back to article Building a fanless PC is now realistic. But it still ain't cheap

When it comes to PC performance the elephant in the room is heat generation. Generally, the cooler a CPU or GPU can be kept the faster it will run, hence mega-overclocked systems running liquid nitrogen cooling systems and producing mind-numbingly high benchmark scores and more clouds than your average Pink Floyd concert. For …

  1. Spanners Silver badge
    Pirate

    How about

    I recently got myself a Raspberry Pi to play with. Apparently, it runs Ubuntu and has everything your non-tecchie friends want out of a desktop PC - Chrome web browser and email.

    There are no fans. The box is less than A7 and 2.5cm and the reason it stays cool? It runs off a standard (ie non iPhone) mobile phone charger..

    I can't see it replacing my PC thoiugh. I wonder if it runs the GIMP?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How about

      But can it play Crysis?

    2. Aldous

      Re: How about

      there are even better all in ones then the Pi that can work as general purpose web browsers\word processors etc. Not as cheap but they are out there and have more features then the Pi which is restricted by being deliberately cheap

    3. Chemist

      Re: How about

      "I recently got myself a Raspberry Pi to play with. "

      So did I. I'd resisted for quite a while due to time constraints but I order a kit on Monday, it arrived on Wed. and was running an hour later. Today (Fri.) I have it running vncviewer via ssh and I'm impressed. I have a test spreadsheet for LibreOffice calc that recalculates 400000 sines. On my laptop (4-core i7 ) it takes <1 sec - on the pi ~5 secs. I'm still setting it up but wifi was easy, jut need to set it up the way I like and install more sw. I spent ~£65 on the kit but that included SD card, keyboard, mouse, power supply, HDMI and ethernet cables and USB wifi.

    4. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: How about

      Try compiling vlc.

      Once you are back from holiday it may be finished.

      While a razzie is a very snazzy IoT and automation platform it really does not get anywhere near what you would need for a proper desktop. If you want a fanless non-x86 you are much better off with the Imagination Tech stuff or some of the higher spec SoC of dubious provenance originating from China.

      1. Chemist

        Re: How about

        "t really does not get anywhere near what you would need for a proper desktop."

        It looks like a proper desktop to me. I've got a web browser, image viewer, full LibreOffice, compilers, VLC, etc - the test spreadsheet suggests the performance is not too shabby but I'll know more in few weeks esp. when I've installed more demanding software. I'd not expect a 4-core 900 MHz ARM with 1GB of memory and an 8GB SD card to be too spritly but I'm really rather suprised. No, I'm not going to render HD video or even process too many RAW photo files but I will be testing it - and no I'm not going to be compiling vlc ( but I don't need to) but I will be compiling a lot of my own C programs so I'll have a reasonably comparison.

        1. Chemist

          Re: How about

          "but I will be compiling a lot of my own C programs"

          Just compiled a little C client program (~75 lines) that opens a socket & queries a set of sensors on a PIC microcontroller controlled by a server on my network . Apart from altering the server name to an ip address as the pi doesn't yet have that in hosts the program compiled and ran perfectly

        2. Mage Silver badge

          Re: How about

          No legacy x86 .. Rap Pi is great for niche use, not to replace existing x86 Workstation (Laptop or separates).

          1. swampdog

            Re: How about

            You may be wrong. For home at least. I use an RPI1 as my firewall. It has been faultless, even when the sdcard died (didn't notice until reboot).

            I plan to retire one of my vmware servers. All of the DNS/DHCP proxy/mail can be stuffed onto them via iscsi.

          2. The Real Tony Smith

            Re: How about

            > No legacy x86 .. Rap Pi is great for niche use, not to replace existing x86 Workstation (Laptop or separates).

            On the contrary, I'm about to replace a 19" x86 rack server with a RPi and cloud based storage solution.

      2. Richard Plinston Silver badge

        Re: How about

        > it really does not get anywhere near what you would need for a proper desktop.

        A Pi2 is more powerful than what most used to run Windows 95 and 98.

        What "you" need and what _I_ need may be completely different things, and LXDE is a "proper" desktop.

      3. swampdog

        Re: How about

        Using a cross compiler?

        Takes only a few minutes.

    5. Chemist

      Re: How about

      "I wonder if it runs the GIMP?"

      It does - it's not something I use a lot but it even runs quite well over VNC. A 1620x1080 unsharp took ~ 3secs BTW

    6. Smooth Newt
      Happy

      Re: How about

      How about a really noisy computer in another room, and a decent HDMI & USB KVM Extender...

      1. pPPPP

        Re: How about

        >How about a really noisy computer in another room, and a decent HDMI & USB KVM Extender...

        That's how a lot of music studios do it. You can make the computer as quiet as you want but unless it's completely silent it's no use. Of course, the age of the SSD has made this less vital as often it was the HDD that was making the noise.

        I built a PC recently, in a media centre case. Space is limited so I had to stick with fans and the largest CPU cooler I could get in. It's silent for most things, and I set it to spin the fans up when it gets too hot, usually when I'm playing games and have the headphones on anyway. One SSD and 3 HDDs which store infrequently accessed data and spin down when not in use.

        I've got a few Raspberry Pis, one of which stays on all the time. It's in the loft though so it doesn't matter. I might see if I can get steam on it, with streaming from the Windows PC (with the games). Steam works fine streaming to my laptop's crappy display.

        Does it even run on Arm?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How about

        > How about a really noisy computer in another room,

        Exactly my solution, minus the KVM since the main computer is just across the wall.

