVD ± RW formats and has a USB port. I can just burn any video to DVD, copy to a USB flash drive or a USB hard drive and play.

I get all the capabilities in a set of easy to access systems and don’t have to worry about another system which will require constant updating for security.

Standard egg-crate foam is HIGHLY flammable, especially when it’s applied to a vertical surface. I strongly recommend banishing it from your household.

Consider a semi-rigid fiberglass panel, such a Owens-Corning 703.

Someone mentioned that “quiet” cooling components don’t cool as well. If you find that this is the case for you when using slower, more quiet fans, you probably don’t have enough heatsink area. Go with a bigger heatsink, like the Scythe unit pictured above on the page. Whenever you decrease the airflow rate, you need to increase the surface area of your cooling solution. The other approach to this problem is simply not to care – most CPUs can run comfortably at temperatures as high as 65 C under load with no loss of stability and no meaningful decrease in longevity. Your CPU doesn’t need to be at room temperature to function, and the same goes for your GPU, northbridge, etc.

We have the old-school overclockers to thank for the modern myths surrounding PC thermal management – you don’t really need that huge heatsink and screaming fan that Thermaltake sells unless you are, in fact, running a hefty overclock. Otherwise, the stock heatsink and fan will do you just fine. And modern processors run cooler than those old Athlon Thunderbirds, to boot.

Dynamat works well for the side of your computer’s case. Auralex may make some products which are flame-retardent as far as open-cell foam is concerned, since they make foam acoustic tiles for wall treatment.

Standard egg-crate foam is HIGHLY flammable, especially when it’s applied to a vertical surface

I just tested this using a small fragment of eggcrate foam on our gas stove. Once the fragment was removed from the direct gas flame, it stopped burning immediately. Every time!

So I’m not sure your assertion holds true, at least not for the kind of eggcrate foam pictured above…

Otherwise, the stock heatsink and fan will do you just fine

This is typically NOT true, although there are some exceptions. Most stock coolers are pretty loud by default. Look at it from their perspective: would your rather have x percent returns due to heat failure, or make the fan run absurdly fast and lower that to x-y percent?

Feel free to try the stock coolers, but go directly to nice aftermarket coolers if the stock stuff isn’t quiet.

Good overview.

However, acoustic foam is not really designed to stop the transmission of sound. (It used in studios to reduce reflections not reduce sound transmission)

To prevent the transmission of sound it better to do “mass loading” using something like a vinyl acoustic barrier.

I used a vinyl barrier in several low noise PC’s that I have built for use in our lab. It does a great job. You might want to check it out.


Hi Jeff -

Good article - direct and to the point, very concise. I have one other suggestion to make as far as cooling is concerned, you can also check the core voltage of your CPU. I have an ASUS P5WD2P motherboard, and had all sorts of heat issues with it. I finally found out that ASUS sets their BIOS to the max voltage to juice up their motherboard performance (1.4v for a P4). Well, not only does this juice up the performance, it also DRAMATICALLY increases heat generation. The relationship between voltage/performance does not seem to be linear - at the high end, small increases in performance cause HUGE increases in heat. However, lowering the core voltage to 1.3v (a relatively small change performance-wise) basically eliminates heat issues.

Now, the drawback, obviously, is you are sacrificing performance, but I figure buying a 3.2 rather than a 3.0 ghz chip and lowering the voltage gets me to about the same performance, and allows me to have a much quieter PC. Also, you need to have a motherboard and bios that allow you to change your core voltage.

Also, one other source of heat issues I’ve found is the Northbridge, the chip that handles data transfer between the CPU and the GPU and RAM subsystems. Running fast memory and a decent vid card (older ATI x800 series), my Northbridge would get smokin hot, particularly with Hyperthreading enabled.

Just my 2 cents.


Good basic summary, but misses out one of the most important factors, namely the location of the PC.