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 Post subject: Quiet Gaming PC (Late 2018)
PostPosted: Tue Aug 21, 2018 7:31 am 

Joined: Tue Aug 21, 2018 7:24 am
Posts: 1
My dear acoustically-minded friends in kind,

I am struggling with how proceed. Ideally I would like my PC to be so quiet that I don’t even know it’s on. The Calyos NSG-S0, the Compulab Airtop 2 Inferno are promising concepts that have failed to come to market. The HD Plex H5 Fanless gaming PC offers only a GTX 1060 (perhaps understandably so). And the inconvenience of a large external heatsink outweighs any potential benefits.

I am thus prepared to martyr my hopes for a truly silent/fanless gaming PC. And so one must ask. Air cooling vs Custom loop water cooling? For a gaming PC, under load, I feel that it is the GPU that will always be the limiting factor. I am thus tempted to go for a liquid cooled build, but I keep hearing from others for some reason than air cooling is quieter…

Cases: NZXT H series vs Fractal Design Define series. I know Fractal Design is the logical choice. But NZXT H series is so much nicer to look at. I just wonder how much case sound insulation and a non-windowed side panel can really make.

Here is a list of proposed components:
I have used the GTX 1080Ti in that list, in reality I intend to use an RTX 2080Ti when it releases in the coming weeks.

The builds I am considering with the above listed components, all with the largest radiators that each case supports:

1. Build 1 - H700i
2. Build 2 - H500i
3. Build 3 - Fractal Define Nano S
4. Build 4 - Fractal Define R5

My questions are as follows:
1. Air cooling vs Custom Loop?
2. Fractal Design Define vs NZXT H series - Would the sound difference be noticeably different?
3. Does radiator config matter? whether it's Slim 240 + slim 120 vs two 360mm radiators?

If anyone has any recommendations, advice or input, it would be thoroughly appreciated. Thank you for your time

 Post subject: Re: Quiet Gaming PC (Late 2018)
PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2018 2:30 am 

Joined: Thu May 12, 2011 7:47 pm
Posts: 50
Location: Norway
I'm in a similar situation, planning a similar build and debating liquid vs air. I don't have all the answers. I have some thoughts, and a few links.

* According to SPCR measurements of pump noise it should be possible to make custom watercooling just as quiet as air cooling. It takes a quiet, decoupled PWM pump at low speed, but the EK DDC 3.2 PWM pump can apparently go as low as 15 dB ([email protected]) at 20% PWM. That's practically silent, although it doesn't test what kind of cooling you get at that speed.

* SPCR has an article on quiet liquid cooling, they made a 18 dB custom loop gaming system. That's probably as good as it gets for a gaming PC, a 23 dB air-cooled gaming system was labeled 'quiet' a year later. 18 dB is inaudible to most people in most contexts. (Where I live, my threshold for not hearing whether the system is on is around 24 [email protected] during daytime, and slightly below 20 dB late at night. I live in a city, YMMV.)

* 120mm + 240mm is the same as a single 360mm radiator. Think surface area - cooling capacity scales pretty much linearly with the radiator surface area (in 2D, ignoring thickness). So 360mmx120mm is three times the cooling capacity of 120mmx120mm, and the same as (120mm+240mm)x120mm. Radiator thickness and fin density makes a difference too, but it's a more complex relationship and a smaller effect. Basically, slim rads and low fin densities optimize for low RPM fans. Thick rads and high fin densities have higher cooling capacity at high RPMs, but perform poorly at low RPMs.

* 'Quiet' cases are a mixed blessing. Gains in noise dampening can easily be swamped by losses in airflow, at least for high-wattage systems. With insufficient airflow the temperature inside the case will rise, which makes the CPU and GPU fans speed up to keep component temps under control, so a 'silent' case can actually end up noisier than an 'airflow' case. (I haven't used the newer versions, but back in the day I had a Fractal Define R3 for an overclocked i7 920, and had a hard time keeping noise and temperatures in check simultaneously. I wasn't able to make the system really quiet until I switched to a high-airflow case. I still have the R3, it's great for my home server, but it wasn't optimal for shedding a lot of heat quickly.)

* This guy gave up on 'silent' cases and made an inaudible gaming PC by switching to an open test bench. The improved airflow more than compensated for the lack of noise dampening. Note that he used an aftermarket GPU heatsink. (I have a similar experience: The only system I've built that was actually inaudible had neither liquid cooling nor noise dampening. What it did have was an open mesh front with three fans blowing straight at the components, and an Asus Strix GPU with the shroud and stock fans removed and replaced by two 120mm fans.)

* Unfortunately, the NZXT H-series isn't all that great for airflow according to reviews. You can expect to pay a noise penalty for the design. Not so much from the window or the lack of dampening material, but from a lack of airflow, so you need higher fan speeds to maintain temps. It might still be acceptable, aesthetics vs noise is just one more tradeoff among many. I'm honestly not sure that Fractal Define would be all that much better, as it's not optimized for airflow either. (Better, probably. The best, probably not.)

I think that a custom loop can be made virtually inaudible. I think that an air cooled system can be made virtually inaudible too. A custom loop is more complex, more expensive, requires more maintenance, and has more potential points of failure. That's part of what makes it interesting challenge to some (including me). Pragmatically, the cost/benefit analysis doesn't really favor water for a single-GPU build, except as an enthusiast project.

That's my thoughts. Personally I think I'll go for an air cooled build first, just because it's faster and simpler. I can always add a custom loop later if I feel the urge.

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