Help me build the quietest gaming desktop system, pro favor.
March 25, 2012 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Help me build the quietest gaming desktop system, pro favor.

I'd like to build a gaming desktop that can handle Diablo III, games like COD, BF3, etc on a single monitor.

I'm not looking for an insane setup that can play the craziest, latest games on the highest settings on 10 monitors. No, I just want to play games like Modern Warfare and D3 on their highest settings.

So, that being said, I've identified Puget Systems as selling silent desktops as well as liquid-cooled desktops. It seems, though, that their silent desktops are more quiet than the liquid-cooled ones. Also, they're a bit pricey, which is to be expected.

So, how much should I expect to spend for a system wherein:
a) I buy each component myself and build the PC from scratch (this includes sound deadening materials, etc)


b) I pay a premium and purchase a pre-built one from Puget Systems and the likes.

I'm looking to spend less than $1,500 total (including a monitor).
posted by 6spd to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Bonus (imaginary) points for those who can give me a list of hardware to take a look at. I recently heard about the nVidia GTX 680 and I'm highly intrigued, but I'm getting the sense that it's a lot more performance than what I'd need.
posted by 6spd at 2:32 PM on March 25, 2012

I've succesfully used the ars technica system guide before. (In fact, the box I'm typing this on started life as one of their builds.)

Their Hot Rod build comes to $1461.05. If you dial down a couple of the components (drop the SSD, smaller drive, no optical drive, ...) you should have a couple hundred dollars spare in your budget for soundproofing.

Things that made my build quieter: antec solo case (vibration-resistant feet, elastic HD mounts, soundproofing on the walls of the box), slow fan, long cables so I can put the noisy bits elsewhere :p.
posted by katrielalex at 2:41 PM on March 25, 2012

Reddit has a pretty useful subreddit with links to:
Logical Increments PC Buying Guide
PC Part Picker (used with above)
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:44 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Features you want to look for in a quiet PC:

Large-diameter slow fans with ball bearings, rather than sleeve bearings
Nylon or rubber bushings that suspend noisy components (such as HDDs) away from the case frame
Components that eliminate fans where possible (passively cooled power supplies, for example)
Cases that either already have sound reduction matting or have space to add some

I would use any of a number of system guides to get the base components, then do a lot of comparison shopping to find alternate components that meet the above criteria.
posted by kavasa at 3:01 PM on March 25, 2012

I like quiet builds too. In addition to the above:

Definitely ditch the HDD and get a decent sized SSD (240G / 480G). The clicking and spinning sound of the HDD annoys me.

I plug the DVD drive to install Windows and then unplug it and put it back in the box - I never actually install it into the case. If I recall right it does make some noise on startup, or used to anyway, the old ones, and nowadays with a decent broadband connection you will never need to install anything from a DVD drive, ever.
posted by xdvesper at 3:17 PM on March 25, 2012

"Large-diameter slow fans with ball bearings, rather than sleeve bearings"

It's not quite that simple, though. Assuming new large diameter slow fans, all other things being equal, a sleeve bearing will almost always be quieter than a ball bearing.

  • for fast fans the opposite is true - sleeve bearings are noiser than ball bearings
  • fast fans will also be noiser in general, due to increased rate of airflow (basically, wind noise)
  • regardless of speed, sleeve bearings wear faster & eventually become noisier than ball bearings
  • (very generally) the rate of wear for sleeve bearings increases as fan diameter increases
So you've got to make a tradeoff. If you're the no-maintenance type, a ball bearing fan will be noticeably noisier to start with but last longer. A well-designed sleeve bearing fan (&, I'll admit, I've never seen one sold for computer use - they're almost exclusively sold for industrial use, and almost always mains voltage) will last nearly as long, and be quieter over most of its life. A typical computer-type sleeve bearing fan won't last as long and will get noisy before a ball bearing fan does.

But if you're the type to do occasional maintenance, then a computer-type sleeve bearing fan either (a) replaced every year or so or (b) cleaned & serviced (disassemble, remove dust, bearing cleaned & re-oiled) every 6 months or so will almost always be quieter than a ball bearing fan.

