CPU Cooling

When people think of noisy PC components, most often the first thing that comes to mind is CPU coolers. Thanks in part to the super-hot running Athlon and Pentium 4 processors; the CPU cooling industry has seen an incredible upsurge in the last few years. In addition, the integration of over clocking features directly into most motherboards sold nowadays make over clocking an easy task. Thus, there is now tremendous competition in the CPU cooling market nowadays, with dozens of companies struggling to find a balance between great cooling power and low noise.

Unfortunately, many companies are taking the easy route. Slap a huge chunk of copper on the CPU and attach a super-fast fan on top of it for great cooling power. This is what we'd call the "hacked" approach. It doesn't take a lot of engineering prowess, anyone with a CNC milling machine and a copper block could think of this. The truly great heatsinks are those who manage to get as good or close to the cooling power of the hacked coolers, and have little to no noise at the same time. These are the coolers that we should be buying.

Some tips for CPU cooling:

Under clockingng your CPU clock speed won't help temperatures drastically, but lowering core voltage will. While it might take some time, it may be worth your while to see how low of a voltage your CPU can run at reliably. This may save you a few degrees and let you get away with a slower fan.

Stay away from any CPU fan over 5,000 RPM. Beyond this, the noise gets truly unbearable. Getting in the range of 6,000 and 7,000 RPM fans is ridiculous. The shrill loudness of these fans will want to make you throw your PC's out the window. Sleeve bearing CPU fans can also be dramatically quieter compared to ball bearing fans.

Copper / Aluminum heatsink hybrid's seem to be the best for those of us looking for quiet PC's. Attach a big slow fan, and you're in business.

Cooling Intel Processors

Intel's Pentium III and Pentium 4 processors are without a doubt the best choice if you want a silent PC. While the Pentium III generates a decent amount of heat, along with the Pentium 4, which generates quite a bit more (doesn't that rhyme?), these processors handle the heat much better. Most Intel-based PC's can get away with very little active cooling, along with a decent-sized aluminum heatsink. Even Intel's own retail coolers are bare aluminum, with a large, slow thermal sensing fan. In most cases, the fan runs at a measly 1,500 RPM (give or take a few hundred RPM), and still manages to keep the processor plenty cool.

Swiftech - The Best In Passive Cooling

For a low-cost silent PC, you can always pick up a 1 GHz Pentium III, and a small cooler and you should be fine. For us who want a high-performance silent PC, the Pentium 4 is our choice. Running at speeds up to 2.0 GHz, you'd think this chip would be impossible to get stable with silent cooling, but no doubt, it is possible.

The trick with the Pentium 4 is to maximize the cooling power of the heatsink, and minimize the fan speed of the cooler on top. In my case, I found the combination of the Swiftech's MC462 (same as picture, but in a Socket-423 variant) cooler and Panasonic's Panaflo L1A 80mm cooler on top to be not only very quiet, but also performs great. Of course, the whole setup costs about $80, and is quite a pain to install, but it's a great combo. For those of you on a budget, pick up a retail boxed Socket-478 Pentium 4, as the gargantuan retail cooler does a great job, and is very low noise.

Cooling AMD Processors

Making coolers with low-noise becomes difficult when it comes to AMD, as their Athlon / XP / MP / Duron processors create so much heat, so quickly. Without sufficient cooling, these chips will burn themselves out within a matter of seconds. Thanks to AMD's super-hot running chips, I have two dead Thunderbirds to my name, as well as burn marks on two of my fingers, from when a CPU fan died, and the heatsink was scalding hot to the touch. Siverado - Looks Loud, Actually Isn't.

If you have a choice, Get an Athlon XP over a Thunderbird Athlon. The Athlon XP (also MP) processors consume up to 20% less power compared to their Thunderbird counterparts. Less power means less heat, which means you don't need such huge coolers. Not to mention, the Athlon XP is a fantastic performing processor, which rivals the Pentium 4 2.0 GHz in performance.

Good, quiet Athlon coolers are available from NoiseControl.de (Silverado), Zalman (CNPS5001-CU), and Alpha (PAL6035 with default Sanyo Denki fan). Alpha has also recently released the PAL8045, which can utilize a larger 80mm fan. This cooler has increased surface area, which can be combined with a slower 80mm fan, which makes this unit specifically great for silent PC's.