Greg's IT Blog

and how to live with IT

Building a silent PC

Intro Even though "Gartner Says Worldwide PC Shipments in the Second Quarter of 2013 Declined 10.9 Percent" and the tendency is not about to change any time soon, I decided to go ahead and upgrade my "old" workstation (fall 2011, sandy bridge platform). Main concerns were warranty and silence. My main suspect for the PC sales decline is the 2007/2008 year PCs and laptops are more than enough for providing the needed user experience for general public. Most of my non-IT friends and relatives are happy with a dual-core CPU and 4 Gb of RAM (in fact, that's the configuration I recommend for most people browsing and reading e-mails). Plus the Personal Computer is no longer considered central for innovation and exploring things. Almost everyone has a small black box in the pocket that let's you be in contact with all the info you need here and now. One thing you can't take away is the thrill of choosing and building your own PC, component by component. It's a niche market. It's nice to play this game from time to time.   Starting with a comfortable level of dbA. 10db normal breathing 20db mosquito, russling leaves 30db whisper 40db stream, refrigerator humming 50-60db normal conversation, laughter, quiet office. 70db hair dryer, vacume cleaner 75db dishwasher 80db garbage disposal, city traffic  85-90db lawnmower,diesel truck at over 40mph 100db train, garbage truck 110db drill, power saw, jet flyover 120db thunderclap, dance clubs, sterios 130db jet takeoff, shotgun firing 110-140db rock concert   Trivia: it is generally accepted that a 10 dBA increase doubles the perceived sound level for humans. Human comfort range is less than 60db. Sound above 85 dB is very annoying to the body and if a person is exposed for up to 8 hours it can cause hearing damage.  Sounds up to 90 to 110 dB can be tolerated by a person for maximum up to 15 minutes. Any exposure for more than that can be health hazardous.  Exposure of sound also of over 100 dB for more than one minute can risk permanent hearing loss.  Any sound over 120 dB is beyond the threshold of pain in the body and can cause permanent health hazard.   My experience: dbA is not hard to measure, most people have smartphones nowadays - search me. Having a requirement for a more or less powerful GPU I've been capped at at least 27-30 dbA. That's a comfortable enough level for a living room; you do notice that something is humming somewhere, you can live with this. What I found out is that the current market situation has most noisy PC components operate at 25-30 dbA. If you want to go lower than that - you have to consider some heavy investments in passive cooling. My x220 notebook runs @ 0 dbA up to medium load with some custom fan profile tuning. Myth - water cooling is just as noisy because of the pump. Go down component by component and check their dbA levels. Remember the case fans.   My components breakdown and analysis. Case: Fractal Design Define R4 Comments: ~30 dbA After purchasing this I do not believe in the magical power of cases to absorb noise of the humming fans and vibration. I've been a proud owner of "Antec Three Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case" for years and I see no difference between Antec's solution and Fractal Design one. The noise levels from fans are the same, the overall cooling of system components doesn't matter that much. I haven't heard any incident reports on hard drives, cd-rw and motherboards frying out because the case cooling system didn't deliver. In fact, quite the opposite - a cheap 30$ case with a built-in PSU does just as good as an expensive solution on the market. In terms of factors to be considered for the next purchase - different form factor, transparent (glass) case with LED lights or even this crazyness.   PSU: BE QUIET STRAIGHT POWER E9 | 600W Comments: dB(A) at 100% load - 21.5 The stress load for my configuration is 300W (+50W hard drives). The actual load in applications or games is 250W (+50W hard drives). If basing my choice on the technical specifications provided by the vendor I would go for 400W one. Real life and data from people working with PC repairs and hardware components show that having a large overhead is needed. Sometimes a cheap 750W PSU outperforms 3-4 times the expensive 600W one (power loss and reboots). I've got sold on the noise specifications and the recommendation for this vendor from silent PC fanatics. My previous Corsair 750W PSU was crushing my ears @ 40-45 dbA (two times RMA). I will never buy or recommend Corsair to anyone. CPU: Intel Core i5-4670K Comments: I hate Haswell. It's an architecture that is aimed to shine in mobile devices by significantly boosting battery times. In desktop class it's just not good. Compared to previous generation Ivy Bridge it offers an overall 5% performance increase in synthetic tests (most of the reviews are very generous and "give" up to 10% performance increase), overheats more and overcloaks less. But you don't buy almost end-of-life hardware. That's how you end up with Haswell. AMD should pull themselves together and get back on track or several generations of "Haswell" will come. This is my second time going with a non-i7 processor with no Hyper-Threading. My typical apps can't make use of HT, I don't do video encoding. By scouting popular resource forums I realized there are still a lot of people who don't realize they don't need i7. Their loss.   