Background to building a quieter pc
I built my main computer with an AMD T-bird 1.2ghz, Abit KT7
mother board (m/b), and full size Antec SX-1030 case,
including floppy, cdrom, cdrw and 2 hard drives.Along with the video card,
i installed a sound card, NIC, and a TV tuner card. The system has a total
of 3 fans: cpu, power supply(p/s) and case fan. The next step was to reduce
the fan noise as much as possible.
The original fans were replaced with the quietest ones i could find at
a reasonable price (less than $10 each). The case fan and the p/s
fan are also thermal-controlled, so they normally run at reduced rpm.
Since the processor is not overclocked, i was able to wire all 3 fans
for 7 volts instead of 12 volts and thus reduce the rpm and resultant noise
even more, while still keeping cpu temperatures around 45C. A safe
recommendation is to keep the cpu below 55-60C at full load.
This experiment in noise reduction resulted in a relatively quiet pc
where the noise of the 7200 rpm hard drives was the loudest sound.
That led me to use the new Seagate Barracuda IV 7200 rpm drive with fluid
bearing motor for a definite reduction in hard drive noise and then
continue the quest for a quieter pc.
How quiet is 'quieter-than-a-whisper?
dBA Levels for some Common Sounds
So the quest is for a pc that produces less than 20dBA of sound.
- 0dBA-Threshold of hearing
- 10dBA-Normal breathing
- 20dBA-Whispering at 5 feet
- 35-50dBA-Standard PC
- 60dBA-Normal speak
My interest in a smaller and quieter computer was peaked by the widely
publicized Shuttle Spacewalker SV24 mini pc. Reading its reviews gave me
thoughts of building a really quiet pc based on its flex ATX m/b and
a Celeron or PentiumIII processor.
Checking the thermal properties of the processors, showed that
while a AMD 1.2 ghz T-bird's power dissipation is 66 watts ,the Tualatin
.13 micron Celeron 1.0 ghz dissipates 28 watts. The Shuttle SV24 pc
flex ATX m/b has a socket 370 for Celeron/PentiumIII processors.
And the newest Spacewalker pc, the SV25 is compatible with the new
.13 micron Celeron/Pentium.
I liked the concept of the SV24 pc for building a 'quieter-than-a-whisper'
pc, but i did not want a cube shaped case. My preference was for a slim-line
case like the book-pc or something around the size and shape of the
thick yellow pages phone book, which sits under my 19" Viewsonic monitor.
After much web searching, i was not able to find the Shuttle flex ATX m/b
used in the SV24. But i did find the Shuttle MV/25 m/b which is a micro ATX
size. This board is 244x200mm versus 190x180mm for the down-sized flex ATX
used in the Spacewalker pc.
Accounting for the slightly larger size were the 5 expansion slots: 3 pci,
plus isa and amr, compared to only 1 pci slot on the SV24 m/b. Now both these
boards come with built-in video,sound and lan.
That brings up the case size considerations. Any slim-line case
is less than 4 inches high thereby requiring half-height add-on boards.
This is another reason i was planning on using the built-in video,sound
Now in the midst of all these hardware considerations the integrated m/b
would also have to be supported under linux, because thats what was going
to be used for the operating system. The Shuttle CD has drivers for the
Windows o/s, but i would have to find the required linux drivers.
Again a check of web sites and mailing lists showed that the VIA Apollo
PLE133T chipset on the Shuttle m/b used the Trident Blade graphics engine
which is supported under XFree-4.2. Similarly the lan was a RealTek
RT8100, supported by the RealTek 8139 driver under linux. And the
VIA686 southbridge sound is supported with the VIA82cxxx_audio driver.
Confident that linux could eventually be up and running on this
m/b using all the integrated devices, it was time to find the rest of
the parts for the pc.
