When I set out to build a new family PC, it needed to be small, attractive and quiet. No need for anything crazy like Mini-ITX, but I did want a nice appearance and very low noise at idle so as to be acceptable in our kitchen/dining area. Limited by about a $350 budget for new components, I was largely at the mercy of what I had lying around or could bum off of Scott or Geoff.
The Shuttle SN25P met my aesthetic requirements with flying colors. Slightly smaller would've been preferable, but the gorgeous exterior of that enclosure earned it a spot on our kitchen desk, and the Shuttle's stock cooling system for the SN25P should have kept the three separate zones cool at barely a whisper, especially with Cool'n'Quiet enabled.
Unfortunately, I never personally experienced that low purr recorded by Geoff in his testing. The problem was the Radeon X800 I swiped from the Damage Labs. That freaky little cooler started out well enough, but just couldn't keep its opinions to itself. In a previous blog post I described how the only fly in the ointment for this system was connectivity with my wireless network. Although that was true at the time, the ever-growing buzz of the dinky fan on the X800 quickly flew straight into the ointment as soon as I'd disposed with the connectivity bug. I guess it was never really quiet, but it didn't bother me a lot when I was more annoyed by the flaky wireless adapter. Regardless, it became increasingly clear that if the "Breadbox" was to remain within about an arms length of where I sat to eat, it would need to be learn to be seen and not heard.
The Cyclops, with dimensions of 160x91x34 mm, seemed like it might fit, depending on precisely how much and where the thickness of 34mm tapers off toward the end of the fins. I estimated that the corner of the drive cage might contact the fins, and that the PSU cables could require some creative tethering to stay out the spinning fan blades.
I even applied all those little porcupine-looking aluminum heatsinks to what seemed to be the memory chips on the board, despite my lack of confidence that the peel-n-stick self-adhesive bases would hold them tight enough to be effective. But they did make the card look kinda prickly and mean.
All was going quite splendidly until the tool-free drive cage was replaced. The 34 mm thickness of the Cyclops doesn't taper down quickly enough, so the metal corner of the drive cage solidly hits the plastic cover over the fins, which prevents the cage from dropping that last quarter inch and sliding fully into place. I pondered if I would have sufficient clearance for the drives with that plastic cover removed, and whether it served any functional purpose. Several measurements indicated that the removal of the cover should provide enough room, just barely, for all the components to be re-assembled. But what if the lack of that flimsy piece of plastic shrouding the aluminum fins would prevent the airflow from reaching the tips and decrease performance? Some research on Gigabyte's website and Newegg's customer (ah-hem) "reviews" didn't yield any useful data.
I decided to risk it and removed the Gigabyte-stickered cover. The naked Cyclops allowed the drive cage to slip in right next to it without a scrape. Although there is no contact, I don't think I could fit two sheets of cardstock between them. Thankfully, everything in this little box is rigid and stable — no concern that the bare Cyclops might eventually touch and vibrate against the, um, caged hard drive.
Fully re-assembled, I powered it up, and XP Pro booted just fine. Then I heard something odd that I'd never heard from this little system... the Barracuda 7200.10 spinning and seeking out its stored data. It was honestly a refreshing sound. The $25 Cyclops doesn't allow the 80 mm fan speed to be monitored or adjusted, but its 2300 RPMs are truly indistinguishable from the faint hum of the other fans. ATITool indicates that my GPU temperature is 60 degrees C at idle and around 74 under load (unfortunately I did not check the temps with the stock cooler). That seems a bit warm, but I guess it’s acceptable.
So this kitchen computer is now practically inaudible unless you're sitting directly next to it — one more bug plucked out of the ointment. But I suspect my expectations are already rising, and I'll eventually find something else to improve. For now, though, I'm savoring the peace and quiet.
*Full disclosure: This is a blog post recounting a personal experience; it is not a product review. I have never helped test or write for product reviews for The Tech Report. Gigabyte and Shuttle are sponsors of The Tech Report.