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 Post subject: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstation
PostPosted: Tue Apr 29, 2014 1:55 pm 
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Hi,

I am selecting components for a SFF home-office workstation. I have read the SFF build guide, but since it's a bit dated, I am hoping to get some advice on what components to pick in the current market.

The workstation will be used for coding, running simulations and image processing. I am also exploring GPU computing using the CUDA platform. Despite these requirements, I would like this to be a small, power efficient and, very importantly, a relatively silent system. My budget is something in the range $1000-$1500.

I will most likely go with a Core i5-4670 on a mini-ITX motherboard. I am looking for advice on selecting the rest of the components for this build.

Case: BitFenix Prodigy -OR- Fractal Design Node 304. Which is a better choice and why?

GPU: My GPU budget is around $200. The following options are all based on the GeForce GTX 660 chipset. Which one is the best option for a quiet system?

MSI N660 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814127699
EVGA 02G-P4-2663-KR http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814130833
EVGA SuperClocked 02G-P4-2662-KR http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814130826
EVGA 02G-P4-3063-KR http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814130967

Power supply: I am thinking that a 550-650 W modular power supply should be sufficient. Which of these is the best option?

Rosewill CAPSTONE-550-M http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817182262
Rosewill FORTRESS-550 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817182082
SeaSonic X Series X650 Gold http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817151088

All advice is greatly appreciated, and I am happy to answer any questions.

Thanks.


Last edited by dodonix on Tue Apr 29, 2014 9:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Tue Apr 29, 2014 5:12 pm 
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Welcome to SPCR.

Have you looked at the GTX 750 Ti? For GPU compute functions it's on par with the GTX 660 and uses 50-60W less power under load. The MSI N750Ti TF 2GD5/OC Gaming is a good choice.

If you go with the GTX 750 Ti, your stressed load power is ~190W. Actual heavy load will probably be 150W or so. You could easily drop down to a 400W passive PSU.

There will some new Haswell part numbers released in end May/early June, btw. Not a big deal, mostly 100MHz freq. jumps.

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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Thu May 01, 2014 12:52 pm 
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Quote:
Have you looked at the GTX 750 Ti? For GPU compute functions it's on par with the GTX 660 and uses 50-60W less power under load. The MSI N750Ti TF 2GD5/OC Gaming is a good choice.

Thanks for your recommendation! It's interesting that the 750 Ti is ranked lower than the GTX 660 according to the nVIDIA performance charts (http://international.download.nvidia.com/webassets/en_US/shared/images/products/shared/lineup.png), but on the Anandtech benchmarks, the 750 Ti outperforms the 660 on most GPU compute tasks. The 750 Ti should suffice for my computing needs, and I really like the lower power consumption.

You suggested the MSI N750Ti TF 2GD5/OC (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814127783) which is about 250 mm long, so I am concerned about it fitting inside a mini-ITX case. Also, some NewEgg customer reviews complain about the noise from the dual fans on this card.

As an alternative, I am considering the EVGA 02G-P4-3753-KR (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814487024 ) which is only 170 mm long, and overclocked a tad higher than the MSI card.

Any comments on choosing one over the other?

Quote:
If you go with the GTX 750 Ti, your stressed load power is ~190W. Actual heavy load will probably be 150W or so. You could easily drop down to a 400W passive PSU.

Could you recommend a 400 W PSU? You mention a passive PSU. Does that mean fanless? And should I be concerned about how much heat that would generate in a small enclosure?

Quote:
There will some new Haswell part numbers released in end May/early June, btw. Not a big deal, mostly 100MHz freq. jumps.

Thanks for the heads up about the Haswell refresh. It looks like these will be released on May 11. I am not obsessed with the small bump in clock speed, but I hope that the new release will push down the price of the current generation Core-i5's.

Thanks again for the advice.


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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Fri May 02, 2014 9:44 am 
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Nvidia's Kepler architecture took a header when it came to GPGPU. They put some oomph back in with Maxwell. I can't speak to that particular EVGA model - no reviews. Are we talking about the same MSI card in regards to customer reviews? Yeah, it's bigger than the other cards. But, it's awesomely quiet.

PSU: All the fanless PSUs are above $100. If you want to stay below this, you could try the Rosewell Capstone. It's a re-brand of the Super Flower Golden Green and rated well at Hardware Secrets when it came out. Fan's not the bast - Anandtech could hear ball bearing noise at lower loads. Heck, just get the 450W for $60 at Newegg. If you don't like the fan, you could void the waranty and do a fan swap for $10.

