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Help Putting Together a Fanless PC


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Guys -- I could use some help putting together a new living room computer. This started out as thinking a mac mini running win32 would be OK, then thinking that new Dell thing would work, and as always happens, has devolved into building a system myself.

I am basically looking for small and silent -- totally fanless if possible. Probably a solid state drive, though the dvr already makes enough noise that this might be an unnecessary luxury.

This will get used for watching Netflix and other downloadable TV, playing music, and RMAA testing. It will also be used as a headless workstation via remote desktop -- in order to avoid digging through and updating 100K lines of old code that I maintain, I basically need to be able to run two different versions of Python, and the easiest way I have found to do this is to just have two different systems, one of which I can run remotely.

The video stuff probably requires a decent video card, but nothing spectacular (it will connect to a 32" 780p TV). It is conceivable that a USB Blu Ray drive might be added someday, so enough power for Blu Ray playback would be useful. Music will be via winamp mostly, and the files all reside on a NAS in another room. Optical drive of any sort is sort of optional -- all it would get used for is installing software (for which an external drive is fine) and ripping CDs, which can be done on another computer. For RMAA, a decent soundcard would be useful (probably an audiophile 2492 or 192). Built in sound that would just be for TV might also be a possibility as I can use a USB card for music/RMAA. I'll probably run XP as I have extra licenses and no real reason to "upgrade".

I also think keeping the PS outside the box would also be good. I think this might mean miniITX, but I am lost in all the different models and specs, which is why I need the help.

For cases, I found this review of the Coolermaster's Fanless TC-100 mini-ITX case | silentpcreview.com but the cases don't seem to be for sale anywhere. They also make a "Cube" and a TC-100A that both look pretty good, but are also unfindable.

More available are the Serener Fanless Cases For those, I am not sure what I am looking for in terms of mobo - they mention heatpipes for Via motherboards, but not whether those work with other motherboards. And, I don't know whether Via's are worth trying, or if they are even fast enough.

Any suggestions?

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Doug:

I know this doesn't answer your question directly, but would something like a Lenovo Q100 work for you? If not, check this review out, where they mention a DIY fanless setup and follow the links for that.. perhaps that will help.

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q100: World's Thinnest, Smallest Nettop | silentpcreview.com

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Doug:

I know this doesn't answer your question directly, but would something like a Lenovo Q100 work for you? If not, check this review out, where they mention a DIY fanless setup and follow the links for that.. perhaps that will help.

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q100: World's Thinnest, Smallest Nettop | silentpcreview.com

The Q700 looks more like what he was looking for.

Lenovo - IdeaCentre Q700 Compact PCs

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Why not an atom/ION platform?

It looks like a fanless atom/ion platform is just what I am looking for. The trick seems to be that it doesn't exist. The Q100 lacks the ion, and while the Q110 adds it, it also adds what is said to be a quite noisy fan making it not workable, either.

So, can anyone recommend a specific fanless atom/ion configuration for around the price of the Q110? Prebuilt or home built doesn't really matter. I can't find anything, though.

Better yet, the new pinetrail platform with a paired decoder will probably do all you want.

Pinetrail looks like it is more for power savings, but if that turns into heat savings then it could be workable. Any specific suggestions?

You could stuff it into the gorgeous lian li pc-q07 case.

You and I appear to have a different definition of "gorgeous".

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You are not alone, that's about as bland a case as I've ever seen.

Same here....I typically like the minimalist designs of Lian-li but this particular one seems too minimal and plain for me. It's probably well made but boring nevertheless.

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*cough* Disregarding my aesthetic taste, an ion platform usually does not come fanless because of the additional heat produced by the nvidia chipset. Your best would be to duct it to a 120mm slow speed fan, which can usually fall beneath the ambient noise barrier. Also, the Q110's prebuilt price looks pretty hard to beat, considering a typical ion bundle (e.g. Zotac) already comes at around $150, excluding case, hard drive, and optical disk.

I like how the Q07 looks. It's brushed, black, and has a uniform look to it. I tend to abhor LED lights, windows and grills (P182 owner). Then again, I think Apple has pretty good aesthetic design. These sort of things have to blend into their environment though, it'd probably look out of place if stashed on a cluttered desk.

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Er, I'm sort of wrestling with the edit system, but most of what I know about pinetrail comes from anandtech. It'll work for what you need, but you will have to wait until 1Q10, and if you want to play HD content, you'll have to find a third party decoder, as the integrated GPU isn't powerful for it.

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In terms of silent PCs (not laptops) I would definitely recommend one or two very slow silent fans rather than completely fanless. It won't be noticeable and the tiny bit of airflow will create a huge difference in temperatures and stability. This is especially true if you're going to use standard hard drives instead of SSDs, since the fans won't be any louder than them.

If you do decide to go for a desktop, placement of the tower away from your location can make it virtually inaudible. Unless your house is completely quiet.

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Doug:

I know this doesn't answer your question directly, but would something like a Lenovo Q100 work for you? If not, check this review out, where they mention a DIY fanless setup and follow the links for that.. perhaps that will help.

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q100: World's Thinnest, Smallest Nettop | silentpcreview.com

Off topic a bit. I just bought 2 of these for simple computing tasks, would probably not work for an htpc. One is running squeezeserver for my music system and it is perfect for that. Wakes in 5 seconds when i push play on the Duet remote.

In terms of silent PCs (not laptops) I would definitely recommend one or two very slow silent fans rather than completely fanless. It won't be noticeable and the tiny bit of airflow will create a huge difference in temperatures and stability. This is especially true if you're going to use standard hard drives instead of SSDs, since the fans won't be any louder than them.

