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Silent Mid Gaming PC Build Guide

The relentless downward pressure on PC component prices has made it possible for enthusiasts to assemble ever more powerful yet inexpensive systems. The mid-level gaming rig we've put together for this guide is a point in fact. Using SPCR/Pricegrabber, Newegg, NCIX and Google Shopping to research pricing around mid-Dec 2010, the components in this rig amount to just over US$1,000. In our hands, this budget is enough for a pretty high level of gaming performance at astonishingly low noise levels. Even after hours of intense 3D gaming, this system is barely audible in most acoustic environments, perhaps coming up to the threshold of audibility in a quiet room. We showed you how to assemble a Silent SFF Gaming rig a few weeks ago; this time, it's a mid-budget gaming system in a mid-tower case that is even quieter. Audibly so, at least in idle when you care more about the noise.

As in previous build guides, we begin with a rundown of component selection, which is arguably the most important part of the process. Reasons for our choices and alternatives are discussed. Then comes initial assembly and testing, installation of the components into the case, and finally, the long process of fine tuning to minimize noise while maximizing performance.

In this gaming build we've made one exception to a rule of thumb we usually adhere to closely: Instead of running them in steady state, the fans are allowed to ramp up in response to rise in CPU temperature. This is the norm for the vast majority of systems, but in most SPCR-approved PCs, fixed speed fans are preferred because of the simple fact that changes in noise level can be just as annoying as a louder but steady broadband noise. We made the exception for a few reasons:

  1. This gaming rig can pull nearly 420W from the wall outlet (under extreme lab test conditions) and upwards of 300W or more in extreme game play. With such high power draws, it is not practical for the cooling fans to be run at low speed without risking some degree of overheating at very high loads. Not at the thousand dollar budget allocated for this build.
  2. Deep in the throes of immersive game play, users are hardly going to notice a few decibel rise in PC noise, especially when the idle level begins at about the threshold of audibility in typical rooms.
  3. By allowing for some rise in fan speed under heavy load, we sought to bring the system noise at lower loads way down, some 4 dBA lower than that of the already very quiet 18 [email protected] SFF Gaming rig we detailed a few weeks ago. It is at lower loads when users are most likely to be working in office type documents, web surfing, image editing, etc, that noise becomes more of an intrusion on concentration.

So in the end, what we present is a guide to building a capable system that stays quiet even during intense 3D gaming and becomes silent at more modest loads. Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too.

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