VIA Apollo PLE133T Chipset Key Features
Finding the right components
- Supports Celeron, Pentium III (including Tualatin), and VIA C3
- 66/100/133MHz FSB settings
- Integrated graphics with up to 1600x1200 @ 85Hz refresh
- Two DIMM slots for up to 1GB of PC100/133 SDRAM
- Support for Advanced Communications Riser (ACR)
- Integrated 10/100Mb BaseT Ethernet controller
- Two UltraDMA 100/66/33 Dual-channel IDE ports
- 4 USB ports, UHCI compliant
- Integrated Super I/O
- Support for LPC bus for CRT, Digital Flat Panel and TV display
- Integrated hardware monitoring
- Advanced power management capabilities
With enough information to satisfy me that the Shuttle MV/25 was the
board i was going to build with, i needed to find the smallest case that
would hold this m/b and most importantly, decide on a cool running
There are actually many book-size pc cases available, and i found some
as small as 12"Wx3.7"Hx14"D, but i finally chose the AOpen slim-line case
H340D with a 180 watt power supply measuring 12.76"W x 3.74"H x 15.71"D.
This case size is big enough for any micro ATX motherboard not just the
down-sized ones. And it will work in either horizontal or upright
The slim case will take a full micro ATX board (244x244mm) plus hard drive,
floppy and cdrom, and has a rotatable and removeable frame to hold the drives.
This feature makes it really easy to swap drives in the confined space.
Now it was time to look for that cool running processor that would
make the truly 'quieter-than-a-whisper' pc, a reality.
The Shuttle MV/25 supports the following Socket 370 type CPU:
*PGA2 is for the new Tualatin Pentium and Celeron .13 micron core
which is cooler running than the previous versions.
- Intel FC-PGA Pentium III with 100/133MHz FSB
- Intel FC-PGA2* Pentium III with 100/133MHz FSB
- Intel FC-PGA Celeron with 66/100MHz FSB
- Intel FC-PGA2* Celeron with 100/133MHz FSB
- VIA PPGA C3 with 100/133MHz FSB
The thermal specs show that the new Tualatin Celeron would be dissipating
28 watts of heat (vs. AMD 1.2ghz T-bird @ 66 watts). And after reading
the reviews of the SV24 pc running the Celeron or PentiumIII i knew a cpu
fan would still be required, in the confined space of the small slim line
If i wanted to eliminate the cpu fan i would need a cooler running
processor. And a check of VIA's web site revealed that their newest VIA C3
using the Ezra-T core is the coolest running processor on the market.
This VIA C3 uses .13 micron core and has the smallest x86 processor die
size, to minimize power comsumption and heat dissipation. The processor
runs so cool that it can operate without a fan. And the thermal spec shows
an average power dissipation of 5.6 watts while running typical desktop apps.
So i have gone from a AMD T-bird at 66 watts, to the Tualatin Celeron at 28
watts to really cool processing at 5.6 watts. And no cpu fan is needed!
This is the same power dissipation as the new mobile chips.
Now its time to check the internet and see if this new VIA C3 is for real.
Doing a google search turned up enough satisfied VIA C3 users on various
mailing lists and also a review on the VIA C3 866 (6.5X133mhz) that convinced
me that this processor was worth a try in building the quiet desktop pc.
Armed by this research into flex ATX motherboards, slim-line cases and
cool running processors i was ready to start building a 'quieter-than-whisper'
pc. The questions remaning were: Would it do the job running desktop
applications, would it be stable and cool with only one fan in the
whole case, and would it run linux?
Getting it up and running with linux
I ordered the case, m/b and processor and planned to use
a Seagate hard drive with fluid bearing motor (the quietest 7200 rpm drive
i know of- 2.0 bels idle acoustics). Completing the package were a generic
cdrw and floppy, along with 256MB of Crucial PC133 memory.
Assembling the components was made easier because the AOpen case had the
rotatable and removeable drive frame. And i took the Seagate drive from my AMD
box and put it in the new case, so i would be able to start with a running
linux system after using a boot floppy to....well...boot everything.
