Once upon a time a home computer was so lacking in power that it was quiet, then they became so powerful that we thought nothing of a couple of Delta's in an attempt to rein in the heat generated by biblical performance. Nowadays, as cooling manufacturers have overcome the hurdles that extreme speed provides, we're expecting the best of both these worlds. We want huge performance, but we don't want to feel like we're sat next to a 747. Enter QuietPC with the entirely passive Nofan system. And they all lived happily ever after.
QuietPC have been around for a long while now, seeking out the finest products on the market that can lessen the noise generated by our towers and have a huge range from quieter case fans all the way to vibration absorbing materials and everything in between.
So with so much expertise it made perfect sense for them to be the providers of a system that has absolutely no noise generated at all thanks to entirely passive cooling and an SSD.
To some degree you have to compromise if you're going for a totally passive system, but QuietPC have actually given us a serious bit of kit here, at least with the majority of the parts. We have the OC3D award winning Nofan IcePipe cooler, our favourite CPU (the i5-2500K), an excellent Gigabyte motherboard and a Zalman 120GB SSD. Indeed the only 'lesser' component is the HD7750, but with graphics cards you would be foolish to expect a high-end card with a passive cooler (unless you had a spare room to put the heatsink in).
|Machine name||Nofan IcePipe A40-Z68 Silent PC|
|Compatible Operating Systems||Windows 7 / Ubuntu Linux|
|Power supply||Nofan 400W Fanless PSU|
|Graphics||Intel HD 3000 850-1350 MHz|
|Graphics ports||DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort and VGA (max any 2 ports simultaneously)|
|Max resolution DVI & HDMI / DisplayPort||1920 x 1200 / 2560 x 1600|
|SATA 6Gb / 3Gb / eSATA 3Gb ports||4 internal / 3 internal / 1 rear panel|
|SATA RAID Support||RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10|
|LAN||10/100/1000 Mbit Ethernet|
|USB ports (front/rear)||2/4 USB2, 0/2 USB3|
|Audio||HD 2/4/5.1/7.1-channel with S/PDIF and 6 x audio jacks|
|Other rear ports||1 x FireWire IEEE 1394a (400 Mbps), 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port|
|Available drive bays||1 x 3½ inch, 2 x 5¼ inch *|
|Accessible PCI Express x8 / x1 slots||1 / 2|
|Accessible PCI slots||1 **|
|PC dimensions (W x D x H)||172 x 415 x 380 mm|
|Maximum PCI card length (PCB only)||255 mm|
|Clean Build™ promise||OS+updates, drivers and MS Security Essentials only|
|Recovery method||Windows installation and drivers DVDs supplied|
|Warranty type||Collect and return, open-case policy|
This is the particular specification of our review system. QuietPC provide a wealth of customisation options though so you can really tailor the system to your needs, from a 2.6GHz Dual-Core Pentium G620 with the Intel HD3000 graphics built in to the Z68, all the way up to a i7-2700K and a HD7750. So we're looking very much at the middle of the range one today.
Being from the fine folks at QuietPC it has a 2 year, collect and return, open case warranty. So you can certainly buy with confidence.
Let's take a look shall we.
Nofan CS-80 Case
With a fully passive system the priority is getting as much ventilation as possible for the heat to escape, and the Nofan CS-80 case certainly has all that covered with a wealth of mesh nearly everywhere to help disperse the heat build up. Of course this has an effect upon the aesthetics, and at best it's a functional looking case.
Top mounted USB 3.0 ports give you some connectivity options without having to fumble round the back of the case.
On the outside is a locked panel that allows you to swap your drives around without opening the case. Inside, as we'll show on the next page, is a hot-swap panel so it really is a case of plug and go.
Of course the Nofan CR100A CPU Cooler dominates the internals. We've reviewed this before and absolutely loved it, both for its silence (duh) but also its ability to keep even a quad core CPU within thermal tolerance limits. It's a beast of a thing but not that much larger than any dual tower CPU cooler you care to mention.
Graphics are provided by a Sapphire HD6670 passive GPU. Sure you're not going to smash the latest titles into oblivion with it, but that's hardly the point. What it's perfect for is giving you a lot of connectivity options, media acceleration and enough power to run some sensible games if you so choose.
