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Discussion Starter #1
I have been very interested in the power efficiency of the new SandyBridge processor line. As I do a fair amount of processor intensive stuff, that has a tendency to heat the heck out of my gear. With Intel reshipping the faulty chip-sets and manufactures gearing up to crank out a slew of boards that will have a separate 3gbps sata chips. Perhaps there will be some really cheap high end boards with the last of the faulty chips available in about 6 months as the manufactures retool for the corrected chips from Intel.

I want to create a whisper quiet recording pc that is 4 track capable using the two pci slots that are still on the board and two 24/96 m-audio cards. I already have a fan-less Zen 300 watt that I am very satisfied with. It has very clean and stable power and will peak to 450 without causing trouble.
I have been using it a little on the high side of 250 watts continuous with an AMD 7750 and two hard-drives.

The new CPUs from Intel will make having low speed high efficiency cooling an option that up until now has alluded me. Low power consumption of the cpu is the key to a totally silent pc as I see it. If I can keep my power consumption from the cpu down under 100 watts under heavy load then perhaps I will be able to keep my recording pc in the same room where I record for a change and get rid of long cords and all the hassle they bring. This will also cause less marital friction as my recording would now be done in an area separate from the living space of my house!

I prefer to record playing at concert level dynamics using distant mic placement with gain chopped instead of in-close high gain studio technique. That way the full dynamic range of the instruments come into realisation unlike today's studio work where the soloists have no opportunity to really set the dynamics acoustically. So totally silent equipment is crucial to achieve this even in a large hall or room.
 

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SSD and soundproofing

Use an SSD as the boot disk, and attach disk storage space as needed over a network from another room in the house.

Some computer cases are epic fails with even the quietest boards/cards/power supplies because they are designed for best ventilation and not for silence. Lots of HTPCs suffer from that fate because gamer cases are used, so when there are several transcoding jobs along with other loads the general heat stays low because of all the great venting of the case but the CPU fan begins to roar. Choose the case wisely.

The key to soundproofing a PC case is not with weird baffles, meshes, or fabrics - it is with high density materials. For example, butyl rubber is excellent for lining a case, while egg crates are not. For a DIYer I would say build your own case out of wood or MDF. Even if you aren't a DIYer you can draw up or download plans for a wooden case and take them to a local cabinetry shop for a custom case build.
 

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One of the quiet company, I think it was Zalman, had a completely fanless case that used fins for cooling of all the components.

It was NOT cheap IIRC. Nor was it small.

For what you are doing I am a little surprised that you CPU would consume anywhere close to 100W so even if you didn't go fanless one of the big heat sink + slow fan options would probably work for you.

I also assume you are using the integrated MB graphics. There's no need for a dedicated graphics card unless you are gaming.
 

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The e series from AMD is another option (240e, 405e, 600e, etc.) The are rated at 45w and are quiet with stock coolers but a third party cooler may be better. The Arctic Cooling Alpine 64 Pro is a decent, low cost cooling solution. There is also the AMD Athlon 64 2650E which is rated at only 15w and fits an AM2 socket (basically an Atom competitor) but it may not have enough horsepower.
 

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How much computing power do you really need, though?
Are these raw stream dumps? Encoding? etc.

You could probably get away with an atom fanless board (available now)
or the new amd fusion (C-series/Ontario - 9W TDP) line that should be available any time now. There's also the E-series at 18W if C isn't enough power, and the enthusiast line (high end, like upper sandy bridge) later this year, though probably overkill for your needs.

They can for sure be fanless with their power ratings below 30W.
C's rated for 9W (E is 18W), including graphics, and it supposedly gives great performance for that.
Atom's about the same power as a C-series, but graphics chipset is additional heat and they're not as powerful.

30W is easy to dissipate fanless.
 

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I've disabled or removed the fans on some low powered video boards and CPUs and experienced no issues. I wouldn't do it with a mainstream CPU or high powered video chip. Some of the Atom fanless heat sinks are pretty small so fanless is easy provided heat dissipation allows it. As to performance, I recently built an Atom 510 system and it's pretty impressive for the power and clock ratings. If all that is being done with the system is recording, it just might do the job. The only issue is that Atom boards typically have only one expansion slot, which rules out the two audio card configuration. An Atom based mATX or ATX board might work but they are not as common as Mini-ITX boards.
 

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www.silentpcreview.com is a website that primarily focuses on silent computing (duh), but they do have a list of components used in PCs that you can buy (off the shelf) to create your own.

I try to build my PCs to be as quiet as possible, and when I look for components like power supplies or CPU heatsink/fan I buy from their recommended list.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thanks for the suggestions

The idea is to be able to record high bit rate 4 track. Then be able to spit out lower bit rate transcoded streams possibly to the net. Not necessarily in real time but possibly if the circumstances require live broadcasting.
The reason 4 track is best is that hall mic placement is the key to live performance of Classical ensemble. Essentially using spatial placement to capture live performance.

