Quiet Dual CPU - possible?

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Quiet Dual CPU - possible?

Post by aitor » Tue Aug 02, 2005 1:38 pm

Edit: got the TDPs wrong!

Please forgive any naivety - this is my first post...

Later this year I'm going to need to build myself a dual CPU workstation which I'll be running at home (I work from home). I'd like to make it as quiet as possible without compromising too much on the specs. I'll need to be able to multitask greedy apps like Photoshop, VMWare and SQL Server.

These are my objectives:

1) At least 8GB of RAM. I'll be running VMWare to simulate a network of servers to test configuration ideas before investing in the production hardware. Performance of the virtual machines isn't of great importance (if I get the equivalent of a 500Mhz PIII on each machine I'll be very happy) but without 4GB of RAM dedicated to VMWare plus 4GB for all the apps I'll be running, it will be impossible to simulate the 6-10 servers I need.

2) Dual CPU, each with dual cores. VMware can typically comfortably handle 2 virtual machines per core, so although 10 VMs over 4 cores may be stretching it a bit it should be possible. For performance and thermal reasons, I'll be going for Opterons rather than Xeons (I don't think dual core dual socket Xeons are available yet, anyway).

3) As quiet as possible. This machine will be at home, so if it makes a noise like a 747 then I'm going to have to find another solution (like colocating a 2U server and using it via Remote Desktop, and having a more down-to-earth PC for home use).

So here are the challenges & some approaches I've considered:

Heat - with dual CPUs, there's going to be a lot of heat to dissipate, which could mean lots of noise. Ideally I'd be able to use passive heat sinks, and I can get away with a passively cooled graphics card because 3D performance isn't a huge priority. If I can get close to the performance of Radeon 9800Pro 256Mb, which I have now, then I'll be more than happy. The usual advice is to go with low-rpm 120mm fans - but will a pair of these shift enough air? Upping the speeds or the fan count will increase the noise. Standard 260/265/275 Opterons dissipate about 89w each. Some opterons can be undervolted and still run fast; these are marketed as the HE models - they cost more, but bring TDP down to 55w. Tall heatsinks are OK, but I have to make sure that with two CPUs they'll fit - so probably a pair of Zalman CNPS7700 are out, but 2 Scythe Ninjas might be OK.

Case & Motherboard. I'm almost certainly going to have to go with an E-ATX sized motherboard, which limits my case choice considerably - e.g. the Antec P180 is out. This is because most dual opteron boards need the space of E-ATX to be able to fit everything in. There are a few ATX sized boards, but they only have 4 DIMM slots, which means I'd have to use 2GB DIMMs to get 8GB which are significantly more expensive than 1GB DIMMs. Performance will also suffer in theory as one of the CPUs won't have it's own RAM. My current most promising board is the new Iwill DK88 - this has 16 DIMM slots, whoch would give me expansion headroom without chucking out the initial RAM should 8GB prove to be too small. My current favourite case is the Lian Li PC-V1200, mainly for its looks. It's aluminium though, which could case resonance issues - although I think I may have a way around this...

Power Supply: E-ATX boards generally requre beefier power supplies with non-atx connectors. I may not be able to get a quiet / fanless PSU.

Hard drives: if I get an aluminium case, then the vibration from the drives could make the case hum. I don't need the fastest drives on the planet, but I will need at least two in a RAID 1 array. My idea here is quite simple - don't put them in the PC at all. I could have a small server hidden away in a closet somewhere and use iSCSI (SCSI over TCP/IP over Ethernet) - I already have a gigabit network in place. This will give me a theoretical max of 100MB/sec which is way more than I'll actually get from the drives. The server itself doesn't have to be particularly powerful and I can reuse an existing PC for this. I may need to get an iSCSI HBA to boot though; there is no way to boot from an iSCSI target over a standard NIC as the protocol is implemented by Windows based drivers. There is one way around this, using a PXE booted iSCSI driver - from www.emboot.com. Anyway, the hard drive noise is issue is solvable, so in theory I should be able to build a machine with no moving parts apart from the optical drive, the case fans, and maybe the PSU fan. Unless the case fans are enough to set off resonance in an aluminium case, I should be able to use the PC-V1200?