Below that is the 400W fanless Nofan PSU, ensuring that when you press the power button you'll be entirely unaware anything has happened until Windows appears.
Mechanical drives are way noisier than you expect them to be, and the vibrations they produce bring havoc to your quest for silence. Hence the 120GB Zalman SSD in the hot-swap bays of the Nofan case.
Even in this fairly large case the CR100 cooler definitely catches the eye. As well as those rather gaudy yellow highlights.
Being a standalone system there isn't much we can compare it to, and to be honest comparing it in pure performance terms is woefully missing the point. However we know that you all demand the numbers, so we've brought them to you. Just remember, performance isn't the aim of the QuietPC system.
Naturally we don't expect the little HD6670 to get anywhere near to the GTX570 we used in the other tests, and sure enough it doesn't. Still it wasn't that long ago that we'd have all been chuffed with 10000 3D Marks in Vantage and it certainly has enough oomph to play games as long as you choose wisely.
3D Mark Vantage
3D Mark 11
The obvious comparison is against the 2500K at the bottom of our graph, and you can see that the SSD makes a big difference to the performance and, despite being totally passive, the chip never underclocks itself.
If there is one thing Sandy Bridge definitely does well it's memory bandwidth and this Z68 system is no exception. Even the 1600MHz Corsair XMS3 on a stock-clocked 2500K gives us very nice results.
PC Mark Vantage
Whereas 3D Mark suffers from the slower GPU when compared to the rest, here the blazing Zalman SSD emphasises what a difference the SSD can make to your system. Even the Gaming score gets a significant boost. But there is nobody left who doesn't know that even a middling rig can be vastly improved by an SSD by now surely?
PC Mark 7
The story remains the same in PC Mark 7. The combination of the 2500K, Gigabyte Z68 and Zalman SSD really brings home the bacon, so to speak.
Despite only being a stock i5-2500K, the QuietPC offering certainly has enough power to not leave you twiddling your thumbs too much when rendering. The OpenGL test is a particular highlight.
Although the overall performance is obviously lagging behind the hyperthreading CPUs, the 2500K makes the most of each of its cores.
As always it's important to remember that we're mainly comparing against the i5-2500K at the very bottom of our graphs, and here the benefits of the Z68 chipset and the improvements to both Windows 7 and SiSoft Sandra since the original launch of the 2500K are clear.
Just as we saw at the start, the HD6670 hasn't got enough pure horsepower to really push the very highest detail levels, but that's hardly the point.
Of course there is one thing that is the most important when we're talking about an entirely silent system, and that's the ability of the various parts to remain cool, even under load. Anyone who is used to the current days when six or seven fans is considered average will find the passive nature of the QuietPC system to be a worry, but there is no need. Such is the quality of the components and venting ability of the Nofan case, everything remains under control. The CPU is getting near to the limits, but there is still a few degrees of headroom available.
Performance is obviously a secondary concern to the silence of the system. However if you have realistic expectations then you wont be disappointed. Even though the QuietPC rig makes no noise at all you still have plenty of power available to you for media streaming, net browsing, and even sensible gaming.
But the silence is the thing. It's unnerving. We're so used to fans spinning and hard-drives vibrating away, that to press the power button and find nothing at all changes really takes some getting used to. Even with the Windows desktop on your monitor you find yourself checking it is on, and that you aren't plugged in to some other tower somewhere. It's fantastic.
For anyone who obsesses about the noise in their system you can stop your endless quest for ever quieter fans, even better vibration damping etc etc. The word here is quieter though because they will never ever be truely silent. One would expect they'd need to sacrifice everything on the altar of silence, but not so with the QuietPC. All of our personal systems at OC3D come under the banner quiet or very quiet but late at night youll always be able to hear them but with the NoFan PC you cant and this is the difference between a very quiet rig and a truely silent system. Buy this and you get a well built system with a wise selection of parts, that no quibble two year warranty. Understandably there are faster systems out there, and certainly if you build your own you can save money, but if you absolutely must have silence then we heartily recommend the QuietPC Nofan Icepipe A40-Z68 Silent PC.
Thanks to QuietPC for supplying the Nofan system for review. Discuss in our forums.