One of the most important things to consider in building a Media PC or HTPC (Home Theatre PC) is cooling. Chances are that you’ll want your Media PC in your lounge and you’ll want it to be seen and not heard. You’ll also be trying to fit the components into a smart but small case which unfortuanately doesn’t fit so well with good, quiet airflow.
A good while ago now I decided to build a Media PC out of spare components that I was either given or had left from other upgrades. The one thing that I decided to buy right from the start was a decent case. I chose not to cut corners and save money but rather to splash out on something that would look good in my lounge environment. Hence I bought the Silverstone LC11M case with fitted power supply and VFD display / IR remote. At the time Media PC cases were much rarer than they are now and this case was by far the best money could buy in my opinion.
I got everything installed in the case and the software setup and was generally pleased except that the Silverstone ‘quiet’ fans weren’t quite working to the same definition of quiet as I was. So I quickly replaced the case fans with a pair of Akasa Amber series 80mm fans which are quite quiet even at full speed. I then went through several different CPU heatsink and fan combinations, eventually settling on the Arctic Cooling Super Silent 4 Ultra but this was a little too tall so I had to remove the mesh grill from the bottom of the case to let it stick out a little. At this point it’s probably worth pointing out to those who don’t know, that the LC11M case is quite unique as the motherboard is mounted upside down on the underside of the top panel.
In the end I decided that it would be difficult to reach my aim of a truely quiet Media PC using the Pentium 4 and ATI 9600XT that I already had and that I should sell the bits I had on ebay and buy some parts that were much more suited. In came an ASUS M2NPV-VM motherboard with integrated Nvidia 6150 graphics that could output through S-Video and a bottom of the range AM2 Sempron. The Sempron only lasted a short while before I realised that it was the only AMD processor to not support cool & quiet. So in came an AMD Athlon X2 3600+, which has plenty of power for basic media functions, supports cool & quiet and runs pretty cool in most situations.
This gave me a much better basis for a quiet Media PC but now I faced a new issue, my Arctic Cooling Super Silent 4 Ultra wouldn’t fit an AM2 socket. My thoughts went to Zalman’s range of coolers as they are all fairly low profile and the CNPS7000 isn’t all that oversized, so I decided it would probably fit and be OK to mount upside down. Unfortunately it too was AM2 incompatible. This took me on a cooler search which finally ended with the purchase of an Akasa AK-859. Not a cooler many people will have heard of really but for me it was ideal.
The Ak-859 is an all copper heatsink that has a standard size 80mm fan fitted on top, held in place by screws. The standard fan is far too noisy for this type of application but it is very easy to swap out and that was what attracted me to this cooler. Off came the standard fan and in went another much quieter Amber Series fan. I also took the fan guard off and added some rubber O-rings to allow me to continue to use the standard screws. This in conjuction with the ASUS motherboard’s Q-Fan control system meant that I could have an exceptionally quiet system that in the event of needing extra cooling could ramp the fans enough to provide just that.
A bit of minor case modding
I also had a concern that the location of the case meant that heat build up might be a potential problem. The Silverstone LC11M case has it’s front fan and CPU fan intakes underneath, this makes it look neat and well finished but the gap between the base and the surface it’s stood on isn’t really enough to allow the air to flow well and in a wooden TV cabinet air flow would already be an issue. Also now that I had a cooler that would fit in the case properly I fancied having a mesh grill covering the hole that I’d opened up in the bottom panel. This is where B&Q came in handy, although I’m sure many other general hardware stores would be just as good! I got myself a large sheet of steel mesh and a pack of door knobs.
The steel mesh being very fine would distrupt the airflow only minimally and it was also easy to cut with just a pair of kitchen scissors. So I cut out a suitable piece and using some superglue applied it to the inside of the bottom panel. I didn’t need to leave it too long as the mesh would hold in place by gravity anyway being as it was on the top of the bottom panel.
As you may have spotted from that picture, the door knobs were to become replacement feet to raise the case up that little bit further. The old feet screwed on from the outside through a hole in the centre into a thread in the panel so they were easy to remove. The door knobs / new feet, needed to be screwed from the inside of the panel with the thread being in the knob and what I soon realised was that the screws supplied with the knobs were the right length to go through a thick wooden kitchen cupboard door and into the knobs. This meant that they were really far too long for my thin piece of steel panel. A trip back to the hardware store got me some 4 x 10 mm screws that fitted perfectly. I then needed to widen the holes as the screws for the knobs were wider but that was an simple task with a power drill and a 4 mm drill bit.
I can honestly say I’m very pleased with the final result. I chose door knobs with a brushed nickel finish as they matched my case best and these particular ones had a fairly flat surface to them which is important. Of course almost any suitable door knobs could be used in a mod like this and I noticed some with a fake leather finish which I imagine would also work really well and provide a soft contact surface too.
If you’re thinking that it looks like it’s got about the same clearance as in the picture at the top of this article, then you’d be correct. I took that picture after the mod too, what that picture also shows nicely is that with the extra height the case now fits nice and centrally in our TV corner unit. The only thing left now is to remove that ‘Arctic Cooling’ sticker from off the front, why I stuck that on there I’ll never know.