You can read an interesting & technically accessable white paper on fan choice here.
posted by Pinback at 4:22 PM on March 25, 2012

(Yeah, OK, you can service a ball bearing fan too - disassemble, clean, replace bearings - but you can clean & re-oil a sleeve bearing with a few squirts of WD-40 and a few drops of sewing machine oil. It'll be quieter, and you don't have to hunt around for someone that sells miniature bearings…)
posted by Pinback at 4:26 PM on March 25, 2012

I recently bought a Coolermaster Silencio 550 Case and a Coolermaster Silent Pro 700W PSU for a desktop. It's much, much quieter than any PC I've ever owned, to the point where the noise it makes is completely drowned out by an external disk enclosure on the other side of the room. The extent to which the case absobs the sound of both the CPU and graphics fans really impressed me.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:33 PM on March 25, 2012

I looked at the Puget Systems quiet models and the default price was $1500 without a video card; moreover, their video card options were absolutely exorbitant. The liquid cooled model had decent components but the default price was $1800 without a monitor.

The video card is typically responsible for the vast majority of the noise a gaming computer produces. Luckily, you have the option of getting a high-performance fanless Radeon 6850. It would be a good idea to have a slow, 120mm or larger case fan blowing in its general direction.

You can consider getting water cooling to take care of your processor, but I'd personally opt for a good aftermarket CPU cooler. Zalman and the like were good candidates last time I checked.

Look around for a quiet/silent power supply unit and throw in an SSD and you should be fine. Consider getting a huge external hard drive to maximize space on the SSD; my WD 1 terabyte Elements drive is completely silent.

Hope this helps!
posted by inauthentic at 6:24 PM on March 25, 2012

I like PC Power & Cooling power supplies. Feels solid, paint is detailed, their quiet line is *very* quiet, and it feels less dust bunny resistant.

I have a Coolermaster HAF case here, and the loudest thing right now ... is the optical drive. and a tie between the bigassed fan on the side and the powersupply fan, both of which I need to clean.

Never had a beef with HD noise, but then, I like Western Digital's Caviar Blacks. Reliable, fast, and quiet.

Liquid cooling is overkill; an aftermarket high quality large-slow-fan/-large-copper-largefan CPU heatsink makes a big difference from the stock heatsink. Specific brands and flavours make less of a difference.
posted by porpoise at 11:35 PM on March 25, 2012

Best answer: You will *always* pay a significant premium when buying pre-built. If you're willing to invest the time, you can get a very capable gaming machine via DIY. I would budget $3-400 for a good IPS-based screen and the rest on components.

Most build guides (Ars included) are pretty good for component selection, but aren't necessarily geared towards noise-levels.

IMHO, the de-facto standard for quiet computing is Silent PC Review. Unfortunately, they don't update reviews as often as I'd like and their articles are a little difficult to navigate around, but the tests they do on fans, heatsinks, and PSUs are very thorough.

I went through this similar exercise a few months ago and as long as you follow the below points, your build should be near-silent during idle and make minimal noise during load (ie gaming).

1. You should buy an SSD. They are silent and have the best performance. Augment with external storage if you need more space (that way you can turn on/off the external storage).
2. You should buy a fanless PSU. They are silent and typically have very good efficiency ratings. (Seasonic has a few as does Kingwin. Silent PC Review has a good list on this).
3. You should buy an aftermarket CPU cooler. I took a cue from Puget Systems and used the Gelid Tranquilo. I've been very happy with the purchase.
4. You should buy an aftermarket video card cooler. Arctic Cooling and Gelid both make good ones. Obviously, if the card you have is already passive, don't bother.
5. Your case should only use 120mm fans and you should use quiet fans. Scythe Ninjas, Antec TrueQuiets, etc (refer to SPCR)
6. Your fans should be mounted with rubber grommets. (Antec Truequiets are nice since they come with them)

Case selection is mostly personal preference and some of them are geared towards controlling noise, but I think if you follow the above, you'll get pretty far. I consider acoustic padding/noise dampening to be pretty esoteric, and should really be a last resort to get that last 5%.

Here was my build out, for about $850. I already had a monitor lying around and made a few mistakes:

- Intel i5 2500k with Gelid Tranquilo
- 16gb of RAM (excessive, but cheap)
- Some Gigabyte Z68 motherboard.
- Corsair Force GT 120gb
- Some MSI GeForce 550ti that had a huge "quiet" fan/hsf. It's fine during idle but pretty loud when gaming.
- A single 120mm Antec TrueQuiet.
- Some 430W Seasonic PSU that has a low flow 120mm. Quiet, but not silent.
- Some Antec Sonata case that was on-sale.

If i had to do it all over again, I would've got a fanless PSU and an aftermarket VGA cooler.
posted by fennokin at 11:54 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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