If you do want to go above $100, how about the Kingwin LZP-550? It's platinum rated, $120 at Newegg and you can set it for semi-passive operation (fans don't spin until 30% load - or higher than normal ambient temp at lower load).

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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Fri May 02, 2014 10:23 am 
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dodonix wrote:
Case: BitFenix Prodigy -OR- Fractal Design Node 304. Which is a better choice and why?


There isn't a clearly better choice between those two. Both deserve a fan swap, however, if you aim at the most utterly quietness.
If you look for even smaller footprint, give a look to the Ncase M1 or the EVGA Hadron Air, while whether you'd rather a better workability give a look to the Jonsbo W1 (in U.S.A. is sold under the Rosewill brand), a design similar to the Prodigy/Bitfenix but with an expected superior cooling prowess (it use 140mm fans) and (IMHO) a more refined appearance.

However, unless you like a lot the cubic-style, lots of the quoted enclosure has a larger volume than some of the smallest mATX enclosure, like the Antec NSK3480.


dodonix wrote:
GPU: My GPU budget is around $200. The following options are all based on the GeForce GTX 660 chipset. Which one is the best option for a quiet system?


None of the quoted 660: at any rate, as you lend towards the GTX 750Tis, whether the MSI TF-IV looks like too long, you may either go for an ASUS DC2-equipped one, or for the cheapest GTX 750Ti you may find but fitted with an aftermarket Arctic Cooling Accelero S1 Plus VGA heatsink, running it fanless.


dodonix wrote:
Power supply: I am thinking that a 550-650 W modular power supply should be sufficient. Which of these is the best option?


A modular PSU likely doesn't cope well with real SFF enclosures, they are too long. You should go for somehow larger cases, like the Jonsbo/Rosewill W1, or the Bitfenix (or the quoted Antec mATX tower).
On the smaller enclosures (like the Node 304, Ncase M1) you should need something shorter than the typical modular unit (which is about 160-170mm long), or a or even an SFX one (which should be probably adequate, given the relatively low power draw).
Unlike the other quoted enclosures, the EVGA Hadron Air is a kind of its own, sporting a proprietary semi-fanless 500W PSU (a Seasonic 80Plus Gold 1U unit).

Anyway, about the power, broadly speaking you don't need more than (probably) 120W, so you may think also to PicoPSU and the likes (which are completely fanless).

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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Sat May 03, 2014 11:36 pm 
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dodonix wrote:
Case: BitFenix Prodigy -OR- Fractal Design Node 304.

The Prodigy is massive for an SFF case. I really would not consider it. I would certainly second the suggestion of the NCASE M1 as it really is small:
http://www.silentpcreview.com/NCASE_M1

As for something a bit more leftfield, there is the forthcoming Streacom DB4 which will be fully passive.

dodonix wrote:
GPU: My GPU budget is around $200. The following options are all based on the GeForce GTX 660 chipset.

As with everyone else, don't bother with the GTX660. The GTX750Ti is a better option. It's smaller, lower power and quieter.

dodonix wrote:
Power supply: I am thinking that a 550-650 W modular power supply should be sufficient. Which of these is the best option?

In recommending the NCASE M1 and the GTX750Ti I think you should have enough clearance for a fullsize ATX PSU. The passive one I would suggest is the Seasonic X400. A passive PSU will cool itself easily, you just don't want to dump a load of heat into it from other components too.

If instead you want the clearance for a larger graphics card then you need an SFX PSU and the Silverstone 450W shown in the NCASE M1 is as good as they get.

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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Sun May 04, 2014 8:19 pm 
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Thanks for the comments and feedback.

@ CA_Steve: I must have mixed up the reviews with some other card.

As for the PSU, I don't mid spending a bit more for efficiency and silence, so I am considering the fanless PSUs. Unfortunately, both the Kingwin STR-500 and the Rosewill SilentNight-500 are currently out of stock at newegg. My other option is the Seasonic SS-400FL2. Any thoughts on this?

@ edh: Thanks for the recommendations. The NCase M1 is currently unavailable. Is the Seasonic X400 the same as the SS-400FL2 (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817151097)?

@ quest_for_silence: After reading your comments about the relative sizes of the enclosures, I am reconsidering my original plan. I own the SNK-3480, and the SFF cases I was considering are not really that much smaller. So, now I am wondering if I shouldn't just reuse this case with a new m-ATX motherboard.

