Need some thoughts regarding my noisy home media center
June 16, 2006 11:16 AM   Subscribe

I built a media PC long ago. Our old house's layout allowed me to place the whole shebang in the laundry room, but the new house does not. The wife (correctly) surmises that it is too loud to have in the living room. Need some help with my options.

The only relevant outputs of the media PC are video, audio and serial (for the remote). Audio is via fiber, video is (currently) via s-video from a vga-to-tv converter that I use.

1. How far can I string these? Serial is no problem, I've strung that more than 50 feet before. svideo I am imagining gets bad fast as it gets longer. The digital audio, I have no idea.

2. I could potentially replace the box it's all hosted on with something much quieter. I've been thinking about doing this anyway. Any recommendations on a barebones system that is quiet and either would not look out of place next to dvd players, etc, or will fit handily in the cabinet underneath? Must be as quiet as, say, a tivo. I'm quite handy with hardware and software so assembly required is no problem. I've been looking at the various micro-atx stuff and I don't know what to get. horsepower should be no problem, the current system is an ancient 500mhz celeron.

3. If there is some magic box I can get where I plug this stuff in one side and feed one long cable, and then another magic box with outputs to my A/V equipt, I'd love to hear about it.

4. I'd be interested also in sound-dampening suggestions for my existing equipment. My key fear here is that the box might get too hot. The processor is old so it runs hot. Maybe a newer celeron wouldn't? Or I could replace the motherboard and find some other 800mhz-ish CPU that could take a quiet (or no) fan? Or perhaps another cooling tech that is not so loud? Actually the hard drives might be the really loud part, which gives me an idea... firewire enclosure, with enclosure somewhere else? How far can you string firewire (the system in question has firewire but not USB2)

In either case I'd like to keep the cost down.
posted by RustyBrooks to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Why no go MiniITX for the system?

You can get console like cases and the system will run fanless.
posted by plinth at 11:23 AM on June 16, 2006

Any reason why you couldn't swap the box for a Mac Mini? I'm no Mac fanboy, but it sounds like the ideal tiny, quiet, solution for you.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:29 AM on June 16, 2006

Silent PC Review has pretty much all of the info on silencing computers. Read their reference/recommended section and check out the forums.

To no surprise, it's moving parts that get you. Hard drives not only have seek noise, but their vibration can make for nasty hums (esp. in an aluminum case.) With a tower case that has a little room, the best bang for the buck is an elastic suspension for your hard drive, which can be done on the cheap.

Fans are the rest of the problem (another way of looking at which is that heat is the rest of the problem.) With new parts, you can do what you want in an entirely passively cooled system -- absolutely no noise except for the hard drive (and if you set up a home network and file server, you can move that out of the room.)

Here's a review of one totally passive system.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:35 AM on June 16, 2006

Any reason why you couldn't put it in the attic/crawl space directly above the TV area?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:40 AM on June 16, 2006

When I looked into this, I found it was disproportionately expensive to distribute a high-quality video signal—cheaper to put the machine in the room than to hide it and run signal wires, though admittedly, I was looking at component video. Coax would be cheap.

There are a number of networkable media players (this one looks neat) that I presume are quiet, but many of them approach the price of a Mac mini or Mini-ITX in price.

If you're die-hard about running signal lines, check out these guys (I did business with them and found them to be helpful).
posted by adamrice at 11:56 AM on June 16, 2006

You can also run a dryer style duct to the PC from some other room, and put the fan on the other end.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:57 AM on June 16, 2006

FWIW, I've just run 50ft of HDMI cable from my media pc to the plasma in the living room (cable cost: $70... 50ft of Component Video would have been under $20). I was a bit concerned about the distance, but everything seems to be playing nice so far. The same with the digital audio (I'm using digital coax cable). A good source for inexpensive cables: I can't recommend them enough. Their prices are incredible and I haven't had a single problem with any of their products.

You could also look into one of those wireless Audio/Video transmitting rigs. X10 has one that I've heard will suffice in a pinch. Though I'd find it hard to give those people any of my money and I couldn't live with the probable downgrade in signal quality.

Maybe you need to upgrade the TV to something with digital inputs? I'm sure the wife will go for that, right?

