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Completely Silent Fanless Home Recording Computer

Brandon Drury —  November 12, 2012 — Leave a comment

CompletelySilentFanlessHomeComputer

 This may seem like an ad.  I’m not endorsing this thing.  I’ve never touched it.  I just like when I see a revolution taking place and, even more,  I like to flap my jaws about such worthy ventures.  Use at your own risk.

I think I may have built my last recording computer.

I was working on a new video series in the Audio Hyper Guides poorly/tentatively called “Building A Recording  Computer”.  The high end computer I put together for order on New Egg ended up costing $1,100 when it was all said and done.  It WAS NOT silent.  Shipping would have been another $30, give or take.

I figured I’d check out the latest advances in quiet computer technology as this is of epic importance to the home recorder who doesn’t have $1,500+ for one of those isolation racks.  (Homemade versions rarely tip toe the seesaw of isolation vs ventilation.)   For years I’ve recommended moving a computer to another room or closet and using HDMI and USB extension cables.   It’s what I do and my noise floor ain’t terrible.  This isn’t perfect, but it’s often the best compromise on a budget.

Well it WAS the best compromise.

The Icepipe A40 Fanless Computer

Icepipe-A40

So then I found this Icepipe A40 Fanless computer.  I never click on these “Build Your Own Computer” things.  I’m used to them tripling the price and halving the CPU power.  If I wanted that, I’d buy a Mac.  :eek:  Hold that thought.

After I flew through their multiple choice test/shopping list,  I had put together a COMPLETELY silent computer with no fans and no water pumps.  Are you ready for the damage?

With identical specs to the system I put together on Newegg, final price is $1224 not counting the second hard drive.  That includes $120 to drive the row  it to the US from Europe.  You guys across the pond in Europe can get this digital bean counter for the exact price I could build a vacuum cleaner-sounding computer from Newegg without any of the hassle of actually building it and without any of the hassle of buying a computer from a company that buys $2,000,000 Super Bowl commercials with wheat fields and surfers.

Note:  The computer I’d build wouldn’t be a EXACTLY “vacuum cleaner”, but it would be FAR from silent.  You definitely wouldn’t want to be doing voiceover in the same room as that computer.

The Good

One reviewer said, “Noise generated by the monitor, for example, normally not considered to be a noisy item, is considerably louder than the PC itself during the boot cycle.”

Assuming this review is legitimate it sure sounds like the answer to our recording studio computer prayers.  :beerbangX:

The Bad

The only bad I see is this system uses smaller 240GB Solid State hard drives to avoid the noise of conventional spinning hard drives.  There’s nothing really baaaaad about that, necessarily, but this cuts down tremendously on the storage.  My Newegg system included two 1TB hard drives.  A second hard drive adds significantly to the price, too, unfortunately.  Plus, we are still short 1.5GB of storage (something a standard external drive could be used for and turned off when not needed).

One alternative is to use standard external USB 2.0 / 3.0 drives.  I’m not sure of the seek times, but I suspect they are adequate.  A Belkin 10′ USB extension cable is $5 at Amazon.  While it would take SOME effort, I bet we could figure out a way to stuff a couple hard drives in a modified Igloo cooler where we can’t hear a peep from them in our control rooms.  If not, we could just toss ‘em in another room.  Hard drives do make noise (some more than others).  Heat and ventilation are something to think about, but this is 1/20th the issue that it is with the CPU.

CPU Temperatures
Or course,the question probably on your mind is whether this fanless design can actually keep a CPU from melting down.  The results are….well, I’m not entirely sure.  At overclock3d.net, the CPU got up to 86 degrees C using special stress test software.  This number is pretty damn high.  Some claim it’s way too high.  Others say that you will never push a computer that hard in real world conditions….even rendering intense audio.  Whether this is true or not I can’t say.  At idle the numbers looked great.

A fanless system is going to rely HEAVILY on the ambient temperature of the room.  In other words, those fanless heatsinks are going to perform much better in highly controlled (cool) conditions.  The Jimmy Carter thing about “just putting on a sweater” in the winter is going to work well.  In the summer, you may be cranking the AC temperature way down and still wearing a sweater.  Not sure.

