The Hardware: Long Version
Antec Solo PC Case
Antec manufacture most of the highly respected PC cases for building quiet or silent PCs. The Antec SOLO case offers a cable-based hard drive suspension system, which leaves your hard drives secured tightly by cables rather than being attached physically to the interior of the case. If your drive is attached to the interior of the case, vibration caused by the drive heads spinning can be a real contribution to PC noise. Suspended, they don’t cause anywhere near as much noise. The Antec SOLO case also provides great sound damping on the sides of the case to limit how much noise gets out.
The other big advantage of the Antec SOLO case that I discovered while assembling everything is that largely, it’s a dream to work with. Everything is well layed out, and it has a great cable management system, which is important for ensuring the best airflow through the case.
Seasonic X-Series Fanless 460W Power Supply
This is a bit of a premium item, as it’s higher cost than other power supplies that might fit the bill. But the Seasonic X series are certified to have an extremely high level of efficiency in power conversion, meaning that they produce less heat, and draw less power overall to do the job. Especially once you remove the graphics card from the overall setup, 460W is more power than you’re likely to need, but I wanted room to grow.
Asus M4A89GTD PRO/USB 3 motherboard
Every computer needs a motherboard. This one had a few great features that turned my head:
- A solid set of basic onboard capabilities – it has an onboard video card, sound card and network card, meaning that you don’t need to purchase any of the other usual suspects to get a computer together.
- Great support for tweaking things like fan speed in the BIOS, and being able to turn off stuff you’re not using, like your graphics card, at any time with software provided by the manufacturer.
- Support for SATA3, allowing nice fast transfer rates with hard drives. Really important for shuffling around large files for voice projects.
- Support for USB 3 for peripherals that support it down the track, meaning faster transfer to and from external drives.
- Support for a standard called Crossfire X which would allow me, if I wanted, to run an aggressively powerful gaming setup down the track (with some admitted caveats)
- A neat little core unlocking feature where it can potentially (but not definitely) turn some two core CPUs into three or four core CPUs, possibly doubling your processing power for no extra cost.
IMPORTANT NOTE: There are a LOT of different AMD motherboards with very similar model numbers. The USB 3 part of the model number is important here.
AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE 3.2GHz dual core CPU
This is a good mid-range CPU that’s more than capable for what I want to use the computer for, and the price is great. The heat output and power consumption are great for this CPU. I looked at an Intel I5 or I7 processor as an alternative, and their power consumption and thermal output is definitely better, but the cost involved is significantly higher.
So I’ve gone with this CPU instead because both of relative cost, and because the dual core CPU would potentially work with the core unlocker feature of the motherboard (possibly doubling processing power) I use REAPER for editing voice over myself, and REAPER benefits from more cores when rendering audio.
Also, it’s important to note that the ‘BE’ in this component’s name indicates the ‘Black Edition’, which is the power and heat efficient version of this CPU.
Scythe Mugen 2 CPU cooler
Scythe have a fantastic name when it comes to producing cooling components for PCs. The Scythe Mugen 2 is a great big hunk of metal that perches on top of your motherboard, in physical contact with the CPU. All that metal goes to work drawing the heat out of your CPU, and then diffusing it. And the great thing with the Scythe Mugen 2 is that you can also attach 120mm fans to the cooler, directing the heat out of your case like this:
The other great thing about the Mugen 2 is that the common wisdom is that the fan that it comes packaged with is good enough to not need replacing, which has certainly been my experience. In general, adding fans doesn’t necessarily increase noise from your computer, particularly if you go with something like…
Nexus Real Silent Case Fans (x2)
The Real Silent Fans are down the bottom right
(Silent PC Review)
I picked up a couple of well-reviewed fans to attach to the Mugen 2 to help with airflow. And the great thing about these fans is that they live up to their name – you will not hear these puppies spinning, even with the case open.
Intel 2.5″ 80G Solid State Drive
(no review available)
Solid state drives are a little more expensive, but a great way to cut down on noise, heat, and get some additional speed. Because solid state drives have no moving parts, they’re much faster at finding information because they don’t have to spin a head around to a specific point.
Putting your operating system on a solid state drive is a great way to turbocharge your machine, because the files in your operating system are what your computer is going to access most.
From the research I did, the Intel drives had a solid reputation for reliability, and cost-wise are one of the cheaper options, so I went with them. A more recent comparison review on Silent PC Review recommends the OCZ Vertex 2 60GB, which seems to have better performance and energy consumption.
Western Digital 640GB Blue (WD6400AAKS) hard drive
The 640GB Blue is on the far left in this photo, the 1.5TB Green in the middle
(Silent PC Review)
An integral part of a voice recording computer is a specific hard drive to use for recording voice over. I was originally going to go with a larger drive – Western Digital’s 1.5TB WD15EARS drive. Advice on Silent PC Review’s forum indicated that people in the past have had the 1.5TB drive fail completely when used to record audio, so I picked up the 640GB drive for recording voice, as the same advice recommended this particular drive.
So that means that my workflow now is that I record using the 640GB drive, and then back up files over to the 1.5TB drive once I’m done with a project.
Western Digital 1.5TB WD15EARS hard drive
(see photo above)
Because this is my main PC, I also wanted to grab some more chunky storage for all of my files, to install games, and back up files for recordings for clients. I’ve been juggling files around on a laptop for years, so I splurged a little with this. This specific Western Digital drive has great reviews around performance and noise.
Pioneer DVR-218LBK 22x DVD
DVD drives are about as interesting to look at as hard drives, unfortunately. Beige!
(no review available)
One of the interesting things I found when selecting a DVD drive is that they’re pretty much commodity hardware nowadays – cheap and largely interchangeable. There were only two criteria I used for selecting the drive:
- Ability to burn DVDs (pretty much a given)
- Support for either Labelflash or Lightscribe technology for printing labels on the data side of DVDs
A little digging around indicated that Labelflash was capable of producing a richer image on DVDs, so I went with that. In retrospect, I’ve found that it’s much easier to get Lightscribe DVDs than it is to get Labelflash, so I’m not 100% sure I made the right decision.
I decided to forego getting a Blu-ray drive for the moment – they’re still quite expensive, and we’re not at the point yet where software is shipping on Blu-ray as a standard.
8G Corsair XMS3 DDR3-1667 memory (4x2G)
(no review available)
Corsair memory has a great reputation, and the XMS3 range comes with its own heat sink.
When you’re buying memory, the important thing to do is check the official list of supported configurations. I found the list for the M4A89GTD motherboard on the Memory/Device Support tab on this page.
For lightweight applications and voice recording, 4G of memory, particularly with Windows 7 (which is much more efficient than Windows Vista) would do fine. I went with 8G of memory to future proof things a little, and to give me a little gaming boost.
Radeon HD5750 graphics card
(no review available)
This is my major concession to gaming, and the only component that really produces noise. The HD5750 does have a bolt-on fan that could be replaced, but that’s something that I haven’t looked into just yet. The great thing about the M4A89GTD motherboard is that it’s really easy to turn the graphics card off temporarily while the machine’s running, to reduce noise.