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I'm in the initial stages of planning out the HTPC/Media server I'll be building come the summer, and I've run into a bit of a conundrum. My rack currently has 1U left free, and part of the appeal of an HTPC is the aesthetics of being able to fit exactly as much hardware as one needs into as small a space as possible, while still managing heat buildup and the like. I'd like it to replace my old DVD player, and I'd like to include a remote control, so I was looking at 1U chassis with a 5.25" and a 3.5" front external slots, as well as USB.

Newegg only has a half-dozen, though, and each review comments on the loudness of the chassis (since they can't fit 60mm fans into 1U). I generally need the thing to be quiet, as putting it into a server closet isn't an option - it will be sitting in the rack with my amp, audio interface, etc - right under the TV. Will noise control be a problem for any 1U I purchase?

If necessary, I can remove my hardware EQ/Crossover for the extra 1U, and simulate that piece of the chain with my amp. I'm just don't think I need an extra 1U of space for the components necessary to build the HTPC/server, and I'd like to keep the hardware EQ/crossover in my rack if possible.

Am I out of luck? Do I need to spring for the 2U chassis to keep the noise levels at an acceptable level?

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3 Answers 3

I would not advise you going with a 1U or 2U, these are not chasis made for 'quiet' performance, they are for pure cooling + small footprint. Air gets pulled in the front, usually via 40mm or 60mm fans, and out the back. IT makes noise...

You are trying to create an HTPC out of a server level piece of hardware, that will never fit your noise level requirement.

Just buy a standard HTPC case (aluminum or whatever you like) and buy that based on noise levels and what large fans you could put in (120mm, etc).

I would not recommend either, is my final answer.

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I think the trick here is to not overdo it. Remember that most of the noise in these systems comes from the cooling. Any of the recent Atom-based systems should be able to handle your HTPC needs. AMD's low power line also handles this load very well. If you do that, you won't need as much cooling and the noise level should improve.

Under normal circumstances I'd also advice an SSD to help with noise control, but that might not provide you enough space if you want to store movies or have TIVO-like features.

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Noise control will be a problem for any 1U or 2U enclosure you can buy. Air flow is limited, fans are small and noisy, you can't use passive CPU cooling, etc.

If your rack is closed (doors and panels on all sides)

I was able to modify an old 1U case I bought on ebay, used new fans and slowed them way down, used that computer as router/firewall. Since my computer is low power, not much cooling is needed. I can barely hear it even near the rack, if the door is closed. You can try doing something similar, but be prepared that you'll the computer will never be 100% silent, and you will have to try different fan speeds that are not too loud while still provide acceptable cooling. Also, building 1U or 2U computer from components is not for the faint of heart, as nothing fits easily. But if you buy a complete system, you cannot modify the cooling without voiding the warranty.

If your rack is open-frame

No way you can make it. Either 1U or 2U will be too loud for a quiet living room. If course if you turn it on only when you listen to a music or watch movies, it might be ok; you'll need to use the remote to put the system to sleep as soon as you finish using it, and wake it up with the remote when you need it again.

Conclusion

1U frame gives you very little slack, in terms of cooling, noise control, fitting components, etc. You can try going the 2U route, but it will be very hard to make it as quiet as a real HTPC case with 120MM fans and passive CPU cooling.

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