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P180 Success Story

Posted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 7:39 pm
by SoopahMan
Hi all, I just finished tweaking my P180 system with the help of the people on this board and now this thing is truly silent.

I thought I'd share the final details of what I've got and what I did - nothing difficult by the way - to end up with this quiet, high-performance game machine.

First-most I aimed high, but just below extreme. Extreme is loud. And very expensive. I built my PC for less than $1500, and it's kicking butt in every game I've got - Half Life 2, GTA San Andreas, you name it.

Antec P180
I admit this thing is a beast; I wasn't expecting something this large. But it's very quiet. I recommend detaching the side of the case and using it as a workspace when messing with a graphics card or motherboard - it makes for an excellent static-free, lint-free surface.

AMD64 3200 Venice (made on a 90nm process),
Zalman AlCu heatsink/fan

This is one amazing combination. You could probably use an even faster AMD chip and get silence out of this combo - just enable Cool'N'Quiet (usually off by default) instead of overclocking - you don't need faster than this anyway, very few tasks or games are limited by a CPU this fast.

eVGA GeForce 6800
This 6800 is well-regarded in reviews for using a larger stock heat sink than other 6800s. The 6800 uses a lower clock than the rest of the 6800 line, and is far cheaper ($200 vs $400). It also has 4 less pixel pipelines, which is too bad but probably helps in the heat arena. Robisoda pointed me to ExperTool to turn down the fan on this card. A minor tweak from 100% to 96% has a dramatic effect on noise, and 70-80% will make you wonder if the card is in the case.

DFI nF4 LanParty Ultra
Great for PC builders with its 4 LEDs to indicate what's not seated right - makes the process much easier. On the flip-side people have continuous RAM problems with this and I'm no exception. I can't get 400Mhz DDR RAM to work on this board; 333 is as high as it will go. And I can't get 2 of my 4 DIMMs to work, so I can't get Dual Channel. It hasn't made a noticeable impact on my system performance though. This thing comes with 10 USB ports - 10 root USB hubs. Amazing. You'll really appreciate it.

Antec Phantom 350
This power supply is fanless. That would be scary if not for the P180's smartly placed, inaudible, lower chamber fan. 350W would also be scary if I built a system with an awful Intel Pentium 4 sucking up 197W, or with a GeForce 6800 Ultra. So I didn't. I want quiet, and I happen to like the environment, and not have a space heater in my room at all times. Success.

2x Raptor 74gb
These hard drives are awesome. Their only caveat is their heat - high for a desktop system. The Antec P180's lower chamber takes care of this perfectly, and the grommets and location make the drives unnoticable. It's worth noting that these are not in RAID0 - I use them as drives C and E. C contains Windows and Program Files. E contains My Documents, Temp, and the Windows page file (Virtual Memory file). This allows each drive to spin down periodically and save a lot of heat, and any apps that manage to challenge my drives can typically work with both at once; for example, Photoshop will write to its scratch file on E as it reads in from C, without either operation interfering with the other. And of course if either fails it's a lot easier to replace.

Thermal plan
I'm not a Thermal Engineer, but I do know a little bit about thermal planning. The P180 has a lot of oddities but a lot of potential with simple tweaks.

Fan Arrangement
The fan in the lower chamber is on at its default, dynamic settings. The fan on my CPU is on at its default Cool'N'Quiet settings. My GPU fan is set as described above. No other fan is on in my case - not the one in the spoiler, not the one in the back. The holes aren't covered up, the fans are just turned off.

Lower Thermal Zone
The lower thermal zone is the simplest, and best-planned by Antec/SilentPC. It's a simple wind tunnel a la Apple G5 designs, air has almost no way to get to the massive fan in the middle except to force its way across the hard drives, passes through the fan and out the silent PSU. The hot air inevitably travels up the back of the case, especially if you put the back of the case against a wall. This is highly relevant to the upper thermal zone.

Upper Thermal Zone
The upper thermal zone is more complex. The basic principle is that heat wants to go up. Only 2 fans are on in this zone: The CPU and the GPU fans. No case fans are on.

The hottest part in the system - the graphics card - sits near the bottom of the zone, blasting out hot air at between 50-60C. It wants to travel up, and the 2 holes at the top of the zone provide that. On its way out it passes over the CPU and RAM. When air leaves the case, it can't leave behind a vacuum, so more, cooler air must be pulled in from the bottom of the upper zone.

