Silent PC

16Jul18

TL;DR

I’ve been very happy with the silence of my passively cooled NUC for the past 4 years, but it was starting to perform poorly. So when I came across a good looking recipe for a silent PC with higher performance I put one together for myself.

Background

I’ve been running my NUC in an Akasa silent case since shortly after I got it, and it’s been sweet, until it wasn’t. Silence is golden, but having a PC that’s constantly on the ragged edge of thermal limiting for the CPU and/or SSD[1] became pretty painful[2]. When I came across this Completely Silent Computer post a few weeks back I knew it was exactly what I wanted[3].

Parts

I pretty much followed Tim’s build, with a few exceptions:

  • I went for the black DB4 case
  • In line with his follow up Does Pinnacle Ridge change anything? I went with the Ryzen 5 2600 CPU
  • The MSI GeForce GTX 1050 Ti Aero ITX OC 4GB was available, so I went with that
  • A Samsung 970 SSD (rather than the 960)

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get everything I needed from one place, so I ended up placing three orders:

  1. QuietPC for all the Streacom stuff (DB4 case, CPU and GPU cooling kits and PSU)
  2. Overclockers for the motherboard, SSD and CPU
  3. Scan for the RAM and GPU

By some miracle everything showed up the following day (with the Scan and Overclockers boxes coming in the same DPD van). The whole lot came to £1551.34 inc delivery, which is a bit better than the AUD3000 total mentioned in the original post. I didn’t exhaustively shop on price, so it’s possible I could have squeezed things a little more.

Testing, testing

There aren’t that many components, and they only work as a whole, so I put it all together and (of course) it didn’t work first time. The machine would power on, but there was no output from the graphics card.

There was nothing to go on for diagnostics other than that the power button and LED were apparently working.

So I had to pretty much start over, with everything laid out on a bench, and I found that the CPU wasn’t seated properly. I guess having such a complex heat pipe system attached puts a fair bit of mechanical force onto things that can dislodge what seemed like a sound fit.

As I was checking things out I also noticed that the SSD was perilously close to a raised screw hole on the motherboard holder, which I chose to drill out – better safe than sorry.

Putting it back together I retested after each stage in the construction (each side of the case in terms of heat transfer arrangements), and everything went OK through to completion.

It’s fast

Geekbench is showing a single core score of 4329 and a multi core score of 20639.

That’s way ahead of my NUC which managed 2420 and 4815 respectively. It even beats my son’s i5-6500 based gaming rig that clocked 3208 and 8045.

Cool, but not super cool

As I type the system is pretty much idle, but I’m seeing a CPU temperature in the range of 57-67C, which is nothing like the figures Tim got when measuring Passively-cooled CPU Thermals. The GPU is telling me it’s at 48C. There are a few factors that come into play here:

  • It’s baking in the UK at the moment, so my ambient temperature is 28C rather than 20C.
  • One of the Streacom heat pads was either missing or got lost during my build, so I’m waiting on another to arrive. Thus the thermal efficiency of the CPU cooling isn’t presently all it could be.

I’d also note that I went with the LH6 CPU cooling kit despite having no plans to overclock as I’d like to keep everything as cool as possible.

The case temperature is around 40C, so hot to the touch, but not burning hot. In the winter I might appreciate the warmth it radiates, but right now I’d rather have it off my desk.

Cable management

The DB4 case design has everything emerging from the bottom, which might look amazing for photos when it’s not plugged into anything, but is far from ideal for actual usage. I’ve bundled the cables together and tied them off to the stand, but this is not a machine that makes it easy to pop things into. There are a couple of USB ports on one corner (which I’ve arranged as front right), but using them is a fiddle.

I’m pleased to have USB ports on my keyboard and a little hub sat on my monitor pedestal.

Conclusion

After using a silent PC for over 4 years there’s no way I’d go back to the whine of fan noise, so I was pleased to find an approach that kept things quiet whilst offering better performance. The subjective user experience is amazing (this is easily the fastest PC I’ve ever used), so my fingers are crossed that it stays that way.

Notes

[1] There’s not much talk about thermal throttling of SSDs, but it is a thing, and it can badly hurt user experience when your writes get queued up. I do worry that my new M2 drive is sat baking at the bottom of the new rig, and if I find myself taking it apart again I might stick a thermal pad in place so that it can at least conduct directly onto the motherboard tray.
[2] I suspect that over the years the Thermal Interface Material (TIM) in the CPU degraded, leading to the whole rig running hotter, leading to a spiral of poor performance. When it was new it ran quick enough, and (relatively) cool, but it seems over time things got worse.
[3] I considered another NUC, and the Hades Canyon looks like it would have met my needs, but Akasa don’t yet do a silent case for it.



5 Responses to “Silent PC”

  1. Hi Chris, Great Build! But I want to clear out 1 thing, in the first production we put Thermalpads as a bundle instead of Thermalgreace. We noticed that the Performance difference between Thermalpads and Thermalgreace is way too big, so after the first production run we decided to put Thermalgreace in all the DB4 as a bundle. Using the cooling kit without Thermalpad will actually not work. So we would advice you to use Thermalgreace, the performance will be very different..

    • OK. Thanks for the update. Obviously the instructions still expect a pad, and the LH6 and GPU cooler still come with pads. I do have some compound left over so I’ll squirt it on.

  2. 3 Nealo

    I always wanted the Antec Skeleton, for it’s amazing looks, but never did as I imagine you’d have to vaccum it daily :-)
    https://www.bit-tech.net/rev…/tech/cases/antec-skeleton/1/

    I like your Borg Cube though, perhaps they could have made the stand/base slightly thicker and routed cables inside the stand pole? At least then they could come out of one side and be managed better.

  3. Are you going to run AfterStep on that thing?


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