Basics of a quiet pc
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Alternatives for a quiet PC
Building a fast powerful PC often makes silencing it difficult, so we look at the alternatives for getting the quiet experience you want, without losing out on performance.

The Options

As fast powerful computers consume more electricity, they need more fans to cool them, which makes them harder to silence (though AMD's recent low power processors (35W TDP) may change this). The alternatives available really depend on where you want to use the PC, and what you want to use it for.
  • The simplest option (and also the cheapest) is to simply use long cables, so the PC can run in a different room from the screen, keyboard and mouse.
  • Alternatively, install Windows XP Pro on the fast powerful PC, and use Microsoft's Remote Desktop software to access the fast machine from a slow/quiet PC
  • Build a silent thin client PC, and use thin client software to access the fast machine running either Linux or Microsoft Windows.
Each of these options has different pros and cons, and what you choose depends on how you want to use your PC.

Long Cables

This might seem like a bit of a cheat, but actually provides the best results. Depending on the location where you normally work, if you are within about 5m (16ft) of an attic, basement or spare room, then this is probably the best solution.

Unless your computer is very noisy, then moving it to another room should mean you can no longer hear it. Buy some 5m video,mouse and keyboard extension cables. Even good quality cables should only cost a few bucks each. Next buy a 3m or 5m USB cable, and a powered USB hub (I'd recommend a 7 port hub such as the Dlink 7 port USB2 hub), and a USB DVD/CD drive, usb floppy and of course a USB printer.

Whilst most usb devices come with short leads, you can run USB2 devices on cables up to 5m. The limit for USB1.1 devices appears to be around 3m. So if you attach a usb hub with a 3m or 5m cable to the fast PC, you can still access a CD drive, floppy printer, camera from your desktop. Ideally if you are building your own fast PC, then you don't need to bother with an internal DVD/CD drive or floppy drive, but just use USB devices.

Another advantage with this solution, is that computer games still work just fine. I'd recommend still plugging your mouse and keyboard into the PC via ps/2 extension cables, rather than using a USB mouse/keyboard plugged into the USB hub, as if there are any USB problems you can still control the PC.

Finally, make sure the computers BIOS supports starting up from the keyboards "WAKE" button, as the last thing you want is to have to pop into the attic every time you want to start your PC.

This solution gives the best results, but is only viable if you have a nearby location you can put the PC where you can't hear it.

Remote Desktop

Until a few years ago, the easiest solution for remote access to a windows PC was with VNC or PC-Anywhere, but neither of these really provided a great user experience. They were fine for doing some remote administration, but not suitable for using all day as a desktop.

Microsoft's terminal server software however provides a greatly improved user experience, with a much more responsive desktop, and giving local sound, drive and printer access. Since microsoft made "Remote Desktop" available in windows XP Pro, it is now an affordable solution for getting the benefit of a fast powerful computer remotely.

You will still need a quiet computer to work at, but your desktop will be running remotely over a network on the fast Windows XP Pro computer. This means the fast computer can be anywhere, even out in the garage, though it does mean that you will be leaving it running most of the time.

The client software for connecting to a remote desktop can be downloaded for free from microsoft, and runs on anthing from windows 95 to windows XP. If you are building your own fast PC, then the cost of an OEM copy of windows XP Professional is only slightly more that the cost of an OEM copy of Windows XP Home.

You still need a quiet computer to work at that is connecting to the remote desktop, the best option being an old laptop (with a 1024x768 screen) running windows 95 or 98. Install the remote desktop client software, and set the power save options to turn off the hard disk after just a minute of inactivity, then start the remote desktop client software. Add the remote desktop client to the Startup folder (right click on the start button to access the start menu and the startup folder) if you want it to start straight away.

If you want to be able to turn off the fast computer, but don't want to have to go to the garage every time you want to restart it, setup the fast computer's bios to turn on from WakeOnLan and download a wakeonlan client to start it with.

The main downside with remote desktop, is that it is not ideal for playing the latest computer games on and requires you to still have a quiet desktop computer to run from , although making an older/slower desktop quiet is easier that quietening a fast powerful PC.

Thin Client

The final solution is to go completely over to a thin client, connecting either to a linux or windows computer. A thin client with a fanless mini-itx motherboard and fanless powersupply make silencing the box easy, and booting from either the network (using PXE) of from a solid state device (compact flash card, or usb thumb drive) make the thin client free from squeaks.

You can either load windows 98 from compact flash or use LTSP (linux terminal server project) via PXE or compact flash to run a linux thin client, or from LTSP start rdesktop which is an opensource client for connecting to a Microsoft remote desktop PC (i.e. a fast windows XP Pro computer in the garage)

Going the thin client route involves a lot more work, but provides options for running an entire office of thin clients connected to a single linux LTSP server or windows terminal server, which can reduce your upgrade costs considerably.


Hopefully this has given you a few ideas of how to move away from that noisy computer under the desk, and into a peaceful work environment. The different options require different levels of skill to implement them.

Once you move to a silent computing setup, you'll never want to go back to the noise again.

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