CPU Fan: Hyper 212 EVO ~20 dbA Comments: Without any OverCloaking plans - stock cooler is fine. There are no official noise (dbA) numbers from Intel, but there is no mention that at stock loads the cooling solution is audible. My plan was to spin up the CPU for an additional Ghz and "Hyper 212 EVO" was the best value/performance on the market. Specs: 9 - 36 dBA.   MotherBoard: ASRock Z87 Extreme4 Comments: Any board with warranty will do. ASrock has been cheaper. On a side note - the amount of money vendors try to squish out of people who want to OC and play around with voltage is absurd. Stay way of people trying to rob you blind.   Video: MSI GeForce GTX760 HAWK, 2GB, GDDR5 ~27-30 dbA Comments: The noisiest components of the build, the vendor choice is dictated by them having the best (quietest) cooling solution. 26 dbA @ Idle and 30 dbA @ loads. As for choosing this specific component the best way to handle it go to the tests section and see how many FPS the card pulls at a specific resolution. The performance overview data on the website is often wrong.   Storage: Any SSD for completely silence +(potentially several quiet operating low power consumption hard drive for long term storage needs) Comments: My system runs from SSD. I have a lot of extra hard drives for storage (both mirror and stripped). I cannot say I ever hear them operating except the system boot up when mechanical components start up/spin up. In under 30 dbA segment hard drives don't make an audible difference. For a completely fanless system - SSD only.   Conclusion: Less than 25-30 dbA - the only option is passive (fan less) cooling. If browsing internet and watching movies - I would not consider PC as a viable solution. A lot of devices/solutions on the market offer the same for less $$$, stress and time spent. Desktop PC market is dying out. Knowing display resolution and typical PC tasks is mandatory. Memory overcloak does not result in performance gain. Buy the cheapest standard memory. Most desktop builders need 8 Gbs (2 x 4 Gb for dual channel). Most memory vendors provide lifetime warranty. When I choose my next GPU I will only consider the platform + vendor cooling solution and dbA. Out of the box OC values are useless. Haswell barely overcloaks, I got less than 1 Ghz gain at stock voltages. Not winning the silicon lottery today. Most PSU power is way above what is needed. Consider the secondary market during your purchase. Will you be able to sell your PC in 2-3 years with all those high end specific components? That's where getting a cheap PSU/case combo should be considered. My system runs at 28-30 dbA and I'm more or less happy with it.   What I would have done differently: Consider more cases just for the looks if it's standing in a visible spot. Try the 750W cheap option PSU. What I would have done differently, part 2, 2014: Even one standard (non-SSD) HDD is quite audible. I would consider buying a NAS device next time, although this defeats the purpose of a big-case "has it all system", so next build is going to be all around small factor - BitFenix are quite nice in the segment. The case (Fractal Design Define R4) doesn't live up to the marketing expectations. If you don't plan on running multiple drives in the bays - it's fine, but if you do, you'll get "the dust intake filters on this thing are vibrating, both of them, one on the bottom of the case, second one at the front panel. They're making an annoying noise which is very noticeable.". Proof.   References: http://www.silentpcreview.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=66659 - my build discussion http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/z87-express-motherboard-review,3582.html - Fast And Cheap? Five Sub-$160 Z87 Motherboards For Enthusiasts http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/MSI/GTX_760_HAWK/31.html - MSI GTX 760 HAWK 2 GB http://www.bequiet.com/en/powersupply/280 - STRAIGHT POWER E9 600W http://ark.intel.com/compare/75123,75048 - Compare Intel® Products

Choosing a laptop