If I reuse the case, I would like to swap out the stock PSU with something quieter, such as the passive Seasonic one suggested above. Do you have any experience with changing the stock PSU?


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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Sun May 04, 2014 11:46 pm 
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dodonix wrote:
If I reuse the case, I would like to swap out the stock PSU with something quieter, such as the passive Seasonic one suggested above. Do you have any experience with changing the stock PSU?


If you use an optical drive, the Seasonic won't fit. If the original 380W unit is in good working order, you may swap the fan easily, driving the fan either internally or externally.

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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Mon May 05, 2014 12:49 am 
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dodonix wrote:
Is the Seasonic X400 the same as the SS-400FL2

Yes and no. The original X400 (SS-400FL) was Gold rated. The newer X400 (SS-400FL2) is Platinum rated. You may only find the Platinum version by now but the Gold version should not be a deal breaker if you can find it cheaper.

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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Mon May 05, 2014 2:06 am 
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edh wrote:
dodonix wrote:
Is the Seasonic X400 the same as the SS-400FL2

Yes and no. The original X400 (SS-400FL) was Gold rated. The newer X400 (SS-400FL2) is Platinum rated. You may only find the Platinum version by now but the Gold version should not be a deal breaker if you can find it cheaper.


IIRC, Seasonic made the transition between those fanless lineups when they switched the original X-series to the newer KM3 platform: if it were so, the X400 Gold should be a bit less prone to whining than its Platinum heir (and, electrically-wise, a tad less performing too).

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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Mon May 05, 2014 5:34 am 
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dodonix wrote:
Do you have any experience with changing the stock PSU?


Anyway, you need a PSU at most 150mm deep, in order to fit it comfortably inside the NSK3480 (but the same thing happens for the very smaller mITX enclosures); so, if you pick up the adviced GTX-750Ti, you may use several (mostly not-modular) units:

  1. the Silverstone ST30SF (SST-ST30SF) is probably the most quiet available, as it should be fanless up to at least 120W DC, and it's surely the most compact, being an SFX unit: pay attention as cabling may be a bit short;
  2. the Cooler Master V450S (RS-450-AMAA-G1) which could be the most efficient, it's semi-modular and with a fan running at about 600rpm up to at least the 30-40% of the rated power;
  3. the Seasonic G-360 (SSR-360GP), a good all arounder, enough efficient and quiet up to 120-150W depending of the ambient temperature;
  4. the Bequiet System Power 7 (BN140), even if less efficient, it's still an enough quiet good all arounder, and it may go really for cheap.

Probably there might be further alternatives, but I don't remember them at the moment: however, if you don't plan to use an optical drive but just hard disk drives (or SSD) inside the upper chamber, you may look at any PSU as long as 170mm (so you may go for lots of Corsair, Seasonic and Super Flower PSUs), providing that either you route the cables behind the front bezel (very uncomfortable but doable), or you open new cable cut outs in that upper chamber.
With a completely free chamber, you won't have any depth limitation, but cabling would still be a real pain, unless you go for flat wire cables (like the ones you may find onto Corsair RM-series).

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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Mon May 05, 2014 5:59 am 
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I have used various PSUs, Seasonic SS-400FL2, Siverstone ST30SF, and Corsair RM450 and RM650, among which RM650 and RM450 were dead silent without any noticeable trace of electrical whining noise. I think it is fair to say that I fall within the range of extremists when it comes to silence-aware enthusiasts or silence-seekers, implying that my assessment is unequivocal. At the same time, standard ATX PSUs are not entirely ideal for ITX chassis because they can obstruct airflow and can be less power-efficient. Also, you need extra attention to selecting PSUs providing a wide range of maximum power. For example, although ST30SF is rated as bronze, it is well-known that it is near-to-impossible to achieve high power effieincy for low loads, e.g., < 100W. Thus I have the hunch that the bronze rate of ST30SF might be rather inevitable given current state-of-the-art technologies in the field. Also, I believe ST30SF must be quiet enough for 99% of people because its electrical noise is almost inaudible when you are sitting 50cm or more apart from it.