      3. Warm Braw Silver badge

        Re: How about

        I considered that, but the cost of acquiring another room proved prohibitive...

        1. Nigel 11

          Re: How about

          the cost of acquiring another room proved prohibitive...

          Do you have a loft? If you do, think vertically.

      4. Efros

        Re: How about

        Pretty much what I have apart from the KVM extender, I use an rf mini KB and touchpad and an rf remote for media stuff. The HTPC is a venerable, 10 years old, Q6600 with 4GB RAM and a 16TB media tank attached via USB 3.0, housed in the basement and hooked up to my living room 52" plasma with a long VGA/audio cable. One of the HDMI channels on the TV is hooked to my gaming PC, (hex core, 16GB RAM, GTX 750 Ti, and rf full KB and mouse), which sits next to the HTPC in the basement.

      5. Wensleydale Cheese
        Thumb Up

        Re: How about

        "How about a really noisy computer in another room, and a decent HDMI & USB KVM Extender..."

        The idea is not new.

        Here's a writeup from from September 2000: Building diskless X terminals with Linux

        Footnote: I first learned of the company concerned via The Register. If I remember correctly they did a rewrite of the El Reg website in that era,

      6. Karl H
        Devil

        Re: How about

        and the really noisy computer in another room, using ooodles of power could be put somewhere that needs heating.

        Hey why not go the whole hog, a power hungry super 'puter in every room, warming an entire building up. Computer fan heaters everywhere !

        For anyone not likely the sound of Concorde taking off, well some foam ear plugs along with ear defenders could help.

        I guess take this too far, and a 3 phase supply from the local "leccy" company ( do we say "board" these days ? ) would probably be required.

        I guess the only downside that is that the summer anyone doing this would need a fair amount of air conditioning, or maybe they could turn the computer-fan-heaters off.

        But just think about the MIPS !

      7. Halfmad Silver badge

        Re: How about

        I did this in my flat, my girlfriend was complaining about the noise of the PC in the living room when she's watching her soaps and I'm gaming. So I drilled a 1inch wide hole through the wall into the cupboard, installed some vents on the door and left the PC in there. I even had a remote power switch connected.

        Worked REALLY well until I went to upgrade my GPU and after hauling all of the brushes, vacuum cleaners and random bits and bobs out of the cupboard I realised that it was now under a thick layer of dust and squeeling like a pig from the heat.

    7. the spectacularly refined chap

      Re: How about

      I recently got myself a Raspberry Pi to play with. Apparently, it runs Ubuntu and has everything your non-tecchie friends want out of a desktop PC - Chrome web browser and email.

      For the same money or less than a Pi you can pick up a silent thin client system, with case, power supply and storage as part of the deal. PC based and all you need to is hook up monitor, keyboard and mouse. Used of course, but those things tend not to break. Overall performance is broadly equivalent to a Pi depending on exactly what you get and that's been possible for years.

      The article instead discusses general purpose workstations as a new development. How powerful you can go is ever increasing but it isn't entirely new. The system I'm typing this on is getting on for 18 months old and while it isn't ultra powerful - 8GB, J1900 quad core, 240 GB SSD - it certainly isn't too shabby for anything but gaming. Completely silent apart from when the optical drive is in use. And no, that didn't really cost a premium - £300 or thereabouts, of which £70 or so was that ridiculously expensive "do everything" optical drive.

    8. bob, mon!
      Boffin

      Re: How about

      'I wonder if it runs the GIMP?"

      Yes. It installs via apt-get, and runs. "Fast?" ...Don't get greedy.

      disclaimer: this is actually on a Raspberry Pi Zero, as my RPi2 is presently offline.

    9. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
      Boffin

      This is news? Re: How about

      Sorry, but I built a Streacom system with an i7 chip and 2 2.5" SSD drives w 16GB of memory over a year ago. Its been running quiet ever since.

      Yes you can run a totally quiet PC. The only drawback is that you're using a laptop's power supply sitting outside of the case. (Although there's enough room and internal fitting power supplies that will work today.)

      Of course, I'm running Linux on it so I don't know how it would work as a game machine. But for a DNS server, Email Server and even a web server for a SOHO... it works. I did this because my servers sit next to my desk and I was going deaf. Can't decide if it was my wife's nagging or all of the loud server fans from the 2U rack machines... :-)

  2. lansalot

    easy done

    Mine was totally fanless for a while - a Zalman reserator (basically, a big fanless external radiator tower) cooled the CPU, NB and GPU. It was a superb bit of kit. I had the drives in aluminium accoustic caddies and it was pretty eerie hearing only a beep at POST. QuietPC must have had a small fortune out of me ;-)

    http://ic.tweakimg.net/ext/i/1084051489.jpg

    Only sold it because the toddler was far too attracted to those lovely blue (and easy to reach) water pipes.

    1. Known Hero
      Flame

      Re: easy done

      an old AMD system I had was fanless for a very short while :(

      1. Nigel 11

        Re: easy done

        an old AMD system I had was fanless for a very short while

        It actually killed the CPU? Or do you mean without any heatsink at all?

        I got called in once to a system that "kept crashing". Took the lid off, spotted the fan not turning, unwisely touched the heatsink and my finger sizzled.

        It worked OK until the heatsink got some way above boiling point. At which point the CPU went off the rails and the system wedged. Which gave it a chance to cool down so it worked again until the user next made the CPU try to do some real work. (Booting was/is hard-disk limited, the CPU idles most of the time waiting for seeks to complete).

