Newbie Silences a Dell OptiPlex GX-240

Do-It-Yourself Systems
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The hardest part was removing the two piece frame and clips without damaging any adjacent circuitry. With the motherboard tray itself securely attached to the large and relatively heavy HeatlaneZen, it was not necessary to mount the radiator directly on the motherboard with the supplied rubber insulation pad and metal mounting plate. This neatly and fortuitously sidestepped the possibility that the sheer mass of the HeatlaneZen might warp or crack the motherboard during assembly, or when the computer was moved or shipped.

There was enough clearance below the tray to use the supplied metal mounting plate to ensure a very secure attachment for the whole “cooling tower”.

Artic Silver 3 thermal compound was used between the top of the Intel CPU and the bottom of the copper heat spreader on the base of the HeatlaneZen. This was a functional improvement in efficiency over the thermal tape used by Dell on the stock P4 cooler. The stock northbridge heat sink did not appear to require an upgrade but it also received a thin coat of Artic Silver 3 in place of Dell applied thermal tape.

The second step, installing the Seasonic SS-300FB PSU, was also very straightforward. The hardest part was opening up the back of the Dell case to minimize any obstruction to the honeycomb grill on the exit side of the PSU.

That's a clean cutting job on the PSU vent for the case!

The only issue that came up with the Seasonic PSU was a stalled fan. Apparently, early production units had fans with insufficient voltage sensitivity to start up or restart reliably. An unattractive electronic noise occurs as the underpowered fan attempts to spin.

Jonathan Bird of Silicon Acoustics, where the Seasonic and Heatlane Zen heatsink were purchased, came through with flying colors when he sent me a replacement fan in an overnight FedEx package. I notified him of the problem late on a Friday, he shipped it the next day on Saturday, and it was installed in the PSU on the following Monday morning. Since then, the new fan has worked flawlessly with absolutely no problems and the PSU has been going about its assigned role in the reconfigured Dell both quietly and efficiently

I am not technically sophisticated enough to have temperature probes and sensor arrays in my system but I can say that the airflow from within the case is only perceptible if I wet my finger and hold it up the exit vent of the PSU. That air feels barely warmer than the ambient temperature in my home office and the grill of the PSU is only slightly warm. When I open the case, the CPU radiator and the stock passive heat sinks on the northbridge chip, and the video card’s gpu, are barely warm rather than hot to the touch.

Being a non-gamer who uses his computer principally for business work that does not involve 3D modeling, as well as to surf the net, or watch the occasional DVD, or do some audio/video capture and editing, I don’t expect that this computer will ever be under any great thermal stress. These new components seem to be well up to the job and have significantly reduced the background noise level in my home office, which is a very great pleasure indeed!

In Part Two of this unfolding personal saga, I will share my experience of learning...

  • how to objectively measure relevant temperatures,
  • how I improved the airflow within the case,
  • how I discharged the capacitors in the PSU so I could safely adjust the length of the wiring to match the internal dimensions and the location of the components,
  • how those wires were then sleeved to achieve a neat appearance and an efficient lay out to maximize airflow, and
  • how I dampened the metalwork of the case to minimize the transmission of vibrations.

Before modification, the Dell had a Maxtor 6L040J2 40GB and a WDC WD205 AA 20GB HD adding their heat (and noise!) to the system.

  • I will conclude by describing how I educated myself on transferring the inner workings of my computer’s operating system and files to a different hard drive, a vastly quieter Seagate Barracuda V 60GB unit that is mounted at the bottom of the case in a Zalman ZM-2HC1 HDD cooling and vibration dampening device.

* * * * *

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