Single Moving Part PC in Silverstone TJ08

Do-It-Yourself Systems | The Silent Front
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Single Moving Part PC in Silverstone TJ08

A report on SPCR's first PC without any moving parts was posted in April 2009. Less than two months later, I have another interesting lab PC to tell you about. It's a PC with just a single moving part: A 120x25mm fan spinning at a well-nigh inaudible 500rpm. This time, it's not just a caseless assembly suitable only for a test bench; this Single Moving Part PC — SMPPC ;) — is housed in a handsome case that would be perfectly at home in a living room or office. Again, an SSD is used in place of a hard drive.

We're now running a NAS box, a QNAP 109 Pro housing a single Seagate terabtye hard drive, on a gigabit LAN network. All our data and photos are saved directly to the NAS box, and backed up to an external USB drive connected directly to the NAS. So there is no need for much more storage capacity in each PC than what the operating system requires. In general, a 30GB SSD is adequate. This means a lower cost SSD for each PC and no need to worry about backing up each PC individually, with all the data centralized on the NAS. The SPCR lab computers have finally evolved into a simple server/client network.

The finished Silverstone TJ08 system atop a big desk in our lab, which is now quieter than ever, in or out of the anechoic chamber. Note the SPCR Audio PC in the background, housed in another of our mATX case favorites, the Antec NSK-3480.

The components for the new system were on hand, chosen mostly for low power (and low heat) and suitability to the task.

  • Silverstone TJ08 Micro ATX mini tower - This is one of our favorite small cases and we've never done a formal review, although we did give it two thumbs up as a component in a Puget Computers system review. It has unimpeded 120mm fan in/out vents, a removable motherboard tray (!), and a very nice aluminum front bezel combined with decent (if a bit thin) steel panel chassis. Very simple straight-up box, looks good, easy to work with, modestly priced.
  • MSI KA760GM - budget AMD 760G chipset micro-ATX motherboard. This product seems to have been discontinued almost before it got put into production, and there are no other iterations of 760G chipset motherboards. Call it a deadend in the AMD evolutionary scheme. Still, it works well enough as our lab does not need to be either a feature-laden beast nor power machine.
  • AMD A64 X2 4600 - 65W TDP, 2.4 GHz, 512KB L2 Cache. We'd have prefered a 45W TDP part, but they're all in active use as parts of test/reference systems.
  • nMedia Icetank - heatpipe heatsink, modified -- see text
  • Corsair CM2X1024-6400 - single stick of 1GB 800 MHz DDRAM
  • Mini-Box PW-200-M - bigger more robust DC-DC power supply, predecessor of famous picoPSU
  • 80W AC/DC power adapter
  • Intel X25-M 80GB - celebrated king of SSDs, total overkill for this system but better than leaving it idle on the shelf. We'll probably replace it with a smaller capacity SSD later.
  • Fander FX-120 - Quiet 120x25mm fan with built-in manual speed control, set to ~500rpm constant speed. Decouple-mounted with silicone rubber plugs from Antec, who supplied us with a bag of these at some point in the past.
  • DVD/CD burner, floppy drive + memory card reader - basic necessities for a lab PC
  • Plastic food container, modified -- see text
  • Windows XP - for SPCR, still more reliable than Vista, though Windows 7 may be adoptied at some point.

This new system is so quiet that even with my head within a foot of the case, it's difficult to hear anything at all. When I put my ear about 6~12" from the fan on the back panel, I can hear the fan spinning, making a bit of clicking noise and a touch of hum, but that's about it. Oh, there might bit a bit of electronic noise or squealing from the motherboard at times, but you have to be within 6" of the quite open back panel to hear it.

SPL measurements? It's not possible at one meter distance. In our anechoic chamber, turning the system on makes no change in the ambient level of 11 dBA, so it is effectively silent.

Frequency Spectrum: Old PC vs SMPPC
The old Athlon XP 2500+ system measured just 12.7 [email protected] in the anechoic chamber, but the new SMPPC doesn't register at all. It is below 10~11 [email protected] Note that the top line represents 0 dBA; the SPL is a summation of all the readings across the entire frequency band.

How does this SMPPC differ from the system it replaced? The earlier system was an old Athlon XP 2500+ workhorse on an nVidia chipset board with two 120mm fans (one in the PSU, one on the back panel) and a 90mm fan (on the CPU heatsink), each running at around 5~600rpm. It also had two Seagate Barracuda IV/V 3.5" hard drives, 40GB and 120GB, sitting on soft foam at the bottom of the case. High density carpet underlay was glued to the inside of the case panels to damp them and muffle the noise. All this in a very sturdy, heavy steel In Win case modified for unimpeded airflow. It was very quiet, the main noise character being a bit of low level whoosh from the fans but there was a soft low-frequency hum from the HDDs audible at night (when the outside ambient noise dropped) and when I sat right next to it without typing or making noise. It measured just under 13 [email protected] in the chamber. Like I said, it was very quiet... but all of its components were as old as SPCR itself, and seven years is an eternity for IT gear, so a precautionary system replacment seemed judicious anyway. The SMPPC might as well not be there at all, it's that quiet.

The rest of this article is mostly photos, a how-I-did-it exposition. There are some thermal and power measurements at the end.

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