Friday, December 28, 2007

Quiet PC, take III

Back in 2004 I wrote about my first attempt at building a quiet PC. In retrospect I failed. Mostly because the disks were too noisy and needed individual noise dampening cases, but also because the Lian Li case, while beautiful and practical, was not very noise-insulated, and also the PSU could have been more quiet. The CPU cooler was nice.

A litte bit after this I put together a HTPC based on a old ASUS CUV4X mobo with a Celeron CPU, a Noise Control cabinet with very thorough noise dampening and put some Samsung Spinpoint disks in it. Sitting in a shelf in the living room it was quite tolerable. Especially in the day time, at night when everything becomes quiet the sound of it grew obtrusive. In 2004 it was bloody impossible to get MythTV running on it. I gave up after 2 days of work and setbacks. Therefore I used XP on it for years (ashamed all the while), and programmed recordings on it manually. This spring I installed MythUbuntu on it and everything just worked. Since it finally was really useful and I thought I'd invest some in it. Build a HD capable multimedia machine from the Celeron that just barely managed to decode a MPEG2 in realtime. Note, must support our current SD TV as we will not buy a digital flatscreen for a couple of years. Our SD TV is very nice and the HD things could be better (support MPEG4 DVB-T for example, the Norwegian terrestrial digital broadcast standard), and will be cheaper still.

So this winter I have a plan to make a HD HTPC which is All Quiet. The first step was new inards. The second step I'll return to in January when my new case arrives.

The first step was changing the the mother-board, CPU and graphics.

CPU first. AMD Athlons were out in 65nm process, with 65W power consumption. According to Toms Hardware CPU charts a bit better for video and media processing than Intels Core Duo CPUs. And a bit cheaper too, as AMD lowered prices.

Motherboard. Remembering the lesson of the first Quiet PC mother board I got a motherboard that a local clone maker uses in their "build your own PC" web-shop, they would not use a motherboard with high fail-rates. A MSI K9N NEO-F V3. Cheap, and low on features. No FireWire for example, or other bells and whistles for the overcooking aficionados. Probably low power consumption too. This motherboard supports AMDs "Cool 'n Quiet" which seems like an admirable concept.

Graphics card. A XFX GeForce 7600GS with passive cooling, 1080p over HDMI as well as Composite TV-out for our SD TV. Sadly no clicky link to this as it has been discontinued as I write this.

Then came the time for mounting the new stuff. First surprise was the 24pin power connector on the motherboard. My PSU had only a 20pin contact in addition to the 12V "P4" contact. The manual was very supportive though, a 20 pin connector should work well. Connecting the disk-drives... Ah, two IDE disk drives and one IDE DVD drive, and only one IDE bus with the usual two connectors. Bummer. Will have to order a large SATA disk then, to be able to use the DVD drive :-) A 500G SATA Samsung SpinPoint is now waiting to be mounted, just as soon as I get time - it will involve a fair amount of disk copying and mount-point jiggering.

When powered up the machine was Quiet. Already! The big AMD CPU cooling fan, with Cool 'n Quiet technology no doubt, was very low speed and quiet. With only the contents changed, no new super case yet, the machine is already quieter than before. And giving my server laptop (I keep an old laptop in the shelves as a server, my first bid for quiet computing in our small flat) quite an upset as the laptop is now easily the most noisy thing in the room.

One of my colleagues swears that the most, well the two most, important thing you can do to quiet a PC is to change the CPU fan to something big with a slow fan with so much capacity to spare that it will never need to speed up. And change the north bridge fan too, it tends to be a small angry fan. Or get a motherboard with passive cooling on the northbridge. And a passively cooled graphics card. After those three I would bet that getting disk enclosures (that enclose the disks entirely) is the next priority. They're in the mail. I'll write again when the new cabinet and disk enclosures are here.


Lars Strand said...

We can soon replace the old (noisy) spinning disks with SSDs. They have an incredible development speed!

Nicolai said...

How long will a SSD disk last as / on a Linux box? The / (including /usr and /home, excluding /var, /tmp) on the Myth box is a mere 2G. BUT, even with noatime mount option, how long until the flash wears out from the writes?