Thank you to all the posters here. Your sharing has been invaluable to me. I'm posting this as an attempt to give back and maybe encourage some of the lurkers who doubt their hardware knowledge or skills to jump in and do it. The last PC I built from scratch used an IBM Blue Lightning 486SLC motherboard… so that's like 18 years ago! If I can successfully complete a build, you can too.
Professionally I'm a UNIX/Linux guy that does IT Security. Personally I'm a Mac guy. And I live in a world dominated by MS Windows.
So, my goal was a PC that:
1) is at least as quiet as a Mac Mini
2) is no larger than a Mac G4 tower (to fit in my printer stand)
3) can natively run 64bit Ubuntu Linux, 64bit Windows 7 and Apple Snow Leopard
4) can simultaneously run Windows & Snow Leopard VMs within Linux
5) uses built-in video
6) can accommodate a Fermi-based Nvidia GPU card (for CUDA-based computations only)
Here's the component list:
Case: Antec mini p180
Power Supply: SeaSonic X650 Gold
Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-H55M-USB3
CPU: Intel Core i5-660
RAM: Kingston HyperX 8GB (4 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 1600
Disks: Two Western Digital Caviar Green WD20EARS 2TB drives
DVD: Pioneer DVR-218LBK SATA
WiFi: D-Link DWA-552 32-bit PCI
Case Fan: Scythe SY1225SL12M 120mm "Slipstream"
CPU Fan: Scythe S-FLEX SFF21E 120mm
CPU Cooler: Prolimatech Megahalems Rev.B
Fan Controller: Scythe KS01-BK "KAZE SERVER"
Nexus SFM-1000 Silicon Fan Mounts
Rosewill RCW-310 Fan power Y cable (to share RPM info)
FrontX panel (for front serial & FireWire ports)
Thermaltake BlacX ST0005U External Hard Drive SATA Enclosure Dock (for physical installs of Windows & Snow Leopard or any other SATA disks I want to use)
Why I chose the components I used:
Case: The Antec mini p180 is a staple of many builds here. It's large enough to make working in it easy. And while I don't have a CUDA GPU card yet, the top case fan should easily keep things cool when that card heats up.
CPU: If you want to build a "Hackintosh", Intel is your best bet. The i5-660 has built in video and, unlike the i3 CPUs, it supports VT-d which VMware can exploit to its advantage.
Power Supply: This is not an area where you want to skimp. Many hardware failures are caused by cheap P/S units. The SeaSonic X650 has so much wattage headroom for this build, its fan never turns on. But there *is* a fan there should things turn hot which gives some piece of mind.
Motherboard: Again, building a Hackintosh helped to dictate things. Gigabyte motherboards work well in Hackintoshes. The GA-H55M-USB3 was well reviewed and not too expensive.
RAM: The 1600 RAM w/XMP allows an easy, mild, no-brainer overclock via the BIOS (to 4GHz). 8GB seems like a lot of RAM… and it is. But it makes running multiple VMs virtually painless.
Disks: Disks are cheap, so go big and go redundant (if you ever lost data due to a disk failure, you know what I mean). The WD20EARS disks are cheap and reasonably quiet. I bought two with the intent of using the built-in RAID on the motherboard. But Linux doesn't like that (it's referred to in the Linux world as "fake-RAID"). So I ended up using these disks as a software RAID in Linux and putting Windows & Snow Leopard on a separate disk I can boot from.
DVD: Why the Pioneer DVR-218LBK? I've had good luck with Pioneer drives in the past. And more importantly, I have some UK DVDs, so I needed a drive that could be made Region-Free. This one can be re-flashed to be region free.
WiFi: Why the D-Link DWA-552? I need a WiFi card for security research. I wanted a PCI card that would work in a Hackintosh. Unfortunately, after getting this, I found out that this model doesn't work with Snow Leopard (but it did work in earlier versions of OS X in Hackintosh PCs). The card works great in Linux & Windows though. This is the only sour note in my build.