So what this boils down to is this: can I build a cool, quiet dual CPU machine, with 8 sticks of RAM and a couple of Opterons putting out 55-89W each with just a couple of case fans?

Any advice would be welcome!
Last edited by aitor on Tue Aug 02, 2005 3:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by BenW » Tue Aug 02, 2005 2:22 pm

Can't really comment on anything but your last idea.

I would have though that anything going through an ethernet port was cached on the hard drive. Could be wrong but thats what i guess. This means that you'd still only get the speed of your main system hard drive.

Anyway, good luck with saving the money needed ;)

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Post by aitor » Tue Aug 02, 2005 2:41 pm

a drive over iSCSI will logically be slower than attached locally, if only for the overhead of TCP/IP and Ethernet and latency in the switch. In the real world though, I doubt this will be noticeable. The seek time and sustsained transfer rates of a drive (not from cache) are always the limiting factors, and these will be the same no matter whether the drives are local or over the network. Having them on the network means that in theory I could have a 12 drive RAID0 array which probably would be capable of filling 100MB/sec.

The NIC can be a bottleneck though - esp if it's a standard speed 32bit PCI card.

iSCSI is very interesting technology. If HBA style support was built into the motheboard (possible, Broadcom and a few others have Lan on motherboard chips that do iSCSI in hardware) AND gigabit internet connections were possible, then your ISP could rent you drive space that would work just like a local hard drive.

There's no doubt that this will be an expensive system, but then I'll only need it if the project I need it for is greenlit. The project is worth a lot more than the cost of the PC!

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Post by mathias » Tue Aug 02, 2005 3:01 pm

aitor wrote:There's no doubt that this will be an expensive system, but then I'll only need it if the project I need it for is greenlit. The project is worth a lot more than the cost of the PC!
And then you get to keep that monster?

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Post by aitor » Tue Aug 02, 2005 3:15 pm

no, it keeps me!

I'm freelance and the cost of the workstation comes out of my fee, so yes I get to keep it. I could skimp on the spec and save the cash, but I'd be taking a risk with the success of the project, which could cost me a lot more if I make a costly mistake!

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Post by v3rt1g0 » Tue Aug 02, 2005 3:46 pm

I think you will need several fans, but they can all be slow spinning, under 1k RPM 120mm fans. I'm thinking Nexus 120mm fans running at 6-7v.

- One on each CPU 'sink
- Dual Intake, Dual Exhaust
- One or Two blowing onto motherboard to cool RAM/FETs/Bridges
- One on a passively cooled Video card

9 total. When you're moving such a small amount of air with each fan, you need many of them. The combined noise should still be very very small.

The low frequency sound of a 120mm fan is many times more pleasing than a smaller fan's whine, so make sure to get rid of any fans smaller than 80mm... preferably only use 120mm fans.

The loudest thing you will have to deal with are the hard drives. If you decide on iSCSI, then you're good to go.

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Post by mathias » Tue Aug 02, 2005 4:01 pm

aitor wrote:no, it keeps me!
Yeah, you pay for it's food(electricity) :)
aitor wrote:I'm freelance and the cost of the workstation comes out of my fee, so yes I get to keep it.

I take it you don't regularly get jobs that require this kind of system.
aitor wrote:I could skimp on the spec and save the cash, but I'd be taking a risk with the success of the project, which could cost me a lot more if I make a costly mistake!
Of course, and you can always try to sell some of it later anyway.

v3rt1g0, are you sure that there are dual CPU motherboards with enough room for two 12cm fan heatsinks? If XP120's and zalman 7700's aren't likely to fit, then that only leaves scythes and one other heatsink with a chance.

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Post by mathias » Tue Aug 02, 2005 4:25 pm

You might find 14cm yate loons useful, probably for cooling the MB. http://forums.silentpcreview.com/viewtopic.php?t=23376

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Post by aitor » Tue Aug 02, 2005 4:31 pm

Mathias: yes, this is a very big job. Most of the work I've done since going freelance has been much smaller scale in terms of infrastructure. But I've built a bigger network than the one this workstation needs to - or could - simulate. One of the CPUs on the biggest database servers would have paid for this entire system...

