Computer components generate heat, and a lot of it. My latest system is based on the Intel i7 2600K CPU, which was the fastest in existence when I purchased it last winter and has the K denomination, indicating that it’s the overclockable one. I’ve long been an adversary of this process of manipulating the speed of a microprocessor to massively increase its performance as it invariably results in voided warranties and melted CPUs. However, mild overclocks on the 2600K remain within warranty with the purchase of a $25 Intel “insurance policy,” so I couldn’t resist a little tweak. I selected a motherboard featuring Asus’ superlative EFI BIOS, a graphical mouse-driven interface that leaves behind the 1970s vintage DOS-type BIOS that encumbers most PCs, and set my overclock at a very reasonable 10%.
The Noctua NH-D14 Outperforms Liquid Coolers
My previous i7 920 with stock Dell cooling would idle at 50°C and I’d regularly see 80°C+ under load, but I was committed to keep the new 2600K nice and cool by selecting the time-honored winner of pretty well every CPU air cooler shootout: The awe-inspiring and humongous Noctua NH-D14 consisting of twin radiators big enough to cool a motorcycle engine. This astounding cooler features extremely silent 140mm and 120mm fans, while regularly outperforming most stock CPU liquid coolers.
The Noctua was just what the silence doctor ordered and I configured it with the 140mm between the radiators and used the 120mm as the case exhaust fan. I applied Noctua’s “slow-down” adapters to keep those big fans spinning at around 600 RPM at which point you can only tell they’re spinning by looking at them.
Big Slow Fans Need Outside Air
Big fans spinning slowly move as much air as smaller fans spinning quickly, but to keep the system cool you need access to considerable outside airflow. I placed the system in an XClio A380 case which I modified to duct the air from the humongo front 250mm fan to within a couple of inches of the Noctua’s front radiator. With this configuration, the 2600K now idles at under 30°C and I’ve never seen more than 45°C under load. I found no difference in temperatures with the XClio’s front fan running or not, so I disabled it.
Noisy Power Supply & Video Card? Go Fanless!
Now that I had my CPU and case as silent as it could be there were two other areas of concern: The power supply and video card fans. Fortunately, both of these components are available in completely silent, fanless versions. The power supply I chose was the Seasonic X650, which provides an 80-Plus Gold rating for consistent 650W power provision, and the video card was Gigabyte’s phenomenal GV-R677SL-1GD, which marries the high-end Radeon HD6770 GPU and 1 GB VRAM with a massive heatsink to rival the Noctua. I’m not a gamer so I don’t stress the GPU, but under surveillance I’ve never seen its temperatures exceed 50°C.
I built this system last November and every day since then have been thrilled with its performance in every way, both in speed and silence. Thanks to the SSDs and 16 GB RAM, I launch Photoshop CS6 in less than three seconds, copy 2 GB files in the same time, and do it all in an audio ambiance where the system is just barely at the edge of audibility. You don’t have to be scared off from a project like this if you don’t have the computer-building skills, just choose the components and have your friendly neighborhood nerd build it for you!
William Gibson had never worked on a computer when he wrote his trendsetting cyberpunk novel Neuromancer. When he bought his first one, he took it back to the store since it sounded like a “(flatulent) toaster.” Gibson had imagined computer innards being ethereal crystalline apparatuses and was shocked when he realized that they are cumbrous, bunglesome, whirring agglomerations of clunky components strung together with Molex plugs straight out of a Soviet-era black-and-white television set. You don’t have to live with these clangorous earsplitters by simply choosing the right components that result in blessed silence!
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