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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  • HEXiT
    there are better fans out there. the quietest i have come across is the silent wings from B-quiet. im running it on my cpu but it runs at 1500 rpm max and it 2 cant be heard in a silent room with your case open and your ear up pretty close to it. it uses a fluid bearing and has an expected life of 100,000,000 hours. no its not the most effective cfm pusher at around 55 but i run at 3.6ghz on my i7 920 and the cpu never goes above 65'c at full 8 thread 100% load. £16.99 isnt cheap for a fan but the reduction in noise does make this fan good value.
    so if you really do want a silent case these will do the job without sacrificing noise levels for lower temps. well worth toms picking 1 or 2 up for there next silent build.
  • mcnumpty23
    @ hexit

    100 million hours life expectancy has to be a typo
  • das_stig
    More likely 100,000 as its replacement is rated at 300,000.
  • HEXiT
    lol i meant 100,000
  • LePhuronn
    I think the builders are being too paranoid. 69 degrees for long periods of time isn't too much of a big deal but of course that's heat being dumped into the case.

    Given the release of the 650 Ti Boost which, according to Oc3D, is silent I think you could get away with going a proper gaming rig, not Hybrid Crossfire with an APU.

    77W IvyBridge i3 (or a low power i5) should be fine under that behemoth cooler. Combined with a 650 Ti Boost and a 7V resistor on that Air Penetrator I think you can double your performance with no heat increase.

    Hell, drop in the beautiful Seasonic 520W passive and SLI the 650 Ti Boost - I'd be reasonably confident you can still keep the Air Penetrator on 7V and be OK.

    Just seems silly to grab the TJ-08E purely for that mammoth heat sink and then run an APU under it when IB is pretty damn cool.
  • mi1ez
    Anyone know what the heck that clear pipe thing is on the heatsink? Did I just overlook it in the article?
  • mi1ez
    mi1ezAnyone know what the heck that clear pipe thing is on the heatsink? Did I just overlook it in the article?

    A screwdriver maybe?
  • Marcopolo123
    Grahams number hours
  • swamprat
    It's a shame the hybrid crossfire thing comes out poorly - back when APUs were being speculated on it sounded quite promising. Would it have any impact (or even be possible) with the 7750? AMD 'recommends' a 6670 but could cross fire add any speed / allow more complexity with the better card (as well as bringing in stuttering etc)?
  • ron baker
    Hell you installed a Bluray drive into the power supply? that is ONE helluva mod my friend. Surely the most awesome mod known to man.
    I await the graphics card installed in the CPU ... or .... eeeerr?