A digression from the story: It is very likely that PSU market will undergo serious ordeals in the near future because no one will be purchasing high power PSUs by the time when Intel releases "Broadwell" CPUs and Nvidia starts to churn out proper Maxwell graphics cards based on 20nm process technology. It seems more sensible to go for low-power high-efficiency PSUs.

quest_for_silence wrote:
  1. the Silverstone ST30SF (SST-ST30SF) is probably the most quiet available, as it should be fanless up to at least 120W DC, and it's surely the most compact, being an SFX unit: pay attention as cabling may be a bit short;
  2. the Cooler Master V450S (RS-450-AMAA-G1) which could be the most efficient and with a fan running at about 600rpm up to at least the 30-40% of the rated power;
  3. the Seasonic G-360 (SSR-360GP), a good all arounder, enough efficient and quiet up to 120-150W depending of the ambient temperature;
  4. the Bequiet System Power 7 (BN140), even if less efficient, it's still an enough quiet good all arounder, and it may go really for cheap.

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Last edited by ggumdol on Mon May 05, 2014 7:33 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Mon May 05, 2014 6:27 am 
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ggumdol wrote:
I have used various PSUs, Seasonic SS-400FL2, Siverstone ST30SF, and Corsair RM450 and RM650, among which RM650 was dead silent without any noticeable trace of electrical whining noise. At the same time, standard ATX PSUs are not entirely ideal for ITX chassis because they can obstruct airflow and can be less power-efficient. Also, you need extra attention to selecting PSUs providing a wide range of maximum power. For example, although ST30SF is rated as bronze, it is well-known that it is near-to-impossible to achieve high power effieincy for low loads, e.g., < 100W. Thus I have the hunch that the bronze rate of ST30SF might be rather inevitable given current state-of-the-art technologies in the field.


Just because you're quoting my short list, I would you mind that those PSUs aren't aimed to a mITX SFF-enclosure, but to a mATX mini-tower. ;-)

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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Tue May 06, 2014 9:58 am 
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Thanks for the feedback everyone. I am learning a lot from this forum.

I have decided to reuse with my current mATX case, the Antec NSK-3480, but replace the PSU.

@ quest_for_silence: There is currently an optical drive in this case, but I rarely use it. So I will either get rid of it to fit a longer PSU, or pick one of the smaller ones you suggested. I do prefer a modular/semi-modular PSU to avoid cable clutter.

@ edh: So, do I understand correctly that the platinum rated unit (SS-400FL2) is more prone to whining than the older version (SS-400FL)?

@ ggumdol: As I will be reusing my current m-ATX enclosure, I will probably go for an ATX unit.

Based on the suggestions above, I am leaning toward either a Corsair RM450 or a Seasonic SS-400FL2. Any further input from folks who have experience with both of these units?


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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2014 12:29 am 
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dodonix wrote:
Based on the suggestions above, I am leaning toward either a Corsair RM450 or a Seasonic SS-400FL2. Any further input from folks who have experience with both of these units?


In my opinion the best option (noise-wise) is to mod the original PSU: I've done it with a Noctua R8 and that combo turned out to be one of the quietest PSU I've ever listened at (moreover IIRC it's running flawlessly since 2008 or 2009).

To answer to your question, the Corsair has a better cabling for building inside the NSK-3480: as said, given that they are longer units, the standard cut-outs are blocked. so you should either route cabling behind the front bezel, or you have to cut some brand new apertures on the bottom of the upper chamber (alternatively you may open apertures on the left side and on the mobo tray).

Most of the 140mm units have fixed cabling: among the semi-modular shorter units, along with the already quoted 150mm Cooler Master PSU, give a look to the Corsair CS-450M (even if my preference goes probably to the little Silverstone SFX unit).

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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2014 5:07 am 
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You'd better avoid platinum-rated Seasonic PSUs (e.g., SS-400FL2) which are notorious for whining noise, allegedly due to some special circuitry used for elevating the power efficiency. Gold-rated ones seem to be quiet enough according to what are reported by many users.

dodonix wrote:
Based on the suggestions above, I am leaning toward either a Corsair RM450 or a Seasonic SS-400FL2. Any further input from folks who have experience with both of these units?

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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2014 10:00 am 
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quest_for_silence wrote:
In my opinion the best option (noise-wise) is to mod the original PSU: I've done it with a Noctua R8 and that combo turned out to be one of the quietest PSU I've ever listened at (moreover IIRC it's running flawlessly since 2008 or 2009).


Okay, I am willing to try this option, but I have no real experience on how to do this. Could you briefly describe the steps involved? Is this relatively straightforward to do?

Is this the correct fan: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835608006?

Are there any other fans in this case that I should consider replacing?

