The Beige Box Sleeper
For a while now, I've wanted to build a computer to act as a testbed web server for doing development work. I've also wanted to play around more with Linux, but never wanted to install anything on my primary machine for fear of inadvertently causing a catastrophe. The only disappointment I've ever had with my current setup has been the noise level. After finding SPCR, I was inspired to do better this time around and build the new computer with silence in mind.
I wasn't shooting for top of the line performance, but not bottom of the barrel either. I just wanted something that would be stable, cheap to run (i.e. not draw a lot of power), and quiet. Thanks to the tax man, I had a budget of around $500. The system I put together is most likely overkill for my needs, but I was willing to go a little over budget for quality parts, and it should last quite a long time. Here's what I came up with...
NOTE: Click on pictures to open the full-size version in a new window
After some research, it became apparent that Socket A processors were the only ones that would fit into my budget. Knowing that, the rest of the hardware choices became pretty easy with a little further research. For the processor, I went with an Athlon Mobile 2500+
due to its low power consumption (45W max), decent performance, and desktop compatibility. Its multiplier is unlocked from the factory, so that opened up many undervolting possibilities.
As for the motherboard, the DFI LANParty NFII Ultra B has received many praises for its speed, stability, and wonderful BIOS. It has a wide range of adjustment, including the ability to lower the VCore all the way down to 1.1V. Not only that, but it has dual LANs (one is gigabit), which will come in handy if I ever want to use this machine as a router.
The video card was about the cheapest I could find, but more than enough power for this machine's intended use. It will also have better performance than most on-board video offerings (although in my case there was no on-board video to worry about). I went with a Gigabyte version of the Radeon 7000 due to their reputation for reliability and superb build quality.
Everything else you can pretty much figure out from reading through the SPCR recommended section
, or browsing through the forums.ModificationsTools Used
- Wiss MR-1 and MR-2 tin snips
- Small fine mill file (pic)
- Linesman pliers (pic)
- Compass (the circle kind...not to be confused with the magnetic variety)
- Phillips screwdriver
- Compressed air
The first thing I did was cut out the rear fan grill. I had never done any metal work like this before, and found it to be surprisingly easy. I highly recommend reading the Modding & Cutting with Tin Snips
thread here on the SPCR forums...the information found there was invaluable. I briefly tried using a metal Nibbler
tool that often gets talked about in the modding scene, but found it to be fairly worthless in comparison to the tin snips.
To keep the airflow path as clean as possible, I needed a place to hide extra wires coming from the PSU. I ended up cutting a hole in the right side of the case underneath the first optical drive. It's hard to make out in the pictures, but to make it easier to pass connectors through the hole, I actually cut a semi-circle shape after scribing and removing the initial rectangular area. After filing the edges smooth, a little rubber edging was added to further protect the wires from cuts.
Note that I put rubber edging in numerous places inside the case. Not only did it go around the fan and side holes, but also on other sharp edges where wires would be routed. That helps to prevent the wires from being cut, it should dampen the noise if wires happen to vibrate inside the case and hit those edges, and it definitely has saved my fingers from some pain!
In addition to hiding the wires, I also taped off the extra holes on the front and side of the case to help maintain correct airflow.
Everything with the installation went according to plan...with one exception. I was a little worried about clearance issues with the SI-97 and the motherboard's parallel port, but after some advice and experimentation
, it worked out just fine.
All wires were routed as cleanly as possible, and the extra ones were tucked away through the right side of the case. During the install, I used zip ties wherever I could in order to keep things tidy.
To install the exhaust fan, I first inserted E-A-R grommets into the stock mounting holes (the ones that came with the HDD & Fan Mounting Kit fit perfectly). I then used the zip tie method to secure the fan in place.
I also used some E-A-R grommets for mounting the hard drive, although these were from a different kit than the standard HDD & Fan Mounting Kit mentioned above. The grommets needed to be a bit larger than the standard size, and due to the weird orientation I wanted, the HDD is actually only mounted through one pair of the blue beauties. I left the additional pair of grommets in the HDD cage hoping that they might add a bit of cushioning.
A little love, some cablegami
, and a long time later...this was the outcome:
I've very pleased with how it all turned out...I believe I've met my goals, and then some. The machine is virtually inaudible when it's under the desk where it will make its home. If you get on the same level with it, there is a very slight high-pitched whine that comes from the power supply fan, and you can also hear a little bit of seek noise from the HDD. Aside from that, you'd hardly know it was on. At stock settings (14 x 133 = 1862 MHz @ 1.45V) my temperatures are 27°C at idle and 40°C under full load with an ambient temperature of 21°C. The load temperature was established using CPUBurn
The machine temporarily has Windows XP installed to do the initial benchmarking and stability testing. So far it has gone through Memtest86+
(all ten tests passed and test #5 passing ten additional times), and Prime95
torture testing for 16+ hours. I have also fooled around quite a bit with various BIOS setups, but will most likely be doing a separate write-up on undervolting and those results.
Whew...I think that about covers it! Questions? Comments? Lawsuits?