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Powerful computer components often run hot, which requires loud fans or expensive liquid to cool them, bringing us to a central conundrum of the PC Power lifestyle—we want a big, powerful PC, but we want it to make as little noise as possible. Not only do noisy computers make it more difficult to relax, but there’s a principle at work here—you should be the master of the space where you put your PC; you must bend it to your will, not the other way around.
This month, we decided to do just that and build a supremely powerful rig, then smother its noise output as best as we could. We haven’t built a PC like this in a while, so the project gave us the chance to check out some new gear specifically designed for quiet computing, including a fanless CPU cooler from Zalman, a case fan from a company that usually only operates in Europe, and a closed-loop liquid cooler built for video cards. We stuffed it all into a “new to us” case from Fractal Design, and then tried to overclock the PC because, well, that’s what we do here.
Starting out, we figured the thing that would probably make the biggest difference in our build (besides the components, of course) would be sound-absorbing panels. This would allow us to have some fans inside the system, as building a fanless PC with any amount of horsepower is simply impossible. Therefore, we went with Fractal Design’s Define R4—a mid-tower known for its sonic excellence and balance of price and features.
We also liked the idea of a fanless CPU cooler, as Zalman had recently released its FX100 cooler, and it would mean a major element of our machine would be totally silent even when running at full speed. The only problem is it would also pretty much guarantee that we wouldn't be able to overclock due to heat buildup, which is always a problem with fanless coolers. Zalman also sent us a 92mm fan that could be dropped into the center column of the heat sink if we ran into cooling issues. Zalman labels the fan as “optional” for those running socket 2011 or 1133, but we would add “overclockers” to that list, as well. A company named Be Quiet had just sent us two 14cm Silent Wings 2 case fans, one of which we slapped in the front of our case for some additional airflow.
In the GPU department, we happened to have an Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 with a closed-loop water cooler from Arctic Cooling that includes a 120mm radiator and fan, so we used that since it’s just what the rig-doctor ordered. Rounding out our components was a quiet PSU from Cooler Master, a solid-state drive from OCZ, a 1TB Caviar Black hard drive from WD, and a couple of sticks of RAM from Corsair.
|Case||Fractal Design Define R4||
|Case Fan||Be Quiet Silent Wings 2 14cm||$20|
|PSU||Cooler Master 800W Silent Pro Gold||$150|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-3770K||$325|
|CPU Cooler||Zalman FX100||$70 (street)|
|GPU||Nvidia GeForce GTX 680||$450|
|GPU Cooler||Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid||$110|
|RAM||Corsair Vengeance 2x 4GB||$55|
|SSD||OCZ Vertex 4 128GB||$125|
|Hard Drive||WD Caviar Black 1TB||$90|
|OS||Windows 7 64-bit OEM||$100|