I can see no reason why all this cannot be done cheaply with todayś tech and a simple pc hooked up to four studio grade mics and a simple four track portable mixer. The whole set up including the pc could easily fit into a small, robust portable rack cart and would be a breeze to use and set up anywhere.

My current PC is close to achieving this but there are a few refinements that would really help.

Western Digital Green drives when new are fine though having a smaller less expensive SSD for the OS and initial recording work would be perfect.

I have no sound issues with WD Greens, the black series that constantly run at 7200 are not as quiet. Using Seagates clicking machines is completely out of the question.

Adapting silent sata laptop drives is another good option and will also decrease power consumption as an added bonus. Constant 7200 rpm drives are no longer a must since the advent of higher rate sata connections.

I have been looking for motherboard sata to laptop drive adapters..there must be a simple way to adapt sata laptop drives to the pc! Just I have not found it yet. Perhaps its time to breakout my soldering iron and murder a few cheap off the shelf connectors, same as I do to create onboard audio aux input connectors to 1/4 inch jack or rca. The solution lies in just a simple correct reconnection of pin assignments I suspect, if there is no off the shelf solution out there already.

My big mistake was buying an Athlon black 7750 that runs at 95 watts average.

I do have a 64X2 5000+ that is a 65 watt processor, on another board that has usb issues. If I change it over to my M2A-VM then I should be able to use my thermal take low profile copper pipe heat sync at something down around 1600 on the fan even when transcoding.

I desire to create a portable recording/broadcasting device not a portable space heater!

This is why I am looking into the new stuff happening with lower power high end chips.

For example Asus/Intel designs that use better onboard audio chips like the alc 892 that are now available on a number of asus high end 4 slot Intel based small form factor boards. The alc 892 chipset is 4 track 24/96 capable if the firmware and board engineering is not crippled to only use a stereo limited pair of a-d input pins on the chip.

Having read the detailed specs, some of the new SandyBridge based boards from Asus have onboard 4 track in capabilities and could eliminate the need for add on sound cards. In addition to that, the analogue to digital rating of the alc892 and some similar chips is a respectable 104 db at 24/192 so this is as good as what the studios are currently using.

If the input circuits then can handle hot line level signals like my M-audio cards can then I am very interested in what is starting to happen with on board audio.

I find that Asus is sometimes not the best board for their quality of on board audio chip connection circuit design but they are definitely getting better.
But at least they let you know in the specs if some functions have been blacked out when they apply an audio chip. Unlike some manufactures.
 

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If you can find a (single) pci-e soundcard with 4 track input you can probably make yourself an ultraportable mini-ITX system (if you've never seen mITX, it's like the size of 6-10 DVD cases).

mITX boards often come in fanless variants (again, atom, though. Probably fusion to come shortly)

SATA laptop to desktop drives: they have identical connectors, if that's what you mean.
If you mean physically mount them, a lot of cases now include a 2.5" slot/mounting area because lots of people use laptop SSDs in a desktop.
Or you can get a 2.5" to 3.5" mounting adapter for like $10. (ripoff, but at least its specially designed and ready to go)

I'd go with what stampeder suggested:
A small SSD (60g should be enough for OS + software ++)
and have bulk storage in a networked location.
After you record + finalize tracks you can transfer them from the SSD to the network location or to USB storage.
 

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there must be a simple way to adapt sata laptop drives to the pc!
3.5" drive bay to 2.5" drive adapters are fairly easy to find. The connectors are identical so that is not an issue. I did this for an HTPC and a small server. Some OCZ SSD drives are packaged with a 3.5" drive bay adapter.

An E series Athlon II will run cooler and quieter than an X2 and they are dirt cheap compared to Intel chips. I have a board running a 5200+ that generates way more heat than a comparable E series chip.

I much prefer Gigabyte motherboards these days. The build quality is better and I've had far fewer issues with them than Asus boards. (I don't understand why Asus boards have such a good rep since every one I've owned has had issues.) Gigabyte boards also have good sound implementations. I also have an M-audio 2496 but find the Gigabyte 889a or 892 integrated sound to be as good.
 

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Should clarify some on that, Bob.

'e' series (i.e. 4500e) are different from 'E' series

(there is an actual naming scheme of E-### now that fusion is out)

..Though both are low power consumption chips
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Guess I should look at the connectors more closely

Interesting if you do have access to a power mixer it would be very interesting to see if the alc 4 track capable chips will handle souped up line level inputs. My mackie puts out peaks over 1 volt and the M-audio card is the only inexpensive a-d device that I have used to date that is not over driven to distortion. Sure I know creatives pro series emu will handle it but I have not found an onboard chip setup on any motherboard that can.

