Since Computer Audiophile is not a geeky tech based website I'm not going to cover all the bits and bytes of system assembly in gory detail. I chose to assemble this silent music server from scratch mainly because I've done it before, I shaved about $1,000 off the price doing it this way, and I was "commissioned" to build it for someone. If you're not sure that you're capable of identifying the correct parts and assembling them you definitely should not attempt to build this silent music server. Take a look at the manual if you think you're ready for the challenge Zalman TNN 300 Manual. Here is a brief recap of what I did to complete this project.
1. Selected the Zalman TNN 300 (CASH List component) case as my foundation of the system. This case is fanless and operates like a power amp with large heatsinks. Without active cooling the individual compatible components list is dwindled down very quick. The case has a built-in power supply with limited strength that also narrows down the components available for the music server. Price $589
2. I selected the ASUS P5Q-EM motherboard as the next component. Everything else in the PC has to be compatible with the selected motherboard, so this is very important. In this specific situation the motherboard not only has to be the right size but it has to be in the subset of micro-atx motherboards that are compatible with the Zalman case. Most cases accept all motherboards as long as they are the right size. This ASUS motherboard is rock solid and has plenty of configuration options and support for the class of CPUs required by this case. Price $135
3. I selected the Intel Core 2 Duo E7200 Wolfdale 2.53GHz LGA 775 65W Dual-Core Processor. This CPU comes in just short of the 70W limit supported by this case and power supply. The passive heatsinks can only dissipate a limited amount of heat and the power supply can't drive the fastest CPUs available. As evidenced by the Dell system I purchased this music server could operate with a less powerful CPU, but for this project I selected a middle-of-the-road model. Price $120
4. I elected to go with a Solid State Drive (SSD) instead of a standard spinning hard drive. It just did not make sense to me to put in a noisy drive after piecing together an otherwise silent system. Not all SSDs are created equal. The price of two drives of the same size can vary by thousands of dollars based on the speed and build architecture of the units. The real cheap SSDs are based on Multi-level Cell (MLC) flash memory which is much less desirable than SLC based drives. Single-level Cell (SLC) drives are faster, consume less power, and last longer. These SLC drives obviously command a higher price. Since I'm not a fan of the MLC drives I selected a Samsung 64GB SATA II drive (model MCCOE64G5MPP-0VA00). This drive has plenty of room for the operating system and a decent number of uncompressed albums. This system is a perfect reason to purchase that NAS drive you've been longing for over the last year. SSD price $550
5. Memory for this music server is low price, low speed, and low heat Kingston DDR2 2x1GB modules. Price $28
6. A solid Pioneer 20x SATA DVD Burner (Model DVR-2910) is all this music server required. No expensive Bluray drive needed. Price $45
7. As usual I selected the Lynx AES16 PCI card for this Windows XP system. Price $700 (required but optional cable $60).
Total cost is roughly $2,200.
I already have a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and everything else I needed to get the system up and running. Now it's running as a headless music server right next to my Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC for a few days. Strangely enough the Alpha DAC is louder than this music server. That's a story for another day, coming soon, but I'll just say the Alpha DAC case vibrates a little bit because of the design of the power supplies. Sonic compromises would have been required to eliminate the vibration.
I spent hours stripping the operating system of anything that was unnecessary for music playback. Removing programs and startup items was pretty simple. The dirty work was disabling all but four services from starting upon the OS boot-up. Most services are easily identifiable by their name or description, but there are five or six that involve some trial and error before disabling. I was also able to get this system down to 61 MB of memory usage at boot-up and a handful of process running. That's not the easiest task. Tweaking an operating system is another thing that can cause a less-than-computer-savvy listener some pain. Avoid this if you have any doubts about what you're doing.
Since there are many things going on here at Computer Audiophile I haven't spent much time listening to this silent server. Wow, that sentence is a weird one. Listening to something that's silent. Anyway, the server is running MediaMonkey and sounds superb. I did manage to lose clock for about 10 seconds during setup which caused some white noise to come through my speakers. Thankfully I had the volume on the Alpha DAC at 0.1 in anticipation of something like this happening. I don't think Focal would have been happy with me if I would have blown the beryllium tweeters on the review pair of speakers I'm using. When I lost clock I was doing a Windows search on my NAS drive for a specific 24/192 HDCD track. It's possible this took to many system resources away from music playback, but I can't be 100% sure. The track playing during the loss of clock was off the local drive so network contention shouldn't have contributed. For some readers this will be another reason not to go down the Windows path. I can't say I blame them for going the Mac route. All this afternoon and night I've been listening to my Mac Pro with Sonic Studio's Amarra and I've been much more relaxed knowing my tweeters are no in jeopardy. There's a lot to be said about having piece of mind.