How To Build A Quiet PC

Photos and writeup by Trevor Freeman.

The new computer in the Antec P150 case INTRODUCTION
In the Spring of 2007, I decided to build a new desktop computer to replace the Dell Dimension 4100 desktop I had been using for the past seven years. Although it ran great, I felt I had outgrown it and that it was time for a fresh start. The new computer would be everything that the old one was not. It would be fast, powerful, and as quiet as possible. I decided on a budget of $1,000 dollars for the project and got to work researching parts.

At the time, this was the first computer I had ever built entirely by myself and I wanted to make sure I was getting the best bang for my buck. For several weeks I read reviews, analyzed features, and compared prices of all the various components. Websites such as Silent PC Review, Tom's Hardware, The PC Parts Picking Guide, ExtremeTech and AnandTech guided me through the process. My research was thorough, if not exhaustive.

An assortment of computer parts CHOOSING PARTS
Once I had put together my final build list, I bought everything from major online retailers including PriceGrabber, TigerDirect, and of course, NewEgg.

For the computer case, I chose the P150 "Quiet White" mid-tower ATX case from Antec. It features sound-dampening acoustic panels, a unique hard drive suspension system, and an Antec 430-watt high efficiency power supply. Most online stores had the P150 in stock for $150 dollars, but I lucked out and found one for $99 bucks using PriceGrabber.

Okay, I spent a lot on this one. I got more than I really needed with the Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 Rev3.3 motherboard. It has an LGA 775 CPU socket and four memory slots which can accommodate up to 8 GB of DDR2 RAM in a dual-channel configuration. Better yet, it also comes with four USB 2.0 ports, 6 SATA connectors, Gigabit Ethernet and an 8-channel Realtek ALC883 audio chipset. This board was packed with all of the bells and whistles that my old Dell simply did not have.

What really won me over was the all-solid capacitor design. That was something I was concerned about since I wanted the Quiet PC to last for the next few years. The Dual Bios feature provided extra peace-of-mind. The $123 price tag was steep, but with over four hundred glowing reviews on NewEgg I figured it was worth a try.

Motherboard with Scythe Ninja CPU Cooler Both of my previous computers had Intel processors, so I naturally chose an Intel processor for my quiet PC project. The sweet spot between price and performance was the 1.86GHz E6300 Conroe processor. It was the most affordable dual-core CPU at the time with a price tag of $181 dollars. Its 65nm design and blazing fast 1,066MHz frontside bus were light years ahead of the 800MHz Pentium III processor in the outgoing Dell.

To keep the processor cool, I started researching aftermarket CPU coolers. The general consensus on SilentPC Review was that the Scythe Ninja Revision B was the best passive cooler for Socket 775 processors. Many users claimed the gigantic 700-gram heat sink was enough to keep a dual-core CPU cool without using the included 120mm fan. I ordered the Scythe Ninja along with a tube of Arctic Silver 5 thermal paste at a combined cost of $46 dollars.

The Quiet PC was my first computer to use DDR2 RAM. I read up on the specifications and learned that DDR2 memory comes in a variety of different speeds and a wide range of prices. At first I chose 2GB (2x 1GB) modules of Kingston DDR2 667 (PC2 5300) ValueRAM for a dual-channel configuration. In November 2009 (about two years after the computer was done) I added an additional 2GB of the same Kingston memory for a total 4GB.

Gigabyte 7600GS Video Card VIDEO CARD
The goal of the Quiet PC was to be a great everyday computer, not a high-performance gaming PC stuffed with exotic and expensive parts. Therefore I chose a plain-jane video card from Gigabyte. The GV-NX76G256D-RH features the nVidia 7600GS chipset with 256MB of GDDR2 memory. It has both VGA and DVI outputs plus an S-Video connection for TV Output. My favorite feature was the card's huge heat sink in place of a traditional cooling fan. A silent video card was exactly what I wanted and at $99 dollars, this was the perfect choice.

Less than a year before I decided to build the Quiet PC, I had purchased a 300GB Seagate external hard drive for storage. All I needed was a basic SATA hard drive to hold my operating system and programs. I chose a 160GB Western Digital Caviar Blue hard drive with an 8MB cache for just $54 dollars. The drive's single platter design is quieter than a larger two or three-platter hard drive. Two years later in July of 2009, I added a 1.0TB Western Digital Caviar Black hard drive for extra storage.

One thing I did not spend much time on was optical storage. I simply bought a Sony-NEC Optiarc 7170A DVD/CD burner for $30 bucks. At the time this IDE drive was cheaper than a SATA drive. In retrospect, I wish I had looked into it further because the drive is very loud when watching DVDs and as a burner it is somewhat quirky.

Hanns-G LCD Monitor with Logitech Keyboard and Mouse MONITOR
Because I was going all-out on the Quiet PC, I figured this would be a good time to replace my 17-inch Dell Trinitron CRT monitor with an LCD monitor. The best candidate was a 19" widescreen LCD monitor from Hanns-G, which was $170 dollars from NewEgg. Everything about it seemed great from the features to the price to the user reviews. Although I felt uneasy about it, I went ahead and ordered it anyway.

It was a challenge to find a wireless keyboard and mouse combo that was both attractive and affordable. The one I chose was the Logitech Cordless Rechargeable Desktop for $52 dollars. Sadly, the rechargeable mouse stopped working after only a few months. In June of 2009 I purchased an updated version which was now called the Logitech Cordless Desktop 1500. It has a slightly different keyboard from the one shown here but it is basically the same thing that I bought in 2007, except that it still works.

All of the parts I had ordered arrived by the second week of April 2007. I carefully installed the CPU and memory on the motherboard and attached everything inside the Antec case. The first test did not go well. When I hit the power button the case fans would spin but the motherboard did not POST. I checked everywhere for a short and tested the bare motherboard outside of the case but nothing helped. The motherboard was DOA and I returned it to NewEgg. They promptly sent me a new one that worked great. Unfortunately, there were other problems with my new computer that I would soon discover.

Continue to page two of the Quiet PC build.