The fact that the computer comes with a 2-year warranty shows that SilentPC.com backs these things ups and does not expect an epidemic of meltdowns.

Conclusion

Regardless of the higher cost of totally silent hard drives, QuietPC.com seems to have a hell of a service with happy customers (not that any of us  post rapist accusations on our commercial websites)  and they are doing it for a price that I certainly can’t compete with.  The fanless case, fanless power supply, and fanless heatsink are over $400 on their own for parts that I’d normally spend maybe $100 on depending on the budget.  QuietPC.com is doing something right.

While it’s not exactly clear how well the computer will handle what I presume to be kinda-heavy CPU demands of audio processing, the company gives you two years to blow it up before you are on your own.

This whole fanless design business has potentially epic implications for us noise makers.  While I’m not necessarily endorsing it, I’m excited as hell as what this means for 2015.  It may be the way to go in 2013.  ;)

Brandon

Saved Comments


JoshERTW – 11-20-2012, 08:11 AM
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I haven’t looked into it too much, but there are some water based CPU cooling units that I think are also fanless, and run about $50-$70 or so.

When I built my most recent computer I opted for a $20 fan that had copper heat sinks (synchs?) and it’s quiet enough that the fan noise is never an issue.

That said I use gobo’s to create makeshift vocal booths/guitar box / drum room when I’m recording anyways so I’ve got pretty good separation to begin with. The furnace is more of a concern than the CPU fan

Danny Danzi’s Avatar
Danny Danzi – 11-20-2012, 08:21 AM
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Hey Brandon, yeah that 86 C would scare me big time. That can’t be good for the cpu, the motherboard or anything else in that box. That’s 186.6 F! I run some intense stuff on my boxes here. The most I ever see with a full video load or intense audio project is a toggle of 63-65C. My normal idle temps or for normal jobs or rendering are 41C to 49C. But 86….man, the thought of that just scares me.

As for USB 3.0 drives, I can vouch for them brother. Absolutely incredible. Anywhere from 90-120 MB’s per second. I have a few Iomega’s and a few Glyph’s. The Iomega’s I have are really cool and have this software that allows you to literally snap shot your entire pc and use it on another system. All your programs, plugs…everything. You just plug it into another system, and bang…your pc comes to life on someone else’s box if you need it. Pretty neat to have.

Noisy pc’s: Mine are actually VERY quiet. I have killer quiet fans on them plus sound-proofing on my boxes. That stuff really makes a difference. I can record in my control room and not hear any fans at all, so that’s a good thing.

-Danny

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Cerebrate42 – 11-20-2012, 08:49 AM
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Quote Originally Posted by Danny Danzi View Post
Hey Brandon, yeah that 86 C would scare me big time. That can’t be good for the cpu, the motherboard or anything else in that box. That’s 186.6 F! I run some intense stuff on my boxes here. The most I ever see with a full video load or intense audio project is a toggle of 63-65C. My normal idle temps or for normal jobs or rendering are 41C to 49C. But 86….man, the thought of that just scares me.

As for USB 3.0 drives, I can vouch for them brother. Absolutely incredible. Anywhere from 90-120 MB’s per second. I have a few Iomega’s and a few Glyph’s. The Iomega’s I have are really cool and have this software that allows you to literally snap shot your entire pc and use it on another system. All your programs, plugs…everything. You just plug it into another system, and bang…your pc comes to life on someone else’s box if you need it. Pretty neat to have.

Noisy pc’s: Mine are actually VERY quiet. I have killer quiet fans on them plus sound-proofing on my boxes. That stuff really makes a difference. I can record in my control room and not hear any fans at all, so that’s a good thing.

-Danny
What fans and sound-proofing do you use? I’m always looking to cut down on the volume of my pc.

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sparqee – 11-20-2012, 10:40 AM
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I went with a water cooler years ago and never looked back. Never have any problems with CPU overheating (though I do work it hard). I still use a couple of conventional hard drives which can be heard though I have the OS installed on an SSD for the sake of performance. While not silent the system certainly is quiet. My Pearlman TM2 in omni mode is the only mic I use that picks up the sound enough to be noticeable (though not enough to be problematic in a mix).

