I've taken yet another step on my continuing quest for a quiet PC. After bundling the guts of the PC into a specially muffled AcoustiCase, installing a Zalman Flower Cooler on the CPU, and another massive sink on the video card, what else could there be left to do?
Well, if you work on the assumption that all electrical equipment makes some noise, then the only way to get a completely silent PC is never to switch it on. Unfortunately that doesn't actually make for a very useful piece of computing apparatus. The next best thing, though, is not to switch it on in the same room.
With the aid of a keyboard extension cable, a new USB hub (which acts as a USB extension cable, with added ports), and a very long monitor cable, my computer now sits on the other side of a nice, thick wall. It still makes the same amount of noise that it did before (which is very little, thanks to all of the earlier modifications), but it makes it somewhere else.
Which means that for the first time, it's now really feasible to use my PC as a consumer music device: a stereo. Stereos don't make any noise, except a very slight electrical hum. This is why "Media Center" PCs are doomed to fail--at least for the next few years. If your "Media Center" isn't playing music, it has to be silent. Just "quiet" isn't good enough. That means no fans at all. It's got to be passive cooling all the way, unless you have the space and cash for a dedicated cabinet, or, like me, a convenient storage room on the other side of your living room wall.
So at the same time as getting the equipment to move the PC, I bought a set of Philips A3.300 speakers (2 flat stereo satellites + a chunky subwoofer). They don't have the same depth and warmth of our old Mission 750 LEs, but for a set of mid-range computer speakers, they're pretty good. They fill the living room with a crisp, clear sound that is great for radio and perfectly adequate for everyday MP3 listening. The big advantage they have over a full stereo set-up is that they don't sit around on speaker stands waiting for a small toddler to knock them over.
I'm liking it a lot. We haven't had music in our living room for about two years now, apart from the times we play music DVDs or cable radio through our TV, and the occasional cacophonic blast from the built-in speakers of my Iiyama monitor. But music is as central to my happiness as bread and pasta, and these new speakers are making me a very happy bunny.
Currently listening to: Dave Matthews Band - Live in Chicago at the United Center 12.19.98. Lovely.
(Next comes the whole question of what music/MP3 player to use on the computer...but that's a topic for some other time.)