Quiet 4K Gaming PC Build Guide

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TESTING

Baseline Noise

Before any stress testing let's take a quick look at the noise produced by each part. This was done by leaving the system on but idle and stopping/unplugging all the fans to isolate individual components. Our ultra-quiet hemi-anechoic chamber has a noise floor of 10~11 [email protected] and the baseline of this system measures barely above that.

SPCR 4K Gaming PC: Component Noise Levels (idle)
Component
Fan Speed
SPL @1m
Fan Speed
Component
CPU Fan
500 RPM
11 dBA
11~12 dBA
600 RPM
Exhaust Fan (Scythe GlideStream 120)
800 RPM
15 dBA
15 dBA
800 RPM
1000 RPM
21 dBA
21 dBA
1000 RPM
1200 RPM
26~27 dBA
25~26 dBA
1200 RPM
1320 RPM
29~30 dBA
30~31 dBA
1450 RPM
 
GPU Fans
1000 RPM
12~13 dBA
12~13 dBA
600 RPM
Intake Fan (Phanteks PH-F140HP)
1400 RPM
17 dBA
16 dBA
700 RPM
1600 RPM
20 dBA
18 dBA
800 RPM
1800 RPM
23~24 dBA
23~24 dBA
1000 RPM
2000 RPM
26 dBA
30 dBA
1200 RPM
3000 RPM
38 dBA
34 dBA
1380 RPM
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle of case.
Ambient noise level: 10~11 [email protected]m.

The idea behind the above testing centers around the fact that the GPU fans will be doing most of the work in this system as the GTX 980 Ti is both more power hungry and will be stressed more than the i7-6700K. After establishing the approximate the GPU fan speed necessary, the remaining four fan speeds were tweaked to complement the noise level being generated as not to drown out the GPU fans. For example, if we're happy with the GPU fans running at 1600 RPM (20 dBA), it would be impractical to operate the exhaust fan at 1200 RPM (25~26 dBA) as it has far less impact on temperatures and be needlessly noisy.

As it turned out, the CPU and exhaust fans were practically identical noise generators when set to similar fan speeds, so they could be adjusted in unison to the same speed. The larger Phanteks fans at the front were a bit louder, so they were set to slightly slower speeds to compensate.

Test Results

For real game stress testing we used the Resident Evil 6 Demo Benchmark Tool (which is handy as it loops automatically after a brief pause at the end) and the built-in benchmark of Total War: Attila. A combination of Prime95 and FurMark was also used to stress the system beyond realistic norms.

Brief session of testing at 1080p with the case fans running at the minimum controllable speeds revealed that under normal gaming conditions, the GPU fans would run anywhere between 1200 and 1900 RPM under stock fan control while the GPU clock rarely dipped below 1418 MHz. I found that the remaining fans running at 650~700 RPM (not much higher than the minimum allowable) while also reducing the GPU fan speed manually (just enough not to lower the clock speed) generated the lowest overall noise output. Switching over to 4K proved to be a tad more demanding with the system drawing 5~6W more power from the wall and the GPU clock lowering slightly from 1418 MHz to 1405 MHz, even when the GPU fans were left at their default settings.

System Measurements (4K)
Test
Resident Evil 6 (Demo Benchmark, peak)
Total War: Attila (In-Game Benchmark, peak)
Prime95x2 + FurMark
GPU Fan Speed
1920 RPM
(50%)
1680 RPM
(46%)*
1740 RPM
(47%)
1260 RPM
(40%)*
2110 RPM
(53%)
GPU Clock
1405 MHz
1215 MHz
GPU Temp
81°C
86°C
79°C
84°C
81°C
CPU Temp
45°C
46°C
46°C
47°C
59°C
PCH Temp
54°C
57°C
54°C
54°C
57°C
System Power (AC)
364W
366W
364W
364W
395W
26 dBA
23 dBA
23~24 dBA
21~22 dBA
28 dBA
* GPU fan speed manually set.
CPU and rear exhaust fan at 700 RPM, intake fans at 650 RPM (19 [email protected] at idle).
Ambient temperature: 21°C.

The card abides by its default target temperature of 83°C stringently, keeping the GPU core at around 80°C though I found that the GPU fan speed could be lowered to produce quieter results without reducing the clock speed and therefore performance. This raised the GPU temperature by 5°C but this seems to be acceptable. The clock speed drops a bit more when it hits 87°C; If these temperatures were dangerous, it would throttle much harder.

Of the two game tests, Resident Evil 6 was harder on the system, requiring a GPU fan speed of 1920 RPM (50%) at its peak, which brought the overall noise level to a reasonable 26 [email protected] while a much quieter 23 [email protected] was possible with a slight GPU fan speed tweak. Most games are not particularly demanding on the CPU, so the CPU temperature remained comfortably under 50°C.

Average Framerate: 1080p vs. 4K
Test
1080p
4K
Resident Evil 6
(Demo Benchmark)
>120 fps
23916 pts
55~60 fps
9901 pts
Total War: Attila
(In-Game Benchmark)
70.9 fps (quality)
58.9 fps (max)
50.3 fps (quality)
27.2 fps (max)
 

While Resident Evil 6 is physically taxing on the GPU, it's not very demanding. It produced a score rather than framerates but watching it in action, it stayed above 120 fps most of the time at 1080p, often eclipsing 200 fps. This was with all the quality settings maxed out by default. Moving to 4K, the score dropped by more than half, and averaged 55~60 fps which is quite playable.

Total War: Attila on the otherhand requires a lot of horsepower, staying under a 60 fps average at 1080p using the "maximum" graphics preset. Oddly, this is one notch below the "extreme" preset which actually renders the most eye candy. The middle-of-the-road "quality" preset allows it to run somewhat smoother though it dropped below 30 fps here and there during the test. At 4K, the maximum setting was only smooth during short stretches so it needed be turned down at least one level. That being said, it still looked absolutely gorgeous as the additional pixels had a far greater effect than all the various tweakable quality settings.

I found playing at 1080p resolution on the 4K screen to be a very enjoyable experience. It's not as crisp as proper UHD, but the Vizio M43-C1 does a surprisingly good job at upscaling the image. If you're thinking about upgrading to 4K for productivity purposes but don't have the hardware to play games properly at the higher resolution, with the right display, you can game comfortably at the lower resolution rather than shelling for an expensive graphics card.

Running at minimum fan speeds, our system registered just 14 [email protected] sitting idle, a level that was barely audible inside our anechoic chamber. In a normal environment, you wouldn't be able to hear it operating except at very close proximity. At the most stressful point of the Resident Evil 6 test, our system measured a respectable 23 [email protected], with the GPU fan slightly lowered (without affecting the GPU clock speed) compared to stock and the remaining fans running at 700/650 RPM. The type of noise being output was also quite innocuous thanks to the acoustically unobtrusive fans selected for this build.

The GPU fans were the most noticeable as they were a higher pitched than the others but they didn't stand out too much. The GPU also suffered from coil whine but this was only annoying when looking at menus and loading screens rather than during gameplay, and only when V-Sync was disabled. The much higher framerates on these screens caused it to squeal so capping it at 60 fps with V-Sync helped quite a bit. I also found found that the background sound/music of Total War: Attila set to a moderate volume was enough to mask the noise of the PC altogether.



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