        1. AMBxx Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: easy done

          Thumbs up for the Quiet PC namecheck - great bunch, only 20 minutes from here. One of the few component suppliers who recognise that if they send you a duff part, they need to sent you a replacement promptly rather than waiting until you return the faulty one.

          In my case, it was more urgent (I work from home), so just drove over to see them. Had a good chat about all things PC - very evangelical folk up there near Malton.

    2. goldcd

      Always fancied one of those

      as seemed the sensible way to go - i.e. going silent should sensibly involve examining the entire form factor, rather than just trying to make the same shaped case 'quiet'

  3. lurker

    Although you CAN build an entirely fanless PC, if your primary objective is a QUIET PC it can be a good idea to have a sensible case with a low-RPM 120mm or 140mm fan to generate some moderate airflow, as these can be basically silent while still providing some air flow (noctua fans are usually a good choice on this front). The fractal design cases are excellent for these kinds of purposes; the case doors have layers of bitumen padding attached for sound dampening.

    On a similar vein, some decent high-end PSUs while not fanless, have quiet modes where they will only switch on the fan when needed. Seasonic produce both varieties (fanless and hybrid silent fan control) and are excellent units.

    1. Steve K Silver badge

      In the same vein, whilst not fanless or completely silent, the All-in-One solutions (e.g. Corsair H55 - approx. £60) are pretty quiet - especially if you only need the CPU-supplied graphics, and use the fan-tuning software that ships with the motherboard (e.g. Asus).

      Steve

    2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Have an upvote

      for mentioning the Fractal Design cases. They really help make a quiet PC.

      I have an 8 core (16 threads) i7/64Gb Ram + 4Tb of SSD inside one of their cases under my desk.

      My laptop makes more noise than this beast.

      The above tower is running 8 VM's at the moment, including one Oracle DB and two different SQLServer DB servers.

    3. tony72

      I agree. I built my HTPC in an Antec HTPC case, with a Scythe Shuriken cooler on the CPU, a BeQuiet PSU (does what it says on the tin), and the two 120mm variable-speed fans that came with the case set to the lowest speed. You really have to practically rest your ear on it to hear it. And given that it's on 24/7, I'd rather have it very quiet and cool, rather than absolutely silent with possible hotspots that you can get in a fanless build.

  4. Fizzl

    Nothing new?

    Cherry trail tablets are fast, x86 and mine runs xcom without needing a fan but haven't we had fanless PC's in our pockets for a while now?

    1. lurker

      Re: Nothing new?

      I think the article is talking about x86 architecture PCs, for current-gen gaming and similar. Atom based devices have very low TDPs, yes, but I assure you that while your tablet can run the tablet version of XCOM, it doesn't have the grunt needed to run the newer XCOM-2.

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Nothing new?

      We've had fanless, silent, x86-architecture PCs for at least a decade now if you were willing to pay a premium and accept lesser performance. The premium has slowly dropped away and the increasing focus in datacenters with flops per watt means that the performance hit is probably less, too. (*) Realistically though, you will still pay more and get less.

      Against that, it is probably now true that for many domestic workloads (like, kitchen PC or lounge media centre) performance is no longer an issue and if you live in an otherwise silent house (so, probably no kids then) the difference between "honest, you'll never notice the fan" and "no fan" is quite significant. I am a little surprised that the concept isn't more mainstream.

      (* Free plug from satisfied customer: http://www.tinygreenpc.com/.)

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm waiting for the TDP for low-end AMD Zen CPUs to be announced.

    My computer has been fast enough for 5+ years. Now all I want is lower wattage, less fans, smaller case etc. The huge ATX case has gotta go.

    1. Andrew 6

      ...qsnap

      Had to get rid of the full tower case I had that had a Q6600 in it, not really looking for much more grunt than that as 99% of the time it would be used as a media pc more than anything, so Im looking at one of the fanless chinese import i5-5200u based mini systems ... about 300-350 should get me one of those with 16gb memory and an ssd in- should be more than capable of the odd time working with vis studio and sql server, and if I need large storage then I go to cheap external spinny disk when needed only

  6. Pristine Audio

    Shuttle have been selling fanless PCs for a few years now, albeit they're hardly high performance - but good enough to reliably deliver 60Hz HD video to our living room TV without a peep (or a whirr)

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      We use various models of Shuttles at work, most of which end up in a mess of wires underneath a till in a shop somewhere. Not having any fans means not having to replace the whole computer after the fan inevitably smothers itself in dust and dies.

      Of course, we stick cheap SSDs in them as well now, they produce less heat, but can still cope with high temps better than a harddrive can. The speed up on a Atom or Celeron powered system is nice but not essential.

  7. Electron Shepherd

    I woudn't go back to fans now

    A few years ago now, I put together a totally fanless system - a BUC-666 case (a close cousin of the CS-80 mentioned), a CR-95 cooler, SSDs, an Nvidia Quadro NVS 450 and a fanless PSU.

    It has a four-core i5 (2.9GHz 3570T) and the CPU never goes over 50C.

    The peace and quiet was a revelation. I find it so much easier to concentrate without the whirring. When I run a backup to a 2.5" external hard disk, the noise of the disk is the loudest thing in the room.

    The downsides are that the graphics card, which was picked for its quad-monitor support, is no good for playing any game more demanding than Solitaire, and the big heatsink sits over the memory slots on the motherboard to such an extent that two of the four DIMMs can't be removed with the heatsink in place.

    For me, those are very minor issues, and a price well worth paying for the resulting silence.

  8. ACcc

    Brix 2807

    Currently using the above as a nice, cheap (box was <£80 on deal from online), about £40 for SSD, same for 4GB RAM.