The job will be ongoing, so the system won't become useless immediately. VMWare's great for answering what-if type questions without making a huge hardware investment - well huge compared to the cost of the real servers!

V3rt1g0, I might be limited as Mathias says by the gap between cpus on the motherboard. Say I go for the iwill : http://www.iwill.net/product_2.asp?p_id=102&sp=Y3

Having lots of large, low rpm fans sounds like a good option. I guess I can keep tuning the number & speed until I get a good balance between cooling and noise. I'll also need to make sure the case can mount them where I need them. Do you know of any particularly versatile E-ATX cases that support loads of 120mm fans?

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Post by teknerd » Tue Aug 02, 2005 4:42 pm

The Antec Titan 550 has gotten fairly good reviews from the couple sites i have seen, and since its an antec it probably can't be that bad.


Plus it comes with a pretty good PSU (TruePower II 550, not the quietest probably but still a really high quality PSU)

It has one 120mm exhaust and two 92mm intakes, but as long as you put nexus's on the intakes you should be fine.

I dont think you'll need more than the 1 exhaust, 2 intakes, 2 on the cpu's and maybe one extra on the video card.

You also probably do not want to have a couple random fans simply blowing at the motherboard because that kind of cross air flow can disrupt the front to back airflow that cases are designed with, thereby trapping hot air in the case and raising the temperatures

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Post by mathias » Tue Aug 02, 2005 4:51 pm

aitor wrote: Say I go for the iwill : http://www.iwill.net/product_2.asp?p_id=102&sp=Y3
Assuming you'll have generally front to back airflow, it looks like one of the CPU heatsinks will be getting air pre heated by the other. On the other hand, that heatsink, if it's a tower, will be helped out by the/a rear fan. As crazy as it might sound, maybe two different heatsinks would work, a tower at the back so it's heat is exhausted easily, and something more traditional at the front so that it helps with cooling all the little things.

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Post by sthayashi » Tue Aug 02, 2005 5:11 pm

Lots of talk, very few answers.

1) I'd definitely go with the HE processors, but only depending on how long you have this machine around for. Seeing as this essentially comes out of your pay, you have to evaluate the cost of ease-of-silencing vs. the value. With the HEs, your heat output is on the level of Athlon XP T-Bred B core, something I've personally brought to reasonably quiet levels with a couple of Thermalright SLK-800s, which aren't as good as todays heatsinks.

2) The Silverstone TJ-06 can supposedly handle E-ATX boards. I would give some strong consideration to that case.

3) The Seasonic S12-500 or 600 series should theoretically provide what you need. You'll have to check the motherboard and their catalogs to find out for sure.

So, assuming you go with the HE, and assuming the TJ-06 works for you, I think you'll have a fighting chance at making this sucker quiet, pending your drive non-issue.

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Post by mathias » Sun Aug 07, 2005 3:24 pm

An idea for giving the MB components good cooling: a CNPS7700 with a turbine fan(because it's airflow is more spread out than that of other fans). That is if you'd be able to fit one.

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Or you could do something completely different

Post by bfg9k » Sun Aug 07, 2005 10:15 pm

This is a little less convenient than using VMware images, but how about buying a stack of these: ... ucts_id=70

So buy 8 of these, use your netBoot/iSCSI solution to network boot 'em all (no disks required!) and use remote desktop to control them all.

Then the main PC just needs a disk or three and a relatively modest and quiet setup. The fanless ones can go anywhere - no disks, no fans, no noise!

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Post by qviri » Sun Aug 07, 2005 10:18 pm

I suppose the performance of a 600 MHz C3 might be a bit of a barrier.

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Post by mathias » Mon Aug 08, 2005 9:43 am

Yet another idea for dealing with v3rt1g0's claim that the motherboard components will need extra cooling: use one or two 92mm fan heatsinks like the SI97A or XP90C, but with 120mm fan(s). Or even 140mm yate loons or 120mm aerocool turbines. Of course, all this is only if the MB components really do need that cooling.

