A very quiet HTPC

Show off your quiet rig.

Moderators: NeilBlanchard, Ralf Hutter, sthayashi, Lawrence Lee

Post Reply
Vidicio
Posts: 21
Joined: Mon Apr 16, 2007 11:30 pm
Location: Finland

A very quiet HTPC

Post by Vidicio » Fri Apr 20, 2007 1:54 pm

This is the first computer I have ever built.

Warning: the beauty of the craftmanship was not my objective at any point. If you are sensitive to shocking images of mistreated case, do not look any further (you may avoid some nightmares).


Objective:
  • - HTPC and web surfing use
    - mid-price
    - runs 64-bit Linux
    - low power consumption
    - air cooled but very quiet
    - reliable and care-free hardware
I thought that I can make it almost silent by choosing quiet components. All I have to do is to connect them together and turn it on. Right?

Initial HW:
  • - Case: Antec SOLO
    - CPU: AMD Athlon 64 3500+ (65nm, 45W TDP!)
    - CPU cooler: Arctic Cooling Freezer 64 Pro
    - PSU: Silverstone SST-ST30NF-GM PCI-E (Fanless)
    - MOBO: Asus M2NPV-VM + Asus S/PDIF card
    - Memory: Kingston 1024MB 667MHZ DDR2 NON-ECC DIMM
    - HDD: Samsung Spinpoint 320GB T166 7200RPM SATA
    - Optical: Samsung SH-S182D/BEBE Super-WriteMaster
    - TV Tuner: Hauppauge WinTV-HVR 1300
To my surprise it was relatively quiet but nowhere near to what I wanted. The ambient noise in my living room is very low. I had to do some modding to improve acoustics.

Added while modding:
  • - American Acoustics SilencePack
    - Noctua NF-S12-1200
    - Noctua NF-S12-800
    - Coolink Mainboard Silencer
    - Scythe Quiet Drive
Image

The MOBO is clearly HTPC oriented but for some reason the S/PDIF connector had to be ordered separately.
ImageImage

Ain't this PSU a freaking' beauty?
Image

Freezer is amazingly good for a budget cooler. The fan is relatively quiet in low/medium speed but still too noisy for me.
ImageImage

I thought that I could get rid of the extra noise by adding an acoustic layer to the case. There was already a thin layer but it clearly wasn't enough. Also the Antec Tricool fan included in the case was terribly noisy.
ImageImage

At this point I realized that there wasn't any easy way to keep this thing quiet without compromising the cooling. I decided to re-design the air flow and to enhance the HDD mount. The SOLO case has elastic cords for HDD built in and the Spinpoint drive I had is a quiet one (for 7200 RPM drive), but the noise was still way too much to me.

The air flow was originally quite bad: CPU cooler was blowing all available air to CPU heat sink only and the tiny GPU heat sink below it felt really hot. The heat from the GPU sink went directly up to the CPU sink base, thus making the CPU cooling less efficient. Hot air accumulated to top of the case, around the PSU, making sure it stayed hot. The fan grill and intake filters lowered the air flow and the fans had to compensate it with extra speed.

Before ending up with the final design, I did several experiments and measurements, finding solutions that were noisy and/or compromised the cooling.
Image

My enhancements were based on common sense and basics of physics:
  • - Hot air tends to rise up and must be able to escape from the top.
    - Cool air is available near the floor and must be taken in from there.
    - All obstacles of air flow must be removed.
    - The air should be blown through the heat sinks and then directly out.
    - The air flow inside the case must be directed to cool all MOBO components.
    - Some air must flow around the HDD to keep it cool.
    - Number of fans must be low and they must use minimal speed.
    - The fans must be sound-isolated from the case.
In contemporary DELL office tower cases, the number of fans is quite low because the air flow is desinged to fully utilize each fan: they all serve multiple purposes. I applied the same idea to my design: one fan to cool both heat sinks and to get rid of the air heated there and another one to take cool air from the bottom and to direct it to MOBO components (and for the use of the heat sink fan).

