Trying to make my computer more energy efficient and quiet
February 8, 2006 8:05 AM   Subscribe

Trying to make my computer more energy efficient and quiet:

I am currently cleaning up, reformatting and reconstructing my home built Athlon XP 2000+ system. Since this system will also work as a file server for MP3s and video, I will need to leave it on most of the time.
I need any tips, suggestions and tools in order to make the system run as quietly and energy efficient as possible. The Asus motherboard has a Q-Fan feature which will decrease the fan speeds dependant on system load, which currently isn't working correctly, but hopefully will be soon. Should I set the HDs to turn off after an hour or so? What are the downsides to that?
Here's the specs: Athlon XP 2000+, 1.5gb PC2700, 400W PS, 2 WD 80gb in RAID 1, Geforce 4200ti, SoundBlaster Audigy 2 with front panel, Lite-On DVD-ROM, Optorite DVD-RW.
posted by bradn to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
Well, I've always wanted to try the oil cooled method. 100% silent except for optical drive access.
posted by tiamat at 8:24 AM on February 8, 2006

I just had to replace the power supply on my home built Athlon system... I picked up an Antec Truepower 2.0 430 watt from CompUSA yesterday, which replaced my POS 400 watt that I bought about 4 years ago.

It's seriously half as quiet as my old PS. Before, I could hear the power supply fan spinning from across the room. Now, from 10 feet away, I can hardly hear it. Even sitting right next to it, I'm suprised by how quiet my system is now.

You might want to look into sound baffling, like something from AcoustiProducts (I just googled for computer case sound dampening).

The problem with a silent pc is that it's going to cost you a lot more than normal. If I were building my own silent pc, here are the areas that I would focus on:

1. Case - pay a little more, and you get much better quality. My current case is a Lian Li like this one, except without the fan at the top of the case. I paid about $120 for it 4 years ago.

2. Power Supply - I love the new Antec. It's perfect for what I need right now, plus it will support newer standards that I have not upgraded to yet (PCI-Express and SATA). I paid $90 for it at CompUSA yesterday.

3. CPU Heatsink - I've always used the stock heatsink that came in the retail package with my processor. It works well enough, but I could spend a little bit and get a good fan-less Zalman cooler.
posted by Jim T at 8:52 AM on February 8, 2006

Get a UPS for it. My file server lost a hard drive due to a bad power spike last week.
posted by boo_radley at 8:56 AM on February 8, 2006

Is it just going to be a server, or will you be doing other things with it?

If it's just going to be a server, then you probably don't need the full capabilities of that processor. You could look into underclocking and undervolting it if your motherboard is amenable. This will reduce power consumption and heat, which would reduce the need for the CPU fan, and the noise it generates. You'd also be able to run your case fan at a lower speed (Zalman makes some relatively cheap fan speed controllers that let you adjust it until you've got something that works. If you can, retrofitting a larger diameter case fan can help with noise.

Also, if its just going to be a server, I'd look into finding a cheap passively cooled vid card, to eliminate the noise from that fan.
posted by Good Brain at 8:57 AM on February 8, 2006

Large cases are significantly quieter than small ones. They tend to do a better job of dampening sound, and they disperse heat better so you don't have to run the fans as much.
posted by Caviar at 9:08 AM on February 8, 2006

I have a truepower PS, and it's flawless. I also have a Zalman heatsink with a 90mm fan on it, and it's so quiet that I literally am never sure if it's on or not, from two feet away. Check out something like this, but make sure it'll fit in your case if you want to go for it. I second the suggestion to go to a 120 mm case fan if you can - it's about one third the noise of an 80mm.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 9:12 AM on February 8, 2006

You don't mention your motherboard model. If it has a northbridge heatsink with a fan, consider replacing it with a fanless heatsink. The smallest fans are the noisiest.

And I second the power supply advice. The variation between models is huge.

The place to go for silencing advice is SilentPCReview. They've tried it all.
posted by Yogurt at 9:19 AM on February 8, 2006

Consider a fanless video card too or onboard video if your motherboard supports it. A file server doesn't need a fan-cooled video card. I use a Sapphire 9600 (old AGP) and my wife uses a Gigabyte Radeon X800 (new PCIE). Both are fanless and fine for most games.
posted by Yogurt at 9:23 AM on February 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

One other thing to look at to reduce heat in the case in general, and subsequently cut down on the need for the fans to run at higher speeds, is your cabling.

