How To Build a Quiet PC

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This sponsored post was made possible through Antec’s support. All opinions expressed in this post are the author’s personal view.

In April, Mr. Jennings wrote a fantastic article titled how to choose the ultimate gaming case. Continuing this theme we will turn our focus from gaming to silence. In today’s article, we highlight the necessary steps and considerations for planning and building the quietest PC possible.

Many people make the mistake of just buying a silent case such as Antec’s P101 Silent and expect pure silence. While the P101 Silent is an outstanding case and does eliminate the majority of internal noise, there is much more that needs to be addressed to minimize internal sound. Planning is essential and there are many factors that need to be determined.

First, determine what the PC will be used for and decide on an order of importance between performance, cost, and silence. As with most things, performance comes at a cost. The same can be said for silence, though, not to the same extreme. There are many reasons to desire a quiet computer. Whether it’s for gaming, professional work, content creation, audiophiles, networked array file server, or a home theater PC, silence can be bliss. For this article, we will build a home theater PC with a network array file server.

Antec P101 Silent

Core Components

Now that we have decided on what tasks the system will be performing, it is time to plan out our core components. Parts to consider here will be the CPU, motherboard, RAM, GPU, and PSU.

CPU

For a silent PC, it is a smart idea to choose a CPU that is thermally efficient (ie. a low TDP). This may be one of the most difficult choices to make. As enthusiasts and overclockers, we tend to want the fastest, most powerful CPU on the market. If you’re building a rig with gaming, video editing, or any other high-performance set-up in mind, this may be the only option available out of necessity. Just understand that most high-performance CPUs have a higher TDP and therefore require a higher performance cooling solution. This cooling will come at a cost, both financially and real estate within the chassis.

For the bleeding edge of performance, while still maintaining a quiet build (assuming you have a decent budget for cooling), go with the i7-9900k or the less expensive i7-9700k. In terms of performance per dollar and performance per watt, these are some the best Intel options out there.

AMD’s latest Ryzen 3700X processor would also make a great choice. At just 65 W TDP, our load testing showed a peak temperature of 66 °C, with stock cooling!

If you are truly after silence and do not plan on gaming, take a look at Intel Core i3-9320 with its UHD630 integrated graphics at a meager 62 W TDP. By choosing a CPU with integrated graphics, you eliminate a major heat producer (and cost) in the build; the graphics card.

Motherboard

As for motherboard, there is really not much to this decision other than the usual compatibility check to ensure it supports your CPU (and integrated graphics if applicable). Since most silent builds do not have cases with windows and create noise via vibrations, don’t spend extra on sleek a stylish motherboard. Instead, focus on practical options with ample VRM cooling to minimize heat generated in the case. Another important factor will be enough PWM fan headers and easy-to-use software (or BIOS) to control them. Setting up a fan curve in GIGABYTE’s Smart Fan 5 or ASUS ROG’s FanXpert means dead silence in idle and only increasing fan speed/noise under load. Some of our recent favorites for Intel include the ASRock Z390 Extreme 4.

Memory

For the memory, there is even less to think about, although we recommend sticking with low-profile to avoid obstructing airflow or cooler compatibility issues. To keep the noise to a minimum, you will want to select an air cooler with the most possible surface area to dissipate heat. This could spell clearance issues with other components, which is why we recommend low-profile memory. Just like with the motherboard selection, there is no need to opt for stylish heat spreaders if you choose to go with chassis without windows.

Graphics Card

If you opted for the integrated graphics on the CPU, skip this section. However, if some light gaming and video-editing are in your future, you will want to pair your CPU and GPU with near equivalent capabilities to ensure a bottleneck isn’t being created. Consider the cooler that comes with the graphics card. Blower style air coolers are by far the loudest of the bunch and should be avoided in a silent build. Newer GPU’s that feature large aftermarket air coolers have become much quieter over the years and is a better choice. Many of them have fans that remain off during 2D operation and only start up once a pre-determined temperature is reached keeping the system quiet until heavier loads happen. These are excellent choices for those who do a lot of office type work.