If the VGA vent were not in place, then the air would come in from 2 places: the grill in front, and the grill left open by the VGA vent. Because the VGA vent is in place and has no fan moving air through it, its confined shape greatly reduces air flow, which is good because the PSU and hard drive heat is passing by its intake. This leaves the front grill. I've removed the 3.5" drive cage from this area to encourage air flow.

It sounds overly simple, but I've got one quiet, cool system. The graphics card runs excellent and never gets above 60C, and the CPU never gets above 40C. The key to this simple system is really the top vent - without it the natural direction of heat would cause it to become trapped and require more fans to expel it.

I'll shut this down, take a picture of the inside and diagram the above - it's an awful lot of words.

Posted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 9:22 pm
by SoopahMan

Posted: Thu Aug 25, 2005 1:06 am
by oldabelincoln
I'm surprised you haven't had any response on this - it's very interesting.

If that's a running system, it's the first I've seen in a long time with no optical drives.

Why did you not remove the upper and rear fans if they are always off?

THanks for sharing the info.

Posted: Thu Aug 25, 2005 3:43 am
by JvT
Just as oldabelincoln I too wondered about the missing optical drive...

Have you blocked the black air tunnel off so the hot air from the lower champer doesn't enter there and affect the temperature in the upper chamber? If you have, why have it installed??

I'm impressed with your temps and that you dont need any fans to make the air move in the upper chamber. Your description is very detailed and easy to understand - thumbs up for your work, both the writing and on the case!

And finally, I couldnt help to smile / laugh a little when I noticed the time of day you posted your text and picture. There's no time better for modding your case but during the night :wink:

Posted: Thu Aug 25, 2005 7:21 pm
by SoopahMan
No Optical Drives?
I've gone through 3 DVD writers in 3 years - everyone of them had something wrong - one didn't read all my CDs, one didn't read certain DVDs, one didn't write certain DVDs. And the drives are so much bother to install! So a year ago I bought an external AOpen DVD+-RW, USB2.0, and it's served me well ever since. The DFI nF4 can boot from USB devices, so you can even install Windows from this thing. And if my whole computer were to burst into flame - I'd still have an optical drive. Lastly, not having anything to interact with on the front of the case means I can put it under my desk and out of the way. Everything I need to tinker with sits on my desk - keyboard, mouse, DVD drive, gamepads. The DFI nF4 also lets you boot the computer from the keyboard or mouse, so you don't even need to reach to the power button. I highly recommend this setup.

The only downside I've found is "StarForce 3" game protection. It won't let you play games like Splinter Cell 3 unless it's in an internal DVD drive. I'm wearily considering getting a simple DVD drive for this thing just for that stupid game... I loved Splinter Cells 1 & 2. Damn Ubisoft and whatever a**holes made StarForce 3.

Is it a running system?
I'm typing to you on it right now. It's not under my desk yet (still considering the internal DVD option, blah) but it's a foot away from my ear and I can't hear a thing from it. Flying the Harrier in GTA:San Andreas on this graphics card is fantastic.

Why the fans if they're off?
Honestly I'm just lazy. I guess someday I might decide to mess with them but really, I'm just too lazy. With the temps I'm getting there's just no need.

Block the VGA Vent?
I haven't blocked it; I considered its shape to be pretty restrictive so it's not a major concern to me, but I am strongly considering blocking it off with some electrical tape.

Remove the VGA Vent?
I'm mixed on this. The reason I installed it is because it's an excellent sound insulator. The difference in apparent noise from the graphics card with and without it is dramatic. The key is that the VGA Vent be flush with the back of the case. On the other hand, removing it would improve airflow within the case, around the graphics card. I may try things without the vent after blocking its grill in the back.

Thanks for all the kind words and haha yup - I'm a night owl.

My Dad is a Thermal Engineer, and I discussed the above thermal flow with him tonight while visiting. He said the fact that the graphics card, CPU and RAM sit in 1 straight column with the vent above gets you a lot of natural convection, especially with the graphics card at the bottom getting things moving (with a fan pointing up and generating so much heat in the first place). He pointed out that the one area for improvement would be the intakes - possibly putting a fan in the front on very low to encourage cool air to the graphics card, and blocking off the back vent (bravo JvT).

We also noted the way the P180's lower wind tunnel isolates the hard drives. Hard drives are the most thermally-sensitive parts in the case, failing at 55C, and ideally running under 40C. Meanwhile, the entire upper chamber has only solid-state parts: graphics card, CPU, RAM. They all can tolerate 85C or more, and so can easily tolerate the tame cooling.