It is the old gain level problem of dynamics if you set your analogue mixer output gain too low then you lose some of the low level performance dynamics. If the newer motherboards and realtek chips can actually handle this then I am very interested.

So you say you can just use the same sata power and data plugs on either a 2.5 laptop or a 3.5 pc sata drive? I honestly never looked that closely at them I just thought they were different like with ide drives. If this is the case some of my pc harddrives are about to be put on the chopping block real quick...even our western digital green in the pvr might get axed in favour of a pair of 2.5 laptop drives!
 

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I am talking about the Athlon II 240e and similar 45w chips. Wasn't aware there was an E series. AMD claims the power saving chips perform as well as the 65w chips. They appear to be in short supply and cost about $20 more. You won't find any speed demons in the lineup either, though that shouldn't be needed for this type of application.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
I bit the bullet and bought a mini

If you can find a (single) pci-e soundcard with 4 track input you can probably make yourself an ultraportable mini-ITX system (if you've never seen mITX, it's like the size of 6-10 DVD cases).

mITX boards often come in fanless variants (again, atom, though. Probably fusion to come shortly)
After much consideration.
An ultra portable mini is the route that I have chosen.
There is a very good reason for this as even though at first I will only do 24/96 in stereo with the board that I bought. There is still the possibility of sticking a firewire card in the single pci slot then hooking into some really good studio gear for multi-track work.

My main consideration was the terrible experience I have had with rf hum and noise in general from stupid pc devices that have cheapo fans and spinning disks. If I do use a case fan it will be large, slow, and have extremely high quality shielding. There will be no crazy leaf blowers that gamer style video cards have. Or crappy add ons!

Even the so called HTPC case that I currently use could double as a vacuum cleaner in a pinch. Needless to say it does not ever get close to my living room or my studio. Considering that the cheap seagate drives, fans and stupid DVD drive are just about loud enough to blow the cones out of my monitor phones when I switch on the phantom power to my mics.

Yes I exaggerate a little but if you record classical music it is imperative that you use mic levels that would drive a rocker or mic chewing singer nuts! We do play passages from ppp all the way to fff and use crescendo all the time. To have the dynamics come out as transparently as possible you need to have a completely silent room and equipment... so using a pc for this purpose has been a complete bust so far.

The board that I purchased is an Asus mini Dual Core Atom AT5NM10-1

It has a 24/192 capable audio chipset that has almost as good a spec as my m-audio cards! It will do 24/96 stereo a-d at 95db and can handle 1.2+ Vrms line levels...so it will handle hot signals from my studio gear and not distort. 95db is fine for stereo and the cross talk and SNR rating are as good as any studio gear on the 92HD73C IDT audio chipset. So it will make a totally silent high end recording pc possible on the cheap for the first time.

Recording high quality directly to a PC has been nothing but a royal PITA over the years..perhaps things are finally starting to change with the advent of cheap low power high definition gear.
 

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Many of the mini-ITX boards have fanless CPU and GPU heat sinks. I have one in my SOHO server. Add a fanless power supply and SSD HD and you have a virtually silent PC. I've also seen fanless CPU heat sinks for standard CPUs and fanless graphics cards. With any totally fan free design, it's imperative to use low power devices and a large case with lots of ventilation for convection. Aluminum may be a better case material as well.

Don't know if you are familiar with M-audio but they make some very good products for professional recording.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Don't know if you are familiar with M-audio but they make some very good products for professional recording.
I use M-Audio stuff already and have for years...The good old audiophile 24/96 with a via ice 1712 chip, that I still use today, has 64 bit Window7 drivers that are asio capable. So M-Audio is the best company around for support. The fact that this card has been available for over 10 years and still has up to date windoze qualified driver as well as great mac and linux support really says something about using great gear!

The IDT chipset on the atom 525 based board that I am building with has almost as good specs as the VIA ice 1712. Cross talk on ADC-DAC is as good and it will handle 1.2 Vrms line level. Which means no distortion at high pre-amp levels the same as the M-audio card. Too bad it is impossible to sync the bit clock with an onboard add on card through the pci bus though. As this would make 4 track recording a snap.

With an add on firewire card I can always do my multitrack work an M-Audio firewire solo will work fine for up to six channels.

So my main concern is creating a recording pc that does not suck and blow wind, sound like a jet taking off or a 383 hemi when spinning up a disk!
I will leave that kind of gear for the pc toy gamers ...and sell my so called HTPC AMD 7750 to some kid that just wants a cheap gaming pc and could care less about noise.
 
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