To ease the air flow I cut off the fan grill and detached the intake filters. To direct the warm air from the heat sinks out of the case, I made a simple air tunnel using cardboard box of the TV tuner card. For letting the air out at the top of the case, I drilled a row of holes.

I replaced the noisy fans with Noctuas. I know there are some contradictory claims on them but in my design they obviously do very well. There are two 12cm fans, 1200 RPM model and 800 RPM model. They look identical outside but behave very differently. The 1200 RPM model is a bit noisy, even with lower RPM while the 800 RPM model is very quiet except for the top speed.

The 800 RPM model is now my heat sink fan, thermally controlled by the MOBO. It hangs behind the sinks tied by elastic cord. I wouldn't have bought the 1200 RPM model if I would have known it was so noisy (don't get me wrong: is a lot quieter than the fans in general). To make it silent, I connected it in series with the Ultra Low Noise Adapters of both of the fans. If I calculated correctly, it now gets about 3 volts but it still starts just fine and I feel the blow of air. As the voltage range specified for it is 4-13V, this must be now that "undervolting" you guys keep talking about? The low volume of intake fan is also intentional because then some air comes in also from the front, to cool the HDD.

Now comes the ugly part: a new intake hole to the bottom. The intake fan is not attached at all. It just sits in a block of foam cut in shape.
ImageImage

The hole doesn't look anyhow nice but thenagain, it is facing the floor. In case I need to build another computer some day, I'll buy a Dremel.

The Noctua U.L.N.A cords (short extensions with a resistor) connected in series. Omitted filters.
ImageImage

Getting rid of the fan grill.
ImageImage

The tunnel for directing the air out.
ImageImage

I replaced the original GPU heat sink with Coolink Mainboard Silencer in order to improve the cooling. The heat sink fan is lowered enough to blow some air through it.
Image

At both sides of the case, a row of holes releases hot air rising from the MOBO and from the PSU.
Image

As the fan noise was now practically killed, all I heard was the HDD noise. Scythe Quiet Drive lowers it down very well. Antec case elastic cords help to remove rest of the vibrations and finally the acoustic layers and the sturdy steel cover of the case make it almost silent.
ImageImage

The HDD led is detached from the filter mount and is a bit dim outside. That is a plus because by default it was so bright it disturbed me.
ImageImage

The nasty looking back end remains hidden. Outside it looks just like any Antec SOLO computer.
ImageImage

The cooling works as expected. At normal (relatively low) load, with heat sink fan speed below 500 RPM, the CPU temperature is at 45 C and MOBO at 35 C. The GPU heat sink feels warm but not hot and the HDD case is barely warm.

When inserting a DVD to play I noticed that the optical drive was extremely noisy. The noise comes from excessive spinning speed. The spinning is fortunately possible to control by SW: I just let the Linux to send a command whenever a DVD is detected in the drive: hdparm -E 2 /dev/cdrom, meaning: "use no more than double speed with the current disk".

Now I'm happy with the sound. To hear it, I must wait a silent moment; no wind or rain outside, no traffic anywhere near, no other electronic devices turned on and no cat purring in the same room. Then I put my ear close enough to touch the case and concentrate a while and the noise becomes audible: it isn't totally silent! Extreme HDD seeking can be audible upto 20 inches away from the case. Never mind, it is very quiet and that's enough for me.

bonestonne
Posts: 1839
Joined: Mon Feb 05, 2007 2:10 pm
Location: Northern New Jersey
Contact:

Post by bonestonne » Fri Apr 20, 2007 5:47 pm

i guess the hole in the bottom is a slight turnoff, i guess it should never be a computer for a glass house?