    Not powerful, only dual core, but no fans at all and perfect for an XBMC/Kodi box behind the tv. Suitably tiny too.

  9. Mr Dogshit

    HP microserver.

    1. the spectacularly refined chap

      Which are not silent, especially when filled out with a few hard drives which is their main purpose of those machines. I have a couple here and love them for what they do, but while they're reasonably unobtrusive, fanless they ain't.

      1. Wensleydale Cheese

        HP Microserver

        " I have a couple here and love them for what they do, but while they're reasonably unobtrusive, fanless they ain't."

        Agree wholeheartedly but if you can put them in another room that problem can be alleviated.

        Although mine is distinctly louder than my Macs, the same is not true under heavy load. The Macs are a lot louder when their fans kick in.

        But the Microserver can run at 100% utilisation of both cores for hours on end without the fans revving up any further.

  10. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    "...now..."

    "...now realistic..."

    CPU/GPU performance per watt improvement is a steady trend, any demarcation point is obviously arbitrary. People have been doing fanless PCs for years already, while others will insist that they will need PCs with several fans for the foreseeable future.

    So I take issue with the word 'now'. It implies that this demarcation point (26 Feb 2016) is somehow silently assumed to be superior, or somehow more appropriate, to anyone else's demarcation point (past or future).

    It's arbitrary.

  11. Fehu
    Devil

    Quiet PC

    I must have one of those quiet PC's! That way I'd enjoy playing one of my several favorite first person shooters while wearing headphones that much more. What? What was that? Just another hand grenade followed by several AK-47s. Aiyee! Air strike!

  12. John H Woods

    Cheating ...

    ... a friend reused an old chimney: all the noisy hot bits went in the chimney and all the sockets were extended to the living room: one custom wall plate with and video out (VGA it was that long ago) several USB sockets supporting mouse, keyboard, media readers. He did want to have a small "status panel" lcd but SWIMBO demurred. Looked bloody good though, and you could not hear the gubbins on the other side of the wall at all.

    I've often wondered if one could create a single big fat cable (bundle) to carry, say 2 x USB3, 4 x USB2, 2 x 1Gb/s Ethernet, 2 x HDMI and just run it down from, say, the attic in a single piece of trunking. Is it even physically possible?

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
      Go

      Re: John H Woods Re: Cheating ...

      ".....and just run it down from, say, the attic....." A smug friend of mine has his PC in a rack (along with assorted servers and storage) in a closet, and the cables run through the wall to his desk. A fan and vent through the external wall to exhaust hot air out of the closet, some foam foam lining on the closet walls as sound insulation, and two of those wall plates with the bristles to run the cables through. A bit limiting on where he can have his desk but otherwise wonderfully silent.

    2. Frank Rysanek

      Re: Cheating ...

      In a chimney I would be suspicious of conductive carbon dust and maybe rainfall, but if those two factors were taken care of, your friend's got my thumbs up, all four of them :-)

      As for separating yourself from the PC using a long cabling trunk: yes this is perfectly possible.

      USB: about 5 or 8 meters max, can be extended by a hub

      Gb Ethernet: 100 m over CAT6 material

      HDMI/DVI/DP: this depends very much on your screen resolution. I recall someone reporting success when transporting DVI (equals HDMI) at full HD resolution at 60 Hz over a distance of 10m using just an extension cable. Must've been some pretty good cabling material. Today's highest resolutions (4k) may limit your video cable to 2-3 meters from the PC to the monitor.

      BTW, attics tend to suffer from heat during the summer (unless thermally isolated).

    3. Adam JC

      Re: Cheating ...

      Physically, yes. Technologically, you'd struggle.

      You'd run into limitations on the USB cable length (Boosters are available) as well as HDMI (Attenuation may creep up and you'll possibly get artifacts/video loss). The ethernet won't be a problem though... interesting concept. Not sure if I'd want a stonking hot gaming rig in the attic, as mine gets pretty toasty in the summer and there's not a lot of airflow up there!

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Cheating ...

        "Not sure if I'd want a stonking hot gaming rig in the attic, as mine gets pretty toasty in the summer and there's not a lot of airflow up there!"

        My primary desktop PC and the rest are all up in the loft. Part of the Spring cleaning process for the house includes stripping the PCs down and cleaning all the dust build-up out. I've recorded ambient temps of over 40c up there on a hot day with the access hatch and windows closed. I don't normally work up there unless I have the need to use the pair of large screens or need the GFX performance of working locally on it. Most of the time I just ssh -X into them from the laptop in the living room.

        Of course, that's not really the solution for a "silent" PC since it's more expensive, ie one needs another quiet PC to access the noisy ones up in the attic :-)

    4. Nigel 11

      Re: Cheating ...

      I've often wondered if one could create a single big fat cable (bundle) to carry, say 2 x USB3, 4 x USB2, 2 x 1Gb/s Ethernet, 2 x HDMI and just run it down from, say, the attic in a single piece of trunking. Is it even physically possible?

      Maybe. Ethernet and HDMI no problem. USB maximum cable length is 3m(*). So it depends on the height of your ceiling. All is not lost if you need 6m. You just need to invest in USB{2,3} hubs and accept a cable bundle that looks like a satiated egg-eating snake.

      (*) Unofficially, 5m may work, but its not tested or supported that long and reputable suppliers won't sell a single cable that long. I have also heard of 3m "extension cables" that have a one-to-one hub/signal booster moulded into the socket end.

