A misconception among new HTPC builders is that noise levels that are acceptable in an office will be acceptable in a home theatre. The first thing that I noticed about my new HTPC was that it was ridiculously loud. From the CPU cooler to the blowhole, it had a total of seven annoying 80 mm fans. Unless you enjoy the whiny buzz of about 80 decibels worth of cooling fans whirring away next to your TV, a cooling system that is heavy on fans is not a great solution for a home theatre PC. (Mine sounded like a damaged vacuum). A fan controller can help with the noise, but there's no substitute for a cooling solution that is designed for quiet operation when you're building an HTPC.
Seven annoying 80mm fans
Since I have always prioritized low CPU temperatures, the idea of significantly decreasing the airflow in the HTPC to cut down the noise was a real stretch for me. I decided that if I was going to keep the system quiet and satisfy my obsession for low temperatures, I was going to have to try something a little more adventurous. I decided to go with water. Water cooling kits are very quiet, yet they are usually able to outperform conventional air cooling.
After a lot of research and a small dent in my checking account, I became the proud owner of an Innovatek water cooling kit. If I hadn't been so attached to the idea of making a quiet home theatre PC, I would have never have thought of liquid cooling in such a poky system. (The kits are a bit on the expensive side.) If you're thinking about installing a water cooling kit, Tom's Hardware Guide has some excellent how-to articles on the subject. Water cooling systems are not very complicated, they're a lot of fun to put together and they definitely have that "wow" factor. If you decide to build a water cooled HTPC; keep in mind that the kits take up a lot of space. Make sure your case can accommodate it.
A standard water cooling kit consists of a water pump, a radiator, tubing, a reservoir or a fill/bleed system and one or more water blocks. I chose the Innovatek kit because it is easy to understand and assemble. The fill reservoir is innovative and effective, the pump is silent, and the water block was easier to install compared to a conventional air cooler. In short, it was simple and it turned out to be an above average performer. I was able to maintain an average CPU temperature of 25-30 degrees Celsius under normal operation.
I needed more room to install the radiator and fan assembly so I dug up an old Supercase 500 mid tower case into which I transferred all my hardware. There was plenty of room under the hard drive bay in the Supercase for the radiator, so all I needed was a fan hole. After cutting a 120 mm hole in the side of the case with my trusty Dremel, I was able to begin the installation of the Innovatek kit.
Parts:Innovatek water cooling kit. Swiftech Pump Relay Switch Kit WaterWetter coolant Supercase 500