Good luck.
posted by friezer at 12:01 PM on June 16, 2006

posted by Hanover Phist at 12:24 PM on June 16, 2006

if you value the picture quality, don't do wireless video.

For my HTPC I use a 35 foot vga cable.

I had signal problems running at 1024X580 (flickering). I experimented with building a cat5 vga cable, but failed at the soldering. If you can solder, that's a very very good option for high quality vga signals.

What I ended up with was using a powered dual monitor box as a signal booster. Full vga amplifiers are pretty expensive, as are baluns (vga to cat 5 and back).

So the dual monitor box works like a champ. I'm not sure how it'll handle very high res, but it's a non-issue for the moment.

For cables, check bluejeans cable. They sell cheap hdmi and so on cables.

Upon rereading your actual setup, you want to move it into a quieter enclosure.

I've built 2 seperate boxes. One was an Antec Sonata with a relatively slow 1.8 ghx athlon xp. I used a zalman flower heat sink and a fanless ati radeon 9000.

That machine was dead silent, and the sonata was pretty nice looking too.

It's an upright case, but reasonably priced. The zalman coolers are VERY quiet.

The new machine is an Athlon 64 3200+ running in a Silverstone LC16m. It's definitely pricier than the antec, but it's very very pretty and looks like a piece of electronics.

I'm using some quietish heatsink ( I think it's a zalman orb, but I'm not sure), a 9800 pro with a quieter zalman heatsink and fan setup, and some fairly quiet cooling fans.

There's a 560w zeus power supply that's not completely silent.

Total noise value is pretty low, marginally louder than ambient, but you can't hear it once you move more than a few feet away.
posted by Lord_Pall at 12:25 PM on June 16, 2006

A used original Xbox, while a great choice for bang/buck, isn't a great choice for quiet. It's got a noisy little fan (there's probably variation over the different revisions, though.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 12:40 PM on June 16, 2006

Response by poster: what's a good way to have a hard-driveless computer? I guess something like Knoppix with some way to define the network mounts?
posted by RustyBrooks at 12:56 PM on June 16, 2006

Diskless Remote Boot in Linux could do it.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 1:09 PM on June 16, 2006

If you are looking to replace your system, I head a mac mini works will for that. They are fairly cheap too.

The "video extenders" that run video long distances are pretty expensive, you are just as well to buy a new PC or use the cables. I've taken VGA 50 ft with minimal loss.

If you are looking for good prices on cables, try ShowMeCables. I've ordered from them a few times - they are fast and courteous.

What I did in my house, is knock out a small hole in the wall behind my flat panel TV. I then run the cables in the Garage, which happens to be next to my living room. This may be against some code but, oh well :)
posted by aurigus at 1:22 PM on June 16, 2006

Second the Silverstone LC16M - great-looking and very spacious and easy to work on. I use a fanless Antec PSU in mine. Samsung Spinpoints are the way to go if you're looking for new HDDs - they're virtually silent (to my ears, at least).
posted by boosh at 4:37 PM on June 16, 2006

Samsung Spinpoints are the way to go if you're looking for new HDDs - they're virtually silent (to my ears, at least).

My old Samsung Spinpoint started out dead quiet, but later developed a headsplitting high-pitch whine. It became so loud in that impossible register that I became fearful of damaging my hearing. I haven't heard of anyone else having similar problems with Samsung drives, but I can't in good conscience recommend one after my experience.

On the other hand, I can recommend a laptop drive. I have one in the fanless Mini-ITX system I'm typing on right now (in fact, that drive is the only moving part in this system) and I can't hear it above the hum of my CRT monitor.

As an aside, if you decide to go with something small, like a Mini-ITX system, look into using an ancient Mac as your case. I have my system in a Performa 630CD, and it manages to strike that classy-yet-retro note just-so. Also, since this particular Mac was an under-monitor desktop system, it would fit in a component rack without any fuss.
posted by Ptrin at 7:38 PM on June 16, 2006

A used original Xbox, while a great choice for bang/buck, isn't a great choice for quiet. It's got a noisy little fan

which can be slowed down and quieted with the XBMC software.
posted by Hanover Phist at 10:36 AM on June 26, 2006

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