Journey to a Silent MicroATX Gamer

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JOURNEY'S END

To those who read through my entire journey, thanks for persevering; I hope it was worth your time. To those who jumped straight to this page for the snapshot conclusions, it's possible that some of what I write won't jibe fully till you head back and read the article all the way through.

This Corsair Air 240 based Quiet Micro-ATX Gaming PC is a bit different from the other gaming systems we've detailed this season. It's base SPL is several decibels higher than the others, most of which approach the ambient levels of the quietest homes. This one is more audible, especially as it is meant to be placed atop the desk. The noise is mostly broadband, as you'll have heard in the audio recording, and it hardly gets any louder even when subject to extended artificially high load. My final measurements indicate just 1 [email protected] difference between idle and load SPL. Some users will find this more constant noise preferable to a machine that's quieter at idle but ramps up to a more audible level under load. It's often the change many of us notice most.

The Zotac GTX 970 graphics card and the Intel i5-4690K make this a very capable gaming rig. The performance of the GTX 970 is only a half step behind the much pricier 980 and the quad-core CPU hardly imposes any limits with today's most demanding games.

SPCR's Quiet MicroATX Gaming PC Component List
SPCR Build Components
Street Price
Alternatives
Corsair Carbide Air 240
$85
Fractal Design Arc Mini R2
Corsair Obsidian 350D
Silverstone Sugo SG10
In Win / Nofan Dragon Slayer
Zotac GTX 970
ZT-90101-10P
$330
PNY VCGGTX9704XPB
Gigabyte GV-N970IXOC-4GD
Gigabyte GV-N970WF3OC-4GD
EVGA 04G-2974-KR
Arctic Accelero Extreme III
$65
Arctic Accelero Hybrid II-120
Gigabyte Z97MX-Gaming 5
$130
ASRock Z97M
ASUS Z97M-PLUS
MSI Z97M-G43
Intel Core i5-4690K
$190
Core i5-4690S
Core i5-4670
Core i5-4670K
Core i5-4570
Core i5-4590
Noctua NH-D9L
w/ 2nd NF-A9 PWM fan
$50
Noctua NH-U9S
NZXT X41
Noctua DH-L12
Noctua NH-C14
Crucial MX100 512GB SSD
$200
Samsung 850 EVO 512GB
Corsair Neutron XT 480GB
Seasonic G550
SSR-550RM
$85
Rosewill Fortress 450W
Enermax Revolution X't 430W
Seasonic G450 SSR-450RM
Kingston HyperX Genesis 2x4GB 1866MHz DDR3
$95
Kingston HyperX Fury 8GB Kit (2x4GB) 1600MHz DDR3
Patriot Viper 8GB Kit (2x4GB) 1866MHz DDR3
TOTAL
$1230
NOTES
* The alternate GTX 970 cards listed all feature narrow coolers and PCBs that should fit the confines of the Corsair Air 240.
* Noctua DH-U9S will work best with a second 92mm fan.
* Other case alternatives don't have the same VGA card size restriction.
Retail prices are subject to constant fluctuations. Please use the shopping links to check on current pricing; don't rely on the prices cited in non-linked text.

This quiet gaming rig would not have been possible without the power efficient performance of the GTX 970 and the Intel Core i5-4690K. The peak power draw of 267W AC is probably a hundred watts less than what a similar performing system with a last gen video card would have required. The reduced heat is key in allowing this system to be so quiet.

The other components all played their part, of course: The flexible and stable Gigabyte Z97MX-Gaming 5 motherboard, the quiet Seasonic G550 PSU, the Kingston RAM, the Crucial MX100 512GB SSD. Most crucial in this build is the Arctic Accelero Extreme II: Not only is it a highly effective VGA cooler, its footprint is narrow enough to fit in the Air 240. The Noctua NH-D9L with its extra fan for push-pull was also critical in keeping the CPU cooled quietly enough, although the alternative options would probably done similarly well.

The most compromised component in this build turns out ironically to be the one that inspired it. The Corsair Carbide Air 240 is a fascinating concept poorly executed. There are three main issues:

  • Basic build quality is mediocre at best. The side panels — nay, all the panels! — are too thin and flexible and too many parts fit sloppily. Make it better and charge a bit more!
  • The dust filters built into the top, front and bottom panel vents are far too restrictive of airflow. This might be less of an issue if you're running case fans at full speed, but 50% less airflow has got to be significant for anyone seeking good cooling, whether for an overclocked rig or a low-airflow stealth machine. This flaw should be easy for Corsair to correct.
  • The case probably should not be made much wider if it's going to fit comfortably on many desks, but the internal width of the main compartment is unfortunately narrow.

The best and best cooler-equipped VGA cards are all too wide to fit in the main compartment. You simply cannot fit any of the recent generation ASUS Strix GTX 980/970 or MSI Gaming GTX 980/970 cards in the Air 240; these are reputedly the quietest graphics cards on the market. If you want a GTX 980 in this case, it must be one fitted with a narrower cooler, which almost assuredly will have smaller fans and be too noisy for a quiet rig. All this could be avoided if the main compartment of the Air 240 was 1.5 cm or maybe even just 1 cm wider.

Could the right side compartment have been squeezed one centimeter narrower and the extra space given to the left side? Judging by the space on either side of the vertically poisitioned PSU, I believe so. A half cm wider overall dimension would have made no change desktop usability, either.

Lest this article end on a negative note, I draw your attention to the results of the dust filter and fan airflow experiments conducted in the course of this build. It's positive reinforcement of a basic tenet for PC silencing SPCR has espoused for years: Minimize impedances for best airflow and low noise. Yes, dust filters can be convenient and useful, but if you're seeking to eke out the best airflow with the lowest noise, they're not in your best interest. Just accept the need to be a bit more vigilant about dusting and know that you have to clean dust filters just as often anyway.

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This is certainly my last article for the week, so have a Merry Christmas! (What? I dare mention the word? How un-PC! Mmmmm.... How commonsense! It's what the day is called, OK?)

This concludes another SPCR Silent Gaming PC Build Guide. Please support SPCR and help us present many more build guides by using our sponsor advertising links for your shopping.

Many thanks to Intel, Corsair, Arctic, Crucial, Gigabyte, Kingston, Seasonic and Noctua for sponsoring the components in this build guide.

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Articles of Related Interest
Quiet Mini-ITX Gamer Build Guide
Quiet ATX Gamer, R5 Version
SPCR's Quiet ATX Gaming Build Guide
Silent Mid Gaming PC Build Guide
Case Basics & Recommendations
Recommended Heatsinks

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Discuss this article in the SPCR Forums.



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