  13. RonWheeler

    No case

    My desktop rig ahs had i3 processor (Haswell) with big passive heatsink, 750ti graphics with accelero s3, and a passive psu (single biggest cost). Best tip I've found to make it work well is to get rid of the case entirely. I just use a testbench platform as a case-substitute. . Natural airflow and heat escape.

  14. Andy Non Silver badge
    Happy

    Eggsnow fanless aluminium desktop computer

    I've got one of these. It is a compact desktop computer, stays cool and noise free. Won't go back to a noisy fan based computer again.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Eggsnow-Aluminum-Fanless-Desktop-Computer/dp/B00VUTOI58/ref=pd_sim_sbs_147_5?ie=UTF8&dpID=41O6NJBNzZL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR160%2C160_&refRID=0MV9H1Y2ZF3VDR0T906P

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    95 W TDP is peanuts.

    100W TDP is easy to dissipate.

    Try to dissipate 300W or 400W of a Heavy GFX card at full load and you'll need the surface area larger than your lungs to dissipate it, matched by 10 lbs of copper and heatpipes.

    And the machine needs to be installed on the outside of a building located in Anchorage during winter. If you want to play any modern games, you need some fans or water cooling. Maybe 20 years from now it will be possible.

    I had a Pentium 100Mhz IBM Aptiva, that was passively cooled from the box, so the previous norm was passive cooling. We thought how ridiculous it was to even need fans back then! Passive cooling is very feasible, yes, but not for today's gaming.

    Some gaming cases have 250mm fans (half the motherboard size) running below 1000 rpm. You can't hear them, even with your ear over it. Combined with water cooling, you get a very efficient and quiet machine.

  16. nightflier

    Been there, done that.

    I built a fanless machine back in the P4 days. When the fans were gone, the hard drive noise became obnoxious. Replaced the hard drive with a CF card. Then I could hear a crackling electrical noise which turned out to come from the network card!

    In the end it did better with one big, slow turning fan that cooled the whole thing. The steady fan noise was better than the intermittent chatter of the other components.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Been there, done that.

      "The steady fan noise was better than the intermittent chatter of the other components."

      And that is a very important factor. The human brain can account for and "shut out" a steady, low level white noise. But if the fans are speed managed, it can easily become annoyingly distracting. PWM fans can produce a variable speed ticking sound as they pulse the full 5V on and off at variable rates due to temperature change. Likewise a variable voltage fan speeding up and slowing down, especially if the temperature and workload is varying around certain thresholds.

      Not so many years ago every office PC ran their fans at full throttle and everyone got on with their work. Now PCs are generally so quiet that the slightest change in noise level and the user is on the phone complaining about the "loud whirring noise". Now of course that is a fault and it does need fixing, but some users are just sooooo demanding and obnoxious about it that we sometimes leave them for a while to "suffer". Then there are the dead PCs where the user says it was making a loud whirring noise for weeks then one day it "fixed itself". Shortly after it "just stopped working".

      PS. Mistyped whirring by missing out an "r". Firefox suggested "whoring" as the correction.

      1. DF118

        Re: Been there, done that.

        if the fans are speed managed, it can easily become annoyingly distracting

        Most temperature controlled fan headers are so badly implemented and aimed at performance over silence, with little or no hysterisis built in to the controlling logic. The only retail board I ever saw do fan control well was Abit's IP35 Pro. It was outstandingly good. Then they pulled out of the motherboard market.

      2. Nigel 11

        Re: Been there, done that.

        Now PCs are generally so quiet that the slightest change in noise level and the user is on the phone complaining about the "loud whirring noise".

        Have some genuine no-moving-parts PCs with a fanless J1900 motherboard and an SSD. Offer the user one of these to try, unless you know that his workload precludes anything less than a high-end i5 (video editing, high-end CAD, number crunching ...)

        If that's his dream PC, you'll be his hero (and it's almost certainly also a cheaper PC than the one you swapped out, and a helluva lot more reliable). If it's too slow, at least you tried, and can explain that what he wants is beyond today's technology.

  17. Mr_Pitiful

    My Surface Pro 4

    Never makes noise unless i'm telling it to - i.e. video/music

    My i7 desktop is fairly quiet, but I do have a TV in my office running day, to keep me company

  18. Mage Silver badge

    Fanless GFX

    I bought a supposedly fanless graphics card. Relies on the case fan! So buyer beware of building their own system rather than something all spec'd as one item (CPU, Mobo, PSU, drives, Graphics all specified.)

    1. Paul Shirley

      Re: Fanless GFX

      Been there, done that, burnt my fingers. I had a highish end passive 7950GT that worked perfectly until I upgraded the CPU heatsink to a giant so effective the fan rarely ever started. Unfortunately the passive GPU needed the tiny backwash from the CPU cooler to be effective :(

  19. Smartypantz

    HDD noise (a bit offtopic)

    I miss the chattering of the old HDD's seeking. It gave a nice, comforting, connection with the machine on an almost subconscious level

    1. Greg D

      Re: HDD noise (a bit offtopic)

      For me it was a sign the PC was actually doing something when there was no activity on screen to show anything happening. Or if it looked like it had crashed, hearing that noise would tell me it was just bottlenecking something on the disk.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "[...] it needs to be placed where at least some air can circulate around it"

    Replaced the motherboard in a friend's PC for the second time. Then discovered that they kept it in a sideboard cupboard with the door open just enough to allow the cables out.