The VIA C3 866mhz processor comes with heatsink and fan. Since it should run
ok without the fan, i removed it and just dropped the C3 into the 370 socket
and snapped on the heat sink clip and that was it.
The Shuttle MV/25 comes with standard length floppy and ide cables, but if
you have some shorter length cables, use them to save some space in this
small enclosure. All the parts hooked up without a hitch.
This case doesn't come with a pc speaker, so you won't be hearing annoying
beeping sounds, which i think is perfectly appropriate for a quiet pc.
Well now comes the moment of truth, a slight trepidation as i plug in
the monitor and make the final connections just before the first press of
the on button...will the BIOS recognize everthing and post, will the
boot disk allow me to start linux, will the VIA C3 overheat without a cpu
fan and just as importantly, will it run 'quieter-than-a-whisper'?
The BIOS on this board is by Award, the same BIOS thats on the Abit-KT7 m/b
but without the overclocking options (the Shuttle manual has a very good
section devoted to using the BIOS to setup hardware related functions in your
The first check in the BIOS is the PC Health Status for the CPU temperatures.
Its only 25C as i begin to check the BIOS settings. After idling a while the
tempurature rises only a bit. So it looks ok to boot.
The Seagate hard drive swapped from my running linux box has 5 different
linux distros on it and uses Grub for the boot loader. After booting with
the floppy to bring up the Grub boot menu, i make the adjustments for the
swapped hard drive and boot to the built-from-source and optimized
for i686 distro named Gentoo linux.
No luck. It just hangs. Well lets try again with the Slackware partition.
OK it boots this time. Now let me try Debian. That boots also.
Well after some time i realize that Debian and Slackware are built for
i386. And the VIA C3 processor won't boot a complete linux distro
compiled from source with i686 optimizations. But i really want to use the
new Gentoo linux.
Well Gentoo also has an iso built with i586 optimizations. I get that and
put it on the hard drive and soon its up and running the optimized for i586
Gentoo linux. It feels comfortable, but how high are the CPU temps
I download the latest lm_sensors, which is used to monitor cpu temperatures.
After a quick #make, install and probe, you only need to #modprobe the i2c-isa
and via686a modules and run #sensors to check the temps and voltages.
No problem. The cpu hovers around 35C. The cpu core is set at an ultra low 1.35
I am really happy with the quietness of Seagate's fluid bearing hard drive
and this m/b supports Ultra DMA-100 mode 5, for fast hard drive performance
that enhances system responsiveness. Linux uses the hdparm utility to set DMA
mode on and test the drive. Running #hdparm -d 1 -t /dev/hda gives :
Timing buffered disk reads: 64 MB in 2.44 seconds = 26.23 MB/sec
Not bad performance at all, and since there are IDE1 and IDE2 connectors
i plan on using the floppy drive slot for a second hard drive. In case you
need to revert to a floppy its really easy to swap out with this case.
As far as i know AOpen is the only mini case with the rotatable and
removeable drive frame.
Now its time to check the on-board sound and lan. Again just run #modprobe
VIA82cxxx_audio for the sound and pop in a cd to listen. The lan driver-
8139too i have compiled into the kernel so the eth0 interface is recognized
at boot and the net connection is made by the distro. I run #rdate to the
nearest time server to check that the net connection is good and set the
Now if you connect with a modem you will have to buy an amr modem card
which will run about $10-20 extra. Luckily i have a cable connection.
How about stressing this cpu with a kernel compile? Well the VIA 866mhz takes
about 8 minutes to compile the 2.4.17 kernel. Thats about 5 minutes longer
than a AMD T-bird 1.2ghz using a similar config file. But this isn't built for
speed, its built to be 'quieter-than-a-whisper'. Fortunately the compile
time temperatures stay around 40C, so a CPU fan wont be needed.
Now its time for_my_stress test...configuring X for the built-in graphics.
I run #xf86config knowing that it needs support for the Trident
Cyberblade (generic). In the XFree86-4.2 cardbase its listed as card #501.
