GeekTech: Shhhhh! Make Your Next PC Run Quietly
At a Glance
Asus EAX1600XT Silent
This card's unique design replaces the standard fan with a silent heat sink, but unexceptional performance brings it down.
I love a powerful PC, but over the last few years I've grown to dislike the racket that a high-performance system often generates.
Why are the most lovingly crafted and expensive PCs often the loudest? One of the unintended consequences of stocking a chassis with the latest and greatest components is a whole lot of noise. Fast processors and graphics chips need plenty of cooling, and most stock fans are just plain loud. Add to that the rattle and hum of high-wattage power supplies, fast-spinning hard drives, and numerous whining chassis fans, and it is a wonder we can hear ourselves think when we power up these puppies.
Happily, I'm not alone when it comes to wanting a quieter PC that still has plenty of juice. Back in the day, if you wanted to quiet things down you often had to accept lower performance by moving to slower-running parts that required less cooling. These days, however, manufacturers are creating components that offer both high performance and near-silent running.
These are some of the components I'd buy if I were building a silent PC. I haven't tested all of the products here yet, but those I haven't handled come recommended by other geeks. As with most things worth having, you'll pay a premium for this stuff, but to my ears the cost is worthwhile.
Numerous case manufacturers cater to buyers seeking a quieter existence, but the product I'm currently digging is Antec's $150 Performance One P150. Antec labels it the "Quiet PC Case." This silver-and-white-clad case comes equipped with numerous quiet-making features, including sound-deadening side and top panels and a single 120mm TriCool chassis fan. A fan that big spins less (and more quietly) but still moves more air than the more-common 80mm fans, so you can get away with using only one instead of two.
One of the more intriguing noise-reducing features of this chassis is its hard drive enclosures. You can use the four standard bays, which include sound-dampening rubber grommets, or you can remove them and use the included suspension system. Yep, I said suspension. Inside the P150 there are industrial-strength rubber cables that let you hang up to three drives inside the case. Why would you do that? When you attach a hard drive to a metal chassis it amplifies the spinning and whirring noises that the drive makes. Suspending the drive isolates these noises instead of amplifying them.
The P150 also includes Antec's quiet-running 430-watt Neo HE power supply. However, if you're extra serious about silencing your PC you might consider one of the company's Phantom power supplies. There are 350-watt and 500-watt versions, and both have an aluminum casing that essentially acts like a giant heat sink. The $150 350-watt version has no fan whatsoever, while the $160 500-watt product uses its fan only when necessary.
Quieter CPU Cooling
I'm not really interested in the hassles of liquid-cooling a CPU; for now, air works just fine for my purposes. I've long been a fan of Zalman's giant-sized CPU coolers; in fact, I installed one for my very first GeekTech column. The company's $65 CNPS9500 LED CPU Cooler is currently on my radar, and it's getting super-high marks from buyers at NewEgg. Another unit I'd like to try out is Artic Cooling's AMD-specific Freezer 64 Pro. At $34, it's practically a bargain, and I've seen raves about its quiet performance and ease of installation.
Graphics Performance Without the Noise
Companies like Artic Cooling and Zalman have long offered aftermarket cooling products for video cards. However, I've never been that comfortable with the idea of removing the cooling system that vendors provide with a high-priced graphics card. Instead, I'd rather buy a card designed to run cool without a noisy fan. Unfortunately, I hadn't run across any such cards based on nVidia's impressive GeForce 7 series chips, until now.
Asus recently launched the $400 EN7800GT Top Silent graphics card. The card is completely fanless, relying instead on an elaborate heat sink. I haven't yet completed my review, but I can tell you that the board competed well with the other 7800GT boards we've tested (such as the $300 XFX 7800 GT), thanks in part to an overclocked graphics processor and fast-running DDR3 memory.
If $400 is a bit rich for your blood, you might consider the company's new Extreme AX1600XT Silent/TVD. The card, based on ATI's X1600XT chip, sells for a more down-to-earth price of $195.
Put all of these products together, and you'll have a nice, quiet, powerful system that won't wake the dead every time you boot it up.