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bubingaisgod – 11-20-2012, 01:10 PM
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I build very high end recording and entertainment systems, and my take on this is that with a good INSULATED computer case, and a Corsair H100 water cooled fan on the low fan setting, there is almost no noise whatsoever. The professional thing to do would be to rack the computer in a drawer style case, and put it in a closet with some basic sound insulation and weather stripping for the gaps in the door frame. You can run a USB, firewire, and HDMI extension, with a USB hub so your not running a bunch of USB cables. If you don’t have a closet near by, you can build a cover out of 1\4″ plywood, and seal the gaps with caulking or that rubber spray stuff you see on the infomercials. Glue or staple thin sheets of rubber insulating material on the inside surfaces. That should take care of 90% of the noise. Same concept as an isolation cabinet.

A fanless system is great, if you live in Siberia. I’ll take computer fan noise over the sound of an air conditioner any day

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tiberius – 11-20-2012, 01:51 PM
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I have a very cheap solution to my PC problems. I actually use a PC my previous employer through out onto the skip. Its an Intel Pentium 4. I upgraded the RAM and put a second disk in and put it in a shiny new case. Cost? 120 pounds.
It is also silent, but how? I knocked a hole in the wall about 2 inches square. The PC lives on the other side of the wall and the cables for screen, monitor, mouse etc. pass through the hole. The gaps are plugged with tissue paper.
Silent PC.

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Zakk Leifeste – 11-20-2012, 02:12 PM
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Why don’t you just put your computer in oil? It’s pretty silent

Submerged Computer

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raweber – 11-20-2012, 02:37 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by Danny Danzi View Post
The Iomega’s I have are really cool and have this software that allows you to literally snap shot your entire pc and use it on another system. All your programs, plugs…everything. You just plug it into another system, and bang…your pc comes to life on someone else’s box if you need it. Pretty neat to have.
Danny, not to hijack, but how do you deal with drivers? Every PC has different busses, drives, monitors, interfaces, etc, that all need different drivers at boot-up.

Rob

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LazyE – 11-20-2012, 03:09 PM
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i must be pretty lucky as my dell inspiron i just got given recently and have set up for non internet music productin nly is practically silent!
its way quieter than my korg d3200 and that never realy bleeds into the mix. so far things are looking good!

bubingaisgod’s Avatar
bubingaisgod – 11-20-2012, 07:42 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by Zakk Leifeste View Post
Why don’t you just put your computer in oil? It’s pretty silent

Submerged Computer

That is pretty damn cool lol

deanushka’s Avatar
deanushka – 11-21-2012, 12:32 AM
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Mac mini? Or is this not powerful enough?

Danny Danzi’s Avatar
Danny Danzi – 11-21-2012, 07:48 AM
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Quote Originally Posted by Cerebrate42 View Post
What fans and sound-proofing do you use? I’m always looking to cut down on the volume of my pc.
Zalman Quiet cool or Noctua cpu, Cooler Master power fans and 8dB case fans. For the sound-proofing, it’s like a soft rubber material with a sticky side. You build a barrier on the case with the rubber insolation (you can get it from custom computer builders…they all have it) in every spot you can even on top of the vents. Then cut slits out in the vents as well. Use rubber grommets wherever possible, check for vibrations etc.

Quote Originally Posted by raweber View Post
Danny, not to hijack, but how do you deal with drivers? Every PC has different busses, drives, monitors, interfaces, etc, that all need different drivers at boot-up.

Rob
It doesn’t need any Rob. The image of the drive is it’s own OS so everything is provided. Picture having a window open up within Windows that is actually a new operating system. As long as you’re in that window, you have access to the computer that is imaged on the iOmega drive and all the stuff on it. I’ll give you a video to further explain it….it’s pretty cool.

Iomega v.Clone Software – YouTube

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dikh – 11-22-2012, 12:15 PM
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I bet fanless PC is future. iPad has same power as 8 years old PC or newer, and it has no fan. So, 3-4 years from now it will be no issue)

PS: Danny, I was very positive that you on mac side. Do you turn back to macs or it’s my false immagination?)

