My mission last year was to build a really quiet PC, and after much effort I succeeded though some minor tweeking is still required.

I now have a 2GHz P4 [Northwood core] with a Zalman heat sink fan and a Nexus NX-3000 power supply. The computer is barely audible and provides very respectable perfomance. (see update below)

Note: For those who are interested: I tried slowing down the fan of a cheap taiwanese PSU to make it silent and the result was an acrid smell of burining electronics, which is why I bought the Nexus.

Lessons learned

  1. Go to http://www.SilentPCReview.comoften and ask questions on thier forums.
  2. Cheap PSUs make a racket. Buy a quality PSU with temperature controlled fans.
  3. Buy the right CPU and physically check the exact model/batch number before you hand over your cash. Some P4s (eg: the 2.0A with a Northwood core) produce very little heat and provide respectable performance, but others are really hot and need very loud fans to keep them cool. There is a comprehensive list of suitable CPUs at SilentPCReview.
  4. The standard Intel heat-sink fan (HSF) is fairly quiet when undervolted and sufficient for a cool P4 running at less than full load in cooler climates. (see update below)
  5. The case does make a difference - cheap cases will need suspension for the hard drive.
  6. Only use low performance video cards that do not require a fan, or better still, use the on board video if you can bear it.
  7. Get a motherboard which does not have an onboard fan.
  8. Make sure your motherboard allows the heat sink fan speed to be controlled by software, otherwise you must always run the HSF fast enough to cool the CPU at full load.
  9. A single platter Barracuda IV is almost inaudible apart from structural vibrations when it seeks. (see 5th point)
  10. Read the articles below.
Update: I moved from Auckland to Melbourne last year, and the warmer climate meant I needed to buy a HSF that was better than the standard Intel HSF. Have now purchased a Zalman 7000 AlCu and now my quiet PC is almost perfect and should be able to cope with full load in an Australian summer. Yay team.
Quiet PC articles and projects