I am not big on overclocking. I don't mind spending whatever I need to in order to have the fastest quietest system available. I have run computers on both water and air. I thought that by using water, I could eliminate most of the sound generated by the case, cpu and gpu. What I found though was that by the time I set up everything I needed to cool my system with water, the sound generated by a push pull configuration was substantial and negligible noise savings.
It has been about 5 years since I last tried this. The pc I am currently using utilizes a Fractal Design Define XL case and an after market cooler for the cpu while leaving the two 680 gtx on factory air. Can someone tell me whether it makes sense to use a water cooled system if only used for the quietest gaming experience without headphones possible? If I have no need to overclock and I still obtain a lower db on water than air? Thanks.
When it comes to silence and water-cooling, more radiator = better. The greater amount of radiator space you have, the slower you can run your fans and achieve the same cooling.
If you have sufficient radiator space (360+240mm at a guess for a mainstream CPU and two 680's) then add a bit more (say make it 2x360mm) and decouple your pump well, it will be fairly quiet.
Fan controllers are a must for a silent rig, a fan plugged straight into the PSU will never be quiet and there arent enough mobo headers for them all.
My rig's fan noise is negligible, got 1650RPM fans running at ~50% and they are dead silent.
If only I could do the same for my pump . But dont worry about that, if you plan it right you wont be stuck with the issue I'm facing.
Well to eliminate noise you could just use a push or pull configuration not both, to me water cooling doesn't eliminate noise not if your doing it for optimal cooling as like you said you found you had more fans as i do now with my water cooling set up, the thing about it is if you are not overclocking or even if you are you will need to test what is the minimum amount of fans at the lowest possible speed you need to keep your system at an acceptable temperature is, water cooling will provide the quietest option this way as you will be able to run low fan speeds at your rad but keep an acceptable temperature (a fan controller is required http://www.scan.co.uk/products/phobya-fanmax-6-controll... )
All you'll need to know is answered in the watercooling sticky - located in my sig. I'll just add a lil bit of info while the rest is covered in detail in the sticky
If you overrad you'll be able to run more fans at about half their speed and get acceptable gaming temps. If you skimp on your budget you'll most likely end up with a bad/weak pump or less radiator space(your surface area for dissipation). I'm leading to believe that you had ventured into watercooling via the corsair all-in-one units? If so they were very expensive for the performance they gave out(as well as all the other All-in-ones) except the H220 that's been made by Swiftech.
If you're not overclocking and want to watercool your GPU's and avoid that rattling fan ramp up from the GPU's then watercooling is the way to go but in order to make your venture fruitful - you'll need to perform your research and understand the ins/outs of your loop.
I've actually purchased a radiator larger than my needs and it yet has headroom for an overclocked GPU - I run my AP-15's on 65% of their rated specs and the only sound I can hear is my ceiling fan
So bottom line from your question:
1] invest in large radiator
2] invest in some radiator spec'd fans
3] invest in fan controller
hope this helps.
P.S; +1 to manofchalk's+TM03's pointers but you're be better off having one large radiator with some insulated tubing maybe but a closely mounted large rad to the case will net some good low noise temps.