Danny Danzi’s Avatar
Danny Danzi – 11-22-2012, 08:36 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by dikh View Post
I bet fanless PC is future. iPad has same power as 8 years old PC or newer, and it has no fan. So, 3-4 years from now it will be no issue)

PS: Danny, I was very positive that you on mac side. Do you turn back to macs or it’s my false immagination?)
I have two mac’s, but I only use them when I need to and these days, I have an engineer that is totally dedicated to the Pro Tools stuff. That’s really the only time we use the Mac’s though. You get those customers that call and say “you got pro tools?” I got tired of saying no….so we built two rigs with the latest version of PT HD with all the bells and whistles. As long as I don’t have to run the session, it’s fine by me. LOL!

As for Mac’s, I think they are great for some things. I’m just not crazy about them probably because I’ve been a pc man for so long. I’ve never had any issues with our new systems, but the older mac’s we had were a night mare at times. That’s another thing….when our mac’s go down, sometimes the dude that runs our pro tools sessions can’t fix them so I have to have someone come and take care of them. I don’t know a thing about them.

Give me a Windows pc and I’ll fix it or rebuild it every time. The only thing I hate about Windows and pc’s….virus’s. I can’t believe that the mighty Microsoft can’t stop this from happening. Yet, Mac is just about totally safe. They get a few scares once in a while…but nothing that’s ever crippling. We get the right virus on a pc and man….you can be down indefinitely to where you need a new pc or you could be trouble-shooting and trying to fix the damned thing for days. If they could just fix that part, I’d be fine. Maybe someday.

If I liked Pro Tools and Logic…I’d be using mac for sure. I just can’t stand how they look. I had that same problem with Reaper. I thought it was a killer program, but the looks just didn’t sit well with me. Then again, you can customize Reaper so much, anything you don’t like you can fix. I have the coolest looking Reaper out in my opinion right now. I like the looks of it better than my beloved Sonar…but I like working in Sonar a lot better and like the features a bit more for how I work.

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dikh – 11-23-2012, 08:54 AM
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Yep)Some guys care too much about daw (pt, logic or cubase)
And about macs, were they silent or it’s just another mac’s myth?)

Danny Danzi’s Avatar
Danny Danzi – 11-23-2012, 07:26 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by dikh View Post
And about macs, were they silent or it’s just another mac’s myth?)
Ah…it depends what you’re comparing to. I would say a really good Mac is a few dB quieter than a super modded recording pc…but it depends how far you go with fans and quieting procedures. I’d say it’s about even as most times they all use the same guts/fans etc.

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Banana Jack – 11-25-2012, 05:24 AM
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Brandon – thanks for your positive reaction to our IcePipe computers! Just to pick up on one or two points – for years it’s certainly been possible to have a silent computer without a large CPU cooler (watercooling, making a custom cabinet, underclocking the CPU, putting the PC in the next room with long cables, etc). However, as you’ve now noticed, there’s a much simpler option!

Temperature-wise, the IcePipe CPU cooler can deal with any processor under 95 watts TDP (i.e. all current Intel Ivy Bridge processors). This is at full load, 24×7, in any room hot enough to be tolerated by humans, period. Running temperatures can indeed get up to the eighties (Celcius) but no ill effect will come of this. If temperatures for some reason did rise even higher (would probably have to be above 110C) then Intel’s thermal throttling would start to kick in, and the PC would automatically run slower. You could then investigate the problem. But believe me, this just doesn’t happen in the real world.

Just one last point – the website is Quiet PC – Quiet Computer Hardware for a Quiet PC not www.silentpc.com. Thanks again for your positive reaction and hopefully the machines will be a conversation point if nothing else!

Kind regards
Glenn / quietpc.com

Danny Danzi’s Avatar
Danny Danzi – 11-25-2012, 05:42 AM
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Hey Glenn, thanks for taking part in this. I think it’s a great concept, but I am a bit skeptical. Like for example, I had a pc in my control room a few years back that ran a little hot for me. With a video render full of gigs, this thing would run at 150-160 F. That’s near the 72 C range as you know. Now my question to you is, if by chance you are seeing 80 C temps going on, how on earth can someone stay in the same room with that pc? LOL!

