Silent DAW Build

One thing I have noticed missing from most PC build guides is a good guide to building a silent DAW, which seems odd to me. After building no less than four DAWs over the years, I have come to appreciate the importance of silence for any kind of serious recording, and so this year I have set out to create a truly silent, powerful DAW with the ability to double as a gaming system (since I game too).

While I am no expert at the silent PC side of things, I have definitely done my homework, and I’ll try to guide you through my decisions as I laid out the components of the system. Please note that links to Newegg are simply due to pricing. After calculating shipping, I got the best price buying everything from them. Your mileage may vary. Also note that a very large part of my research was conducted on, which is a wonderful site for building silent systems.

The Case
The case is the most important component because it defines the airflow of the system. Noise from airflow is without a doubt the biggest cause of modern PC noise, so a case that is optimized for good airflow is key.
For this, you’d be hard pressed to do much better than the Antec P-182. Dual chamber design, sonic isolation of each component, and tri-speed 120mm fans make this one of the quietest non-exotic cases around.
It also does not include a power supply, which is a blessing, as you get to choose a good one instead of settling with junk.
Price: $140
Link: … 6811129025

The Power Supply
The Power supply is a good candidate for the second most important component, as it is responsible (in most systems) for cooling the system as well as supplying steady current. However, in this case design (due to the dual chamber nature of the case), the power supply is only responsible for cooling itself and the hard disks. For this reason, the cooling demands on it are pretty light, and we need to focus instead on making sure it is as silent as possible (within reason).
For this, I chose the Seasonic S12 II SS-430GB. This power supply has a single 120mm fan and a very high efficiency rating, which means it dissipates less energy as heat and more as, well, energy :) It is also very, very quiet (18dB @ 1M).
Price: $108
Link: … 6817151033

The Motherboard
A key component in any system, the motherboard choice you make will largely affect how well your system performs. It will also be a key determinant of how stable your system is.
For this, I chose the Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3P 2.0. This board supports LGA 775 (Intel dual/quad core CPUs), uses Intel chipsets, is all solid capacitor, and COMPLETELY passively cooled. This last point is very important, as most actively cooled motherboards use small fans which are notoriously noisy.
Price: $153
Link: … 6813128067
Review: N/A
Site: … uctID=2625

The CPU is obviously a key component of any system, but is especially important for a DAW, as it will largely determine how many plug-ins and virtual instruments you can run at once.
Since this system is going to be doing double-duty as a DAW and gaming system, I wanted a fairly powerful CPU. However, since the CPU can be fairly easily upgraded, and I am on a budget, I needed to go for something a few notches down from top of the line. I chose am Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 because it has a good price/performance ratio, and only uses 65W of power, making it ideal for a passive cooling system.
Price: $190
Link: … 6819115029
Review: N/A

The CPU Cooler
This component is the key to the passive cooled CPU I mentioned earlier. In an effort to keep system noise down, I attempted to, wherever possible, eliminate fans and go with passive cooling. For this job, I chose the Scythe Ninja SCNJ-1000 heatsink. This CPU cooler, while massive, fits perfectly in the case and will easily cool the CPU with just the case fan airflow. See the link below to see how perfectly it fits in the P182 case:
Price: $40
Link: … 6835185038
Site: … 1100p.html

The Video Card
While this component isn’t typically of huge importance in a DAW (other than support for the number of monitors and resolution you want), it is of huge importance for a gaming system. Also, most video cards these days use small, incredibly noisy fans, so I wanted to go with passive cooling on this component if at all possible. To this end, I chose the Gigabyte GV-RX26T256H. This card is completely passively cooled with a massive heatsink, runs the Radeon HD 2600XT chipset, has 256 MB of RAM, PCI Express x16 interface, and dual DVI ports. While this card is FAR from being the fastest card out there (this chipset generally clocks in at about 33% of the frame rate of the fastest card available), it will run the games I want to play for now, and do so without adding any noise to the overall system.
Price: $97
Link: … 6814125075
Review: N/A
Site: … uctID=2586

The Hard Disk
The final major noise-producing component of the build is the hard disk. For this, I chose a single Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000AAKS 500GB disk. It is a SATA 3Gb drive running at 7200 RPM, but is known to be both cool running and quiet, along with pretty quick, all key points for a DAW. Eventually, this will expand to two, but at the moment, I will only use the single drive, with final masters being stored on a 200GB external USB drive.
Price: $105
Link: … 6822136073
Review: N/A
Site: N/A

The Sound Card
I chose to re-use my old combo of a Yamaha SW1000XG with the VH daughterboard and a Korg Oasys (sitting in a dedicated Windows 98 system).

Other Components
The following components are also used, but are really optional as far as the specifics:
– 2 GB (2x1GB) OCZ PC2 6400 DDR2 RAM
– Samsung 20x DVD burner
– Logitech G15 Gaming Keyboard
– Logitech optical mouse
– Acer AL2216Wbd 22” LCD

The system will be configured with two partitions on the 500GB drive, with a copy of Windows XP 32-bit running on each partition (dual boot). One partition is for music production (and NOTHING else) while the other is for Gaming/General use. 32-Bit XP was chosen due to driver availability (64-bit drivers are not available for the SW1000XG) and nothing more. Dual boot is a requirement on a system like this in order to keep the DAW environment as pristine as possible. While rebooting to use the DAW is a pain, without dedicating the system, it is the easiest way to keep the system stable for musical work. I have found out from experience that nothing ruins a burst of inspiration quicker than trying to troubleshoot technical problems. Once the second disk is installed, it will be completely dedicated to audio file storage, but the system will otherwise remain unchanged. The sequencer used will be Sonar 7 PE.

Overall, this system should be capable of running at full speed (100% processor utilization) at a SPL level of <30 dB. It actually should be closer to 28dB, but the unknown factor in this case is how much noise the HDD will make when mounted. Regardless, it should be about as close to silent as you can get without exotic measures (total passive cooling/water cooling/etc.). Counting all components listed (minus the soundcards, which I already had), this system ran me right at $1300 including shipping. Without the LCD and gaming keyboard, you should be able to build a similar system for $1,000 or less. This is of course not counting software (which I also already have). Original Post:

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