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Post by aitor » Mon Aug 08, 2005 3:09 pm

v3rt1g0 & mathias: With the opterons having an integrated memory controller, the rest of the motherboard doesn't have many hot running components and all the boards I've been looking at use passive heatsinks.

On Friday I had a chance to see a few cases in person. The P180 doesn't look as bad as it does in most photos I've seen when you see it in the flesh - but it's too small for my purposes anyway. Conversely I was a lot less impressed by the Lian Li V1000 I saw which was similar to the V1200 I was considering. The aluminium is just too thin, I think.

sthayashi: I'm leaning more towards the Silverstone TJ06 now mainly because of the wind tunnel, although it will restrict my choice of motherboards as many (Iwill DK88 included) position the second CPU outside of the area covered by the tunnel. Another potential issue will be tall or wide cpu heatsinks not fitting inside the tunnel. The motherboard that is the leading contender is the Tyan Thunder K8WE. With HE opterons, I imagine that I could get away with a lower-rated power supply, but I'd still need the EPS12 connectors, and in any case a fanless power supply probaby isn't a great idea with the TJ-06 as then there'll be nothing to exhaust the drives & rest of the motherboard. So the Seasonics you suggest, which have quiet fans and meet the power requirements for standard opterons, would probably by OK.

bfg9k & qviri: A bunch of low power boxes acting as servers - nice idea, but I think they probably would be a bit underpowered, plus I need the flexibility of vmware - particularly the fast rebooting. I'd also have problems housing so many boxes!

The HE opterons cost the same as the standard opterons two speeds faster. I.E. an Opteron 275 - the fastest dual core @ 2.2Ghz - is the same price as an Opteron 265HE @ 1.8Ghz ($1399 list in quantities of 1000 from AMD!). So one way to look at it is a 400Mhz speed penalty, instead of an inflated price.

I still don't have a green light on the project yet... even if I do, I won't be needing the system until mid October, so there may be a few more options by then.

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Post by bfg-9000 » Tue Aug 09, 2005 6:33 am

aitor: Your original post said you only needed the equivalent of a 500 MHz PIII for the servers, which is why I suggested the fanless C3 systems. I've used VMware plenty in the past, and it's performance is not that great, especially when you'll have 6-10 instances of it all thrashing your disk during reboots and possibly during your test runs along with them trying to share CPU resources.

Since the system you're proposing will already run a few thou, you might want to really re-consider doing it all on one (loud?, hot!) workstation. Having several real systems would provide for more realistic testing (I do a lot of cluster programming, so YMMV here) If I were you :wink: I'd buy a stack of 1U or 2U 1.2 GHz C3's, netboot them using that netBoot software and a good quality Gigabit card (or give 'em each a disk), and keep them down the hall out of sight in the closet you mentioned. Then whip up a much more modest quiet PC without too much trouble for the desktop. VMware doesn't reboot THAT fast, and if you're netbooting the small computers will boot quickly since they won't need to wait for the disk to spin up. This would meet your stated speed needs, and be very quiet indeed.

Getting a big dual-cpu system quiet is an interesting challenge, but as an independent contractor your time is money :D

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Post by ky » Wed Aug 10, 2005 12:32 am

I'd recommend the following:

Motherboard: Tyan K8WE
Power Supply: Seasonic S12-600
Cooling: Water
Case: any that can accomodate at least 1 120mm front intake fan and at least 1 120mm rear exhaust fan

My current workstation is a dual Opteron 252 on the same motherboard w/ dual 6800 Ultras in SLi cooled by water. The loudest part of the workstation is my 660W EPS12 PSU with dual 80mm fans. I suspect having a single 120mm fan on the S12-600 would cut down noise substantially.

The K8WE can certainly accomodate your 8GB RAM requirement with 8 slots and beyond if you require > 8GB in the future.

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Post by tomcat » Wed Aug 10, 2005 12:42 pm

i second the water cooling idea. i have a dual xeon machine which is very quiet (dual radiator with 2 nexus 120mm fans) + 120mm case fan + PSU fan.
if you have a big enough case you can fit the radiator inside the case (cut out a hole in the top).


