Building a Silent Air Cooled System

Cooling/CPU Cooling by jmke @ 2005-03-11

Tired of those whining fans, want some peace and quiet when starting your PC? Read on to find out how you silence your system without turning it into a small oven.

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Adding 3rd party equipment

3rd party video card cooling

Madshrimps (c) Madshrimps (c)
(Arctic Cooling NV Silencer 3 Review)

The cooler on the Chaintech FX5900XT is making quite a bit of noise, so using a third party cooling solution might help. After installing an Arctic Cooling NV Silencer 3 we again take noise and temperature measurements (case fans running at full speed):
(number between () is compared to default configuration)

Noise measurement: 38.6dBA (-0.5)

CPU: 56 (-1)
System: 37 (+3)
PWM: 46 (0)
HDD: 30 (+1)
RAM: 38 (0)
VGA: 56.25 (-1.25)
Top: 33.5 (+0.5)
Bottom: 35 (+4)

Swapping out the noisy Chaintech cooler removes the high pitched sound coming from the small fan; however the dBA meter hardly picks up this change as the case fans still account for the largest part of the noise production.

3rd party CPU & HDD cooling

Madshrimps (c) Madshrimps (c)
(Thermalright XP-90 Review)

The standard AMD A64 cooler is moderately noisy at lower fan speeds, but once the CPU starts heating up then you can hear the 70mm fan very clearly. We decided to swap it with a Thermalright XP-90 and 92mm (very silent) Papst fan.

Madshrimps (c) Madshrimps (c)

The HDD was placed in an ACRyan HDD silencer and placed in a spare 5.25" bay of the Antec Lanboy.

With the case fans at 12v running we obtain these results:
(number between () is compared to default configuration)

Noise measurement: 37.9dBA (-1.2)

CPU: 52 (-5)
System: 34 (0)
PWM: 42 (-4)
HDD: 35 (+6)
RAM: 38 (0)
VGA: 54.63 (-2.87)
Top: 33.5 (+0.5)
Bottom: 33.5 (+2.5)

The XP-90 offers quite an improvement, dropping the CPU temp by 5°C, the PWM also benefits from the larger fan. The HDD sits comfy in its new environment, disk access can be heard less, we do see an increasing of 6°C compared to stock configuration, but the maximum tempreature is still well within acceptable boundaries.

The noise reading drops ever so slightly more, yet again caused by the case fans running at full speed... so it's about time we disabled them:

3rd party cooling installed without case fans running

(number between () is compared to default configuration)

Noise measurement: 33.9dBA (-5.2)

CPU: 55 (-2)
System: 42 (+8)
PWM: 47 (+1)
HDD: 38 (+9)
RAM: 42.5 (+4.5)
VGA: 60 (+2.5)
Top: 38.5 (+5.5)
Bottom: 39.5 (+8.5)

As we saw before, without case cooling all components increase in temperature, except for the CPU temp which still remains lower thanks to the efficient XP-90. The bottom of the case and Southbridge takes the largest bump in temperatures.

Looking at the dBA meter we see an impressive -5.2 drop, which makes the system running relatively silent, the loudest noise is now coming from the PSU's fans.

Conclusion: Third party cooling helps reducing noise without affecting temperatures

Cost of the modification: $25-60 for every upgrade.

Not everyone will have a noisy VGA cooler in his PC, making that 3rd party cooling solution only necessary for those running higher end VGA cards. The HDD silencer is most useful if you have only a limited amount of hard drives, if you have 3 or more in your system you should look at alternative solutions for silencing them; as otherwise it might become very costly.

A CPU cooling upgrade will have the largest impact for most people for reducing noise levels; utilizing a silent fan with a high performance heatsinks.

Do it Yourself solutions :
  • $5 VGA cooler
  • Home Made Cooling duct or Chill Vent II

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    Comment from petervandamned @ 2005/03/11
    nice one !
    Good review, Good subject
    Comment from Sidney @ 2005/03/11
    What I've gathered after reading the article:

    1) Case exhaust is vital.
    2)There are other heat generating components in a PC other than CPU and Graphic card we commonly talk about.
    3) Good CPU cooling is only part of the equation.

    Using sound meter is the best for sound evaluation; because some people just couldn't hear much of anything
    Comment from BugMeNot @ 2005/03/12
    You should probably have made a temperature target for each component.
    Obviously a lower temp is always better (unless you are keeping your coffee warm on your case), but if the CPU can live forever at 70 degrees it wouldn't matter what temp you got as long as you didn't go over that max temp.
    That said bearings would be the only thing that would be hard to nail down. I would suggest putting in a buffer temp into the bios to save the cpu.
    The best thing would be to have a PSU that keeps running even when the mobo powers down.
    Also, BTX should solve many cooling problems by using less fans.
    Comment from Sidney @ 2005/03/12
    Also, BTX should solve many cooling problems by using less fans.
    Let's "hope" so.

    BTX is focusing on CPU cooling from front inlet via duct work. I have not seen HDD cooling solutions in BTX. CPU will only be made cooler not hotter would be the better solution.
    Comment from Gamer @ 2005/03/12
    good work there.
    Comment from SuAside @ 2005/03/12

    wtf is upwith the NSYNC pics? finally showing your true nature jmke? ^^
    Comment from jmke @ 2005/03/12
    actually I added it to please you