My Quest for a Silent PC
In the past I have strived to build a PC that is quiet when used in a normal domestic environment, and by choosing components with low noise fans and isolating the hard drive from the chassis I've come close but never fully succeeded. My old PC was starting to show its age and I was increasingly aware that it must have been using a fair amount of energy being on as it was for many hours a day. What inspired me to build a new PC was my discovery of some motherboards featuring the Intel J1800 processor. The processor (which is soldered directly onto the board) is passively cooled with a heatsink and does not require a fan. Being fanless and with the processor consuming only 10 watts I just had to go for it! Of course low power and performance do not normally sit well together, but the result here is a PC that is fast enough and perfectly adequate for general computing tasks and watching HD video. The following isn't really a technical tutorial, it's more to encourage others who are seeking 'Silent Nirvana'
For a PC to be completely quiet in operation it cannot have any moving parts at all. The PC build described here succeeds in being 100% silent due to it having a fanless processor, fanless power supply unit and an SSD instead of a disc drive. I even sacrificed the optical drive too as I wanted to move away from this type of media, prefering USB sticks instead (which most new cars and TVs can now play). I intended to use an SSD anyway which solves the age old issue of hard drive noise, but affordable power supplies have fans and even the ones advertised as 'quiet' still make some noise, so I had to give in and splash out on a fanless type. I chose the Seasonic 400FL which I have to say is probably one of the nicest made PSUs I have ever owned. Even the packaging (if a little over the top) is a work of art. It was the most expensive part of the build but absolutely worth it. It's modular, meaning that only the cables required are used which makes for a tidier installation and it also has a platinum plus efficiency rating
The first motherboard I tried was not a success. It was the MSI J1800I which just didn't want to play nicely with Windows 8 or 10. There were issues with stuttering video and audio dropout but the most annoying thing was that it would freeze when restarting. After many evenings trawling the forums, updating everything and re-installing the OS countless times, I had had enough and gave up on it. I didn't believe that it was the chipset at fault though, and so not to be defeated, I then tried the Gigabyte J1800N-D2H which although very similar to the MSI, for some reason just works better. These boards are tiny, having just one PCI Express slot which I filled with a TP-Link TL-WN781ND wireless card, and two RAM slots which take DDR3 laptop memory. I only used one stick of Crucial 4GB RAM as this is enough for my needs. Something to note with this motherboard is that it didn't work with my Microsoft bluetooth keyboard and mouse until after the operating system had started to boot. This isn't a problem until you try to get into the BIOS (or UEFI as it's now called) but temporarily using a keyboard with a PS2 plug gets around this (Updating the BIOS did not solve this issue)
For the SSD I chose a 240GB Kingston V300. I know about the controversy surrounding this drive and the downgrading of its NAND since it was first reviewed but I won't go into that here. Suffice it to say I also tried a (highly rated) Samsung 850 EVO SSD but this had all sorts of issues where data seemed to slowly corrupt until the PC completely froze. I returned it for a refund and stuck with the Kingston which I must say has been absolutely fine
The finishing touch to any build is the case. The good thing about not having any moving parts is that you don't have to worry about mechanical vibration. You do have to think about ventilation though and so the case must have good air flow. I found exactly what I wanted in the shape of the CiT Barricade. It's much more compact than most desktop cases but everything went in with room to spare. It did need a small modification to the hard drive mounting bracket though which required the bottom corner to be cut and then folded back (see first two photos) so it didn't foul the power supply which is slightly deeper than normal. I like that this enclosure doesn't have any front drive bays which is 'kind of a nod' to the forward thinking behind it. A small bay for a card reader would have been good but an external one will suffice. I'm now runnig Windows 10 in total silence. Mission accomplished!