Fixing My Desktop’s Noise & Heat

When Intel released it’s iCore CPUs a few years ago, it was a huge step forward in processing power.  Reading up on how overclockable the the entry level i7 was, I ordered my own and built a new desktop around a new i7-920 and GeForce 285.  And it was awesome and powerful, but loud and hot in my office.  However, in 2009, noise and heat were expected if you wanted game on your PC, so a warm office was the norm.

Fast forward to 6 months ago when I replace my Tivo with a HTPC.  Because the HTPC would reside in the living room, I researched and purchased components that got good reviews for being quiet. That said, I never expected it to be dead silent.  Thanks to an ivy-bridge i5-3570K processor, a SSD, a quiet case, and a silent power supply it makes negligible noise.  One can hear the CPU fan if you put your head behind the HTPC but not otherwise, so for practical purposes it is a silent PC.  Which got me thinking about the aging beast in my office.

Armed with a Kill-A-Watt and a dream, I set out to fix my desktop’s heat and noise problem…CPU Cooler


At the end of 2010 I had upgraded my graphics card to the ATI HD6950 for two reasons.  First, it let me game on across 3 screens thanks to eyefinity support.  Second, it was quieter and had a lower power draw than the vacuum-cleaner-sounding GeForce 285 (OK that might be a slight overstatement).  That and the addition of an SSD as my main drive were the only changes to my still potent rig. But the silence of my HTPC raised my expectations and the constant whirring of fans became painfully more noticeable.

First, I attacked the CPU problem by replacing the stock cooler with a quieter Zalman one.  Playing around with my CPU overclock settings I discovered that the i7-920 overclocking to 3.2Ghz used 40 more watts of power and ran 11C hotter at idle than the stock 2.6Ghz. However, reducing the OC to 3.0Ghz only used 1 additional watt and only ran 1C hotter at idle. The lower OC was also 15C cooler at full load (84C vs 99C). This was a step in the right direction, but even with these savings my desktop was still pulling 189W idling with the monitors asleep (best case).  Compared to my HTPC that used only 43W idling and <60W while in use, I still had a way to go.

Unplugging all my case fans one by one help me located my next biggest offender: my power supply.  This was an easy fix since I had been very impressed with the KingWin Lazer Platinum Series 550 watt power supply that I had used in my HTPC.  It has two settings for it’s fan: extremely quiet and off.  Seriously.  It acts as a passive PSU in my HTPC.  I keep the fan on in my desktop since the thermal requirements are higher but wow what a difference.  More amazing than that is the efficiency of the thing.  Its 80 PLUS Platinum High Efficiency is no joke and it dropped my idle power draw to 168W.  That’s 21W of pure heat waste removed.

Next up was my graphics card.  In my research on GPU power draws I discovered an oddity: The HD6000 series didn’t truly idle with more than 1 monitor.  I verified this on my machine and found it was running at 50% of max clock with 2 or 3 monitors attached.  This meant it was running 10C hotter at idle (58C vs 48C) and using 40 extra watts to be attached to an extra monitor.  This was even if the monitor and signal were asleep.  Dropping back to a single monitor dropped my idle load down to 128W, but wasn’t a practical solution as extra monitors are a must for productivity.

Enter the ASUS GTX660 DC2O. The GTX660 was a sweet spot for power usage as it is the fully implemented version of NVidia’s mid-grade chip and ASUS made the quietest version of it according to reviews.  Also this card also offered a 20% boost in gaming performance even with that less power and noise.  The new GPU reduced my idle power draw to just 125W (with multiple monitors) another 41W savings.  The card also idles at just 39C and is inaudible (because of the the CPU fan) unless intensely gaming.  Even then the CPU fan is usually louder than it due it’s added load.  Gaming power draw fluctuates a lot but the GTX660 seems to use 15-35W less at the same setttings.