Finally, for any long duration demanding workloads, the best option is to water cool. Either with a bolt-on closed-loop cooler or a full custom loop, this will be the most effective way to reduce noise in your PC at the GPU level.

Power Supply

There are a few considerations when choosing a power supply. First and foremost, select one that is a quality unit and fits your needs. Selecting a power supply that is too large or too small can affect the efficiency of the unit, which can result in the fan running more than necessary.

There are many power supplies on the market that are designed to run silently. These will use fans designed to produce fewer decibels. Some PSU’s will even employ a fan curve, like modern GPU’s, that keeps the fan off at lower power draws. These are excellent choices for systems that sit idle for long periods or are mainly used for lighter tasks. Antec’s HCG Extreme (High Current Gamer) power supplies would be good options. They feature Zero RPM Manager, which controls the voltage of the fan and turns it off entirely when possible. Additionally, the FDB (or fluid dynamic bearing) fans tend to be quieter than the typical PSU fans. Opt for the Extreme series with the larger 135mm fan, which are more efficient at lower noise levels than 120mm fans in many power supplies.

If price is no object, you could opt for a fanless power supply, but that will cost $200 or more. It also requires good system airflow.

Case and Cooler

With the core components picked out it is time to address the case and cooling method. Decide what size case you would like to build in and if you will be water cooling or air cooling.

Cooler

If you are building a high powered rig that will generate a lot of heat than it is a good idea to decide on what cooler you will use first. The best performing coolers, both air and water, are large and will require more space inside the case. The debate about which is better has been ongoing for many years and will not be part of this article. Just be aware that water cooling has its own tonal differences when air passes through a radiator.

For this build, we will be using a now dated Noctua NH-D14 along with its included ultra low-noise fan adaptors. With an original TDP rating of 140 watts, cooling the 4790k will be a breeze. The NH-D14 features a 140mm fan and a 120mm fan producing only 13.2dB/A and 12.6dB/A respectively when utilizing the ultra-low noise adaptors. This will do very nicely. If you don’t already own an NH-D14, might as well purchase the newer NH-D15.

If you’ve opted for a higher TDP CPU, a closed-loop AIO water cooler would be a viable option. Again more fans, will net more RPMs, which will equal more noise. To out-cool the NH-D14 or NH-D15, you’ll likely need an AIO with a 360mm radiator. Between the pump and fans, you will be adding a fair bit of noise (maybe 20-30 dbA more than stock fans on the NH-D14).

Case

Choosing a case can be one of the more difficult challenges. It must house all of your components, be aesthetically pleasing, provide an adequate user interface by means of the front Input/Output panel, and, in this scenario, feature silent technologies.

PC cases have certainly come a very long way over the years. There are many features that are implemented into the best silent cases so let’s break down each one using the P101 Silent as it is a great example.

Antec P101 Silent – Door Open

Foam Padding

Adding closed cell neoprene foam to the side panels is something that many of us case modders have been doing for years. This does a fantastic job of absorbing the bulk of the noise that takes place inside the case. Antec’s P101 Silent takes this a step further by adding padding to the roof and incorporating a fully padded front door. A little research will also point out the fact that nearly none of the top silent cases feature a tempered glass side panel. Glass is actually a good conductor for sound and therefore should be avoided when building for silence.

Foam Padding on Side Panels

Close-Up Front Door

Minimal Openings

Silent cases generally will eliminate any additional openings in the case. This will almost always include fan openings at the side, bottom, and many times at the top as well. Naturally, this can affect thermal regulation, but with adequate airflow, this can be mostly mitigated. Other vent holes that may be omitted might be at the rear of the case near the PCI slots, PCI slot cover plates, and other vent holes at the rear and bottom of the case. The reasoning is quite simple. The fewer holes in the case, the less likely sound will “leak” out. Here Antec has opted to keep the space next to the PCI expansion slots as a solid piece while opting to use vented PCI slot cover plates.