Want to buy yourself a new laptop? Let me help you save some time and headache by guiding you through this grueling and complicated process! Do your research Finding out what you need is the hardest part, but it can also turn out to be some of the most enjoyable and exciting stage of getting a new toy. I know for sure that I enjoy the investigation even more than getting the final product. http://www.notebookcheck.net/ is one of the better resources available for the laptop market reviews. Before jumping forwarding and starting to browse through numerous reviews - consider the following question: What do you need the laptop for?  Business/Entertainment/Games The idea of having all-in-one wonder does sound appealing; hate breaking it to you, but that's not going to happen, at least in the nearest forseeable future. Developers will keep releasing demanding games, cooling and laptop battery life is still an issue and it will take the market a lot of time to transfer into something new. Need to run a standard suite of business apps (not the CS5 suite of course), watch videos and read e-mails? The non-marketing truth is - i3 processor/Atom is more than sufficient for you (core 2 duo would seem even more appropriate, but hardware manufacturers don't seem to release them all that much anymore)! As are 4 gigabytes of RAM. Want to play a specific game on your laptop? Check out the numerous FPS benchmark tests for that games specifically. Do you ever need i7 processor on a laptop? The short answer is no. You will not be doing heavy mathematical calculations that could possibly use this processor to it's full capacity and if you consider buying a laptop (even a desktop replacement model) for this purpose - it's impractical, you can get better value by building your own home server tailored for your specific needs. When browsing with chome - you will not have so many tabs open and even if you like to go all crazy and open 25+ windows with flash,  remember - it's just a synthetic test. There's no value here. And even better - utilizing all the additional virtualization technologies the i7 processor additionally supports - is not possible with the software that is currently out on the market (this is no joke, virtualization vendors have very and very specific hardware requirements for utilizing VT-d). PCI slot redirection on a laptop? What appliances of this feature can there possibly be?  What I highly recommend going for is an SSD drive - it really impacts user experience and OS boot times. Why SSD? This table should clear things up - http://www.ssdreview.com/why-ssd-the-advantages.html For business and mobile users the other big, big factor is the display quality. Is IPS too tiring for your eyes? Are you comfortable with viewing angles and picture quality? Remember - the better you define your needs, the better price/value you will get from your purchase. Making sure you get what you want: Playing around Seeing as how it's more common and practical nowadays just to oder a laptop through the internet - I highly recommend holding the real thing in your hands before placing the order online. Reading and viewing videos just does cannot compete to the feeling of actually holding the product in your hands and seeing if it suits you. Go out to the largest electronics shop you can find and make it happen! Saving money: Look for the best deal possible Coupons, clearances, special offers directly from the vendor. The only thing to watch out for - don't go for an overkill here, I've known a person who was waiting to buy a specific piece of hardware for 3 months, but no special offers came up during that time, so he just got it for the standard price. In my opinion - a person can only torture oneself for so long, don't overdo it. If you really want something - spend a reasonable amount of time looking into getting it cheaper. Making the final moment even more enjoyable: Planning on which accessories you need Nothing beats the feeling of receiving the full package you need from day one. Need a carrying bag? Get it before your laptop arrives! And be careful about getting those overpriced, gloomy and non-appealing bags that vendors usually try to sell in addition to the laptop - explore the market, there are a lot of great companys specializing in all sorts of different accessories!   People love to share what kind of accessories they get for their toys, don't be shy to google. Enjoying your new laptop Give it a thorough test drive - run the game you wanted, take it out for a walk to your favourite coffee shop, try it out in the business application and any other appliances you had in mind. Love it, it's here to stay! Market trends: Rise of the ultrabooks An Ultrabook is a higher-end type of subnotebook defined by Intel. Intel has applied to register the name as a trademark. Ultrabooks are designed to feature  reduced size and weight, and extended battery life without compromising performance.   