the fan grill that was cut off, eh, i'd cut my grills off, however i don't have tin snips, or guards large enough to keep the fan fingerproof....i've had idiots at my school stick their finger into one of my fans before [yea, when i need to emulate something and i know its a bum day, i'll bring my tower to school]

i guess basically its more or less neat and nice, i'd rather use a kama bay than cut a gaping hole in my case, however, my case has a window, so thats my thing...

the grill in the rear, well, it wasn't obstructive at all, so i don't see why it was cut off...add some sharp edges? all depends on what you're into...my computer upstairs, well..thats another story. it has enough in the way of grills to keep it cool.

the duct is nice though, definately reduces the number of fans and such, however it only provides one exit for air, so the system will probably heat up if left on for extended periods of time. i'd say if anything, get some sandpaper and neaten the hole on the bottom a little, add a small grill, the old school kind, it would make it neat.

interesting command for linux with the DVD drive, my celeron box runs linux, thats not something i'd have thought of, but then again, i don't use it for much other than the occaisional show off, as its so quiet, and has so much room for a mATX case.
|Dual Intel Xeon E5-2680v2--Xigmatek SD1283 DK-II|Asus Z9PA-D8--HR-05 IFX|128gb DDR3-1600 ECC RDIMM|300gb DC SSD, 640gb, 1TB, 2TB HDDs|nVidia GTX660ti 2GB|Antec HCG-750|NZXT Source 210 Elite|M-Audio ProFire 2626|Art TubeOpto8 with Smooth Plate Tube Swap|Avid Artist Mix x2|
FartingBob wrote:A 9500GT with 1GB of RAM is the most pointless thing since NASCAR.

IsaacKuo
Posts: 1705
Joined: Fri Jan 23, 2004 7:50 am
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Post by IsaacKuo » Fri Apr 20, 2007 6:15 pm

Dude, you can hear that rig sitting next to that Dell? :P (Yeah, yeah, I know--that computer doesn't "live" in the location where you took those pictures.)

I like the build. It's nice. The removal of those grills are a no-brainer to me. If finger protection is necessary, it's easy enough to jury rig a wire fan grill in place (which will be less restrictive to airflow than the stock grill).

That Samsung one freaky short DVD drive!

Anyway, it's quite impressive for a first computer build! In particular, I'm impressed at the level of experimenting you've put in with figuring out how to improve the rig before posting this Gallery Entry. The combination of many techniques for softmounting fans and ducting is amazing for a first build.

My only concern with your rig is hard drive temperatures. I'm personally wary of putting a 3.5" drive in any enclosure, even with plenty of airflow. With your bottom intake fan pulling in air, it's possible that airflow is bypassing the hard drive area entirely. Personally, I'd put a fan on the front intake before putting it on that bottom intake. But that's just theory--the proof is in the pudding.
Isaac Kuo

Vidicio
Posts: 21
Joined: Mon Apr 16, 2007 11:30 pm
Location: Finland

Thanks for the viewpoints

Post by Vidicio » Sat Apr 21, 2007 1:59 am

Thank you for the feedback. You're very kind. I wouldn't mind getting some hard critic as well.
bonestonne wrote:the grill in the rear, well, it wasn't obstructive at all, so i don't see why it was cut off...add some sharp edges? all depends on what you're into...
My intention was to remove everything from slowing down the air flow. ...to let the fan move the air with minimal effort. I really don't know if the grill removal made notable difference but I'm quite sure it made some.