  21. thames
    Happy

    First Fanless

    The first PC I built didn't have a CPU fan. Of course that's easier when you're using an 8MHz 8088. It had a plastic package and didn't even have a heat sink. CPU cooling only came in when they started cranking up the megahertz on later processors. The power supply of course made plenty of noise on its own, and the floppy drives made quite a racket when they were running. There was no hard drive of course, given the prices in those days.

    That PC is long gone, but I've currently got a Mini-ITX with no CPU fan and a fanless brick-style power supply. However, it still isn't silent because the hard drive makes a very audible hum on its own, which the numerous cooling holes in the case let out. I don't use it much these days, as it's too expensive to upgrade to make it a worth while up to date desktop.

    I've also built "quiet" conventional PCs. The biggest thing that I've noticed is that cheap power supplies, such at the type which often come with cases, tend to be the noisiest component. Get a good quality PSU to get something quieter. Also, if you aren't using top end, hot running CPUs and graphics cards, you may not need a separate case exhaust fan as the fan in a good quality PSU that isn't being run to the limit seems to do an adequate job of that. The actual CPU fan seems to not make much noise, at least the AMD ones don't (Intel might be a different story).

    My suggestion for an ideal quiet conventional PC for typical use (not high end gaming) would use an AMD APU, as that gives you good graphics without a separate cooling fan for a graphics card. Use a good quality power supply with the largest diameter but slowest running fan you can find without getting into anything too obscure. You might want to use a case fan to be on the safe side, but look around for thermostatically controlled ones that will stay shut down unless they're really needed. Use an SSD, as conventional hard drives make a surprising amount of noise. A solidly built case can also help, as a cheap tinny one will vibrate and bring noise to the outside.

    After you've done all this, look for ways of keeping the PC further away from where you sit. The inverse square law suggests that if you double the distance from your ear, you cut the noise energy that reaches you by a factor of four. Perceived noise of course is a bit different, but the basic idea is that the further away something is (without getting ridiculous), the less you hear it. If you can put it under the desk without exposing it to getting kicked or knocked about the by the vacuum cleaner or sucking in dust off the floor, that also has the advantage of putting the surface of the desk between the PC and your ear. However finding a good location is often easier said than done.

    And of course as many people have already suggested, look at the Raspberry Pi running Ubuntu. If you've got an occasional edge case that needs more oomph, well then fire up your conventional PC for that. The Pi is so cheap that cost isn't a barrier to having one of those as well as a conventional PC.

  22. John 104

    Simple Solution?

    Build it how you want, fans and all, and point noise cancelling tech at it. Just put a speaker in the case, or just outside of it and cancel the appropriate frequencies. Done.

    Or like mentioned above, put it in another room and extend your ports.

    1. Wensleydale Cheese

      Re: Simple Solution?

      "Just put a speaker in the case, or just outside of it and cancel the appropriate frequencies. "

      Noise cancelling headphones might be cheaper.

      Drawback: you might not hear someone at the door or the phone going.

      1. Jay 2

        Re: Simple Solution?

        Noise cancelling headphones are good for a constant source of sound (eg plane hum), but not so good for any sudden (louder) sounds. So you'd still be able to hear the dorr or the phone. Unless you're also using said headphones to listen to something (music/game) and it's up so loud you won't be able to hear anythign external anyway!

  23. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    Zalman reserator 1 v2

    I have both a 4770k and a R9 290X water cooled with a Reserator 1 v2 each (the motherboard is also water cooled on the CPU water loop). The result is nothing like portable but the only fan left is in the PSU as I did not like the reviews that the larger fanless PSUs received.

    With 2.5 litres of water in each Reserator the thermal time constant is very large and the system only has to dissipate (to the room) the average power not the peak power.

  24. Frank Rysanek

    fanless with high performance is moot

    My first silenced PC was my home 486 @ 120 MHz, back in 1995 or so. This was at the time when CPU fans started to appear - I removed the flimsy active CPU heatsink and used a larger passive heatsink body. In addition to that, I undervolted the 80mm PSU fan from 12 to 5 V. At that point, the AT PSU already had some 4 years of service behind it, catering for a 386DX - and survived maybe 6 more years, until the 486 PC finally went to the scrapyard for moral obsolescence.

    Nowadays I work as a troubleshooter in a shop selling industrial PC's, both classic 19" machines and also some fanless models. We don't make fanless PC's, we import them from TW. There are maybe 5 famous brands of such fanless IPC's in TW (famous in Europe and the U.S.). It's not something you cobble together in a miditower ATX case and unplug all the fans. We sell tightly integrated x86 machines with a die-cast or extruded aluminum outside shell, with the outside surface consisting of fins everywhere. Yes, surface is the keyword. But what's even more complicated, is proper thermocoupling of the power-hungry components on the inside, to the outer shell. If the PC maker is not pedantic enough, he cheats by not thermocoupling everything inside properly to the outer shell. Whatever lives inside and consumes electricity, runs hotter than the outside shell... As there's no forced air flow, and telepathic heat transfer doesn't work, any "uncoupled" heat sources on the inside have to rely on natural convection... not a very good prospect. Especially with first-generation fanless PC's, using Banias / Dothan / Core2 "notebook" CPU platforms with about 35 W total TDP, and with botched thermo-coupling, the PC's were plagued by overheating problems. A modern Haswell or BayTrail SoC in a generous finned enclosure, that's a very different story :-)

    I've seen people build fanless PC's by taking a desktop ATX case and stuffing all fanless components inside: a fanless CPU heatsink, a fanless GPU card, a fanless PSU... such a PC is rather short-lived :-) No matter how big your heatsinks are, if you keep them closed in a Miditower case without any fan, they don't have too much effect, as it's the PC case's outside surface that matters for heat dissipation - and that surface isn't very big. Without airflow, everyting inside roasts in its own heat. Even if you just use a tall CPU heatsink with heatpipes (can even be active), or water cooling with an outside radiator, pay attention to the fact that CPU and memory VRM's (point-of-load buck converters) on ATX motherboards often *rely* on the toroidal vortex around the CPU socket, caused by a conventional CPU heatsink fan.

