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How Neuros Built Their Nearly Silent HTPC 199

Posted by timothy
from the more-power-than-my-best-machine dept.
JoeBorn writes "Neuros has a blog posting discussing how they created their latest 'thin' HTPC to be nearly silent. Instead of using a net-top architecture (Atom or the like) they used a full 2.7GHz CPU and put their effort into making that nearly silent. The article talks about their efforts on fan selection, placement, control, and vibration dampening. This route was chosen to 'give more headroom' for CPU-hungry apps (web and otherwise) including Adobe Flash. Their solution costs $279; is this an appropriate trade-off for a device powering your TV?"
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How Neuros Built Their Nearly Silent HTPC

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  • silentpcreview (Score:5, Informative)

    by illaqueate (416118) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @04:47PM (#31811034)

    silentpcreview.com is where users should go. the linked story isn't any different from the many forum posts describing silent systems people have made

  • Re:silentpcreview (Score:3, Informative)

    by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @04:51PM (#31811074)

    It's pretty easy to make any non-gaming system completely silent. Just get a giant heatsink, a 120mm Nexus or similar fan for it, and a fan controller, and put it in a nice vibration mitigating case like an Antec Solo. silentpcreview.com is definitely a great source of information for making it all work.

  • The Full Article (Score:5, Informative)

    by theY4Kman (1519023) <they4kman@gmail.com> on Sunday April 11, 2010 @04:53PM (#31811092) Homepage

    We've just released a practically silent Neuros LINK v1.2 [neurostechnology.com] (codenamed "Phantom") and figured some of you would be interested in the process.

    Of course, there are easier ways to create a silent computer, the easiest being a net-top solution, with an Atom processor or the like. We've decided not to go that route with the LINK simply because we didn't want to make the sacrifice on CPU horsepower. Sadly, as we all know, there are still plenty of web apps and inefficient video streams that require CPU cycles. Instead, we architected a full power PC to be silent (or silent to an excellent approximation anyway) Click more to see what it took, or if you just want to buy, go here: [neurostechnology.com] we're good with that too.

    1. Low power components: (45W CPU, no optical drive or HDD, nothing extra) less power means less heat generated in the first place, thus less for fans to need to remove. Although its a 2.7GHz CPU, the Sempron 140 still only consumes 45W, so we felt that was a nice tradeoff between performance and a manageable amount of heat.

    2. Better Fans: We employed large, expensive, 120mm fluid dynamic bearing fans that are about as quiet as computer fans get. In fact they are pretty much silent save for the air they move.

    3. vibration dampening neoprene mounts dampen any vibration before it causes noise. Vibrating sheet metal is a great source of very annoying noise and strategically placed vibration dampeners are very important.

    4. Intelligent Fan control: We implemented the PWM (pulse width modulation) scheme to control fan speed throughout the system so that the fans would spin down (in a coordinated way) under normal use and only spin up when needed under heavy load (or in a closed cabinet where airflow is limited).

    5. Elimination of most moving parts in addition to reducing power (and heat), the elimination of optical drives and harddrives means the elimination of the noise they generate. The flash drive used on the LINK is obviously silent (certainly to the unaided ear anyway)

    6. Intelligent fluid dynamics of the entire system. One of the obvious benefits of controlling the whole system is that we have access to architect all the assembled parts when together, not just individual pieces. Thus we were able to replace the 70mm CPU fan with a larger, quieter 120mm fan that generates enough excess airflow that it can be used, in conjunction with a well placed power supply fan, to draw air to cool the north and south bridge chipsets of the motherboard well. If you open the case of the LINK, you'll find the components form a carefully developed airflow channel that covers the CPU, GPU, memory and power supply. Although the power supply is capable of running passively without a fan at all (it only operates at maximum ~40% of capacity in the LINK) we placed another fluid dynamic bearing fan to draw air into the power supply because it aided in creating the airflow channel needed. It also gives more headroom in case you do want to expand the LINK.

    Although not obvious at first glance, there are a host of important details that were necessary to reduce noise levels to the level you'll find in the LINK. As one example, open the LINK case and you may notice there are standoffs that separate the main fan from the case by 10.5mm This distance was arrived at through careful research and testing. Place the fan too close to the case vents and turbulence is created that generates audible noise, too close to the heat sink or other components and you disrupt the airflow channel and not only generate noise, but also adversely affect the cooling.

