Building A Green Performance Desktop

After upgrading my home vSphere lab to 2.0, which included a shift towards booting from USB, using SSD drives where possible instead of spinning disk, and utilizing a case design that promotes quiet, low heat/power hardware, I wondered if this could also be applied to the rest of my home equipment. With the home lab now sipping power (and often seeing DPM shutting down one of my 3 hosts), my attention shifted towards my home office desktop.

Could I design a desktop to replace this monster tower of noise and heat into something of a Green PC while still being able to render video and play Diablo 3 with everything maxed out?

The Functional Requirements

Like any good design process, I came up with a set of requirements for this project and tried to stick to them unless I later found out they were unreasonable. My functional requirements were:

  • Fanless components, or hardware that uses large, low RPM / power fans, to keep noise down.
  • All parts must be RoHS compliant and 80 PLUS GOLD certified (minimum).
  • No spinning disk.
  • Less than 400W of peak power consumption under load.
  • Ability to do video rendering / processing for captured video / audio along with current 3D games.

Most of these requirements work well together, except the last one. It’s a bit more difficult to shop for parts that are both Green and for an Enthusiast builder.

The perfect blend of design and function

A Design Is Made

My system build comprised of these parts:

  1. Motherboard – I went with the ASUS Maximus V Gene. I focused my search on boards that have the Z77 north bridge, and I’m a bit of an ASUS snob, so this was a good fit for me. It has a pretty robust set of features and lots of settings for tweaking the board – in my case, this was to tweak voltages and timings down to further reduce power draw, although stock settings do pretty well too.
  2. CPU – The new Ivy Bridge Core i5-3450S chip was a no brainer, and I opted for the lower 65W processor to help reduce power footprint. It’s fast, supports DDR3 1600 memory, and is also reasonably good on thermal design power to meet my functional requirements.
  3. Memory – I decided that 32GB of memory was just too much overkill for my needs, so I went with the 4 x 4GB set of DDR3 1600 memory from Corsair entitled the “Vengeance”. Nothing that amazing about the memory, but I did like the heat sink design for “styling and performance”. ­čśë
  4. Video – This was a bit more difficult, but I ultimately compromised on latest gen graphics and picked the EVGA GeForce GTX 560 Ti “Classified” Ultra. It has the higher core count (448) of a more enthusiast level card, while still running a chipset and clock speeds of the mid-tier cards. It got some very respectable scores on Anandtech, putting it right where my requirements wanted it to be.
  5. Disk – I wanted to utilize a latest gen SSD for storage, and chose the Intel 330 Series Maple Crest @ 180GB. I’m not interested in forming a RAID of SSDs, as I’m not quite sure how that performs with A) software RAID on the motherboard, and B) drive life (TRIM support, etc.). I send backups to my NAS and can use my laptop if the disk dies.
  6. Power – After the success of my home lab power supplies, I simply continued with a larger SeaSonic X Series power plant running at 650W. The modular design and 80 PLUS GOLD certification were key to my requirements, the unit is intelligent enough to control its fan speed, and it has a strong amount of amps on the 12v rail. While it is a tad overkill, I never want to worry about starving a component for power.
  7. Case – For the small amount of components going into the build, I knew that any case I got would be mostly empty. So, I focused on a case that could deliver a mid-tower look (as my desk has a slot for a mid-tower case) that supported large, controllable fans. The winner was the Cooler Master HAF XM case, which is a hybrid of steel and plastic. It’s pretty dang large, but features a pair of 200mm fans and one 140mm fan. As I write this (on this new computer, no less) two of the fans have decided to turn off, so there is no┬ánoticeable┬ánoise coming from the case at all.

Thoughts

After getting it all put together, I was immediately impressed with how quiet the case is. Even if I put my ear up to the case I have trouble hearing anything – only the power LED really lets me know that it’s on from looking at it. As for the SSD – it’s a speed demon, as expected. I’m well on my way to having no spinning disk left in the house (aside from a bit left in my NAS). Thanks to my friend Matt Lattanzio for pushing me to go forward with this, I kept waffling on taking the time and energy to get this done. ­čÖé