Fanless Power Supply PC Build Guide

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As a proof of concept, we built a system with a Seasonic X-400 in the Antec Solo II case. Passively cooled power supplies have mostly been used for low-end systems but we went with more mainstream components for a mid-range gaming system to show you just what the X-400 is capable of powering, and how cool and quiet such a system can be. It is actually at higher loads that this new breed of super-efficient, fanless PSU shows its best advantage; this is when the fan in a conventional PSU begins to speed up and become a significant, audible source of noise.

Component List:

CPU: Intel Core i5-2500K.
Motherboard: Asus P8P67.
RAM: 4GB Kingston HyperX LoVo DDR3-1600.

While many of us are waiting for Intel's Ivy Bridge and AMD's Bulldozer platforms to drop, Intel's Sandy Bridge processors remain the best performing chips on the market. The 3.3 GHz 95W Core i5-2500K is incredibly popular amongst enthusiasts due to its reasonable price and unlocked multiplier. If you're an AMD fan, you may prefer a cheaper Phenom II X4/X6 processor, but you'll be sacrificing both performance and in particular, energy efficiency, which is vital in a quiet PC build.

As motherboards go, the Asus P8P67 is rather modest in terms of features but having a stacked board isn't vital for this build. It does have three controllable fan headers, which means we didn't need a dedicated fan controller.

For RAM, we picked out a 2x2GB kit of Kingston HyperX LoVo DDR3-1600. As computer memory is dirt cheap at the moment, it's perfectly reasonable to go with 8GB as well if you're so inclined. Brand is not terrible important given that RAM is effectively a commodity; Other well-known names like Corsair, Crucial, G.Skill, Mushkin, and OCZ are just as good as Kingston. We do recommend DIMMs rated for 1.5V or lower, as in our experience, they tend to be more compatible with a wider range of boards. These Kingston LoVo sticks run at 1.35V and sports spiffy green heatspreaders, a nice change from the usual fare.

CPU cooler: Thermalright Venomous X.

There are a number of huge dual 14 cm CPU heatsinks from Prolimatech, Noctua, and Thermalright, but the smaller and cheaper Thermalright Venomous X and Ultra-120 eXtreme produce very similar results. We went with the Venomous X as its wider fin spacing is well suited for low airflow — we wanted to make this machine as quiet as possible. The rock solid, idiot-proof mounting system is one factor that tilted our decision toward Thermalright rather than some of the cheaper value coolers from Scythe, Zalman, and Cooler Master.

GPU & cooler: AMD Radeon HD 6870 & GELID Icy Vision.

The Radeon HD 6870 is a common graphics card found in contemporary gaming builds. Ours is an AMD reference sample with a maximum power draw of about 160W. The stock cooling unit was fairly loud at load, so we paired it with a GELID Icy Vision to keep temperatures and noise level to a minimum. Various manufacturers make 6870's with similar style dual fan heatsinks, but they're nowhere near as formidable as this five heatpipe, 1 lb beast. The Icy Vision's two 92 mm fans are connected to a 4-pin connector that fits our card's fan plug, but it lacks the PWM wire required for the 6870's built-in fan control system. We powered it using the included 3-pin/molex adapter.

Case fans: Scythe Kaze-Jyuni (Slip Stream) 120 mm.

The Solo II ships with a single TrueQuiet 120 mm fan at the back — this is an exceptionally quiet fan! — and two optional 120 mm positions at the front. For a low-end graphics card or integrated graphics we would probably be satisfied with just the one case fan, but with a high-powered GPU in the mix, some supplemental cooling seemed appropriate. The Scythe Slip Stream line performs well, have very smooth acoustics, and is inexpensive and widely available. We went with two 500 RPM models (SY1225SL12SL) for the front intakes and a 1300 RPM PWM variant (SY1225SL12LM-P) for the Venomous X CPU heatsink.

SSD: Kingston V+100 96GB.
HDD: WD Caviar Green 2TB.
ODD: Asus BC-08B1ST.

No silent system is complete nowadays without a speedy SSD, so we popped in a Kingston SSDNow V+100 96GB into our rig. It is completely silent but fairly expensive per byte. 96GB isn't enough for most users so we added a 2TB WD Caviar Green for good measure. The Caviar Green is the ultimate low noise/vibration/power drive, but 7200 RPM models aren't out of the question as the Solo II has elastic suspenders that will cancel out the noise of higher vibration drives. We also went with an Asus BC-08B1ST Blu-ray drive, though depending on how you prefer to consume media, leaving an optical drive off the build list completely may be perfectly acceptable.

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