Motherboard #2: Common Sense Prevails
Attempt #2: An Almost Perfectly-Quiet HTPC with an AMD E-350
Because our first shot at this turned into a noise competition between the CPU and case fans, I wanted to step down a notch in a couple of different ways. An HTPC does not require a massive desktop processor. So, a lower-wattage CPU is still apropos (not to mention a lot easier to cool in the confines of a cramped case).
AMD's E-350 APU isn't going to incite envy amongst any of your friends. It has even been superseded by newer models. The good news is that E-350-equipped motherboards sell for lower prices now, even as the APU's performance remains adequate for a lightweight media box. Yes, we could have used a more modern processor, but we had MSI's E350IA-E45 in the lab, and it let us do what we set out to achieve with thermals and acoustics.
Of course, I couldn't leave the platform well enough alone. Bothered by the stock cooler's noise levels at high RPMs, I removed MSI's heat sink cover and swapped out the default fan with another model from Noiseblocker (the extremely quiet XM2). Its power consumption and speed are very similar to what MSI had on there, but the XM2 is barely audible, even at 100% duty cycle.
With the fan replaced, we end up with a fairly ideal little HTPC. The low-power APU doesn't need a ton of airflow, so we have the option to throttle the 12 cm case fan, remove it completely, or even swap it out for something with LEDs, giving our train a fiery glow. After all, a steam locomotive needs a fire under its boiler.