At first I was a bit worried about the sharp edges but after a while their rugged appearance started to appeal to me (Am I the only one here feeling this way?). They are also practical: Anyone trying to stick their hands in there will feel their sharpness and get the a kind of warning message: "Go any further and you'll lose a finger!".
bonestonne wrote:the duct is nice though, definately reduces the number of fans and such, however it only provides one exit for air, so the system will probably heat up if left on for extended periods of time.
"Periods"? It is a HTPC for recording TV broadcasts. I have no plans to turn it off within couple of years. Besides, there are other exits for the air: the holes in the top of the case and in the back of the PSU. For that PSU it is not a problem to get warm air from below and pass it through. Of course it would increase the temperature but (according to some review I read) it would become a problem only somewhere between 70 and 80 C. Mine seems to stay steadily somewhere around 40 C. At first I checked the temps every 12 hours or so but I found the readings always at safe levels.
bonestonne wrote:I'd say if anything, get some sandpaper and neaten the hole on the bottom a little, add a small grill, the old school kind, it would make it neat.
This is propably somewhat hostile for you (and for plenty of other people reading this forum) to hear, but I wan't to be honest here: the hole remains as is. I know very well how big turnoff it is to see, but it isn't visible. Would it help if I alter the image to hide the rough edges?
IsaacKuo wrote:Dude, you can hear that rig sitting next to that Dell? :P
That Dell is mostly for gaming and image processing. It has nothing to do with quiet computing. I took a look at the acoustic and cooling solutions used there only to learn how not to do things (I'm not referring to that kind of Dell PC in the original posting). Showing any corner of that PC in images posted here is kind of blashemy.

You see, I'm not worried about the computer noise when using the computer, especially when using it for something as noisy as action gaming. For me the computer noise becomes an issue when I want e.g. to read a book in silence but I need to have a computer turned on to work in the background.
IsaacKuo wrote:Anyway, it's quite impressive for a first computer build!
Thank you, Isaac, for the credit! I must admit that before the final design I read some advice from this forum, including your postings. They were most helpful.
IsaacKuo wrote:My only concern with your rig is hard drive temperatures. I'm personally wary of putting a 3.5" drive in any enclosure, even with plenty of airflow. With your bottom intake fan pulling in air, it's possible that airflow is bypassing the hard drive area entirely. Personally, I'd put a fan on the front intake before putting it on that bottom intake. But that's just theory--the proof is in the pudding.
I was also concerned about that but I was positively surprised to find the HDD case relatively cool. In the original posting I try to describe why there should be air flowing around it even without the front intake fan. It doesn't need much air flow because the Scythe box transfers the heat to big (HDD top and bottom) surfaces, which can easily radiate it out in vertical position.

J. Sparrow
Posts: 414
Joined: Wed Jan 17, 2007 7:55 am
Location: EU

Post by J. Sparrow » Sat Apr 21, 2007 6:24 am

The Solo is intended for cool/quiet operation without any modding and definitely aims to be a good looking case. Yours doesn't look good at all and required extensive modding.

I wonder whether you could achieve similar results simply by modding a cheaper case.

IsaacKuo
Posts: 1705
Joined: Fri Jan 23, 2004 7:50 am
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Re: Thanks for the viewpoints

Post by IsaacKuo » Sat Apr 21, 2007 6:55 am

Vidicio wrote:Thank you, Isaac, for the credit! I must admit that before the final design I read some advice from this forum, including your postings. They were most helpful.
"Admit"? Oh no, it's to your credit--you've obviously done your research before asking what's already been asked/answered before!
I was also concerned about that but I was positively surprised to find the HDD case relatively cool. In the original posting I try to describe why there should be air flowing around it even without the front intake fan. It doesn't need much air flow because the Scythe box transfers the heat to big (HDD top and bottom) surfaces, which can easily radiate it out in vertical position.
Even if the outside of the case is relatively cool, the hard drive inside might be a lot hotter due to the insulation effect of the case. I'd suggest monitoring the HD temps just in case.

Now, I have to make an admission--I feel silly recommending monitoring of HD temps considering I never do. I've only even tried a few times and failed (crappy cheap/unsupported motherboards, I guess). After that failure, I've never bothered learning how to monitor hard drive temps. The only 3.5" drives I still use are in my file server, where I use "the finger test" to guess whether they're too hot.