If you do decide to go for a desktop, placement of the tower away from your location can make it virtually inaudible. Unless your house is completely quiet.

I tend to agree with this, using big silent fans (Nexus, etc.). I just tried the Zino and i did not like the 50mm fan noise so that got sold.

You may want to consider mATX because that will be easier to cool and be more powerful than mini. The minis are close to powerful enough for HTPC but adding peripherals defeats the size advantage.

Check out this site for great info:

Home Theater Computers - AVS Forum

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In terms of silent PCs (not laptops) I would definitely recommend one or two very slow silent fans rather than completely fanless. It won't be noticeable and the tiny bit of airflow will create a huge difference in temperatures and stability. This is especially true if you're going to use standard hard drives instead of SSDs, since the fans won't be any louder than them.

If you do decide to go for a desktop, placement of the tower away from your location can make it virtually inaudible. Unless your house is completely quiet.

+1 for this - my HTPC has some large Antec and Yate Loon 120mm fans in it, which are dead quiet when on the low setting (the Antec have low-med-hi switches, while the YL are low rpm fans to begin with).

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In terms of silent PCs (not laptops) I would definitely recommend one or two very slow silent fans rather than completely fanless. It won't be noticeable and the tiny bit of airflow will create a huge difference in temperatures and stability. This is especially true if you're going to use standard hard drives instead of SSDs, since the fans won't be any louder than them.

100% agreed. I have three Scythe S-Flex 120mm fans in my main desktop system, running about 400RPM most of the time. Plenty of air to keep an [email protected] and 9600GT cool, and it is as silent as can be unless your head is within about a foot of the tower, and you don't breathe or make any other bodily sounds. :cool:

There needs to be a very extreme reason to demand a totally passive, fanless system. Considering that there will be noise in the room from the aforementioned DVR, and the actual media being played, I HIGHLY doubt the noise floor of your room is low enough to demand a completely passive system.

I'd go with an ION system. SSD's make such a huge difference in system speed, I'd get one if you can afford it. If 30-40GB is enough, you can get either an OCZ Vertex or Kingston SSDnow V-series for around $100. I have the former in my laptop, and it is a very quick drive indeed.

I like this case: Newegg.com - Antec ISK 300-65 Black 0.8mm cold rolled steel Mini-ITX Desktop Computer Case - Computer Cases

Use a high quality 80mm fan like a nexus, scythe, or noctua, with a speed controller to tune the noise/cooling to your liking. The case is well-designed for good airflow, and comes with a passive power supply setup already installed. Check out the SPCR review for more details (granted, they tested with a much more power hungry C2D system): Antec ISK 300-65 Mini-ITX Case | silentpcreview.com

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It's a pretty nice case. It, plus a dual core Atom/ION mobo, some memory, a decent HDD, and a DVD drive, adds up to ~$500. Compared to the Q700 which is dual core 2.5G, 4GB, etc., comes with Win7, and is available from $470, it doesn't seem to make sense to build this.

Lenovo used to have multiple configurations and models that seem to be dwindling. I'm guessing that waiting until after CES would be prudent.

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Well, if you go by the prices of just about any off the shelf PC, it becomes hard to make sense of building your own. That is, if you don't place much value in controlling the quality of all the parts, how they are set up, and not having a ton of junk software installed with your OS (not to mention no real Windows disc).

I just don't trust the parts quality in an off-the-shelf system, especially the power supply.

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Considering a different direction -- my current HTPC, which is about 5 years old now and wasn't spectacular when new, has a reasonably quiet (Nexus) PS and a sata raid card with reasonably quiet drives that could all be reused. That means perhaps just retrofitting a decent ATX board + processor + vidcard + memory might be a workable option to keep me going. Anybody have a particular mobo/processor suggestion -- probably a generation or two old -- that is a particularly good value and can get by with a minimal fan or passive sink (with the quiet PS fan venting the case)?

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  • 3 months later...

So, now I'm in a similar situation as Doug. I have three main needs:

1.) Squeezecenter

2.) Torrents

3.) 1080p playback via HDMI

Things like the Zotac, VIA ARTiGO, and other nettops are one option that can give me 1-3 above, or something like a Netgear ReadyNAS that can do 1-2 and provide RAID in a small formfactor. If I were to go with a nettop, any recommendations on processor and video?

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Do you have a budget in mind? Probably the most cost-effective solution would be an AMD mobo (with the 890GX) chipset and a dual-core athlon. The on-board video of the 890GX can handle 1080p and does have hdmi output.

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Do you have a budget in mind? Probably the most cost-effective solution would be an AMD mobo (with the 890GX) chipset and a dual-core athlon. The on-board video of the 890GX can handle 1080p and does have hdmi output.

thanks tkam. I would like something reasonable small (fanless a plus). I would think under $500 would be my target without harddrives.

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Would the Lenovo Q700 work? I have a Lenovo Friends and Family account and might be able to help get that to damn close to $500. And in your budget I'm not sure fanless is a reasonable request.

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Another alternative with a bit more cpu horsepower would be a small itx box with a core i3-530 and intel's new DH57JG motherboard. I haven't tested the hdmi out though reviews state that it works well. I'll give it a try tonight to see and let you know.

img3062z.jpg

It isn't fanless, but only has two; a power supply fan and a 120mm up front. Overall it's very quiet, though I will be swapping the stock front 120 with a different fan. It doesn't use too much power either, roughly 20watts with a few torrents running.

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