Another tip for your XF86Config is to Load "extmod", else you lose the X
display when you switch to console. A few more choices and i am ready to
run #startx ...using the new XF86Config file. Success! The Sawfish window
manager starts up with a very sharp-looking 1024x768 display.
Well the noise coming from the single fan in the cpu is certainly quieter
than my other pc's, but it can be quieter.So i pop open the case and remove
the power supply. The original p/s fan comes out and in goes a new 80mm
manually adjustable (1000-3000rpm) fan. Its a tight fit because the original
fan is 20mm thick and the new one is 25mm. This is an Enermax fan and it is
used in the latest Enermax power supplies to adjust the fan speed.
Everything is put back together (did i mention how easy it is with the
removeable drive frame) with the fan set to the lowest rpm. Now its back up
running and ....let me tell you folks...this puppy is quiet.
It definitely meets the less than 20dBA noise level.
With a single fan running at 1000 rpm there is now a blissfull quietness.
It puts me at complete ease while working at the computer. I relax and
savor the sound of silence between the clicks of the keyboard.
There is a neat monitor for linux apps which sits in the corner of your
screen called gkrellm. So with the Gentoo linux distro you run this single
command: #emerge gkrellm ...to download the source, compile and install it.
Then configure the sensors settings and voila! The cpu temps and voltages
from lm_sensors are displayed on the desktop in the gkrellm monitor panel,
along with practically any other monitor readings you want,including the
So does this processor do the job on the desktop?
Right now, the desktop has 4 workspaces open:
opera web browser in space1, sylpheed mail/news reader in space2,
xchat-irc in space3 and various stuff in space4, along with 10 open xterms,
the gkrellm monitor and a file manager. And top shows the cpu at 90%
After setting up printing with CUPS and the latest gimp-print-drivers, my
Epson inkjet is ready to print. In this environment the VIA C3 is the equal
of the newest Celeron.
Games and video intensive apps may suffer because of the integrated graphics
but at about $400 for the guaranteed 'quieter-than-a-whisper' mini pc
I am very happy with the results. Peace at last.
As for upgradeability, VIA has announced in the second quarter of 2002 C3
frequencies will increase up to 1.2GHz. Also, a C3 processor with a 1.2GHz
frequency will be released, but it will be based on a new core with a second
level cache increased to 256KB and will be made with 0.13-micron technology.
A number of other improvements will be made to increase its performance.
At the same time, the new processors will stay compatible with Socket 370
(FC-PGA2). I am anxious to see the thermal specs on this new C3.
After using this pc for a few weeks, i decided to install a Pinnacle full-
size TV tuner/fm stereo card. So i found a pci risercard with right-angle
adaptor that allows the full height card to fit into the low profile slot,
by positioning the card parallel to the mother board. After drilling a few
holes in the back panel for the TV/fm cable jacks, i was perfectly content
to use this mini pc as my full time desktop computer.
As the parts list shows this is a pretty affordable pc that runs linux on
the desktop. The slim-line case can sit under your monitor to save space and
because its "quieter-than-a-whisper" you wont even notice its there.
Its not for the hardcore gamers, but for anyone looking for a little peace and
quiet at their desktop this is one cool performer.
- $55-Shuttle MV/25 mother board
- $53-VIA C3 866mhz processor
- $44-AOpen H340D slim-line case
- $86-Crucial P133 265MB SDRAM
- $77-Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB
- $ 9-Floppy drive
- $ 8-Enermax adj-speed fan
For easy shopping i bought all the parts from newegg.com
except for the AOpen case which i got from myaopen.com
VIA Apollo Chipset:VIA chipset
VIA C3-Ezra-T Processor:VIA C3
Aopen Case:slim line case
Review of VIA C3 cpu:C3 review
Review of SV24-pc:SV24 review
The Silent PC:noise factors
ATX form factors:ATX spec
Celeron Thermal Management:: see google cache page for this title