So take my advice as you will...I shouldn't be the one giving it...
Isaac Kuo

Vidicio
Posts: 21
Joined: Mon Apr 16, 2007 11:30 pm
Location: Finland

Re:

Post by Vidicio » Sat Apr 21, 2007 8:40 am

J. Sparrow wrote:The Solo is intended for cool/quiet operation without any modding and definitely aims to be a good looking case. Yours doesn't look good at all and required extensive modding.
Oh, don't worry. I don't plan to put this rig in the middle of the room to reveal the modifications. You cannot see any of them the way it is positioned. Some modifications are made for eyes. Mine are for ears only.

Why did it require modding? Just because I wanted to go beyond "quiet", closer to "silent". For quiet computing it is a great case unmodified. The holes in the sides would have been preferable anyway because ATX cases seem to be inherently incompatible with fanless power supplies. Hot air rising to top of the case is assumed to be removed by PSU fan. For us beginners there should be a warning in every fanless PSU about installation to this kind of ATX case.
J. Sparrow wrote:I wonder whether you could achieve similar results simply by modding a cheaper case.
I really love the HDD suspension and the thick steel cover of Solo. Even if not perfect for my project out-of-the-box, it is an awesome case for the price. I don't know if I could have reached good result with some other case, but I certainly don't regret having chosen Solo.

YugenM
Posts: 40
Joined: Wed Feb 14, 2007 9:55 pm
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada

Re: Thanks for the viewpoints

Post by YugenM » Sat Apr 21, 2007 5:13 pm

Vidicio wrote: At first I was a bit worried about the sharp edges but after a while their rugged appearance started to appeal to me (Am I the only one here feeling this way?). They are also practical: Anyone trying to stick their hands in there will feel their sharpness and get the a kind of warning message: "Go any further and you'll lose a finger!".
Funny how we appear to think alike:

Centurion 5 with rear fan grill cut out here, but with a Panaflo M1A @12V instead of a Noctua serving as a mini-guillotine :D

(and for those of you wondering why I'd have such a loud fan in my case, the Panaflo is actually slightly quieter than the stock heatsink struggling to cool my Pentium D 930, and I'm not going to bother with a new heatsink since I'm watercooling in a couple of weeks anyways)

bonestonne
Posts: 1839
Joined: Mon Feb 05, 2007 2:10 pm
Location: Northern New Jersey
Contact:

Post by bonestonne » Sat Apr 21, 2007 6:06 pm

you could also remove the PCI slot brackets, that would help with cooling as long as no little furry animals decide to make it a place to explore [doubtable]
|Dual Intel Xeon E5-2680v2--Xigmatek SD1283 DK-II|Asus Z9PA-D8--HR-05 IFX|128gb DDR3-1600 ECC RDIMM|300gb DC SSD, 640gb, 1TB, 2TB HDDs|nVidia GTX660ti 2GB|Antec HCG-750|NZXT Source 210 Elite|M-Audio ProFire 2626|Art TubeOpto8 with Smooth Plate Tube Swap|Avid Artist Mix x2|
FartingBob wrote:A 9500GT with 1GB of RAM is the most pointless thing since NASCAR.

Moogles
Posts: 315
Joined: Thu Mar 22, 2007 10:28 am

Post by Moogles » Sun Apr 22, 2007 2:39 pm

Antec should file rape charges. Too harsh? :)

It honestly seems like a waste of a great case. Of course I'm not privvy to listening to the end result, but I doubt you've made an audible difference with all the (unnecessarily destructive) modifications. At the very least, I hope you enjoyed yourself. :D

IsaacKuo
Posts: 1705
Joined: Fri Jan 23, 2004 7:50 am
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Post by IsaacKuo » Sun Apr 22, 2007 5:35 pm

What unnecessarily destructive modifications? He cut out two fan grills, something which I'd do to any case, regardless of price. He took advantage of the case's features--particularly the hard drive suspension system.
Isaac Kuo

Moogles
Posts: 315
Joined: Thu Mar 22, 2007 10:28 am

Post by Moogles » Sun Apr 22, 2007 6:56 pm

Did you miss the gigantic hole in the bottom of the case, Isaac? :) What about the less than perfectly aligned ventholes near the PSU?

