It's cool to read about all these "silent" fans... and sweet looking extreme liquid cooling stuff... but I have to say so far it's a bit daunting in trying to design a new quiet system... so a couple questions about cooling. Keep in mind here i'm a strictly midrange gamer/developer/tinkerer... midrange budget, stock configuration (read: no bleeding edge parts, not OC'ing; at least not right now)
So... I can rule out the big super-powered ultra-silent cases... they look neat and all... but then when i look at the price tags; not happening. So this leaves me with fans or liquid or both? Never been really clear on whether a liquid cooled rig still required substantial fans or not.
My big Q was which road is the best for a silent machine, short of the extreme $$$$ monster cases that are half heatsink. Is liquid cooling any quieter? I always thought perhaps the mechanicals involved in pumping the coolant would likely be just as noisy as a few fans... plus the thought of a leak in my PC gives me shivers. Is this not a problem?
Then I think, though... that liquid cooling seems a bit overkill for just running mid to upper parts @ stock speeds. But if it's quieter than the equivalent amount of air cooling perhaps I'd be interested.
Basically, I'm hoping someone can give me a good answer, in fairly general terms... of for my typical midrange budget & hardware... what cooling configuration is going to give me the most (or least, as it were) quiet for my money in this range, without being too overkill?
You need to consider all the components in the PC if you want to build a quiet PC. The main concern are fans and hard drives.
I don't know much about liquid cooling, but I've read that the only the more expensive models are worth it. A cheap $100 - $150 watercooling setup performs about as well as a $60 CPU HSF. It's better to as this specific question in the Cool & Heatsink section.
Choose a PSU that is known for being quiet like a Seasonic or Corsair. I think Zalman makes quiet PSUs as well, but I haven't done any research on them.
Selecting the right hard drive is important too. Samsung Spinpoints are known for their quiet operation, but are also known for their relatively sluggish performance. Western Digital and Seagate drives have a very good balance between noise and performance. However, the Barracuda 7200.10 are known to vibrate a lot.
You shold also consider a Zalman HFS for your video card, if it is too noisy.
For case fans you should look into Nexus, Yate Loon, Scythe, Papst (kinda hard to find).
Find a PC case with good ventilation and will accept 120mm fans. At full speed most 120mm fans tends to be loud, but if you lower the voltage they can be more quiet and move more air than 80mm fans.
I am not a fan of liquid cooling for the PC. A leak is bad, and the coolant needs to be exchanged to the air which brings fans back into play. A notable exception is the Zalman reserator.
The biggest heat generator these days is the vga card. Try to get one which has a cooling system that exhausts the heated air out the back, instead of letting it recirculate within the case.
Go for 120mm fans, turning at 1000 rpm or less.
Antec makes some quiet cases that use sound deadening panels. Examples are the P180, P150, and SOLO.