Quiet 4K Gaming PC Build Guide

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Quiet 4K Gaming PC Build Guide

February 2, 2016 by Lawrence Lee

At SPCR we use a variety of displays for day-to-day operations but given the nature of our work, none of them are particularly high resolution. Recently we acquired a 4K TV, strictly for a side project, and it presented an interesting opportunity: The chance to build and test a quiet 4K gaming build. A 4K (aka UHD) display has a native resolution of 3840x2160, quadruple that of 1080p, for a ridiculous total of 8.3 million pixels. Spread across a large display, this arguably offers a more immersive gaming experience than a triple-monitor configuration with bezels in between, and a more usable workspace for non-gaming activities. It's not a cheap endeavor however as even some high-end GPUs can't deliver suitable frame rates. Given this kind of horsepower, component selection is critical to limit the noise output on such a PC.

COMPONENT SELECTION

GPU: Asus GTX 980 Ti Strix OC - US$700

Alternatives:

  • MSI GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G - US$650
  • EVGA GTX 980 Ti Classified Gaming - US$670
  • Zotac GTX 980 Ti Amp! Extreme - US$675

The star of any gaming PC is the video card, and this is especially true if you need to drive a 4K display. The sheer number of pixels that need to be rendered demands a monstrously powerful GPU with a substantial amount of video memory. The Asus GTX 980 Ti Strix OC is easily the most expensive component in our build, but for a top tier GPU, it's actually quite competitive. The GTX 980 Ti performs substantially better than the GTX 980 and AMD's current flagship, the R9 Fury X, and is similar to that of the much more expensive Titan X, whose only advantage is an insane 12GB of video memory that most games can't utilize. The Asus Strix OC model is one of the fastest variants and we'll need every bit of speed we can get. Usually, you can get better value by selecting a more affordable graphics card, but in this case, the minimum requirements are just too high. A mid-range card would slow to a crawl with the latest and greatest titles even at the lowest detail levels, so you really have to reach for the best.


The Asus GTX 980 Ti Strix OC.

Even with a formidable GPU, maxing out the settings in most games won't result in a smooth experience as outputting four times the resolution of 1080p is simply too demanding. The extra pixels are still worth it if you have to turn the image quality settings down a few notches. If that's not acceptable, then you'll have to look into much hotter and louder multi-GPU configurations. The GTX 900 series is incredibly energy efficient but the 980 Ti is the exception given its 250W TDP. To deal with this kind of load, the Strix OC edition is equipped with a substantial heatsink underneath a trio of fans but even so, it's not nearly as quiet as the various GTX 980's and 970's on the market. Multiple 980 Ti's would require some serious aftermarket cooling to produce some semblance of quiet. Our build allows for this possibility if you so desire.

Case: Corsair Carbide 600Q - US$150

Alternatives:

  • Fractal Design Define S - US$100
  • SilverStone Raven RV05 - US$115
  • Fractal Design Define R5 - US$120
  • SilverStone Fortress FT05 - US$190

Many cases marketed as quiet follow a faulty paradigm, sealing up the enclosure to prevent noise from escaping and restricting airflow in doing so. Such designs are likely quieter than the average chassis assuming the components inside generate the same noise level. In reality, the lack of proper ventilation means higher fan speeds are required to produce an equivalent level of cooling. Often this extra noise more than offsets the any potential savings. It sounds counterintuitive but airflow is key for a quiet case.


The Corsair Carbide 600Q.


Inside.

An unusually tall and wide case, the Corsair Carbide 600Q is not a particularly attractive tower (the windowed 600C is preferable if aesthetics are important) but it has a wonderfully open airflow design conducive to cool and quiet operation. The intake vents along the sides of the front bezel are generously sized, there are no drive cages or other obstructions blocking the front fans, and the dust filters are pleasantly unrestricted. It features an inverted motherboard orientation, 5.25-inch drive support in case you still rely on optical media, noise damping material, and a triple fan speed controller. It doesn't offer much in the way of mass storage though, with only a pair of 3.5-inch drive bays.

If you've blown your budget on the graphics card, the more affordable Fractal Define S has a similar layout that works almost as well, and the Define R5 is similar but more versatile as it has removable hard drive cages. The SilverStone RV05/FT05 should also be considered as they are the best performing sub-$200 case we've ested due to their rotated motherboard layout and immense stock fans.

CPU: Intel Core i7-6700K - US$370

Alternatives:

  • Intel Core i5-6600K - US$255
  • Intel Core i5-6600 - US$220
  • Intel Core i5-6500 - US$200


Intel Core i7-6700K.

Aside from price and the sheer number of cores offered (which is not of great significance when it comes to gaming), Intel has had a massive edge over AMD when it comes to high-end desktop CPUs for the better part of the last decade. Intel chips are superior in IPC (instructions per clock) and consume significantly less power and therefore generate less heat, something that is of utmost importance for a quiet PC. This may change when AMD drops their much anticipated new Zen CPU architecture later this year but until then, Intel is remains firmly planted in its throne.

There are three platforms to choose from: the older Haswell (LGA1150), the latest Skylake (LGA1151), and the extreme enthusiast Haswell-E, soon to be Broadwell-E (LGA2011-v3), with the latter giving users access to powerful six/eight core chips. Modern gaming titles are unlikely to be bottlenecked by any decently clocked quad core model, so it doesn't really matter which socket is chosen. We selected Skylake simply because it's the most modern/future-proof but the flagship i7-6700K could be replaced with a slower model without any detriment. Skylake doesn't offer a huge performance upgrade over Haswell, so the older LGA1150 socket is certainly viable if you want to stretch your dollar a bit but the price difference isn't that big. Haswell-E's ultra expensive hex/octa-core CPUs are likely to be overkill and might be considered only if you're simultaneously live streaming video to Twitch while gaming or something similar.

CPU Cooler: Scythe Mugen MAX - US$50

Alternatives:

  • Coolermaster Hyper 212 Evo - US$30
  • Scythe Kotetsu - US$40
  • Scythe Ninja 4 - US$55


Scythe Kotetsu.

We've used the Scythe Mugen Max in previous builds and it has yet to let us down. It's an excellent cooler with a superb mounting system, a pleasant sounding stock fan, and its asymmetrical design creates plenty of clearance for the DIMM slots. PC builders often select a large CPU heatsink and memory with tall heatspreaders only to discover later that they interfere with one another.

Editor's Note: Scythe's Mugen 4 and Mugen Max were two Scythe products that needed a design fix for the odd users with a Skylake mounting/cracking problem (thinner substrate and too long screws led to the cooler breaking the CPU with case movement). They probably shortened the screws by a turn.

Closed loop liquid coolers are incredibly popular for custom gaming PCs but they're quite expensive and the noise from the pump is almost always awful, ruining the idle noise level. They're also unnecessary as the CPU doesn't get worked very hard by most games. It makes more sense to use watercooling on video cards as they typically have much higher power requirements than their CPU counterparts and in most enclosures, GPU cooling is always a challenge due to the relatively centralized position of the video card far away from most fan placements.



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