Building a Quiet Gaming PC

I love computer games but the noise and heat which blasted out of my PC when I was running the latest games on my graphic card/processor was terrible.  I would start the game up and seconds later the fans in the computer case would whizz up to a deafening crescendo of noise! And the heat generated by my monster PC was enough to heat the upstairs of my house.

Before you start thinking “I don’t have that problem with my PC”, I don’t have a standard PC. I have a hand crafted PC specifically created from components for digital art, design and gaming.  I also “unfortunately” selected the second hottest AMD 65mn architecture processor chip (the Phenom X4 9850BE) which eats voltage and generates a silly amount of heat (and will be swapped out on Tuesday for the newer AMD Phenom X4 940 3GHz processor on the 45mn manufacturing process). More on that later!

My three screen PC prior to upgrades
My three screen PC prior to upgrades

Modern graphics cards pump out more heat than most processors and on air cooling my (new) Nvidia 260 GTX could get up to 83+ degrees.  The traditional solution to these problems is to add high speed fans, move more air around the computer case, with fans at the front of the case drawing air in and fans at the back of the case sucking the hot air out.  But the noise of all those fans can interrupt your thoughts or drive you to headphones and loud music (a solution which I tried without success).

July 2008 I added a Zalman Reserator1 v2 Fanless Water Cooling System to try to get a hold of temperatures. It’s a complete “off the shelf” watercooling kit for beginners.  It was easy to install and use but I soon found out it made absolutely no difference to my temperatures. It did cut down the noise a bit but I had to leave the fans in the case because of the remaining heat.  I only lost the noise of the graphics card and CPU fans, all the case fans remained!

I endured this situation until last month (using loud headphones) when my graphic card needed an update (it was four years old). The additional heat generated by a newer card would probably be too much for the Zalman setup but I decided to give it a try. On eBay I found a BFGTech Geforce 260GTX H2OC which is a graphics card manufactured especially for water-cooling and includes a large Danger Den copper heat-sink. I put the new graphics card in the case and temperatures sky rocketed.   The Alienware case (which I’ve had since 2003) only has 80mm fans and it’s been proven that 120mm fans give the best cooling at the lowest cooling to noise ratio.  I could have cut up the Alienware case using a Dremel to modify it to add 120mm fans but I was just much easier to look for a new case for my monster PC.

Coolmaster Cosmos S case
Coolmaster Cosmos S Case

After some research, I decided on a Coolmaster Cosmos S case (which I purchased on eBay) and moved the components to the new case.  The Zalman heat-sink from my original kit wasn’t making a good job of cooling the processor so it was swapped out for a Danger Den MC-TDX for AM2/AM3 Processors.  Only then did the temperatures start to decrease but not by much.  So, new case, new waterblock, new graphics card and no major change in temperatures? Time for some thinking.

Clearly the Zalman Reserator (which is a combination of a reservoir for coolant and a radiator to dissipate heat) wasn’t able to cope with the heat output. To cure this I would need to add a separate watercooled radiator and fans to suck the air out from the case through this radiator so that the water in the system would be cooler.  Cue the Black Ice 360 GT Stealth (stealth is for quiet) and and two Noctua NF-S12-800 120mm 800RPM Quiet Fans. With the new radiator and fans installed idle temperatures (when the computer is doing nothing) for the processor went from 55 degrees to  37 degrees. A colossal drop of 18 degrees.  And in testing, at 100% processor usage of the processor, the processor never got hotter than 43 degrees (previously I’d seen it as hot as 72 degrees). Likewise the graphics card, which had reached a high of over 83 degrees when stressed, dropped down to a maximum of 55 degrees under similar load (a 28 degree drop). And now that the temperatures have dropped I can reduce the speed of the internal fans to make the system as quiet as possible.  Right now it is inaudible from more than 3m away – it sounds like leaves rustling in a quiet breeze. That I can live with!

I just need a little more speed.  A new AMD Phenom X4 940 3GHz processor will arrive tomorrow (the fastest AMD Socket 2+ processor which fits my motherboard).  Once fitted, temperatures will fall even further and performance will significantly increase. After that (and with a happy contribution from my post-Christmas eBay sale of items) I’ll get a 160Gb Intel SSD drive.  This is a solid state flash drive just like what you would find in an iPhone.  This type of disc is nearly three times faster than a conventional disc drive which means that Windows and programs will load REALLY faster. Add to this Windows 7 (which also arrives tomorrow) and I think I will have an excellent PC to embark on my secondment to Learning and Teaching Scotland for Digital Games Design.

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