Building a Cool and Quiet PC

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A Low Power, Low Noise System

It’s actually quite simple, and the pictures below tell the whole story (they say a picture is worth a thousand words). First a shot the inside of the complete system:

Gee, is there something missing from atop that CPU cooler?

And now a shot of system monitoring program of that same system under actual use:

Those temperature readings were taken after running Winstone 2001 three times, and are for a 800MHz Socket 370 processor running with a passive CPU cooler (that means no fan – heatsink only). It is mounted in a small mid tower Micro ATX case using just the exhaust fan from the power supply to cool the complete system. Not only is the power supply fan the only fan in the system, but it’s a “Noise Killer” unit that has a thermally controlled fan (the hotter it get the faster the fan runs) and it was running at it’s slowest speed throughout the test! Pretty impressive isn’t it?

So how did I do it? Simple, I used a new .13 micron 800MHz VIA C3 CPU, designed for low heat output and low current draw. The VIA C3 CPU was mounted on a Soyo 7VEM Micro ATX Mainboard based on the VIA PLE133 chipset with integrated video and sound. The system also includes a AMR 56K modem in the AMR slot, along with a D-Link 10/100 NIC card in one of the PCI slots (I could have even used an ISA ), a Western Digital 200BB ATA/100 hard disk, an Afreey 10x DVD drive and a Teac 3.5″ floppy disk. All this was installed in a compact In Win V600 Micro ATX case with a Powerman 145w Micro ATX power supply. I connected a monitor, PS/2 keyboard and mouse, and an ADI 15″ monitor, then installed Windows ME. The result was a complete, compact, cool energy friendly system that could not have been simpler. All the parts are off the shelf, inexpensive and reliable, and boy is it quiet. I guess I’m too used to testing high speed Athlon and Pentium 4 systems, so this was really nice for a change.

And what did I end up with? A system that is quiet and powerful enough for normal office applications, Internet and light graphic use. I even watched a DVD movie with no skips or pauses in it. Sounds like the perfect office, workstation or computer lab system. Or if 3D graphics performance is not an issue, it would be a great system for home use, such as cruising the internet, writing letters or running spread sheets, and even light duty game and educational use, all with just about no noise. Graphics performance is not a strong point of the VIA C3 processor, so using the PLE133 (Trident based video) chipset makes it less than stellar. However, it is easily brought up to acceptable performance levels for basic game playing by simply using a mainboard with a different chipset, such as the VIA PM133 (S3 Savage 4 based video). An SiS or ALi, or even Intel 810, 815 based mainboard (just about any current Socket 370 mainboard or chipset) should support the VIA C3 CPU. Want even better 3D performance? Easy, just use a mainboard like the VIA PM133 based Asus CVUX4-V that I also tested with, or any other mainboard with an AGP slot, and add an inexpensive (and heat / power friendly) 3D AGP video card like the nVidia GeForce II MX 200.

Now granted, the gaming performance of the C3 800 is not the greatest, but with the right video card choice it becomes more than acceptable, and besides, that is not the market VIA has targeted. I had my 11 and 14 year old sons try a few games using the Asus CVUX4-V with both the PM133 S3 based graphics and a GeForce II MX 200, and they found the PM133 gaming performance to be acceptable and the GeForce II to be just fine. Now granted they both use integrated graphics on a regular basis (one has an i810 and Celeron 600, the other a KM133 and Duron 700), but it just goes to show you can even play games with the C3 CPU as long as your expectations aren’t too high.

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