I had a real rat's nest of cables in my Athlon 2400. I took it in to my local mom-n-pop to buy fans and a power supply that would run with less noise, and the guy also took the time to rearrange and bundle the cables to allow for better airflow through the case.
posted by mph at 9:33 AM on February 8, 2006

For a server, you generally don't want the thing going into power suspend, especially if you're doing RAID, unless your wake-on-LAN capability is rock solid, and your OS supports it flawlessly...:-) The UPS suggestion above gets my vote, too.

As for quieting things, a lot of home built machines I've seen have more air moving through them, by far, than is required. Generally, if you have one or more front case fans (ahead of the conventional hard drive mount locations in ATX tower cases), and a decent power supply, there is plenty of air flow to keep things reasonable. Fans mounted on the back of the case near the CPU cooler often actually "starve" the processor fan, reducing its effectiveness considerably, which is one reason for Intel's CAG 1.1 recommendations for ducted CPU fan access on newer chassis.

Often, cases having punched "grill" hole patterns at fan mounting positions generate a lot of turbulence in air flow going through these "grills." You can make things a lot quieter with an inexpensive case nibbler tool, and a half hour of your time spent cutting out the "grill" work. Finally, not all 3 wire fans are happy about running at the reduced voltages sent to them by fan controller circuits. The newer 4 pin PWM type fans are intended to overcome these problems, but if your motherboard has 3 pin headers, you may want to spend a few bucks for one of these.
posted by paulsc at 9:33 AM on February 8, 2006

I second the recommendation for Silent PC Review. They really have tested a ton of ways to quiet down a computer. The forums over there are chock full of info.

One thing that I'll suggest that worked well for me - focus your attention on whatever is making the most noise right now. If your HDD is quieter than your case fans (for example), making the HDD quieter is going to make virtually no difference in sound output. Put another way, the noisiest item is always the one that's going to be easiest to hear.
posted by gwenzel at 10:38 AM on February 8, 2006

If it's just a file server, why not bypass the PC route altogether and get an Asus WL-500GDLX or Linksys WRTSL54GS router (or similar). They have USB ports and let you attach external drives and then share them out over your network.

If you want to "convert" them into fully fledged fileservers, you can even load one of the open-source Linux variants such as OpenWRT or DD-WRT and enable SAMBA and so share out and route drives using this for Windows visibility. These routers are basically 200MHz tiny PCs, which is all you need for moderate filesharing. They have no fans and minute power consumption and are completely silent.

In the long run, leaving a high MHz Athlon blasting away just shuffling bits over a wire is going to eat up 100s of $ over a few years in power consumption.
posted by meehawl at 11:11 AM on February 8, 2006

Seconding meehawl - though I'd use a NSLU2 as a standalone NAS. You'll save the price of the equipment (about $80) within a year, reduce wear and tear on your main machine plus it's silent. And you can hack it!
posted by blag at 12:42 PM on February 8, 2006

What I've always read is that desktop drives will not last as long if they're turned on/off too frequently; but on the other hand I'd suggest turning the machine off occasionally. (I had a drive fail on my after running a machine continuously for a year and then leave it switched-off for a week.)

If your mainboard supports a Zalman 7000Cu fan, I'd think that's the best possible investment you can make; since the CPU cooler is often the loudest component in any machine.

Your mainboard may support "under-clocking" - running the CPU at lower MHz settings would probably save some energy; but obviously at the expense of CPU power.

You say the machine will "also" be a file server - but what will the primary usage be? If it's something low-spec, you might not need the extra RAM (since it just generates more heat and does not really benefit low-spec file-serving), and you could replace the 2x80GB RAID with a quiet 250GB (or similar) drive - Samsung has a good reputation of building quiet drives.

A NAS might also be an option depending on whether you just want a stupid file-server, or still want your PC to do something useful (like, downloading large files) while you're away.
posted by ckemp at 1:56 PM on February 8, 2006

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