The stock rear Antec Tri-Cool case fan had to go. I replaced it with a Scythe Slipstream. I probably could have gone with the 800rpm model rather than the 1200rpm I used, but I'd rather over-engineer a build than under-engineer it. (Future growth is always in the back of my mind)
Nexus SFM-1000 Silicon Fan Mounts made installation easy and prevents vibrational noise.
Since I don't know what OS I'll be using at any given time, software-based fan control is out. I opted for the Scythe KS01-BK "Kaze Server" and hooked up my Slipstream, CPU fan and 200mm Antec Tri-Cool top fan to it. A quirk of this fan controller is that each channel needs to see RPM signal in order for the fan to work with it. So I purchased a Rosewill RCW-310 Fan power Y cable to share the Slipstream's RPM signal to two channels on the fan controller. I then spliced the 200mm fan power cables onto the Rosewell cable. The result is two channels that show identical RPMs, but the speed of the 200mm fan is independent of the Slipstream. I can only operate the 200mm fan is manual mode (as opposed to semi- or fully-automatic modes), but with temperature sensors and readouts, that's not a problem.
CPU Cooler: The Prolimatech Megahalems is always a top performer and it easily fits in the mini p180, so why not? I used the tried-and-true Scythe S-FLEX as a CPU fan (also connected to the fan controller). Same story as the case fan re: the 800rpm vs 1200rpm speed choice.
FrontX: FrontX has been around so long, it's probably considered old-school. It's not cheap, but its modular design allows you choose whatever ports you want to install on its front panel. It ships directly overnight from its factory in Malaysia. It was the first component of my build to arrive. All of their cables are keyed for Asus motherboards. Luckily, Gigabyte uses the same convention, but if you have to move pins around to match your motherboard, it's easy to do.
(I maxed out my FrontX "real-estate" with 9-pin serial, FireWire, 4 USB, and S/PDIF In & Out ports)
External SATA dock: Since I used a Linux software-based RAID on my internal disks, there was no way to safe & easy way to put physical installs of Windows and Snow Leopard onto it. So I opted for a Thermaltake BlacX ST0005U dock and installed those OSes on a spare drive.
95% of the time I use VMs within Linux when I need to use Windows or Snow Leopard. It's RAIDed, so my data is safe. But occasionally VMware just won't cut it. So, in those cases, I just slam my Windows/OS X boot drive into the dock. Otherwise I boot from my internal disk array.
CUDA: You want to buy a video card that won't be used to display anything??? Yup. I want to have the ability to do encryption key hacking (I *did* mention that I'm an IT Security professional, didn't I?) and Nvidia's CUDA technology can do that number crunching MUCH more efficiently than most CPUs. So, I have my eye on the GIGABYTE GV-N460OC-1GI GeForce GTX 460 card for this purpose.
I am one happy camper! The physical build went without a hitch. And aside from Snow Leopard not seeing my WiFi card, the build was a complete success. It's so great to have something that exactly fits your needs (and still has room to grow). The machine is actual quieter than my 2GHz Core 2 Duo Mac Mini! I was more that a little surprised by that.
So, if you're a lurker that's been thinking about building your own silent (or quiet) PC, don't be afraid. If a rusty "old timer" like me can do it, you can too. My only suggestion is to build a PC to YOUR needs. If you don't, you might as well buy off-the-shelf.
Antec MiniP180 (Scythe: SY1225SL12M + KS01-BK Kaze Server Fan Controller)|Gigabyte GA-H55M-USB3|Intel Core i5-660|Prolimatech Megahalems Rev.B w/Scythe S-FLEX SFF21E|
4x2GB Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600|RAID0:2xWD20EARS|SeaSonic X650 Gold|D-Link DWA-552|Pioneer DVR-218LBK|FrontX panel|Triple Boot: Ubuntu/Mac OS X/Win 7
Last edited by Tim S on Fri Nov 12, 2010 3:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.