I wanted to build a budget gaming PC, balancing with price, performance and noise. The price went beyond 1000 euros and the performance is just about acceptable. Noise level is well within my tolerance but not anyhow comparable to my totally silent HTPC build.
- CPU: AMD Phenom II X3 720
- Mobo: Gigabyte GA-MA790XT-4UDP
- RAM: OCZ DDR3 PC3-12800 1600Mhz Platinum XTC dual channel 2GB
- Case: Antec Three Hundred
- GPU: Gainward NVidia GTX 275 896MB
- PSU: Corsair HX50W
- HDD: Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB SATA 3.0
- Optical: Samsung SH-S223F/BEBE (SATA)
- O/S: Vista Home Basic 32-bit OEM
- Fans: 700, 800 and 1200 RPM Noctua fans
- Pump: Laing 12V DDC-1T + EK-DDC top
- Radiator: NexXxos Xtreme III 360
- Water blocks: Zalman ZM-WB5 and MCW60-R
- 10/8 mm pipes and related accessories
To keep the price low, I decided to use AMD CPU, a single GPU and budget case. I had couple of Noctua fans waiting to be used and I intended to use air cooling. However, I soon found out that the GTX 275 card makes way too much noise with air cooling. Therefore I ended up cooling the GPU and CPU with simple water cooling, with just two cheap water blocks and no reservoir.
In my opinion, using water allows reasonably quiet cooling, but already the pump is so noisy that extreme silence is impossible to achieve. Therefore I did not bother to make much effort for silencing the HDD either (just eliminating the vibration still leaves both seeking and spinning sounds). Building the water cooling as silent as possible is easier when using big enough radiator, which is external from the computer case. This article contained great ideas, which I used in my design: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/diy-water-cooling-101,1055.html
The noise of the system contains steady quiet swoosh and sharp ticking when the HDD seeks a lot. Any sound from the speakers easily hides all that. The noise level remains steady, as only the PSU fan is thermally controlled. Others are permanently slowed down to minimal speed. Of course the optical drive is terribly noisy when it spins at full speed, but that never lasts for long time.
All the moving parts are isolated from the resonating materials using elastic cord. The water pump and the HDD are in the HDD area of the case. The HDD is attached sideways. The external radiator and the two attached fans hang by thick cords behind the table. Some sound dampening material is attached to the case, especially around the pump.
The Gainward GTX 275 card has custom layout and full cover block is therefore out of the question. Instead I used a cheap universal GPU block, cooling the RAM and other additional circuits with heat sinks glued to original aluminium plate. Those heat sinks are taken from trashed computers. The two intake fans are both directed toward those heat sinks.
The air cooling of the case consists of 2 intake fans (side and front) in the lower part of the case, and two exhaust fans: PSU fan and yet another Noctua at the top of the case. No need to modify the case, as the Antec 300 offers such versatile set of fan mounts (there are still two unused).
The gaming performance is achieved with 3 core CPU, NVidia GTX 275 card, modern low-end motherboard and reasonably fast DDR3 memory. It is enough for full HD gaming, possibly excluding the most power hungry games. With Flight Simulator X I get nice 50 fps with ultra+ details. Later on I may try some overclocking. When DDR3 memory prices drop, I will possibly buy some more and faster memory. For now 2GB is well enough.