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Quieting a PC on the cheap


Peace sells, and I'm buying
— 12:00 AM on July 1, 2004

LIKE DAMAGE AND DISSONANCE, I TOO find myself turning into an old man when it comes to my tolerance of noise. Just the other day, I opened up my window and told those "young whippersnappers" out on the street to "turn down that racket."

OK, that didn't happen. But I'm definitely more bothered by the constant drone of a high-powered computer system than I used to be. Recently, I upgraded my system and removed a 760MPX board with dual Athlon MP 2000+ processors. I still had a use for this setup, so I put it into an Antec SX-630 enclosurewhich I had in reserve.

Unfortunately, it was loud. Very loud. Between the three 80mm fans (not counting the PSU fan), the Volcano 6Cu CPU coolers, and the fact that the SX-630 (unlike some of Antec's newer cases) wasn't really designed for quiet, it sounded like a large hive of bees had taken up residence in my office.

Something had to be done, but I didn't want to blow a lot of money on the problem, money that could be better spent on... faster computer parts. I decided this would make an interesting experiment. How much could I improve the noise level of this case without shelling out a lot of cash? Read on and see.

Pinpointing the culprits
The first thing I wanted to do was get an idea of which components were generating the most noise. Cracking the case open, I gathered valuable information using the the highly advanced "touch the center of the fan until it stops" technique. I decided that, while the CPU fans were likely the majority of the problem, the case fans (one Antec included with the case, and two generic 80mm fans) weren't exactly helping the situation.

Speaking of case fans, let's talk about placement for a moment. On the SX-630, there are spots for two fans up front and one in the rear (again, not counting the PSU fan). One of the front fans mounts in the traditional spot near the bottom of the case, while another can be mounted in one of the 3.5" drive cages to blow air across the drives.

Another thing to consider is the fan grills for the rear and lower front case fans. While these are great for keeping the appendages of small pets and children intact, they also reduce airflow and create turbulence and thus noise.

With my assessment of the problem complete, it was time to shop. Poking around online, I found a couple of Panaflo case fans and a couple of Copper Silent 2 TC CPU coolers. Yes, there are probably quieter fans and quieter CPU coolers, but recall the money limitations I set out earlier. I wound up spending just over $40, not counting shipping.



New and old heatsinks, top and bottom

As you can see, the Copper Silent 2 TC has a larger heatsink with more surface area, as well as a larger fan than the Volcano 6Cu. Additionally, the fan is temperature controlled, which will hopefully translate to slower rotational speeds and less noise.