I am trying to build a *quiet/silent*, but yet powerful system (i7 2600K) in a relatively compact package (mATX/mini-tower). I am in the US. While I've replaced most components in a computer over the years, this will be my first "from scratch built"
Why do you need the compact package?
(Larger and heavier cases usually help stop more noise.)
I am not a gamer, so the purpose of the system is to mostly run number crunching programs (most of them under a VM) in additition to doing the usual PC work under Win7 (MS Office/Web stuff) and some development work.The first thing you should think about is your workload.
I expect that you need more IO Ops then you need graphics power. You should avoid a graphics card, and use that money to get an SSD.
The second thing to decide is how quiet your system really needs to be. Giving up 20% of your speed can cut your noise and your total price by a lot.
CPU: i7 2600K
The "K" over-clocking processors have some of the vitalization features disabled. The "K" series lacks VT-d and TXT features.
They also have double the integrated graphics execution units of the non-"K" processors. This leads to about 40% better performance.
Water cooling usually leads to more noise then air cooling. This is because you have to cool the water with a fan, and you still have move the water with a pump. More components that move means more possible sources of noise.
If you have a full-width case, you should be able to fit any number of 120mm-fan-based coolers. I like the Xigmatek Gaia or the Noctura NH-C12P or C14, but there are many that are cheap and quiet.
It is trendy to get a fan-less, or one of these semi-fan-less (fan on demand?) power supplies. I would save $50 and get a re-badged Seasonic from a distributor like Corsair or XFX. See the power supply reviews at hardwaresecrets.com
to find a cheaper unit.
While others want the power supply to have its own intake/output of case air, I view the power supply at a big part of ventilating the case. A good power supply usually comes with a well-controlled high-powered fan.
Video card: ??? Again, not a gamer, I was thinking perhaps something fanless, however I don't want to end up with a slouch of a video card that'll sit on top of a powerfull system if I should decide to do some visualizations or check out a game.
Is this a quiet card? Are there other alternatives I should consider? (NVIDIA because I'm interested in CUDA). I currently have 2 identical monitors running at 1280 x 1024 .. hope to move to larger monitors and resolution down the line
No video card = No video card noise
You should use integrated graphics. If you do not have a current use for CUDA, you could just buy a card when you really need one.
Are these CRT or LCD monitors? (Dual analog monitors will not work with integrated.)
Many motherboards have dual graphics out for the integrated graphics. They usually have a HDMI and a DVI. You should be able to get adapter cables for any digital monitors.
If you are willing to play your games at 720p or 1024x768, you can play some games on the integrated graphics.
Recommendation for quiet fast 1TB HDD?
Get a "Green/Eco" drive to have it be quiet. I like Samsung and Western Digital drives for my computers.
ps: What is the consensus on getting an SSD for installing the OS (Win 7) and some more frequently used program (like MS Office, and the Oracle Virtualbox VM software (not that big), Chrome browser, and my tiny Windows version of Emacs) .. do you think that would fit on 60 GB and noticably speed up booting and starting programs?
From experience, I can tell you that you will want 128 GB or more to run windows and your programs without constant work. Using a 64 GB or smaller SSD means that you are always looking at the drive status and cleaning up files.
The SSD will outlast any component in your system. Devote a lot of your money to the SSD. I would get an Intel 320 300GB version for $550. It is not the fastest, but it will have a 5-year+ lifespan, no matter what you throw at it.
If out cut out the video card, and cut down the power supply. You can save $170 to buy a bigger SSD.