I couldn’t tolerate the one I had, that’s for sure. It was brutal in the summer time and forced me to push my AC up high enough to where my electric bill was over $500 per month with the central air kicking all the time. So I eventually had to move it out of my control room for this reason, but then you’re sort of stuck with getting up and walking across the room to put in a CD or DVD or even a flash drive. Though it’s not too far to walk, I still hated it.

This pc was great for the winter time of course because I used way less heat. But to be honest, I can’t fathom how a person could have one of your pc’s in the same room with them while having 80 C temps going on. I’m just trying to be realistic, ya know? Add in that electric is always going to be higher with a central air studio plus all the hours we run the gear and man, it’s going to be more like a gym than a studio, know what I’m saying? I just can’t see how someone could stay in the same room with a beast like that. LOL! Honest I’m not trying to be facetious or bash on you, I’m curious about this and think it’s an incredible concept.

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rca33 – 11-25-2012, 05:44 AM
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I find this interesting, as I upgraded my PC on the cheap, and I’m pleasantly surprised by the low noise.

I bought an i5 3470 processor, a cheap mobo from Asus with integrated graphics, 8 GB RAM, and a 20 euro power supply with a 120mm fan.

As I said, it was on the cheap, so I’m still using an old (and cheap) metallic case.

It’s not hard to imagine that this isn’t a silent PC, but I can tell you that the noisiest component on that PC is the HardDrive, not the fans or case.

In the past (not so long ago), I spent a lot more money on quiet CPU coolers and power supply’s, and ended up with a worse result (by far) than what I have today (and I still have a lot to improve, if I want).

I may be wrong, but I feel that PC’s are going a lot quieter these days.
People are more aware of the noise issue, even if they don’t record anything (except maybe for gamers).

This may be a stupid question, but does a high performance graphics card has any benefit when we’re running DAWs ?

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rca33 – 11-25-2012, 05:56 AM
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Danny, I’m not the right person to give you an answer, and maybe I’m getting it wrong, but I believe that the temperature of a 60 watt incandescent light bulb isn’t much lower than 260 F.

Even if we consider a 100 watt light bulb, it’s not such a big heat generator for a room.

Danny Danzi – 11-25-2012, 06:09 AM
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Quote Originally Posted by rca33 View Post
Danny, I’m not the right person to give you an answer, and maybe I’m getting it wrong, but I believe that the temperature of a 60 watt incandescent light bulb isn’t much lower than 260 F.

Even if we consider a 100 watt light bulb, it’s not such a big heat generator for a room.
Your right, however the heat of a light bulb dissipates a bit differently than that of a monster pc blowing out 160 degrees like a heater. LOL! Whatever the case there rca, I’ve never been so hot and uncomfortable in my studio in my life. I’m kinda glad that pc got taken out by a storm. Hahaha! Ok, no, I’m actually not….but man, it just didn’t ever give me a good atmosphere in my control room. I like to be nice and relaxed…70-72 F temps…this way when I’m performing, I’m not sweating my butt off. I especially hate this when playing guitar because heat like that makes me kill a set of string in like 2 hours. So whatever the case is with bulbs vs. beastly pc’s…lol….I’ve never had a bulb make me sweat like that old pc did.

As to your question about the vid card, in my experience, no. I’ve had killer cards, middle of the road cards and some onboard stock junkers. The only time I noticed a video card issue was when it either relied on the old bussing in mobo’s or a fan would get loud. I’ve never actually had one increase any sort of performance on a single monitor in a DAW situation. There are usually people that that cry about errors more than they brag about any type of performance in a DAW. You know it’s working good when you don’t have any issues….at least that’s how it’s always been for me. I never had a major issue to where a slammin’ vid card made my experience better. If it fixed the issue, that was all I saw. Some cards just don’t work well with certain DAWs. I believe Sonar has a few on their forum that have experienced some weird anomalies. I’ve used Sonar and Cakewalk my entire life using all sorts of video cards without any issues. So in my experience, get one that works that is as quiet as possible and leave it at that.