    For small internal use, I tend to build low-power servers in retired 19"/2U IPC server cases. I use a new silent-ish high-efficiency industrial PSU (with a rear 80mm fan), I adapt the old 19" case to accept a MicroATX motherboard, I remove all the noisy 80mm chassis fans and insert a single low-RPM radial 120mm blower over the CPU heatsink, with its exhaust channeled through the rear wall. The silence is marvellous...

    Generally, in home-cobbled ATX PC's and small servers, I like to use large "passive" heatsinks, but only combined with a slow fan that creates a very basic draft of fresh air though the case.

  25. H0Z0R

    MINERAL OIL !!!!!!

    People have been running their FANLESS systems in MINERAL OIL for quite some time now. Cheap, cool, easy.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: MINERAL OIL !!!!!!

      Isn't that how large transformers dissipate heat - by being filled with mineral oil?

      1. Nigel 11
        Mushroom

        Re: MINERAL OIL !!!!!!

        MINERAL OIL !!!!!!

        People have been running their FANLESS systems in MINERAL OIL for quite some time now. Cheap, cool, easy.

        Explosion hazard too, should a motherboard fault boil off the oil into a sealed room and then someone rolls up and sparks it with the light switch.

    2. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: MINERAL OIL !!!!!!

      So... is he HDD submerged too...?

    3. Nigel 11
      Flame

      Re: MINERAL OIL !!!!!!

      MINERAL OIL !!!!!!

      People have been running their FANLESS systems in MINERAL OIL for quite some time now. Cheap, cool, easy.

      Fire Hazard!

  26. Graham Triggs

    The most practical solution...

    Is to concentrate on making the CPU fan less (as well as case / PSU).

    Historically, CPU fans have been quite loud - particularly stock ones. Nowadays, it's practical to get a large, passive radiator that can deal with decent CPUs for not that much money.

    A decent graphics card - even with 2 / 3 monstrous fans - will actually run silently when it isn't under stress. A fan-laden GTX 970 outside of playing games, can be silent.

    Do I care that it makes a noise when I'm playing a game? Not really. It's not that loud, I'm doing something where it doesn't matter that much. And it means not spending the large amount of money for a serious cooling solution.

    Effectively silent computing for "normal" operations can be quite cost effective, whilst still having the grunt to really push some pixels (albeit at a cost of some noise only while under load).

    1. Luiz Abdala

      Re: The most practical solution...

      Exactly. Modern gaming cards - specially one older model I had - toned down its cores to a measly 30W TDP when not gaming.

      Which is well within passive cooling already embedded in the card. This older model I had simply would shut the fans down outside gaming. It was a Radeon HD 5950 that didn't even bother to turn fans on when running on desktop.

  27. Fazal Majid

    Shuttle DS57U

    I bought a Shuttle DS57U, a fanless dual-core 1.5GHz Broadwell PC meant for digital signage applications (I use mine as a firewall, as it has dual Intel GbE NICs instead of the usual Realtek garbage). It is also available in an i7 version, the DS57U7 (dual-core 2.4GHz Intel i7-5500U ULV), still fanless.

    Very neat little system, and fairly inexpensive as well at $500 total system price with SSD and 16GB RAM (gross overkill, I know).

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Home heating systems used fans that were more like paddle steamer' wheels rather than screw propellors. While a ship's screw is more efficient than a paddle - the latter's cylindrical practical width is limited by the ship's width.

    Would there be any noise advantage, while getting comparable ventilation, in a long cylindrical fan the length of the case?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Would there be any noise advantage, while getting comparable ventilation, in a long cylindrical fan the length of the case?"

      From working experience, yes. However, having a steady airflow over the width of the motherboard is only a good idea if the heat is also being evenly generated, which is not usually the case. I imagine that rather special heatsinks would be needed to take advantage of the linear airflow. I did once get involved in a military computer where the heatsink occupied one entire wall of the case with the linear fan passing air over parallel fins, but everything hot including the PSU switching transistors had to be attached to the heatsink, which made for interesting servicing. The computer was waterproof, though.

  29. Tessier-Ashpool

    Hush PC

    In the days when I was mad enough to have a PC in my living room I had one of these. Not the fastest thing in the world but it certainly was quiet. A nightmare to fix if it went wrong, though. Hush appear to be out of business now.

  30. xeroks

    All pcs are a compromise

    But knowing that it is possible to have a fanless PC changes where you make those compromises.

    When i bought my old pc, the company had made it silent simply by installing a fanless graphics card and disconnecting the case fans. About a year later, the inevitable happened and the graphics card went south.

    I replaced it, but also added a fan controller with temperature read outs. Meant I could put it into stealth mode when required. And watch those temperatures soar...

    It still works.

    Current pc is from quiet pc: ft03 case, 65W i7 6700, geforce gtx750. Only makes a noise if I use the optical drive. It might not be bleeding edge but it plays Fallout 4 just fine.

  31. Chozo

    Fanless != cheap?

    I was given a trio of iMac G3's for free over ten years ago thanks to the WEEE directive. These were instantly dubbed Huey, Dewey and Louie but that's another story.

