Fanless (or Not) with TKPower 300 & VIA C3

Do-It-Yourself Systems | Power
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May 19, 2002 by John Coyle

Editor's Note: This article is partly a review of the TK Power 300 and partly a DIY quiet computer project. Many components and techniques discussed in Silent PC Review are put to good use by John: the above-mentioned PSU, VIA C3 processor, the quiet Seagate Barracuda IV hard drive, Zalman fan mounts, Panaflo 80mm fans, drive decoupling by suspension, etc. A worthy first article!

About the author: John Coyle is a health care worker who uses computers in his handling of clinical data as well as in research. Over the last 10 years, he has been involved in a number of unrelated projects, including video processing and heat stress analysis. You might wish to visit his web site, http://www.zunis.org.

Disclaimer: The author does not recommend the modifications described in this review. These modifications may cause severe injury to anyone involved in making them, may produce irreparable damage to the computer and may pose other hazards such as fire danger. Anyone who attempts these modifications does so at his own risk.

The computer recording these keystrokes sits on the floor by my desk, 24 inches from my chair. It is 9pm, the house is entirely quiet. I know what machine sounds I am listening for, and I can't hear any.

The computer is not silent. A Barracuda IV hard drive spinning at 7200 rpm is moving metal shearing air. If I put my ear close to the case, a faint humming is audible. At this point, there are also 2 Panaflo 80mm fans whirling in the case, each at a FanMate'd minimum voltage. Abruptly turning the fans off using a remote switchbox produces no change in the sound field.

This is not a silent computer, but it is really, really quiet.

The TKPower300 power supply unit

Here is the obligatory component recital:

  • generic $40 case with power supply (removed)
  • TKP300 fanless ATX (but not ATX form factor) power supply
  • ASUS CUV4X-V motherboard with on-board audio and video
  • VIA C3 800 CPU
  • AAVID passive heatsink, with no CPU fan
  • 256 MB RAM
  • generic network card
  • generic CD-ROM
  • generic floppy drive
  • Barracuda IV 40 GB hard drive
  • WD 30GB hard drive, used exclusively for periodic Drive Image backups, and turned off the rest of the time by remote switch box
  • Radio Shack indoor-outdoor thermometer, suspended over the motherboard at the level of the RAM sticks
  • CompuNurse thin-flat thermometer probe placed between the heatsink and the cpu, wedged against the heat spreader
  • Dtemp software monitoring of the Barracuda temperature
  • MBM 5 and ASUS Probe (latest version) have both failed to provide accurate CPU and motherboard temperature monitoring in this system, in spite of BIOS update. (ASUS technical support has not replied to my question about this.)
  • 2 Panaflo 80mm (L) fans, each connected to a Zalman FanMate, with the FanMate positioned outside the case
  • DIY fan off-on switchbox, using rocker switches and a potentiometer
  • Windows 98

MOUNTING THE TK POWER 300

The first step in this project was to remove the original power supply unit from the case. The backplate of the PSU was then cut off using tin snips in order to provide an off-on switch and power plug for the TKP300 PSU. This photo shows a perfectly fitted backplate. (Of course: It's the original). The orange twist-on wire connectors linking the on-off switch and power plug to the TKP300 PSU can be seen through the grill. There is no PSU fan.

The next step was to drill 4 holes in the top of the case. Bolts go through these holes to engage the threaded holes in the bottom plate of the TKP300 PSU. This installation was straightforward, and left the TKP300 hanging upside down from the top of the case like a mutant bat. The case acts as a heat sink for the TKP300. The only part of the case that feels warm to touch is the rectangular area defined by lines between the 4 suspension bolts. This area became uncomfortably warm to touch once, during formatting of the 40GB hard drive. At the current moment, the TKP300 rectangle on the top of the case is mildly warm. (For more details about installing a TKP300, please study Silicon Acoustics' installation guide. - Editor)

The TKP300 may be a tricky customer: Mike Chin has a sample which he says produces excessive coil buzzing noisy enough to pretty much outweigh the benefit of fanlessness. My TKP 300 unit has buzzed for a few seconds on several occasions. It has run for many hours with nary a buzz of any magnitude. It is possible that it will become a significant buzzer, but so far, so good. It is quiet as a brass idol.

The picture below shows the TKP300 PSU and the AAVID passive heat sink. Everything was still very tidy at this point.

NEXT, THE DRIVE

In hope of eliminating noise, I had suspended the Barracuda IV in the 5.25" drive bay at the front of the case, just forward of the TKP300. This eliminated seek noise and vibration, but the hard drive heated to ~50°C, so a different location was tried. The next position was on a thick piece of foam on the floor of the case, near the back. This spot also resulted in high hard drive temperatures. In the fanless environment, clamping the hard drive to a metal cage seemed to result in best cooling.

I really wanted to suspend the hard drive. I decided to hang the hard drive in a 5.25" mounting frame, and then affix the frame to the floor of the case. Cooling, if needed, would be provided by a very quiet fan, and then a decision would be made to see if the trade-off was worthwhile.

An MF-520 mounting frame was obtained inexpensively. I flattened the metal struts which are supposed to be fixed to a 3.5" hard drive. The photo demonstrates my advanced metal-working skills ;-)

A trip to a nearby fabric store led to purchase of black elastic roping. (I also had some very thin bungee cord material from a hardware store, but the black roping did very well, and was slightly less bulky.) This picture shows the Barracuda IV suspended in the mounting frame.

The bottom plate of the frame features 4 threaded holes, and hardware for mounting the frame came with it. 4 holes were drilled in the floor of the case to allow for the frame to be permanently mounted there. Longitudinal encircling elastic roping was also placed around the hard drive, to secure it when the case was moved. The result is that the hard drive is suspended above the floor of the mounting frame, and is very securely held. (A picture of this is shown later.)



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