I really don't think you could do this with a Pentium 4, and I wonder if you could with a GeForce 6800 Ultra. Prove me wrong though people! All the same principles would be at work, just with a lot more heat.

My temps right now
Ambient: 68F/19C

nVMonitor reports:
CPU: 36C
System: 43C
GPU: 52C

nVMonitor screenshot (graph set to update once/minute):

HDDTemp reports:
Raptor 1 (C): 33C (Windows, Program Files)
Raptor 2 (E): 30C (My Documents, Temp - spins down a lot)

Silent :o)

Posted: Fri Aug 26, 2005 1:13 am
by Hamaser
super nice.
I have a P180 myself and I'm still doing research on how to make it quiet and cool.
this helped me a lot!
thanks for sharing all of this!

Posted: Fri Aug 26, 2005 3:58 pm
by Mystr_Byrnz
Using your logic that hot air from the video card in the bottom of the top chamber encouraging natural convection, wouldn't a hotter card have an exagerated effect?

I have a similar system to yours, but I have a 7800GTX and an Abit Fatal1ty board. My temps are cooler than yours, but at the cost of being pretty loud while I'm gaming. I'm going to tinker around with your "natural convection" ideas on cooling and see what numbers I get.

Thanks for the detailed descriptions. :)

The temps listed above. Is that idle or at some kind of load?

In my machine, while playing Battlefield2, my GPU gets up to around 60c, and my sys and CPU max out around 42. With room temp of 24c

Posted: Sat Aug 27, 2005 8:31 pm
by SoopahMan
Natural Convection and Hotter Cards
I continue to not be a Thermal Engineer and can check in with my dad again, but this ought to accomplish 2 things, I suspect:

1) Increase the rate of flow of air up the chamber.

2) Increase the temperature of that air as it passes over the remaining parts - CPU, RAM.

If you aren't using a P180 and have a hard drive in this path, that's a recipe for disaster. If you don't, this may work just as well. The hot air is going to mix with cooler air from the intake as it rises, so the actual temp by the time it passes the CPU will be some mix of ambient and GPU. The amount of ambient mixed in will depend on how well the intake flows in; for example, a fan pushing in from the side might reduce that ambient temp.

Temps at Load?
I was aggressively pursuing silence under typical usage, like browsing on here and playing MP3s - that's practically idle. I've found my CPU and System temps hardly vary from the above, 3D game or no, GPU fan at max or no. They're in Cool'N'Quiet mode and happy.

My GPU temps vary as follows:
Idle, fan auto: 51C
Idle, fan 75%: 53C
3D game for 3 hours, fan auto: 60C
3D game for 3 hours, fan 96%: 65C

I find after 3 hours of 3D gaming everything is pretty much stable.

So the rise in GPU temp is significant, but relative to the limits of the card - negligible. The drop in noise is dramatic. I consider the above tweaks the best balance of concerns for my hardware.

Posted: Thu Jan 18, 2007 1:38 pm
by SoopahMan
Just a follow-up to this old thread - first, anyone else build a system with a similar plan?

My system continues to run nicely. I've since moved to Los Angeles and even in 110F this minimal cooling solution did the trick. The worst it's gotten is 43C on the hard drives and 80C on the graphics card, and that was playing a 3D game for hours in 110F... admittedly just to see how things would go.

I placed a fan in the front of the PC (not the one pulling air across the hard drives, but rather one blowing into the main bay) which is plugged into the power for the fan that would normally sit at the back or side of the case, so that when parts near the top/back get hot that front fan picks up the amount of air coming in automatically. In that 3D game/110F scenario, the fan got up to full speed for a while, which was moderate volume - the loudest this system's ever been. For comparison's sake though, I've owned a 3D card in the past that sounded like a vacuum cleaner. This nice large fan was loud, but significantly quieter than that.

When I'm not torturing my PC with Oblivion in 110 degrees, that fan shuts itself off - which is most of the time.

Oh - and my decision to place that intake fan there lead to my removing of the VGA duct and not blocking off the back vent. My take on the flow is that if the system is running cool, it's not big deal if some warm air comes in that back vent. If it's running hot, that intake fan is pointing right at that vent, so it's unlikely any air from the back of the case is coming in in that scenario. So basically - yes hot air might get in - but not when it matters.

Once I figured out the very confusing Profiles interface for RivaTuner, it has now become my best friend for setting my 3D card's fan speed optimally. I love that I can watch HD full screen and still have the fan set to silent on the card.