  32. Stork Silver badge

    Apple Cube anyone?

    We have one in one of our (holiday)rental houses for internet access. I had to find a quiet HD, but apart from the speakers it is doing well - even in a climate where temperature if often over 30.

  33. Code For Broke

    Wasted Watts

    Our grandchildren will weep at our folly, "Yes, it's true, old grandfather Brokey paid in dollars to have a man burn coal to make his electrons for him. But far worse, he pushed those electrons through the most peculiar circuit; one that recreated the heat from the burning coal at nearly peak efficiency! Unsatisfied with this, Brokey then spent more electrons blowing the heat about his home, even on the hottest days of the year. And you must know, young one, he did all this so that he could watch videos of kittens."

  34. Steve 114

    I wanted to transition my music from a Brennan, which is fanless but a bit glitchy on ripping, to a 'Cocktail' (or whatever they're called now) which has a much better UI but an unobtrusive fan. In practice, the white noise from that, and mystic rumbling from the table it's on, makes quiet music unattractive - I'm planning heat pipes and a radiator instead. Meanwhile it's back to the loyal Brennan.

  35. DF118

    Anything that requires more than a tiny amount of power should never be fanless. Not because of the heat, but because there is no such thing as a silent coil. Been there and done it umpteen times. A powerful system with a single slow-running fan (lovely broadband noise) beats a fanless system of the same power every damn time.

  36. Colin Tree

    A72

    After a few hot days my pc stopped with the heat. It is now on its side, cover off, under a fan.

    I'm waiting for Cortex A72s to show up in single board computers, should have enough grunt.

  37. Alg

    Core i5, 16GB, 128GB SSD, WiFi, dual Ethernet, HDMI, Fanless: < 300GBP.

    http://blog.codinghorror.com/the-scooter-computer/

    Nuff said.

  38. Alg

    Third try - sorry if it's a repeat ....

    Core i5, 16GB, 128GB SSD, WiFi, dual Ethernet, HDMI, Fanless, less than 300GBP

    http://blog.codinghorror.com/the-scooter-computer/

  39. Daniel Voyce

    Did immersion cooling ever take off?

    I seem to remember a while ago people putting their entire computers into Vegetable oil with refrigeration cooling the oil? I think 3M released a non conductive liquid as well that was designed for this use?

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Going totally silent can be an expensive option

    Tell me about it, I must have kept Quiet PC in business years ago.

    One thing to be careful with is the weight of those huge fanless coolers, they can put a strain on the the motherboard, especially if the MB is mounted vertically as in the mentioned Nofan CS-80.

  41. Greg D

    fanless is easy...

    If you don't want a particularly powerful PC. And making a GPU fanless will void any warranty, and is a right pain in the arse to do, since removing the stock sinks and fans can damage the whole thing. All in all, not worth it IMO.

    You'd need a huge, full tower case to fit most of these fanless coolers anyway. That Nofan one looks insane - wouldnt want to run a hot GPU with that in the rig thats for sure!

  42. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

    Generally I go for decent, quiet fans

    Tried quiet years ago and did it spectacularly wrong - noise proof case (keeps all the lovely heat in), and two fanless GPUs. It was far more effective to use a case with lots of mesh on it, and expensive quiet fans (the noise profile on the Noctua fans is excellent, but they are fifteen quid each). My main system has at least three fans, plus two GTX480 fans. There's a fair bit of white noise, but it's a comfortable noise.

    Compare that to the Powermac, or the SGI O2 box, with one fan apiece, and noisy and horribly noisy respectively due to their fan profiles..

    My retro gaming PC only has a PSU fan, and that's inaudible.

  43. Ru'
    Megaphone

    I seem to be going steadily deaf, so no doubt in a few years I will have a silent PC whatever I do...

  44. Daz555

    I don't mind fan noise as long as it is of the "right" kind. Small whiney fans are irritating but the larger & slower fans are much nicer.

  45. oneguycoding

    chim chim cheroo

    Saw a really cool fanless heat sink setup that used a chimney to suck heat away from the cpu. From all accounts it were a blazing success. Chim chiminy.

  46. jbh1977

    Fairly sure my EEE-PC is fan-less.

    I have the Asus X101CH, which is probably one of the last Netbooks they made before Netbooks went out of fashion. As far as I can tell, it doesn't contain any active cooling.

    With a quad-core Atom processor, it should be a fairly capable machine. Unfortunately it uses the Cedar Trail chipset, for which Intel dropped support like a hot potato.

    It was bundled with Windows 7, which runs like crap on the meager 1GB of RAM. I've tried various versions of Linux, and if you're really lucky you can get it to use the frame-buffer so hardware acceleration is a pipe dream. There were some binary drivers released years ago, but good luck getting those to work.

    I'm currently using it as a Plex server, which is a shame as it should be capable of more.

  47. DanceMan

    SPCR

    Two pages of comments and I'm the first to mention them? Shame.

    Consensus of most there is the same as several here have mentioned. Fanless is possible, but careful choice of components and one or two large, slow and quiet fans is more practical and can also achieve silence.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    foam ear plugs or ear defenders WFM.

    Listening to some sort of white noise, like rainforest, ocean-waves also helps me.

    I have to do one of the above when programming in my employer's office, because the noise that stops me focussing is the sound of other people's voices. The sound of my Dell Laptop's fan is pretty unobtrusive compared to them ;)

    Although I guess there are some people who actually enjoy the sound of Concorde taking off when they switch their gaming-rig on. It sounds like "POWER" and "FUN"! ( and not programming on a Dell Laptop ;) )

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