Miika's DIY Silent Aluminum-frame HTPC

Do-It-Yourself Systems
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POWERING UP


The finished system.

With the front panel and inner components all in place, all the cables attached and the top panel installed with Blu Tack, it was time to power it up. The Blu Tack, by the way, wasn't planned to be permanent, but it proved to be an easy way to affix and remove the top without any screws or holes in the soft aluminum, which could easily wear out. Plus the Blu Tack absorbs vibrations and is also air-proof.

I soon found out that the 92mm Noctua fan on the processor heatsink wasn't enough to cool the whole system down as I had hoped. The graphics card was getting way too hot and the computer crashed a few times, probably because of that. I installed a Noctua S12 fan to take in some cool air from the left side and blow it to the GPU. That worked out well and since then I've been satisfied with the noise and the temperatures of the PC. The processor idles at 34°C, and the hard disk drive runs at about the same temperature. At continuous 100% CPU load, the core temperature rises somewhere near 50°C, which I consider really acceptable, especially with the fans constantly rotating at their minimum speed.


The finished system.

The final dimensions of the case are as follows. Width of the front panel is 445 mm, outer width of the case being 360 mm to leave room for the PSU. The height is 156 mm, 168 mm with the feet. The depth is 405 mm.


CONCLUSIONS & ALTERNATIVES

It has been around two years since the project was finished. Today it would be possible to choose different components and still stay within a reasonable budget.

The 3.5" HDD isn't a perfect solution, as you can hear the seek noise clearly, especially because the case has no damping material. Some type of damping material could a difference, but it tend to raise the temperature inside the case. The hard drive is mechanically decoupled from the case, but an even quieter solution would be a 2.5" drive. That’s something I intend to try in the near future as I have a spare one. Even better, of course, would be a solid state drive with zero noise and minimum heat. SSD prices continue their downward march, and a 500GB model may soon be within reach of the average DIY computer builder.

The GPUs are also constantly getting better, so it is now possible to find a cooler one with adequate performance, or even better, get all this from an integrated one. A riser card could have also been used for improved airflow, although there is a bit of a dilemma with the hot parts of the card being easily pocketed.

The processor cooler has proved to be excellent, but it's a shame the 92mm fan doesn't move enough air silently to cool the whole system. The optimal solution might be one or two 120mm fans rotating slowly inside the case, neither of them near the openings to avoid direct noise. Some damping of the case could also help, especially for the front panel.

Finally, there is the PSU. The semi-passive Antec Phantom is a great product, but its 500W power capacity is overkill and it actually doesn't work completely passively after hours of use. Its fan makes 2-second spin-ups every 15 seconds or so. The PSU sometimes gets so hot that you can barely touch it. Cleaning the PSU with pressurized air hasn't helped. The airflow around the PSU just isn't enough, even with the convection effect. Modular cables would also be a worthwhile improvement for this type of project. Using a SSD and an integrated graphics card would allow one to use a PicoPSU. [Editor's Note: A super high efficiency 80 Plus Gold or Platinum PSU would also be a viable alternative today.]


The finished HTPC in the A/V system.

Thanks to Tuukka and Janne who helped me with planning and building and to my brother Ville for helping me with the writing process. Thanks to Mike Chin for his patience and to SPCR and everyone whose projects have inspired me.

About the Author

Miika Hyvönen is a 23-year-old student from Finland. His first contact with computers was in the late eighties or early nineties. He still remembers the amber text on the small black screen of his dad's computer. Miika used his dad's and later his brothers’ computers often, and first assembled his own computer in April 2003. Actually he still uses the same processor, memory sticks and graphics card.

Since getting his own computer, Miika has been trying to make it as silent as possible. That's how he became familiar with the SPCR and with all the tricks and quiet components. It was sometime in the late 2003 that Miika first hung his HDDs with strips of rubber cut from a car tire inner tube, thus mechanically decoupling them from the case. He also undervolted the processor. Ever since, it’s been a long journey trying to get as close to silence as possible with air cooling.

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Other SPCR articles of related interest:
Silent PC with No Moving Parts
Bill's Recycled, Fanless, Silent Woodbox Computer
Superquiet Superclocked DIY Core 2 Duo System
Doug's Quiet Wood Case PC

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Discuss this article in the SPCR forums.



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