Sunday, November 29, 2009

LInux Box 2, the Revenge

A while back I posted about building a linux box, then turning it into a Windows box (for my wife), then refurbishing a Very Old system into another linux box. Then I shut up (about that). Well, now it's back and this time it's serious.

So here's the thing. The old linux box works fine except that 1) it's too old to run some features (such as the Ubuntu desktop and high speed browsing, necessitating the use of the XFCE desktop environment) and 2) the mobo has a bad fan that results in system reboots every 30 minutes or so when it's under any kind of load. The first one is annoying, the second one is the kiss of death. So I decided it's time to upgrade the linux box. But in order to do that, i have to replace the mobo. And in order to do that I'll have to upgrade almost everything else, because the cpu, memory, and video card are all old enough that they will not work with any modern mobo that I get.

Well, if you have to upgrade your mobo, CPU, ram, and video you're pretty much doing a new system. All that's left is the case, power supply, optical drive, and hard drive. That got me to thinking. Why not just go with a whole new system? Why bother, you ask? Well, because what I want to do is build not only a fairly modern system, but also a very quiet system. Partly this is because I'm sick to death of hearing loud whirring fans every time I boot up, and partly because I'd like to be able to have the linux box running a media player while I'm working on the Windows PC. Normally, of course, you can just have Media Monkey or whatever going on the same PC as you run another Windows app, but this doesn't work as well if you're gaming or watching a movie or what have you. But if I'm going to have 2 machines running, one to play music, I want that machine to be quiet, not overloading my ears with more loud fans. Actually, my hope is that I'll get good enough at linux that I'll only use this machine for gaming. But even if I've only got one machine going, it would nice for it to be silent.

So with the help of sites like, tomshardware, anandtech, and so on I've been learning how to build a silent pc. Turns out it's not all that hard - just think passive cooling, very good airflow, good case design, and lots of room and it all comes together. I say lots of room because the CPU coolers that are quiet tend to be big, exotic, beautiful things that are anything but compact:

And the video cards that have passive cooling aren't exactly svelte either:

So what ends up being weird is that the 2 most expensive components of the whole machine are going to be the case and the power supply! Back in the day, those were the afterthoughts of a computer build - you spent sixty bucks and you were set for both. But not if you want a good case and a solid, quiet power supply. The case has to be big enough to fit all this stuff, and has to have good airflow so that a few big, quiet case fans can keep the air moving over the passively cooled components (which is pretty much everything other than the cpu). This is also important because the low noise power supplies don't run their own fans as often or as quickly, they're designed not to need to, and power supply fans typically help move air in the case and keep things cool.

So that's the next project. And will I be posting about here as it progresses? Magic 8 Ball says "it is decidedly so!"

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