Here are the findings so far in my attempt to build an ultimate silent HTPC. This “silence project” means that I’m attempting to set up a system that does not make any audible noise above the background noise levels.
Please note that the following findings apply to my 2012 HTPC system, and cannot be generalized to all builds.
Key Take Away Points
- Replace one case fan with a quiet custom fan
- CPU stock fan could be quieter, so get Scythe Big Shuriken 2 CPU cooler
- Seasonic X-400 PSU does not fit to the Silverstone GD06 with the hot swap drive cage installed
- Motorola NYXBoard is a good HTPC remote with some minor clitches
- MediaPortal TVserver and XBMC PVR edition is a great combination
- Aeon MQ3 is my new favorite XBMC Skin
- XBMC is still better than Windows 7 Media Center (in my humble opinion)
- Plex Media Server allows you to watch videos on any device, anywhere, anytime
Stock Case and CPU Fans Are Too Loud
When I turned the computer on, I immediately knew that the case fans in the Silverstone GD06 were too loud to my requirements. I checked the CPU temperature levels, and they were around 35°C, so I decided to try without the case fans.
After turning the case fans off, temperatures rose to 40-50°C with the stock CPU fan (60°C on maximum load). After installing the Scythe Big Shuriken 2 CPU cooler, the temperatures remained about the same as with the stock fan.
This was not too bad, but I noticed that the Scythe Shuriken got louder with CPU intensive tasks. So, I replaced one stock case fan with the Noctua NF-S12B ULN, which improved the airflow so that both CPU and case fans can run at minimum speed.
So far, I’m already quite happy with the noise levels. My setup is quieter than Asrock ION 330 pre-built system.
- Room’s sound level: 32.1 dB
- My system with an after-market fan: 32.3 dB
- My system with a stock fan: 38.3 dB
- Asrock ION 330: 44.5 dB
However, I was not completely happy with the stock CPU cooler’s noise levels, so I ordered and installed a Scythe Big Shuriken 2 CPU cooler.
The difference between a stock fan and a high quality custom fan is amazing. The system is completely silent with the Scythe CPU cooler. However, the Shuriken cooler is quite complicated to install and it took me an hour just to install the CPU cooler.
Have a look at the video below to see and hear it yourself:
Invest in a Passive Power Supply
Seasonic X-400 is a completely silent power supply, so I’m really happy about it. The only down side is that it is longer than a standard ATX PSU, so the Silverstone GD06 case’s hot swap drive cage cannot be used with it.
In my build, this is not an issue as I am not using 3.5″ hard drives at all. I am only using a Corsair Force Series GT 120 GB Solid State Drive and an external Network Attached Storage.
RF Remote Works without Line of Sight
I have been searching for a good remote / keyboard / mouse for many years and I think the Motorola NYXBoard comes closest to my demanding requirements. It is particularly designed for XBMC, it works without line-of-sight using an RF signal and it has a small keyboard / mouse.
The remote control works out of the box, but you can customize the keyboard.xml in the XBMC to setup the custom keys. Another great benefit is that it supports IR signals, so I can control TV and A/V receiver with it, too.
One downside is that the tilt sensor is too sensitive in XBMC and it often accidentally displayed an on screen keyboard layout. However, you can easily disable the automatic on screen keyboard display from the XBMC input controller settings.
Another downside is that the remote sometimes loses the USB connection and you need to unplug the USB before you can reconnect again. I was able to solve this issue in Windows by disabling the hibernation mode. Hopefully Motorola will solve this issue soon.
XBMC, MediaPortal and Plex Work Well Together
You will get a more detailed MediaPortal TVserver guide later, but I wanted to let you know that I changed my Tvheadend server to MediaPortal. I’m now using XBMC PVR edition (with the Aeon MQ3 skin) as a front-end, but the MediaPortal will take care of the backend tasks for streaming the live TV.
I use Plex Media Server with my Synology NAS which is a nice and easy way to stream media from the server with any device. Plex Media Server works in XBMC using the PleXBMC addon. Have a look at the following video to see how the Plex Media Server works in practice in my setup.
I also set up the Windows 7 Media Center, but for some reason I still do not find it as good as the XBMC media center. Of course, it is just my own preference…
The key lessons I have learned so far are
- Stock case and CPU fans are too loud, so it is recommended to get after-market cooling fans
- Invest in a passive power supply, as it will minimize the system noise
- RF remote is better than infrared remote, as it works without line of sight
- XBMC, MediaPortal and Plex work well together, so you can integrate PVR and media server features into XBMC
Last but not least, the following video will demonstrate how my XBMC PVR media center looks like in practice.
Stay tuned for more detailed guides on each of the step in this silence project.