Results: So 3 upgrades and some tweaking later and my desktop is considerably quieter and it’s idle power draw has dropped from 229W to 125W.  Since at idle my computer is doing the same amount of work, all of that power difference was simply heat waste.  It takes approximately 39W of to raise 1,000 cubic feet of air 1 degree Fahrenheit.  My office is closer to 1300 cubic feet so that 104W translates into 2F cooler in my office.  That is substantial because that’s a 2F difference while my computer is sitting there doing nothing.  So when I walk into the office to start working I’m already better off and those differences continue through my now much cooler and quieter day.


Change A Honda Fit Cabin Filter

Newer cars now have a cabin filter on the vent system to remove dust and allergens from your AC.  It’s actually easy to change out yourself in 2-3 minutes.  So pay $20 at your local car parts store instead of the $80+ your dealer will charge. I was shocked that I couldn’t find good instructions on the internets for a non-2007 model fit. I mean it’s the internet! With 2011 models rolling off the assembly line here’s a nice pictorial reference for those of you with a 2nd generation Honda Fit (2008, 2009, 2010 and yes even 2011).

1) Open glove box


2) Remove stuff from glove box

3) Press the sides of the glove box inward and lower the glove box all the way down on it’s hinge

4) Don’t be fooled by the rattle stopping white pad on the back of the glove box!

5) Locate the two tabs left and right center of the whole you’ve created in your dash (red circles in pic) and press inward and then it pull out.


6) Simply lift the dirty square filter out of the black plastic box and replace with new filter

7) Work the steps in reverse to put everything back


Done!  Savings: $20-30/minute depending on DIY-er speed.

Breathe New Life Into Your Aging Laptop

My brother’s four year old Dell laptop was really starting to show it’s age running (or attempting to run) today’s software.  Boot times had grown long enough to brew coffee and programs were becoming unbearable to launch. So we set out to see just how much of a difference a few affordable upgrades could make to real world performance.

Original System: Dell Latitude D620

  • 1.66GHz Centrino Duo
  • 1GB RAM
  • 40GB HD (5400RPM)
  • Windows XP

Upgrades ($165)

  • Increase RAM to 2GB RAM
  • Kingston SSDNow V Series 64 GB Solid State HD replacement

Our testing methodology was simple:  Use a stopwatch to time a few real world activities and see if the upgrades made a significant difference.  While a stopwatch can add a small amount of “user error” to the times, if an upgrade couldn’t overcome this +/- 1 second variability it isn’t worth the money anyway right?

For consistency, prior to testing the laptop was booted up and we made sure everything was updated, the virus scan had run, backup software was currently done, etc.  We didn’t want some rogue background process skewing our results.

The first three numbers in the chart are a continuous time.  The notebook was booted up and IE was clicked when the network popup confirmed connection – loading the Netflix web page.  Launching the browser as part of the test not only shows time to get online, but how long until windows was truly ready to do something (not simply displaying the desktop while loading stuff in the background).

Original 2GB RAM RAM & SSD
To Login Screen 0:43 0:44 0:21
Desktop Loaded 1:22 1:05 0:31
Web Page Loaded 3:45 3:11 0:53
Launch iTunes 3:15 1:50 0:12

The results speak for themselves.  Additional RAM is a worthwhile upgrade – especially because it is so cheap these days. But even for an older notebook, a SSD steals the show and can make a world of difference in your computing experience. In many cases, an older laptop is perfectly suited for a SSD upgrade as the user is already used to a relatively small HD capacity and won’t have to shell considerably more money out for the larger sized models.

My brother did note one side effect of the SSD:

One thing. When the cooling fan isn’t running, it’s kind of unnerving. I mean, I can see the light for the hard drive cranking, but there’s no noise. Black magic.

Habitat House Going Well

I was able to help out at a Habitat Blitz day recently at it was a blast!  You get the walls up and roof sheeting on all in one day.  Below is pic of me helping Andrea build a support beam for the porch (future home owner Aldrena sweeping up in the background) near the end of the day. A few more pics follow that.

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