Was thinking about setting up a similar system. Still thinking of ideas but currently looking at products from scythe and nexus. Not really focused on the price too much. Just want the components that will get the job done.
Zalman is know for their cooling. They also makes fanless case and PSU. If you want to make a very quiet computer than check out the Zalman TNN 500A.
With this the whole computer can be fanless. The only thing that will makes noise is the hard drives and the optical device (ie CD-Rom, DVD). Zalman used heat pipes to move the heat outside the chassis. This case also comes with 300Watt - No Fan PSU. As far as motherboard, hard drives, and video card to put in; Zalman has list of recommended components.
It is quiet, but ist still needs adequate space. Adequate airflow around both of the side panels is recommended, thus allowing for maximum heat dissipation.
Cost will be a factor. Estimated cost is no less than $1400.00 US dollars. Wow, heavy price to pay for near silent computer!
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Aspire X-Alien / Antec SX1040B
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What are you going to use the server for? Is it going to be a webserver, databaseserver, gameserver, fileserver, router? A lot depends on the task it needs to perform. Something like a fileserver is a really easy job for a pc which means you won't need a fast cpu which needs loads of air to keep it cool.
Besides what the other suggested there are also cases with thick insulation (just have to make sure you have huge low rpm fans to move air in and out) to keep all the noise in the case. You can also insulate harddrives but start with selecting quiet components. The loudest component in my case is the GPU cooler, something you wouldn't really expect. Also Samsung HD's are really quiet, almost inaudible, I only know it works because of the HD led.
HDD activity will drive you crazy anyway, so just get a fanless video card, a fanless motherboard, and a fanless big CPU cooler in a case with a 120mm fan that slowly rotate to create some airflow in your case..
-Always put the blame on you first, then on the hardware !!!
You won't be able to do without a PSU fan, simply because fanless power supplies cost more than they're worth to an older system.
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Go for an A64 or Dothan and underclock it with a zalman fanless heatsink and a fanless video card. Go for a single seagate hard drive and perhaps an antec sonata. That's about as good as you can get I think.
WHat amazing replies! I would never have thought of using a laptop as the server but that is a very possible and original solution i think. I could get an old second hand one perhaps. I would just want somtheing to run a few java applications on like a discussion board. I don't think it would ever be used by people more than me really. That being the case i think low electricity consumption would be a good thing, though i don't know how much money it costs to leave a laptop on all the time.
However, i also like to have a desktop rather than a laptop as i can upgrade it and i got a lot of good information on how to do that too if i go that way.
Every laptop that I've seen has a rather noisy fan that kicks in when it gets too hot, so I'm not sure how quiet that is unless you want to rip the thing apart and thermal epoxy some good heatsinks in place or something. :\
As for the CPU, that really depends on how far you want to go. You could Transmeta. You could VIA EPIA. You could try the extremely new Pentium M desktop motherboards. You could undervolt\underclock a P4C, an AXP, or even an A64. Just be sure that whatever processor you get, you get a motherboard with a fanless northbridge heatsink to run it.
You can easily get inaubile heatsinks for low power CPUs, even if it has to be an AMD. Consider getting a Pentium-M, they generate very little power compared to other modern CPUs and still have plenty of processing power. The DFI885GME board would be ideal with it's PCI-X slot, or the AOpeni855-GMEm-LFS with it's socket 478 type cooling socket. For your hard disks you could go with anything by Seagate. Depending on how much hard disk usage your server is going to be needing you could go for the Seagate Savvio or the Barracuda V. An Antec Phantom fanless power supply should be fine, if you need more power get 2, and because it's a server you won't need a high-end graphics card but you can still get something like a Raedon 9250 or Nvidia FX5200 without a fan. Tadaa! A silent PC. I would recommend putting in a 120mm intake-fan running at 5-7V though, especially if normally keep your room about 70ºF.
My Dothan based Dell 600m is completely silent when plugged in or on battery mode. A noisy laptop would be very annoying.
I'm not saying that it isn't impossible, but the odds that I've observed do make it exceedingly rare. How often do you max out your CPU and for how long is it maxed out before you give it a rest? I've heard plenty of laptops that are silent when they aren't running hot, but get them going and their tiny little fans will usually rev up to a noisy operation.
If i were going to buy a cheap, upgradable server...
-Antec has some good, relatively cheap, cases with 120mm fans. Expect to pay around 50-70 for them.
-If you want expandability, you'll want to go with a newer mobo. Expect to pay around $100-200 for a 939 board.
-I'd pick up a 3000+ A64, since it's pretty much the low end of the cpu spectrum of 64s, with the exception of the 2800..but really outshines it for a small difference in cost. $140-155
-if you want to get a quieter heatsink, look at the lower of those cpu costs; but include an extra $30-40 for a quiet heatsink
-I'd pick up a gig of ram, it's cheap...$130 geil 2.5, could go cheaper and get $100 kingmax 3.0.
-i'd pick up a belkin dual switch $30; so you can hit a button and go back and forth between two computers; (cuts cost of buying a second monitor keyboard and mouse)
-if this isn't a gaming machine, buy the cheapest gpu you can get your hands on ($20-40 new)...just check to make sure it A. works with the mobo you get (pci-e vs agp) and B. has drivers in the flavor of linux you're using.
-hd's $60-100, i'd recommend 2 in raid 1 (mirroring); it's not terribly hard at all to set up in linux as you're building your system (or you could get a hardware solution with your mobo)...premium names are western digital and seagate...be sure to get liquid ball bearings or the equivalent, makes a difference audibly (for instance: 36gb wd raptor vs 72gb wd raptor, the 72 has liquid ball bearings and isn't nearly as loud); there are sites that have tested how many decibels several hds have made if you're willing to search them out...perhaps someone else could help with a site...
-sound...onboard or nothing at all...
-ethernet...onboard will be fine...most new mobos come with ethernet onboard...if you get a gf4 mobo, go with nvidia's ethernet over broadcom's;
If you wanted to go real cheap...just pick up a hella cheap dell small buisness server. $200-400
-Dell SC240 currently $240.
*no OS, Celeron cpu, made to work with linux or win server 03, doesn't have drivers for the intel chipset that work well for XP and 2000 (from personal experience...officially not supported by intel);
-Belkin 2-port switch $30
-toss the 128mb ecc to the curb...buy 1gb 3200 same as above (that way if you upgrade the cpu at a later date on a 800mhz bus you will be ok...i think this board is capable of up to a p4 3.4);
Prices taken from New Egg, Dell, and zipzoomfly.
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I run a LAMP server w/ Ubuntu, serving my golf league's website. It gets very little traffic, so the Intel P4 system I run now is too loud, too big, too poweful and uses way too much energy. I just bought a used MAC MINI from a co-worker for $96 - no monitor (valued from what he could get from the Costo recycling site) I will replace the Apple OS w/ Ubuntu and have everthing this server needs: adequate performance, low power consumption, super quiet (no fans.)