For the past three years my wife and I have been using Athlon XP based computers as our workstation and entertainment systems. They've performed admirably, even powering Photoshop in a reasonably swift manner. These systems have also been reasonably quiet, thanks to SPCR. At the time they were built I hadn't a digital camera so, alas, there are no records of the building process and the efforts that went into it. Unfortunately these systems are beginning to showing their age. While we have gigabytes of memory, Photoshop simply gets a bit sluggish with multi-layer 20,000 x 15,000 x 8 images. Corel Painter doesn't fare any better. Since Athlon XP isn't even in production anymore and much more potent hardware is
available, it's high time to upgrade!
We were originally aiming for a system based on Athlon64 X2 3800+ processor, when its price had had dropped to a more reasonable level. This would have been an evolutionary upgrade of our systems; toss in a new motherboard and the processor and you're good to go. As luck would have it, we got an unexpected and unique opportunity to get reasonably priced true workstation hardware instead! Basically we got an opportunity to buy AMD/Microsoft Tech Tour server bundles after the fact. Naturally we jumped at this opportunity, and now, instead of Athlon64 X2 systems, we're going to build dual Opteron rigs!
This time I have a digital camera handy, too
Going with Opterons instead of Athlon64 meant that the idea of evolutionary upgrades went out the window. Almost every component had to be replaced, except for the drives and the case. Since the old cases weren't optimal to begin with, and we weren't really happy with their size anyway, we decided to get new cases too -- cases more suited for quietly cooling a dual processor workstation.
Ultimately we chose the Chenbro SR107
pedestal server case to house the new systems. We chose this case because of the good reputation of the maker, low price for a server chassis, low height (I'll get back to this later), and the unique internal layout. That you can add eight hot-swap drives didn't harm things either. This case has a lot of cooling potential. It can take five fans, three 120mm and two 92mm, and has room to spare. While we're not interested in maximizing the leafblower-factor of this case, I think it has a lot of potential for unique solutions for quiet cooling.
These are the components that make up our new systems:
This is hot-running hardware. I don't think there's a reasonable
way to silence this kind of a system to SPCR-accepted levels, but I think it can be made reasonably quiet reasonably cheap. That's what I set out to do anyway, armed with a pair of tin snips and the wealth of information available on this site. This is still very much a work in progress, though the systems are nearing completion. All I'm waiting for is the memory, and then I can move the drives to the new systems.
How about some pictures?
Here's a publicity shot of our two cases
With the bezel removed you can see two removable hard drive cages:
These cages are just
the right size to vertically suspend a 3.5" drive or two.
Yeah, that's four Scythe Ninjas posing on top of the case
Fortunately they fit the EATX motherboard just fine.
On the right of the picture above you can see the two internal drive cages. They're separated from each other by a layer of steel, and I've taken advantage of this by creating a separate air intake tunnel
for each of the two 120mm Yate Loon D12SL-12 fans pulling fresh air from the front. The upper fan is conveniently adjacent to one of the heatsinks. The lower fan will, hopefully, provide sufficient cooling for the rest of the components including the motherboard. The lower fan will also have the two hard drives in front of it.
There was a very, very restrictive stamped fan grill separating the motherboard compartment from the fans, and those were the first things the tin snips ate out. With the drive cages removed there is now a completely
unrestricted path for the air to flow into the case and the motherboard space. Because of this the net airflow is surprisingly good even with the fans at low voltage. The fan grill at the back of the case was similarily removed:
There's a third Yate Loon fan in the rear of the case. All three fans are decoupled from the case in one way or another. They're also connected to a fan controller, and will probably never be run at 12V.
The video card has Zalman's old passive cooler on it. Before the X700 Pro cards these Zalmans were cooling our old Radeon 9800 Pro video cards. I recall that they should be in the same ballpark power consumption-wise, so I think the old Zalmans will be just fine.
Here's a publicity shot of the system with the video card installed:
...and a closeup of the motherboard compartment with all the components, minus the memory and sound card, in place:
That's the only visible part of the cablegami on the bottom right-hand corner. The rest is hidden out of sight. The motherboard and drive spaces are quite clear of cable messes, but as you can see there's still quite a cable-salad up in the PSU compartment. To be honest I'm not sure I can sort that mess out. The power supply gets a decent shot at air, so I think I'm just going to leave it as-is...
That power supply, by the way, is a Fortron-Source FSP550-60PLN. It's a temporary power supply we'll use until someone comes up with a decent passive model or until SPCR reviews the new Antec's NeoHE units. I know the Fortron isn't ideal, and it's not intended to be one. It's just something to get these systems up and running so we can start selling components from our old systems.
So there. That's my master plan for our two new workstations. Both are identical, so I won't bother describing the other one
So far these systems are reasonably quiet when I have turned the systems on. The fans move a decent amount of air even though they're undervolted. A simple test with a match shows that air goes more or less where I wanted it to go, so I've high hopes that both processors, the motherboard, and the video card can be sufficiently cooled with undervolted fans. The power supply, unfortunately, is by far the noisiest part of the system, so we'll be quite happy when we can either perform a fan-surgery on it or just get a better model.
Come this weekend these systems will go live. I do not expect any surprises... duh
Both of these systems were built for future flexibility. In the long-term we have all kinds of plans: better separate the PSU from the motherboard space, get a passive PSU, dual-core processors, add some weight to the side panels of the chassis, maybe experiment with a duct between the exhaust fan and the top internal fan so that the processors and the memory are in a tunnel of their own, switch to SATA laptop drives and build hot-swap RAID arrays out of them... things like that. We've high hopes these systems will tide us over all sorts of socket M2s and stuff like that
Oh yeah, in the beginning of this post I mentioned that the low height of the Chenbro SR107 was one of the deciding factors. This is because they need
to fit on the pedestals of our computer desks and there's only so much space there, height-wise:
Here are a few extra pictures of the SR107 innards:
The last picture above shows well the quite restrictive fan grills.
These are the fans that came with the case...
Those are the drive cages, by the way. Originally I had intended to only use one of them in the case, serving as the holder for the two suspended IDE drives...
...but then it occured to me that the 92mm fan holders these cages have are ideal
for holding removable air filters! The cages themselves come out of the case quite easily, and the filters can slide in from the top...
...so in the end I'll probably just cut off the grill from the cages and use both of them.
Here's a picture of my lovely wife with her new 'puter
You can see the two suspended drives through the grill of the lower drive bay. The computer will
look better by the time I'm done with it
Latest update: temperatures.
Now that the thermal paste has had the chance to settle in a bit, the temperature sensors attached to the bottoms of the heatsinks...
...give following readings for temperature at fans running at ~9V:
CPU1: ~6°C above ambient at idle, ~8°C above ambient at load.
CPU2: ~8°C above ambient at file, ~11°C above ambient at load.
These are c0-stepping Opterons without any sort of fancy PowerNow! features, which probably explains why the delta between idle and load isn't greater. These are hot running chips, and I suspect the more modern versions would run cooler. The load, by the way, was two instances of Prime95 torture test, two instances of CPU Burn-in, and three instances of K7burn at high priority. The system was basically unusable while running this test. Everything was simply frozen. It took five minutes for a mouse click to register, and about fifteen minutes to terminate enough programs for the system to become responsive again.
I think this system can operate well even with the fans at 7V, and maybe even at 5V. However, at this point the noise generated by the system fans even at 9V is a moot point, because the power supply fan drowns out all other noises by a good margin...
The power supply temperature, as read by the thermal probe...
...hovers at around 31°C at idle, but I forgot to record what the temperature was at load