The lungs of a case are key in any system that is going to run hot components at close to maximum load a lot of the time. We refer to the ability of the case to breathe deeply in and out, the potential airflow throughput. Today's gaming-oriented cases are generally well-configured for good airflow, with all mesh fronts, large fans and multiple vents. Bottom placement of the PSU is a great alternative to the usual top position, as it improve airflows around the CPU and the video card(s) directly below. The Antec Nine Hundred is an excellent example of such a gaming case, and with sale pricing below $100, it is a good buy. (Nine Hundred is the model on which the pricier Nine Hundred Two that we reviewed is based.) Alternatives are many, but on a short list are the similar NZXT Tempest EVO we successfully employed for a silent 9-HDD home server recently, and the smaller, budget version Antec Three Hundred.
All the primary components for this Silent Mid Gamer in a group shot.
This time around, we opted for an AMD platform. The AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition 3.2GHz Socket AM3 125W Quad-Core Processor was chosen for its modest price, overclocking potential (it is not clock locked in any way), and high base speed. Despite its rated 125W TDP, we found it easy to keep both cool and quiet. The $100 alternate Phenom II X4 840 isn't out at time of writing, but it will be available in early January: 3.2GHz, 95W TDP with no L3 cache (compared to 6MB in the 955). If you're not sold on either of these quad-cores, AMD's current catalog is rich with variety and choice in the sub-$200 category, raging from $70 Athlon II dual-cores to even 6-core Phenom IIs. The rule of thumb that a high speed dual-core gives you the best gaming bang for your buck still tends to hold.
The Scythe Mugen 2 is a great value and a top performing tower cooler with a superby quiet PWM fan and the correct "blow out the back" mounting configuration on most AMD boards. It should do very well with the Asus motherboard's built-in fan controller. There are so many alternatives, but even the cehapest ones will not save you more than ~$10, so none are listed here. Check the Recommended Heatsinks for other options.
We like the ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 for being totally loaded with features and for its sophisticated fan controllers, which allow independent control of three fans, and silent modes that work very well. The lower budget Gigabyte GA-880GMA-UD2H micro-ATX alternate has fewer features and fan control features that aren't quite as good, but it's a solid buy at $45 less.
The 2x2GB OCZ DDR3 PC3-10666 Gold ELV RAM is clocked a little slow but it is the most stable and versatile RAM we have on hand, working well even with the fussiest of motherboards. Higher clocked versions are available, and they might be worthwhile.
The AMD Radeon HD 6870 is a no-brainer for this build, as it has excellent performance and support for up to three monitors from the single card. Just get the cheapest one you can find, as the stock cooler will be replaced. The combination of the 6870 and the Gelid Icy Vision cooler is a silent winner, as we showed in previous build guides, namely the Silent Mid Tower Gamer/Home Server box. The nVidia GTX 460 is a slightly cheaper alternative, as is the Radeon HD 4850; both are said to overclock better than the 6870. The Asus EAH6850 1GB DirectCU we reviewed recently is a very quiet option which needs no cooler/fan swap and sells for as little as $180.
A triple-screen gaming experience can be had with a single HD 6870 card as this AMD demo setup demonstrates in grand fashion.
The 80 PLUS Gold Seasonic X-650 is a bit of a luxury, but its super high efficiency (>90%), and fanless operation at <200W load not only lets us waste a little less energy in the admittedly trivial pursuit of gaming pleasure, but also achieve super low noise levels. The alternatives from Antec and CoolerMaster are both very quiet, $40 cheaper, but don't feature completely detachable cables or 90% efficiency.
Similarly, the OCZ Vertex 2 OCZSSD2-2VTXE60G 2.5" MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) is something of a luxury, but its acceleration of boot and program load times, the absence of any noise or significant heat, and the dramatically lowered pricing during holiday season sales makes it too tempting. With TRIM support and the highest speed recorded in our recent consumer SSD roundup, it seems a solid choice.
The suggested option of a WD Caviar Green 1TB hard drive is worthwhile for anyone who needs more storage. We know that a single 60GB drive is inadequate space for almost any gamer; a single game easily takes up 10GB these days, so there's hardly any room left for data or storage after a few games are installed. A single 1TB Green can be partitioned into two spaces: A small one to maintain an up-to-date copy of the OS SSD so that if the SSD should fail, your system can still be up and running in a few minutes (even if not booting or loading programs quite as quickly); and a larger partition to store all your data. The $60 cost is trivial, and the noise penalty is extremely small, as a typical WD Green runs 13~14 dBA@1m in idle and barely higher in seek. Alternatives include Samsung EcoGreens and Seagate Barracuda LP drives at similar prices. Of course, if you want to keep your system free of a mechanical storage drive within, an external USB 3.0 drive like one of the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex USB 3.0 will run nearly as fast as an internal HDD, though at a price premium. But these decisions go beyond the scope of our build guide.
The new Antec TrueQuiet 120 case fan has not been thoroughly tested, as it just arrived in our lab, but it may well prove to be a popular silent product as long as the $16 MSP is ignored by resellers. It has a high/low speed switch, and at the low setting where it spins at <600rpm, it is inaudible. More importantly the TrueQuiet 120 has a smooth, benign character at all speeds. An ever-popular alternative is one of the Scythe SlipStream 120s. The Samsung optical drive is smooth and quiet enough like many current optical drives unless you're using it constantly, and the Zalman Fan Mate 2 is a simple fan voltage controller that has long been a useful friend for the DIY silencer.
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