Silent, But Deadly: Build Your Own Gaming-Ready 0 dB PC

For many folks, the most beautiful sound that a PC can make is no sound at all. How close can Tom's Hardware get to a zero-decibel configuration and still lend up with a compact, functional machine capable of mainstream gaming, without breaking the bank?

Each year, we get asked by a number of enthusiasts if it's possible to build a passively-cooled PC and, if so, how much performance can be expected from it. And every year, we try to take a look at what is currently possible with a passive build.

Some of those configurations involve coolers that look like giant hamster wheels, while others employ large enclosures with more holes than Swiss cheese to let in plenty of air (and dust). This year, we want to build something plain and unobtrusive, not a bad piece of modern art. We're looking for an office machine that can handle some gaming in a small tower.

Given the hardware available today (and its relative efficiency), this is actually doable. Even still, we recommend a bit of insurance in the form of a barely-audible fan that can kick in if your more demanding workloads tax the hardware beyond what a heat sink on its own can dissipate.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We're starting off with a basic build able to run some newer games at reasonable settings without a discrete graphics card. It's a little eerie: you have to wait until a picture shows up on your monitor to know the system is working, because you can't hear it at all. From there, we add a discrete graphics card to bolster frame rates in games, along with those aforementioned quiet fans.

Some Hard Choices

Like we said, an SUV-sized case with a gigantic cooler isn’t what we're going for this year. Been there, done that, and we still have such a machine sitting around gathering a lot of dust. Small and unobtrusive are the adjectives that matter most today.

After checking out the usual assortment of modern mini-towers and cube-shaped enclosures, our choice was clear: SilverStone's Temjin TJ08-E. It’s a classic tower-shaped chassis with several advantages that make it ideal for a passively-cooled build. For instance, its power supply isn’t just installed into the top of the case, like old-school towers. Rather, its orientation is also reversed so that the fan opening points upward. This effectively provides separate air circulation for the PSU and the rest of the system, and the exhaust port comes with its own dust filter. Talk about ideal conditions for a passive power supply.

You'll also notice that the motherboard orientation inside SilverStone's Temjin TJ08-E is turned. This means that the CPU and its cooler are at the bottom, with a lot of air above them. After taking out the hard disk cage and front fan, we’re left with a surprisingly large amount of internal volume for our passive build.

Packaging

The case is light and its packaging is simple and sturdy. It’s pretty easy to transport, and won’t break your mail carrier’s back.

Inside, we find the usual Styrofoam mess. You’ll want to have a vacuum cleaner handy after unloading the case, as bits of packaging are sure to fall like snow. There are cleaner ways to box up a case. Fortunately, some vendors seem to be listening, since we're seeing more foam-based protection, which doesn’t crumple into tiny bits.

In the Box

All that’s needed comes bundled with the case. You get screws, cable ties, a SilverStone sticker, a self-adhesive rubber pad, a USB 3.0-to-2.0 adapter for older motherboards, and a surprisingly well-written manual. We can’t even remember the last time we saw documentation that listed the maximum sizes for all possible components. It is this sort of information that makes deciding which case to buy much easier.

We were able to download the manual and check if the CPU cooler we wanted to use would fit before making any decisions. Big thanks to SilverStone for making the enthusiast's life a little easier.

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    Top Comments
  • _Pez_
    Great PC !, but if it was mine I would be scared... "no fan noise .. is it burning?"
    25
  • mayankleoboy1
    Great article! Much more DIY than the usual articles on Toms.
    Much appreciated.
    19
  • Nintendo Maniac 64
    As someone that also uses a semi-passive PC (fan only turns on when needed), I'm disappointed that you guys left out a few big things:

    1. undervolting the CPU and GPU

    2. underclocking and farther undervolting the GPU for 2D mode

    3. hybrid cooling setup for GPUs where the fan only turns on at a high temperature (may require GPU BIOS editing depending on GPU model)

    OPTIONAL (due to risk): removal of CPU IHS
    16
  • Other Comments
  • ASHISH65
    great article !!!
    7
  • azathoth
    I was disappointed there wasn't actual stress test temperature results of the APU for the passive cooling solution.

    But otherwise it's a neat article, personally I would sacrifice dead silence to use a cheaper HDD and perhaps more of those silent fans if I were to build one myself.
    2
  • mayankleoboy1
    Great article! Much more DIY than the usual articles on Toms.
    Much appreciated.
    19
  • _Pez_
    Great PC !, but if it was mine I would be scared... "no fan noise .. is it burning?"
    25
  • Nintendo Maniac 64
    As someone that also uses a semi-passive PC (fan only turns on when needed), I'm disappointed that you guys left out a few big things:

    1. undervolting the CPU and GPU

    2. underclocking and farther undervolting the GPU for 2D mode

    3. hybrid cooling setup for GPUs where the fan only turns on at a high temperature (may require GPU BIOS editing depending on GPU model)

    OPTIONAL (due to risk): removal of CPU IHS
    16
  • dudewitbow
    no love for sapphire's passive ultimate HD 7770?
    12
  • Madn3ss795
    Pentium G2120 + Sapphire Ultimate HD7750 would have been a better choice. And you can pay extra for a low-power Core i5 instead since it's not that expensive compared to the rest of this build.
    0
  • ivyanev
    When i hear gaming from the TH I really expect to see something in the realm of 500$ SBM machine or at least something close. What I see here is realy nice office pc.
    -10
  • Nintendo Maniac 64
    Anonymous said:
    When i hear gaming from the TH I really expect to see something in the realm of 500$ SBM machine or at least something close. What I see here is realy nice office pc.

    The main issue is the GPU, and that would require a hybrid passive-active cooling solution much like was done for the CPU, but for some reason they didn't even try such a thing...
    0
  • twelve25
    I wonder about an i5 or i7 S or T model and crossfire 7750's. You might need a bigger case and a longer motherboard that allows gaps between cards.
    1
  • memadmax
    I don't like auto-start fans. They tend to turn off/on at weird times and become annoying...
    4
  • abbadon_34
    Silent PC (Gaming) is simple. Large passive water cooling such as the Zalman Resevator on the CPU and GPU, and anyother components needing heat dissipation. I've done this for the last 8 years, not for the silence, but because it's nice to see the temp never stray from 40-45, and never worry about cooling again.
    0
  • DjEaZy
    ... awesome media pc...
    -1
  • JonnyDough
    It has a fan. A FAN. It isn't zero dB.
    -7
  • JonnyDough
    I'm a fan! (and I make a LOT of noise) :D

    By the way, I own two of those Samsung Blu-Ray drives and the blue LED in the button is overly bright. I would NOT want to set that case on my desk.
    0
  • JonnyDough
    One more thing. I like bottom mounted power supplies because I like a low center of gravity on my builds. However, I prefer the top mounted PCI slots. The video cards not only look better with their coolers on top, but the heat rises off the video card and into the video card cooler making it more effective, especially in a build without air movement.
    0
  • ankit0x1
    did i told you definition of insanity?
    great article toms
    -5
  • jasont78
    pity they put the bluray in it would be much louder than most actively cooled cases anyway
    3
  • FormatC
    Quote:
    1. undervolting the CPU and GPU
    This is always possible but each CPU/APU and GPU is a unique piece. Undervolting 10 APUs can can give you 10 different results. If it works with higher voltage it works also with undervolting. But I must check the worst case and only 100% stable settings. :)
    2
  • trumpeter1994
    They failed to mention how loud it was when both the fan and blu-ray drive had spun up
    1