My HTPC Could Wake the Dead

January 9, 2008

HTPCThat title should have actually read: My HTPC Could Wake the Dead, but its getting much quieter. It’s been quite a while since I’ve discussed HTPC’s (mine in particular) so I thought a quick re-cap and update of where I’m at with my system might be in order.

Late last summer I picked up the idea of building a HTPC (for the third time) and finally followed through with it. However one aspect in particular wound up quite different than what I had originally intended, the operating system. Back in August I indicated that I had no intention of using Vista in my HTPC but my version of MCE (circa 2004 as far as I can tell) just wasn’t operating as smoothly as I’d hoped, so with that and against better judgment I tried Vista. I’m really glad I did.

Yeah I’d heard all the horror stories, the wailing and gnashing of teeth over driver incompatibilities and the near furor over Vista’s handling of DRM. The funny thing is, outside of a few minor quirks, Vista’s been a pleasant surprise to use and I honestly wouldn’t consider going back to a XP based media center solution.

Maybe I’m just the luckiest guy in the world (I can rule that out right now) or my particular flavor of hardware compliments Vista but I honestly wasn’t expecting this level of enjoyment out of my “new” HTPC. One thing I was expecting however was a noisy machine and I certainly got one. Here’s a good rule of thumb for building home theater PC’s folks, no matter how much you plan on spending to make t quiet, add another 15-25%. Building one is a breeze, getting it quiet enough to tolerate being in the same room with it is another story altogether.

I’ve had my new Vista media center up and running for a few months now and I’ve enjoyed it enough to realize that I’m ready to bite the bullet and head down the silent (or as close as I can get) path of HTPC zen. My particular build consists of a Silverstone LC10 case, a dual-core processor, ATI video card and a 500GB SATA drive. Sounds simple enough right? Well that’s the thing about HTPC’s, what might be super quiet in an office/gaming environment can be airport loud in a movie watching setting.

The first two items I wanted to tackle were the CPU fan and GPU fan on the video card. Its hard for me to gauge how loud the power supply is on its own but if I stop the GPU and CPU fan from spinning for just a second with the case open, I can hear (not hear) a considerable difference. I may address the power supply at a later date but for now I’m focused on the other two fans.

As you might have gathered from my equipment list I don’t use my HTPC for pre-recorded HD DVD or Blu-ray playback (or the the heat intensive software processing associated with it). It’s really just used for trailers, local and streamed video files, ripped DVD’s, home-brew HD discs and recording, so given the relatively low cooling requirements I opted for passive cooling solutions for both the CPU and GPU. In essence what I’m doing here is eliminating two fans and relying on the third to pull the hot air out of the case.

Before we go any further it’s worth noting that I measured 61db emanating from my HTPC case; obviously this was reason enough to try and squelch this monster but I mention it now for comparisons sake later. First up on the modification list was the ZEROtherm Butterfly fanless CPU cooler which comes with an Intel and AMD mounting clip to fit just about any CPU you’d want to run inside a HTPC. Installation was straightforward enough, well once I figured out what had to temporarily move out of the way; long enough to seat the cooler in-place that is.

Now I’ll tell you, I was bit concerned about heat here even with all the rave reviews for the Butterfly. Simply put I trust my own acumen more than anonymous reviews but the product does indeed appear able enough. Now that’s not to say all of my concerns have been satisfied, I will keep an eye (hand specifically) on it as the seasons change and or the applications I’m running get more demanding. As it is now the heat sink is quite warm to the touch but this is just evidence of the cooler working as intended.

From there it was time to install the Zalman VNF 100 passive VGA cooler, this one was a tad bit harder to install but nothing a bit of patience and a good read of the instructions can’t overcome. The VNF 100 works on the same principle as the CPU cooler; in essence a metal plate connects with the GPU and transfers the heat through heat-pipes up to the cooling fins. Like I said the GPU cooler took me a but longer to install but I’m even more confident in its abilities than the CPU cooler. Even at what would seem to be full temperature for my given application (hi-def video) the cooling fins were relatively cool to the touch.

inside HTPC

Keep in mind that video should be a little less demanding than high resolution gaming and if you plan to do so with your HTPC you should keep a close eye on how well any after-market video card cooler is working. Oh and remember that 61 db measurement before I installed the passive coolers? Afterwards I measured a much more tolerable 54 db. While this isn’t whisper quiet it’s much, much closer than the roar I started out with.

In closing know that building a super-quiet HTPC can be a costly endeavor if you’re not careful with component selection. My biggest piece of advice is to not buy off-the-shelf components and assume they’ll be quiet enough for HTPC use, if anything assume they won’t. You’ll come out with much better results if you do a bit of reading and ask others what kind of results they were able to achieve. This really isn’t an area for experimentation, learn from others mistakes and you’ll end up with a rock solid, dependable and quiet HTPC.



Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under HTPC


Comments

  • Jon Osment

    If you want to cut out the PSU noise try a silverstone ST30NF PSU its fanless and I have one in a silverstone LC16M case and it works at treat with no noise. I can only hear my cpu cooling fan, which I will soon replace with a passive scythe ninja to elimate all noise.

  • Jon Osment

    If you want to cut out the PSU noise try a silverstone ST30NF PSU its fanless and I have one in a silverstone LC16M case and it works at treat with no noise. I can only hear my cpu cooling fan, which I will soon replace with a passive scythe ninja to elimate all noise.

  • Adam

    Try a Seasonic S12 power supply and some quiet case fans from Antec of Nexus. Watch out of overheating issues in the summer, perhaps a Zalman CPU fan might be better than a fanless CPU.

  • Adam

    Try a Seasonic S12 power supply and some quiet case fans from Antec of Nexus. Watch out of overheating issues in the summer, perhaps a Zalman CPU fan might be better than a fanless CPU.