@ ggumdol: Thanks for the tip. I will keep that in mind. But for now, I will probably swap the fan on the stock PSU as suggested above.


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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2014 2:22 pm 
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dodonix wrote:
quest_for_silence wrote:
In my opinion the best option (noise-wise) is to mod the original PSU: I've done it with a Noctua R8 and that combo turned out to be one of the quietest PSU I've ever listened at (moreover IIRC it's running flawlessly since 2008 or 2009).


Okay, I am willing to try this option, but I have no real experience on how to do this. Could you briefly describe the steps involved? Is this relatively straightforward to do?


It's an easy job, but at the same time not so straightforward to do.

You have just to open the PSU, on the right side there's the fan connector. Mind where the red and black wires are, then unscrew the stock fan and connect the new one, with the yellow wire not connected to any pin: that's about all (I didn't screwed in the Noctua, but I used the four silicone dampers supplied to fix it to the PSU). Connecting the R8 that way, the PSU will control the new fan, but I didn't do so in order to lower the PSU noise (and IMHO it's not advisable to do so with any replacement fan faster than 1000-1200rpm, noise wise).

Most of Noctua fans come with two voltage adapter cables, the L.N.A. and U.L.N.A.
I used the U.L.N.A. one, which gives to the R8 about 5.3V, for a rotational speed of about 800-850rpm.
When mounted inside the EarthWatts, with that voltage the R8 doesn't start reliably, because the PSU fan controller starts the stock fan well under 12V (probably around 8V). Therefore the combination of that low start voltage and of the U.L.N.A. voltage reduction gave as result a very low value, under 4V (which is the minimum voltage for the R8).
So, if you connected the R8 through the U.L.N.A. cable, the PSU would work almost like a semi-fanless unit.

Anyway, for a safety purpose, I decided to not let it work so (if I recall correctly, with the other L.N.A. adapter there should be no the same issue: on the other hand, the fan is far more noticeable).
In my case, as I use SpeedFan to drive all the fans, I decided to route the Noctua cable out of the PSU (through the same hole used by the other wires), and then to connect it to a mobo fan header.
Actually I drive the R8 from 380rpm up to the max 850rpm allowed by the U.L.N.A. adapter, tied to the CPU cores temperature (assuming that when the CPU temp goes up, the PSU is supplying more power, and consequently it's producing more heat).

If you decide to route the fan externally, you may also use the Noctua R8 PWM, connecting it to the CPU fan header with a splitter, instead of connecting it to a 3-pin voltage controlled header.


dodonix wrote:


Yes, it's the one I used. As said, you might use the R8 PWM whether you drove it by a PWM header.


dodonix wrote:
Are there any other fans in this case that I should consider replacing?


Noise-wise cheaper alternatives might be:

  1. Nexus Basic 80mm - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835610004
  2. Arctic Cooling F8 - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835186074

There are also the Fractal R2 which should work well (but I never used it), and the Coolink Swif2-800 and Swif2-801 (but these two are a pretty rare and expensive find in U.S.A.).

The main differences of those all fans (with reference to the Noctua) are a less durable bearing, and above all the absence of the two voltage reduction adapter cables (a 10 bucks value, at least), and without slowing the fans down at least to 1000-1100rpm the PSU would be easily audible.

If you decide to route the fan externally, please take note that you can use a PWM header just with the Arctic Cooling, because the AC F8 PWM sounds as good as its voltage controlled counterpart, while the Nexus PWM is rather nasty.

Summarizing, that 380W PSU, with this expensive and externally drived fan, feeds a 4GHz (overclocked) Intel dual core (so probably an 80-90W power draw?), beefed up with two drives and an about 40W Radeon card, since several years (six years, if I remember correctly) without any issue: I'm very happy of it and, as said, in my experience it's as quiet as my Seasonic X-460 (Gold).

If you think there's too much work to sort out a good result, the alternatives are either to buy a nibbler and some cable grommets along with a Corsair RM (or a Seasonic FL), or to pick up one among the shortest PSUs quoted above.

_________________
Regards,
Luca


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 Post subject: Re: Advice on selecting case, PS and GPU for a SFF workstati
PostPosted: Mon May 12, 2014 12:02 pm 
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Joined: Tue Apr 29, 2014 9:14 am
Posts: 6
@ quest_for_silence: Thank you for the detailed instructions. I will order the PWM version this week and test out my current setup with the new fan. I appreciate all your feedback.


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