Rear

Fans and Controllers

Fans are the primary culprit of sound in the PC. So it’s obvious any case declaring itself as “silent” should include fans that meet this requirement. If the case you choose does not come with silent fans you will want to add them to your shopping list. Be extra careful when shopping for silent fans. You do not need high-speed fans in your case unless you expect a lot of heat. Several medium to low-speed fans will suffice for most builds. Some of the top silent fans will come with rubber foam at the mounting points or include rubber pieces that replace the steel fan screws. These changes help minimize vibration transferred from the fan to the chassis.

The P101 Silent comes with three 120 mm fans pre-installed at the front and a single 140 mm fan at the rear. These fans reach 950 RPMs and 1000 RPMs respectively and are nearly inaudible at full speed. For this HTPC build these will work perfectly. If this were a high powered gaming build I would opt to replace them for slightly faster fans and control their speeds in one of two ways. Either a manual fan controller like the one included at the front I/O of the P101, or by creating a fan curve with the motherboards BIOS. Either way will work fine, though I prefer to let the motherboard take control.

Antec Silent Fans

I/O Panel with Fan Speed Switch

Storage

The last feature to discuss is storage management. To eliminate as much noise as possible traditional platter type hard drives should be avoided. SSD’s and M.2 drives are simply better in silent operations. There are occasions, however, where HDD’s are required. The network storage that we are building is a prime example. When you can’t avoid traditional hard drives, look to minimize the noise where you can. Cases that use rubber pads in their HDD caddies to dampen the vibration will be your best alternative. Antec’s P101 Silent features four HDD caddies with rubber pads that can house two drives each for a total of eight 3.5″ drives.

Completed build

With all of the components discussed, here is what our completed HTPC/NAS looks like. As you can see there is plenty of room for excellent airflow. The P101 Silent lacks the RGB flair that most of today’s gaming cases seem to be inundated with, but what it lacks in flair it makes up for in maximum tranquility. With only the four case fans and two CPU cooler fans running, this build is almost completely inaudible. You may notice a PCIe RAID controller card has also been installed for the additional battery back-up protection.

Left Side

Right Side

Conclusion

The four components that require the most consideration are the GPU, CPU cooler, case, and case fans. With proper planning and plenty of research, it is possible to make a silent PC for nearly any application. Keep in mind it does become far more difficult, and expensive, as the performance level of your PC goes up. However, this does not mean that it should be avoided. Keeping noise at a sane level is something that we should always try to accomplish. Hopefully, this guide will help steer you in the right direction and you can achieve your own blissful silence.

Do you have a build you are particularly fond of? Then be sure to create a build log in our Case and Case Modding section. We love seeing everyone’s creations.

-John Nester (Blaylock)

 

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Discussion
  1. Nice Blaylock. Should be a Sticky.
    Personal note: I bought MagLev fans when I was folding 24/7 and find them to be virtually silent. The noise/fan curve now (Foldless) wouldn't be noticecable over the span of a light year.
    ROBERT! START FOLDING AGAIN! ;)
    While highlighting a particular manufacturer, the article does provide all of the basics to consider to keep a machine quiet. I like to keep my machine sound level low to reduce noise pollution in the house. I think that it's important. Headphones/sets only protect you while your wearing them.
    I'd love to Fold again Don. Problem is, since moving to the boonies, I still travel a lot, phone goes with me, and my only way of accessing the internet from home is via mobile hot spot tethering which runs at 1990's baud modem speeds most of the time. Three bars is signal strength for the most part, but 4G = 2G out here, and just when you need it most, 1 bar is gonna 'shut 'r down'. Elon Musk is launching a lot of satellites but it will be 2020 before Texas gets a signal.
    Robert17
    I'd love to Fold again Don. Problem is, since moving to the boonies, I still travel a lot, phone goes with me, and my only way of accessing the internet from home is via mobile hot spot tethering which runs at 1990's baud modem speeds most of the time. Three bars is signal strength for the most part, but 4G = 2G out here, and just when you need it most, 1 bar is gonna 'shut 'r down'. Elon Musk is launching a lot of satellites but it will be 2020 before Texas gets a signal.

    Not disbuting a single thing. I just want to bust your chops anyhow.