I got two slammin’ cards in two of my recording pc’s. I don’t see any difference between them and the lower level cards on my service boxes that I use for rendering. If a vid card works in my DAW without any issues, it’s a good card no matter what it is. But that’s just me.

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Geissler – 11-25-2012, 06:17 PM
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Hey Brandon, thanks for this post. Something about the realisation that 100% passive cooling is possible in high-powered computers triggered my “obsession” switch (if they can do this, why can’t I?), and two sleepless nights later I’ve managed to put together a build with the same power as the Icepipe but 60% cheaper. I’m long overdue for a computer upgrade so am planning to pull the trigger as soon as possible – will definitely make a post in the forums with details if it doesn’t explode in my face!

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solidwalnut – 11-26-2012, 01:37 PM
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Hi Brandon–

Nice mini-review or insight into this product. This could work for some people. I think with all complete build solutions out there , there are going to be give and take issues.

Me, when I first got into the computer recording game (2007), I decided to purchase a Sweetwater Creation Station. There were two reasons I didn’t build it myself: I wasn’t an expert on optimizing and didn’t have time to learn, and SW does (used to do) something to the inside of their cases that intrigued me. They installed Sheetblok on the inside of their cases!

Now, buying Sheetblok, I know you know, is not cheap. So I thought that was rather cool, although I really have no data on the actual effectiveness. Since then, I have totally rebuilt the computer and the only original thing left is the case. I thought I’d really milk this Sheetblok solution. It may not be an inexpensive alternative, but I’d scour around the web and friends to see if there’s any left over somewhere first.

The whole passive cooling revolution in the consumer market is…ok – to – actually effective. Much has to do with an individuals placement criteria as to effectiveness as the ambient temperature is really the lynchpin of how cool the cpu will run. This little gem of a product looks great: large surface area to convect heat and a wide-open lid.

The effectiveness of the cooling solution in these is sort of the same concept as how effective a small cooler or ‘fridge cooled by thermal electric modules performs vs. a small cooler or ‘fridge with a compressor/condensor/freon. The effectiveness using a compressor/condensor/freon wins hands down the higher the surrounding ambient temp (ahem…I live in the desert, I know these things :-) )

The problem with heat and cpu’s is how much more quickly it will degrade when the temp’s exceed the nominal rating from the manufacturer. I should tell you that I work for the company that most likely builds your cpu in thermal r&d, so I will state to you right here that what I say is only my opinion!!

While running a cpu higher than nominal is definitely ok, it just hastens performance degredation. So just take that for what it’s worth when you build or buy.

So, all that to say that a person who lives in the desert or a place with higher temps and drier climates might shy away from passive cooling solutions if the computer can’t be in a VERY well ventilated area.

Steve

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solidwalnut – 11-27-2012, 11:43 AM
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Brandon–

I wanted to add a recommendation. This really applies to all builds, but especially for fanless thermal solutions.

Thermal Interface Material dries up and cures over time, becoming less effective. To ensure the best/longest CPU performance, the CPU and fansink or heatsink should be cleaned and TIM re-applied annually.

Steve

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solidwalnut – 11-27-2012, 11:50 AM
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Sorry for the double post if this happens.

Brandon, I wanted to make a recommendation. This applies to all thermal solutions regardless, but especially for users of fanless heatsinks.

Thermal Interface Material dries up and loses effectiveness over time. To ensure the best CPU performance/life possible, the CPU and fansink or heatsink should be cleaned and TIM re-applied annually.

Steve

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EnSkorSang – 11-28-2012, 04:22 AM
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Great find. My computer will need replacing real soon…the fact that you can configure that pc aswell allows much cheaper options (when you are mostly treating your pc as a recorder, RAM isn’t such an issue)..

Although 86 C sounds high, remember that most electrical components are typically rated to a minimum of 80 C and laptops are generally running VERY hot anyway.

But more importantly: to do the test at overclock I daresay they had to override some protection feature which would shut down the PC if it got to hot (even my old PC has this basic feature). Or if they didnt, then the manufacturer must be confident it can run that hot! Rendering audio (offline) is not that intensive, especially when split between multiple threads..

I’d be interested to know how computers from dedicated pro audio companies compare to this (e.g. pc audiolabs)

 

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
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