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.