I was semi-joking when I replied though, I don't object to this kind of maltreatment of cases at all. The problem is, I don't think any of his mods made sense. He essentially ruined a nice case that was already designed to be very quiet. It simply doesn't look like it did anything other than ruin the case's aesthetic appeal. It looks like McGuyver used his Swiss army knife to cut a flying disc of death out of the bottom of the case.

45W CPU, and a TV card. The case could have been perfectly adequately cooled with a single exhaust fan. Mangling the case and adding more fans just doesn't work for me.

There's a time for drastic measures, I just don't see it here. Sorry.

Vidicio: I hope you don't take offense ot anything I say, I'm just expressing my opinion. I think you went overboard on the modding, but in general it's a nice build.

Vidicio
Posts: 21
Joined: Mon Apr 16, 2007 11:30 pm
Location: Finland

Post by Vidicio » Sun Apr 22, 2007 9:30 pm

Moogles wrote:It honestly seems like a waste of a great case.
I'm not at all surprised of this kind of opinions and I really don't mind at all (all critic deserved). It is indeed good that you have the guts to say it out loud. I bet many other viewers of this entry feel the same and would like to use even more explicit wording but are afraid to express themselves.

For me the Antec case complements other investments made for quiet result: PSU (alone more expensive than Solo), Scythe box, fans and damping. These other related investments actually cost me twice the price of the case. A cheaper case with more resonating structure would have reduced the value of related investments and effort. Plus it wouldn't have been as good looking.
Moogles wrote:Of course I'm not privvy to listening to the end result, but I doubt you've made an audible difference with all the (unnecessarily destructive) modifications.
Unfortunately I cannot proof this but I made quite many experiments to find out which modifications do and which don't make audible difference and I did everything else before proceeding to the destructive ones. You're definately right assuming that these modifications aren't audible enough to motivate most modders to alter the case. Quite likely I value each DB lost more than an average modder?

I bet that if I had nicely finished all the cuts and holes and sleeved the cables (and added ambient lighting inside the case) before posting here, you'd consider the modifications more acceptable? Outside the rig would look exactly the same in where it stands. Please don't take this personally. I don't judge anybody for being emotionally attached to computer cases. To have feelings on things is human.

Still, I hope this entry might give somebody some ideas on softmounting the fans (simple, quick, inexpensive and does make difference), considering exteme HDD silencing or re-designing the case air flow (no, you don't necessarily need to make holes).

Vidicio
Posts: 21
Joined: Mon Apr 16, 2007 11:30 pm
Location: Finland

Post by Vidicio » Sun Apr 22, 2007 11:21 pm

IsaacKuo wrote:He cut out two fan grills...
Only the rear grill is cut off. The front grills are in a separate part and the front filters are also detachable. You can take out (or put back) the filters separately or the front grills completely without tools.

In the front, there is still the outer grill (in the sides of the front panel). There is no visually acceptable way to remove that grill but it doesn't prevent effective air intake as there now is also the bottom hole.

Sylph-DS
Posts: 223
Joined: Wed Apr 04, 2007 2:56 am
Location: The Netherlands

Post by Sylph-DS » Mon Apr 23, 2007 5:13 am

Haha, that hole in the bottom is so freakin ghetto :D

I like this a lot, I have a Solo myself, and I have no intention of going this far with it, yet. (won't matter much as my GFX and CPU coolers are still quite noisy :() And even though a lot of the modifications don't work for the looks, I can understand quite well why you made them.

Although, at the top-left I think I would've tried getting a nice slit instead of a bunch of holes, I can immagine that you probably didn't have the proper tools.

It seems you know your way around quiet cooling.

I congratulate you on a succesful build :)
[size=75][b]Idiot. Geek. Sylph.[/b]
[i]Now, where did I leave my motivation?[/i][/size]

Post Reply