Monthly Archives: October 2013

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