    So how quiet is the Phantom? 20 dB or less typically, but if that means nothing to you, put a different way, sitting on the couch 6 feet away, its probably less

  • Re:silentpcreview (Score:2, Informative)

    by illaqueate (416118) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @04:59PM (#31811152)

    Even gaming, if you aren't massively overclocking a good tower heatsink is good enough to run with little air flow. The main issue is the video card, however one would not hear the video card typically over sound unless the ambient temperature is high. There are of course aftermarket parts for the video card as well.

    Another issue with any system, not only game systems is the sound of the hard drive. Many hard drives, especially older hard drives become loud over time. It doesn't matter how much you dampen the vibration. The best results depend on getting the right model (some Samsung and WD are popular right now if I'm up to date)

  • Re:Oops (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 11, 2010 @05:14PM (#31811274)

    Posting anon:

    A Silent HTPC
    Tue, 04/06/2010 - 22:13 -- Joe

    We've just released a practically silent Neuros LINK v1.2 [neurostechnology.com] (codenamed "Phantom") and figured some of you would be interested in the process.

    Of course, there are easier ways to create a silent computer, the easiest being a net-top solution, with an Atom processor or the like. We've decided not to go that route with the LINK simply because we didn't want to make the sacrifice on CPU horsepower. Sadly, as we all know, there are still plenty of web apps and inefficient video streams that require CPU cycles. Instead, we architected a full power PC to be silent (or silent to an excellent approximation anyway) Click more to see what it took, or if you just want to buy, go here: [neurostechnology.com] we're good with that too.

    1. Low power components: (45W CPU, no optical drive or HDD, nothing extra) less power means less heat generated in the first place, thus less for fans to need to remove. Although its a 2.7GHz CPU, the Sempron 140 still only consumes 45W, so we felt that was a nice tradeoff between performance and a manageable amount of heat.

    2. Better Fans: We employed large, expensive, 120mm fluid dynamic bearing fans that are about as quiet as computer fans get. In fact they are pretty much silent save for the air they move.

    3. vibration dampening neoprene mounts dampen any vibration before it causes noise. Vibrating sheet metal is a great source of very annoying noise and strategically placed vibration dampeners are very important.

    4. Intelligent Fan control: We implemented the PWM (pulse width modulation) scheme to control fan speed throughout the system so that the fans would spin down (in a coordinated way) under normal use and only spin up when needed under heavy load (or in a closed cabinet where airflow is limited).

    5. Elimination of most moving parts in addition to reducing power (and heat), the elimination of optical drives and harddrives means the elimination of the noise they generate. The flash drive used on the LINK is obviously silent (certainly to the unaided ear anyway)

    6. Intelligent fluid dynamics of the entire system. One of the obvious benefits of controlling the whole system is that we have access to architect all the assembled parts when together, not just individual pieces. Thus we were able to replace the 70mm CPU fan with a larger, quieter 120mm fan that generates enough excess airflow that it can be used, in conjunction with a well placed power supply fan, to draw air to cool the north and south bridge chipsets of the motherboard well. If you open the case of the LINK, you'll find the components form a carefully developed airflow channel that covers the CPU, GPU, memory and power supply. Although the power supply is capable of running passively without a fan at all (it only operates at maximum ~40% of capacity in the LINK) we placed another fluid dynamic bearing fan to draw air into the power supply because it aided in creating the airflow channel needed. It also gives more headroom in case you do want to expand the LINK.

    Although not obvious at first glance, there are a host of important details that were necessary to reduce noise levels to the level you'll find in the LINK. As one example, open the LINK case and you may notice there are standoffs that separate the main fan from the case by 10.5mm This distance was arrived at through careful research and testing. Place the fan too close to the case vents and turbulence is created that generates audible noise, too close to the heat sink or other components and you disrupt the airflow channel and not only generate noise, but also adversely affect the cooling.

    So how quiet is the Phantom? 20 dB or less typically, but if that means

  • Re:Atom (Score:3, Informative)

    by spire3661 (1038968) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @05:36PM (#31811450) Journal
    For MY personal PVR needs, an Atom just isnt going to cut it. My HTPC server uses alot of CPU power to detect and edit out commercials as well as compress the video into various formats. An Atom would choke on that workload. Also, encoding is the wrong word to use there, you are NOT encoding 16 streams, you are merely laying down 16 data tracks. Thats about as impressive as saying you have 16 torrents going at once.
  • Re:silentpcreview (Score:2, Informative)

    by illaqueate (416118) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @05:52PM (#31811598)

    Some HTPC cases are compact. With all the components in a limited space the temperature of the components can rise more than systems built into larger cases. The ambient temperature in your environment may also be lower than what other people are using their system in.

