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6/3/2004
02:20 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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Langa Letter: Cool And Quiet: Warm-Weather Follow-Up

After detailing multiple approaches to keep your PC cool and quiet, Fred Langa goes a step further, testing a water-cooling system and seeking to address warm weather and high-stress applications with a thermostatic power supply.

In the three-part series, "Cool and Quiet," (Part One, Part Two and Part Three) we discussed fully nine elements of noise control for PCs. For as little as $10 or so, you can begin to make huge reductions in the cacophony of whines, whirs, and whooshes that normally emanates from most PCs. With just a little more work, and without spending a fortune, you can make your PC amazingly quiet!

It's not theory: Those first three articles also detailed the real-life steps I took to quiet my own PC, a new, high-end 3.2-GHz unit. By the time we finished, the system was:

...literally whisper-quiet, in the range of 30dB or less. In fact, when... I asked my wife to come into the office to gauge her reaction. I turned on some standard, unmodified PCs so she'd have a reference sound, and then turned them off and showed her the newly quiet PC I'd been working on. It had been on the whole time she was in the room, and was literally at her feet; but she hadn't noticed that it was running--it was that quiet.

The new-found quietude didn't compromise the system cooling, as proved by a tortuous "burn test" detailed in Part Three:

...my newly quieted system was actually better-cooled than it had been in its factory configuration: Even at steady, full 100% output for an extended period, the system ran cooler than it previously had under some normal, everyday operations that were far less stressful than the artificial test."

Some Unanswered Questions
But we ended the "Cool and Quiet" series with several lingering questions, not least of which involved ambient temperature: My original tests were done in late winter and early spring, when room temperatures were in the 68 degrees-72 degrees F range (around 21 degrees C). However, my office isn't air-conditioned and can sometimes reach temperatures well above 90 degrees F/32 degrees C in the summer. The obvious question: Would the system still stay acceptably cool when the room itself was very warm?

There also were several cooling options we'd left unexplored. On the exotic side, for example, there are systems that use water as the working fluid. Because a given volume of water can carry far more heat than the same volume of air, this type of cooling has the potential to be very efficient. (That's why most cars are water-cooled, for example.) In water-based PC cooling, a pump circulates distilled water through a hollow metal cube mounted in place of the CPU's normal heat sink; the water absorbs heat from the CPU. The warmed water then is pumped through a small radiator, which dumps the heat outside the PC's case. The re-cooled water then circulates back to the CPU to pick up more heat.

There were other air-based fan options to explore, too. For example, I also was interested in:

...replacing the current power supply with one designed for thermostatic cooling. For example, Seasonic makes power supplies with numerous cooling-oriented features, including an enormous 120 mm slow-speed fan that's thermostatically controlled. At normal temperatures, the fan is extremely quiet, but will speed up as needed to keep the case well ventilated. And with a fan that size in my PC, I could probably remove one or more of the other fans without affecting overall cooling. Once again, I might be able to end up with even better cooling with still less noise....The Seasonic power supplies also are designed with high-efficiency components that generate less heat in the first place, and that has the added benefit of saving electrical power. (Less energy is lost as heat.) Seasonic claims that one of its power supplies can pay for itself in energy savings alone in a year or so, and I see no reason to dispute the claim. Cooler, quieter, and less expensive--now there's a trifecta! If I go that route, I'll report on it in a future article.

Well, I did go that route. I tried water-cooling as well. And, with the advent of warm weather, I've also been able to see how the system fared in summerlike conditions. I ended up making one major change to the setup, and I'm happy to report that my system is now even quieter and better cooled than it was at the end of Part Three of the original "Cool and Quiet" articles.

Here's how it all went:

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