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Post by mathias » Fri Aug 12, 2005 7:52 pm

The thermaltake armor case, now that it's also available in steel, looks like a potential good option for a dual CPU system

http://www.thermaltake.com/xaserCase/ar ... 000bws.htm

It looks like it would let you make a fresh air duct for a 12cm fan PSU.

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Post by ronrem » Sat Aug 13, 2005 4:37 pm

I'd try a pair of Scythe 2005 heatlane coolers and do a ducted doormount mod with a pair of variable speed 120's lined up to pull the heat off those CPU's quick enough that they dont heat the case.

With chipset,RAM adding some heat I'd likely add a system fan,probably a thermal type like an Artic Cooling TC. That has a low speed at 1000 rpm,and ramps up if theres too much heat-that's your safety valve. You MIGHT want a low speed 120 like the 720 rpm coolermaster so the Artic does not ramp up often,though that could be unnessecery.

No good reason to go aluminum-you won't be taking this Clydesdale to LAN parties. Why pay more? Spend a few $$$ instead at the hardware store getting tools to mod a basic BIG case..

Build a wooden base for it framed with 2x6. cut holes in the case FLOOR for the system fan or fans. The base is closed on front + sides opens to the rear. lined with carpet ot acoustic mats- few decibles will survive to hit your ears.

How much HD space do you really need on this? A pair of 200 gb Spinpoints would not be real loud,or you could go with Seagates for more capacity. Many mobos have onboard SATA raid-do you NEED SCSI? Suspend a couple of quiet SATAs and the noise is low.

You are looking at a pretty big case,at least. You should have room to line it with some damping mats,and could go further and carpet the outside too

89w per cpu is like a mildly overclocked Venice 3000-the best of the big passives can do that with some well planned airflow from the case fans

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Post by ~El~Jefe~ » Sun Aug 14, 2005 11:31 pm

eh, i recommend seasonic 430 but thats just me i guess. I think this will more than handle the opterons. I doubt this rig will use 500 watts of power.

I would use tyan, yes thats always a beautiful board for server types of systems.

I would water cool the two processors. In fact, i would get 2 reserator towers, one for each one and slip one in a loop on northbridge, the other on a loop with graphics card.

that would look hot. :twisted:

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Post by aitor » Wed Aug 17, 2005 6:36 pm

Thanks everyone for your tips. Still no greenlight on the project; but I've done a bit more research on the system in the meantime.

First the bad news about iSCSI...

1) Emboot's PXE-downloadable iSCSI initiator - netboot/i - which would allow me to boot from a remote iSCSI volume, without an HBA, WON'T be an option for two reasons... i) there's no 64bit version of it ii) they don't sell it to individuals...
2) There are still no iSCSI HBAs with 64 bit drivers (the normal way to boot off iSCSI)
3) The two Ethernet NIC chipsets avalable from Broadcom (5706 and 5708S) that combine LAN & iSCSI functionality, and are on a few motherboards, DO have 64bit drivers, but Broadcom haven't confirmed to me that thee drivers include the iSCSI support.

The upshot of all this is that I won't be able to boot from iSCSI - so I have to have a hard drive in the PC. Once Windows has loaded then I can use the Microsoft iSCSI initiator for everything else (including my virtual machines), which will minimise the use of the boot disk. I suppose I could look at a solid state boot drive, such as the HyperDrive III from http://www.hyperossystems.co.uk/ ...

Hopefully motherboard support for iSCSI will be common in a year or two; that will make it possible for anyone with a fileserver and gigabit ethernet to run silent, diskless workstations.

Water cooling: this is attractive in that I could probably get a quieter machine without using the HE opterons (a Reserator should be capable of handling 2 x 89W cpus, and a low rpm case fan or two could handle everything else). However, I'm a bit daunted by the idea of water cooling -worried about stuff like leaks etc. So maybe I'll get a TJ06 or TJ07 (if that turns out to be suitable) and keep the water cooling option as a last resort should noise levels be too high with fan cooling.

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