Every enthusiast wants a killer, high-performance PC that blows fire and chews up benchmarks for breakfast. (PCMark, yum!) But packing a PC to the gills with cutting-edge hardware creates a hot rod in more than name alone: Truly powerful rigs tend to be big, hot, and loud, and they usually suck power faster than a parched pre-teen chugs Kool-Aid.
It doesn't have to be that way, though. With all of the CPU advances, it's now possible to configure a relatively fast system that's also whisper quiet and surprisingly power efficient. With the right component choices and some careful planning, it doesn't even have to break the bank. Here's how we did it.
Picking the parts
Two primary factors drove our selection of components for this system: Power requirements and noise—more specifically, the potential for generating noise. Typically, components that consume less power require less cooling, and hence generate less noise. Some components, however—like mechanical hard drives—will generate audible noises regardless. We'd opt for low-power, lower-noise parts wherever possible.
We also wanted an enclosure that was designed from the start to be quiet. Of the many choices available, we chose the reasonably priced NXZT H230.
The H230 is an unassuming mid-tower with a couple of low-noise cooling fans (one intake, one exhaust) and sound-dampening material on its side panels. There are no fancy fan controllers built in, but we didn't need one—we'll explain why a little later. The H230 was available for just under $60. Though it includes two fans, the H230 has mounts for three, so we also picked up an additional 120mm, low-noise fan from Fractal Designs. We wanted to maximize the air-flow through the case to provide ample cooling for our other hardware.
The processor and cooler
Choosing a processor for the build was easy: Intel's Haswell-based, 4th-generation Core processors are both fast and power-friendly.
We considered a 65W Core i5-4570S but eventually decided on the $220 Core i5-4670. Its thermal design power is somewhat higher at 84W, but it offers much higher-peak Turbo frequencies than the 4570S, which translates into better performance. Besides, 84W can easily be dissipated by a high-quality heatsink—and moving up to the i5-4670 only cost 20 additional dollars.
To control noise, we also decided to passively cool the CPU, using a larger heatsink in place of a dedicated fan. Many aftermarket heatsinks are designed to handle more powerful overclocked processors that can consume upward of 200W. The Core i5-4670's 84W would be a piece of cake.
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