  • Re:silentpcreview (Score:4, Informative)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Sunday April 11, 2010 @06:40PM (#31811896) Homepage Journal

    There's silence and then there's silence. I've built a half-dozen system for my little project recording-studio and none of them register over 20dB. With a little baffling, they don't register at all anywhere near the microphones or audio monitors.

    And they're really nothing fancy, built mainly in rack-mount server boxes with some additional soft stuff inside. I've got a new i7 system that has a lot of horsepower and it's still right around 20-25dB. SSDs were key because the loudest thing were the rumbling hard drives. Still pretty expensive, though.

    On the other hand, my wife does fluid dynamics modeling (other side of the house) on an HP workstation that sounds like a '67 Harley Shovelhead in comparison. I'm going to have to get her a pair of those ear protectors the guys who work on airport runways use so she doesn't go deaf.

  • RTFA (Score:3, Informative)

    by Xtravar (725372) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @08:20PM (#31812534) Homepage Journal

    Power = heat. Their very first point in the article...

    1. Low power components: (45W CPU, no optical drive or HDD, nothing extra) less power means less heat generated in the first place, thus less for fans to need to remove.

  • Re:Slashvertisement (Score:3, Informative)

    by JoeBorn (625012) <jborn@neu[ ]audio.com ['ros' in gap]> on Sunday April 11, 2010 @10:04PM (#31813126) Homepage Journal
    Here's a review of the device with pictures, etc: http://www.geardiary.com/2010/04/10/review-neuros-link/ [geardiary.com]
  • Re:Atom (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:04AM (#31814434)

    How about noticing the word "flash" in the post you replied to?

  • Re:What about power? (Score:4, Informative)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday April 12, 2010 @10:09AM (#31816460) Homepage Journal

    Here is why I don't care for the "pre builts" like the Revo: Sure it can handle the media now , but what about in the future?

    Are you expecting a new HD video format in the next four to five years, the typical lifespan of a piece of consumer electronics? By the time you need to upgrade the video card you'll want to upgrade everything else too, because you'll be able to get twice as much CPU for half the TDP.

    When building an HTPC I MUCH prefer having a PCIe slot so that the box isn't ham-stringed later on down the road.

    Hamstrung.

    It also gives them plenty of upgrade options, as they could later on go for one of the 95w quads (Which is what I personally have, an AMD 925 and it is VERY quiet) if they need more processing power, or if they get a larger display or need more transcoding punch they can have me slap in a 5xxx series later on.

    That costs almost as much as buying the Revo in the first place, between parts and labor! It makes far more sense to just buy another PC and leave you out of it.

    The problem I find with pre built solutions is they too often end up like laptops-throw aways.

    And what will be done with the CPU and video card pulled OUT of the machine? It won't be worth building anything around them; they'll be throw-aways. The Revo barely uses more material than the CPU and video card you suggest upgrading. Meanwhile, the Revo makes a dandy hand-me down, can probably be resold for at LEAST $75 meaning that it will pay for itself handily, and meanwhile uses far less power, saving money on a daily basis.

    I prefer to make sure the machine can keep doing the job for many years, which means it needs the ability to change with the times and grow as their needs grow.

    I've been using an Xbox for many years. The Revo is more powerful compared to the mainline PC now than the Xbox was when I started using it as a media player, with XBMC. The Xbox was $70 (IIRC, at the time I bought it used) which made it a better deal, but the Revo is still a better deal than expecting people to pay for CPUs, video cards, and labor, when they could simply swap in the Revo and install some live distribution which includes XBMC or MythTV, as appropriate.

    For me it is all about providing value to the customer and keeping the machine for as long as possible (because money don't grow on trees around here) which means expandability and plenty of options.

    For you, it is all about milking the customer for hourly charges, to pay your bills. That's okay, but don't pretend it's better for the consumer. It would be better if they could simply buy a Revo preloaded as a media center, and they could sell it or use it as a low-end PC when they're done with it. They could have another media player in the kitchen, for example, connected to a sub-$100 LCD. But really, installing Ubuntu, adding the XBMC PPA, installing xbmc-standalone, and setting the login for a user session to XBMC is not very difficult.

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