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Silent home computing at home - PC in another room

by Lorenz Prem
published on February 17 2011 11:44 pm

Computers are omnipresent in life today. In many homes there is one in each bedroom. Even the kids have to have one. Every one of these machines makes noise. Not a lot, but it is still noticeable. The most effective way of eliminating the noise created by a computer is to move it to a different room. In this article we are going to review what it takes to connect to a computer through a wall. If the wall is insulated, your PC experience will be completely silent.

The system consist of a wall plate and cables. At the location of the computer desk a keystone wall plate is installed. It hosts the connectors that are found on the PC. The monitor, mouse, keyboard, and speaker connect to the wall plate. From the wall plate cables run in the wall to the PC in another location. The connections are identical to the traditional setup except that longer cables are used, which also happen to run through a wall.

Planning is everything when it comes to doing this. The installation is straight forward. You need to understand what you are connecting in order to create a usable system. Let's begin by looking at the signals we need to route through the wall:

  • Video: At least one video signal
  • Keyboard, mouse, other peripherals: the basic input devices
  • Sound: Sound is essential on very computer today

Note that the CD-Rom drive is absent from this list. There is no easy way to route the DVD signal. You will need access to the computer to insert a new DVD into the drive. This may or may not be a problem for you. For each one of the signals we do want to route through the wall we need to consider the following basics: connector type, cable length, upgradability. Let's take a look at each one.

A typical PC uses several different kinds of cables with a different connector on each one. Fortunately the industry has standardized on a few connectors that we can use to route the essential signals. The "keystone" system is a modular system. Each connector has a matching keystone insert. The installer can choose which insert to install in a wall plate. Each wall plate hosts up to 8 inserts per unit. We need to find keystone insert for the signals we use.

  • The video signal will either be am HDMI or DVI cable. Either one can be converted to the other using a dongle. HDMI cables are more useful, because an HDMI port fits on a keystone insert. DVI connectors are too large.
  • The keyboard and mouse should be USB device. Keystone connectors for the older PS/2 standard are hard to find. A single USB cable can support many ports with use of a Hub. This makes it possible to support the mouse and keyboard with a single USB cable and a hub. Some monitors have built in hubs, which is a very convenient location to plug-in your devices. A USB cable can also be used to connect USB card readers, USB hard drives, printers, and other peripherals. USB is one connector you want to use.
  • The sound signals can be transmitted either at line voltage or as an amplified signal that goes directly to the speakers. A TSA connector is the default choice, because that's what is found on almost all computers. The computer must be connected to an amplifier, which in turn is connected to the speakers. It's your choice where you want to locate the amplifier. Depending on your choice you will have to route a different signal through the wall.

The second challenge is cable length. The components of a PC were not built to transmit their signals over a large distance. The intended setup is an office desk with the computer below it. 6ft of cable is plenty enough for this application. If we move the PC to the other side of the house, the quality of the video signal would drop so much that there would not be a picture. Better to check the maximum cable length supported by each signal. Here are links to the most common connections and their maximum cable lengths.

  • Video: HDMI, DVI
  • Keyboard, mouse, peripherals: USB
  • Sound: TSA (in most cases this signal will work fine)

The third aspect to consider is upgradability. What is a standard today might not be dominant standard in two years. The PC industry moves fast. Chances are that the connectors and cables of today will be outdated in 5-10 years. Ideally the system you build today can be upgraded without rebuilding the entire system.

The keystone plates make it possible to swap out individual connectors, which is exactly what we are looking for. The cables, if they run for any length in a wall, should be pulled through conduit or a smurf tube. The diameter of the conduit should be at least 1" to allow cable to be pulled with the connectors still attached. This is an ideal requirement and may not be possible in all homes.

If it can't be done, the wires can be run safely in the walls. The only problem is that drywall repair work might be necessary when you want to change the cables.

Now that the cables are out of the way, we can think about the new location of the PC. All computers generate heat. Your PC has a fan to remove excess heat and cool its internal components. If the fan is disconnected, the computer will quickly die from thermal overload. The location you chose for your computer must have enough air circulation to allow the fan to do its work. Small rooms and even some closets are big enough. What you should not do is locate the computer in a closed cupboard or some other kind of box. The PC will quickly heat up the interior. Eventually the fan cannot provide enough cooling anymore and the computer dies.

The installation is the easy part. Find the precise location of the wall plate and cut the opening to the size of the electrical insert. Do the same on the other side of the wall. Install the keystone inserts. Connect the cables to the wall plate and feed the cables through the wall or conduit. Install the wall plate. Connect the cables to your computer on the other side.

You might have noticed that we did not connect the On/Off button. Most computer can be turned on by pressing a key on the keyboard. This feature is enabled in the computer's BIOS. Consult your manual for instructions on how to turn this feature on. If your computer is not equipped with this feature, you can tap into the power switch circuit inside the PC case. This is relatively easy EE task, but should only be attempted by someone who has a basic understanding of PC components.

It's all done. Perfectly silent computing at home. Movies have never sounded better. At first I got distracted by the sound of my own keyboard. I also gain some floor space back, which was sorely needed.

About the Author
"Lorenz is the founder of Hingmy. When he is not reviewing power tools or improving the site, he is building things in his workshop or playing hockey."