Some time ago the only products that could fall into that definition would be the ones of Apple (think Macbook). Now Apple has PC manufacturers stepping on it's tows,  so much like Windows OS started adapting graphical user interface controls in the early 90s and ultimately won a larger market share. As an end-consumer you now have a greater variety of products to choose from and go with. Ultrabooks are positioned as tools for work, the tablets, on the other hand,  have a tint of entertainment attached to them; several ponderable reasons include - lack of software specifically designed to work with touch-based devices, lack of  user adaptation to touch-based devices and poor device versatility compared to the standard x86 architecture (which just happens to provide more room for creativity  and general device appliances in the market ). For now the common consensus is to go with the laptops for business and tablets for fun. My notebook spec and why Goal - mobility, business use. Critical factor - battery life. Thinkpad x220 Processor: Intel Core i5-2520M Processor (2.50GHz, 3M Cache with Turbo Boost up to 3.20GHz) Why: Has Turbo Boost (which is really something that is getting used, especially in running more heavier tasks while having the laptop on power cord. Has all the possible technologies I might ever need. Intel processor comparison tool is really great for figuring out what you need - http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/processor-comparison/compare-intel-processors.html Operating system: Windows or Penguin. Why: Penguin (Oneiric Ocelot) is a really competetive product for home market as shown in the latest article by Tom: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/ubuntu-oneiric-ocelot-benchmark-review,3121.html Windows 7 - all the way for the enterprises! Display type: 12.5" Premium HD (1366x768) LED Backlit Display, IPS, Mobile Broadband Ready, 2x2 Antenna Why: IPS screen on this model is amazing, very high quality. I am used to IPS and it does not tire my eyes. System graphics: Intel HD Graphics 3000 processor graphics with dynamic frequency Why: Can't really argue here, integrated graphics for better battery life, cooling and non-gaming laptop (although I've been intrigued to try out Fallout 3 and Starcraft 2 on this). Total memory: 8 GB PC3-10600 DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz SODIMM Memory (2 DIMM) Why: 8 GB will do for me (Running 1-3 VMs seems like a nice idea), dual channel is what can really affect (not to a large degree, but still) user experience here. Memory frequency does not matter (unless you're looking at overcloaking, which is not really a thing that a sane person would recommend doing on a laptop). Not to a degree when you should consider paying additional money for it. Do you need 8 GB more to turn off Windows paging file? No, you don't need more than 8 and no, you don't want to turn off windows paging file even if you have 16GB+. Link - http://blogs.technet.com/b/markrussinovich/archive/2008/11/17/3155406.aspx Hard drive: 128 GB SSD Why: Reasonable budget. I would have definetely went for 256 if it would not push my budget constrains. As for the make - I regret not going for Intel, research data suggests that their products are as much as 5-6 times more stable (even compared to regular SSDs) - http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/french_retailer_data_offers_ssd_failure_rates/. The 5 years warranty is great too. Integrated WiFi wireless LAN adapters: Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205 AGN Why: At the time of writing this - you only need 2 antennas maximum. Most places have wi-fi routers configured to run in mixed mode, which really nukes your n type adapter speed and capabilities (especially if there is a b-type client on the network). Furthermore, most corporate wireless routers run in 2x3 mode (efficiently meaning only two antenna are used for data transfer and 3 for receiving data) so your maximum theoretical transfer speed will be the same as running a device with 2 antenna. Bottom line - 3x3 antenna WILL NOT improve your data transfer speed or connectivity over a wireless network.  Plus my model could not have an integrated web cam with a 3x3 antenna, so the choice has been pretty obvious. Accessories: This notebook is pretty much like a building kit, you can buy bigger batteries, a battery slice to get up to 23 hours of battery life, a 3G module, a docking station and you name how many things more. Having an option to upgrade at a later time is just too hard to miss for my personality.