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.
Yes, it's the one I used. As said, you might use the R8 PWM whether you drove it by a PWM header.
Are there any other fans in this case that I should consider replacing?
Noise-wise cheaper alternatives might be:
- Nexus Basic 80mm - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835610004
- 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.