Update ... Quiet Computing

Every year I try and spend around 100 - 200 keeping my bolted-together PC up-to-date, hopefully ensuring it never quite becomes a relic. Actually I'm surprisingly impressed with the machine so far. Even with a relatively ancient 1333 MHz AMD Athlon it still chunders along really quickly (mainly due to the 512MB of RAM I'd imagine).

Now that the machine has been in the living room for several months, the noise, and ugly appearance, were driving the wife mad. The noise especially. And I do have to admit I didn't appreciate it either.

Early this year I updated the graphics card to a Sapphire card based on ATI's 9600XT. At the time this was near the top end of the midrange parts, but crucially, it is probably the most powerful graphics processor that will ever be passively cooled. That means this card has no fan, no moving parts. As a result, its silent. And performs well too, certainly good enough for even the most advanced 3D games for the next few years at least.

But the time came to make some more serious changes. So I bought a lovely looking new case, an Antec SLK2650BQE, where the BQE stands for "black quiet edition". It purportedly has a bunch of noise elimination mechanisms designed in, and I can confirm it really is nice and quiet. The ample 350W power supply is basically silent. The 120mm case fan is quiet, but not really silent (I'll get into this in more detail below).

I also bought a new heatsink assembly for my processor, an Arctic Cooling Copper Silent 2 TC, where the TC stands for "temperature controlled". If the CPU is running cool the fan will slow down and potentially even stop if its safe to do so. Given I rarely push the processor to its limit, it does indeed run slow and the result is nice and quiet.

The Achilles heel of the system at the moment is my Western Digital hard drive, known in the industry as being the manufacturer of the loudest hard drives. However, I did just buy the drive last year, before my push for silent computing, and thus loathe to change it so quickly. The Antec case does have rubber grommets for the hard drive mounts, but the drive easily remains the loudest unit the box. And to cap it all off, Microsoft XP has an option to turn off the hard drive if its idle for awhile, but this feature is terrible because the hard drive is constantly accessed by background tasks. One night I left the machine idling and in the morning the hard drive still never had 3 uninterrupted minutes of idling so it never powered down!

Another pity is that my Gigabyte 7DX motherboard is just not properly set up for standby mode, so I can't use that either to turn off the hard drive when I'm away from the computer. I suppose I'll just have to grin and bear it until I can get a quieter hard drive. But, heck, its still pretty darn quiet at the minute.

Now back to that 120mm case fan. Given the size of the fan its safe to run it at a lower speed than a full 12V would produce. So I bought a Zalman FANMATE 1 which can be used to easily adjust the speed of the fan to as low as 5V. At 5V the fan would certainly be silent. The stupid thing is that the case fan has a four pin connecter and the FANMATE has a three pin connector. And try as I might I have not yet found a converter anywhere. Argh.

To finish off the system I bought a matching black keyboard with a few extra bits and bobs like a scroll wheel, volume controls and so forth. I also bought a snazzy PCI card for USB 2.0 and Firewire support. My motherboard was so old the USB was only version 1.

And that's about it for quite awhile now. Next on my list would be a DVD recorder, quieter hard drive and a whole new motherboard/processor/RAM combination. This stuff will keep me busy for years.

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