The Quest For PC Silence

For the last decade I’ve had the luxury of owning every gaming platform available, so the need to marry myself to one device or another hasn’t existed for a long time. I’ve sampled the best every publisher has had to offer. I’ve swung peripherals, lost handheld devices and given plenty of stuff away. Today’s Xbox becomes a gift for my nephew once it’s been replaced with a new 360.

For all this time and for all these devices, the one constant has been my PC. While the console upgrades and revisions are easily tracked, my computer has shambled through the past decade shedding old parts in favor of new ones. AMD processors have fallen and been replaced with Intel. Nvidia cards replaced with ATI. Water cooling systems, faster burners and solid state drives have found their way in and out of my cases. But there’s never been a full stop, build a brand new computer moment. I can imagine my old motherboard whispering fevered instructions to the long-standing CD burner to be passed onto its replacement. Soon enough it’s put to pasture at my mother-in-law’s house to live out its years watching the occasional email go by and on a good day, Solitaire.

The gift and curse of being on the upgrade treadmill is most apparent when you take steps to silence the beastly fans running in your machine.

The PC continues to be my occasional hotrod project. Every year or so, for a week at a time, I’ll obsesses over what’s new and replace some parts. The timing usually coincides with the steady hammering of new games pushing my system to its limits. Lately, with PC gaming taking a lot of my play time, I decided I’d had enough with all the noise emanating from my supposedly “silent” Cooler Master Silencio 550 case.

The main culprit has been the video card. The AMD Radeon 6950 was running so loud while playing The Witcher 2 that I had to either wear headphones or crank the speakers to drown it out. Most video cards tend to do that unless you look to aftermarket cooling solutions. After searching far and wide, I settled on the Accelero XTREME (sigh) Plus VGA cooler. It runs nearly silent under load and wasn’t actually too tough to install. You just have to remember to buy the proper accessory kit with it depending on your video card model. With the fans and heat sinks mounted on the card, I ran into my first problem. This thing is 13 inches long, a full two inches past the hard-drive bay in my case.

This is the point when a switch flips in my brain and I become my father working on a “small” project in the basement that turns into dropping a few hundred at the nearest Home Depot. If you Give a Mouse a Cookie also springs to mind. Off to the store I go to buy a Cooler Master HAF 922. Still a mid-size computer case, but large enough to accommodate the extra long video card space I needed. After an hour of transplanting the parts from the old to the new, I was up and running. The Accelero is no joke. You launch a game, you don’t get any additional noise at all. It worked as advertised and knocked about 10 degrees off the GPU temperature to boot.

I’d had my cookie and my glass of milk, but I soon realized I wanted more. You see, without the video card fan blasting out of the case, the stock Intel Core i5 fan could have the spotlight for its whining, high pitched noises. My eye started to twitch.

Thor’s Hammer is Xigmatek’s double layer, heat-pipe, direct touch CPU heat sink. Measuring nearly 7 inches tall, I would never have fit this fanless monstrosity in my old Silencio case. It’s basically a tower of interconnected metal wafers. It’s also probably the manliest thing I’ve ever put into my case. If I bored a hole into the top of it and jammed a stick in there, I could use it for home defense. You can attach a couple fans to it if you’re inclined, but the Cooler Master case has good airflow and I don’t overclock, so the fans aren’t necessary.

The final bill was roughly $80 for the video card fan, $80 for Thor’s Hammer and about $100 for the case. I can play my games with the gentle white noise thrum of a few fans and without the gurgling fear of a water-cooled system. We’ve clearly come a long way in building not only bigger and better computers, but quieter ones too.

I know we live in a world of iPads and streamlined interfaces. We want things to just work and let us focus on creation and play. I want those things too, but I will shed a silent tear the day our PCs become sealed cubes with no fiddly bits to tweak and replace. Let them have their GelaSkins and fancy decals. My individuality thrums along quietly inside my big, metal box. I love it.

Maybe butter would help?
Heat sinks applied
Final Construction
Thor's Hammer

Comments

For what it's worth, I bought the Corsair Hydro 60 recently, and am pretty happy with it. No-fuss water cooling, does a nice job, and uses a nice big 120mm fan to cool the radiator, which is controlled by the CPU temps, which means it idles along at like 600-800 RPM most of the time for me.

And that's with an i7 2600k overclocked to 4.2Ghz