How to Silence That PC!
Iain Laskey investigates different ways to reduce the noise generated by your PC
PCs are getting faster and faster. That's the good news. The bad news is that as a result, they often need more ambitious cooling. A typical powerful PC might have a fan in the PSU, one or two case fans plus the CPU fan and perhaps a couple of hard drives whirring away too. This adds up to a serious amount of background noise, typically as much as 36-45db. If your PC is in an office that may be acceptable but what if you have one in the lounge for watching DVDs on? What if you share a room with someone trying to sleep whilst you work? The constant droning will soon start to grate a little. In an office environment, dozens of PCs can fill the air with background noise pollution that sometimes makes it hard to concentrate.
There are several things you can do to cut down on this. If you think your PC is too noisy, take the case off and listen carefully to where the noise seems to be worst. The chances are it is either the PSU fan or the hard drives that make the most noise.
Manufacturers are now starting to take this issue rather more seriously and there are now several different devices you can buy that replace existing components in your PC with quieter substitutes.
The main power supply or PSU almost always has a fan and these can either get noisy over time as they suck in dust or are noisy to begin with. If your wallet can stomach £50 or so you can buy units that are considerably quieter with a range of outputs from 250w to 300w.
Modern CPUs use a lot of current and accordingly get extremely hot unless properly cooled. This usually involves a large heat sink with an even bigger fan. Replacing these with the new breed of high efficiency coolers can result in a miserly 22db noise level from the fan, well below that of a quiet room's background noise. Expect to pay around £20 for one of these.
If your PC needs additional case fans, these can be bought in quiet versions for £15ish. However, there is a limit to how quiet these can be as the physical moving of air in great volume is going to make a bit of noise. Also, you need to make sure you have one fan sucking air in for each that blows air out if you want to get a decent and reliable airflow going.
Some hard drives can make quite a loud whining noise with faster ones being even noisier in many cases. You can now buy drive enclosures that damp the noise whilst also helping to dissipate excess heat through the chassis. At £20 each they are good value for money but wrapping lots of padding around a drive can lead to overheating so they aren't so useful if you have very large or very fast drives such as 10,000RPM units or 3 platter drives such as 60Gb units.
So there are plenty of solutions available. Where can they be bought? One of the better one-stop shops is www.quietpc.com who are UK based and provide lots of useful information on their site as well as a range of specialist products. The site also has a long list of customer's comments attesting to the resulting improvement in noise levels.
Does it Work?
If you are willing to pay out for all the possible options then it can make a big difference. The quietpc web site quotes a report from a Finnish University who tried this and got the noise levels down to just over 26db. 28db is generally considered almost silent so this is extremely quiet bordering on the inaudible. Your own PC might not allow all the tricks such as the drive enclosures but you should still hear a big difference with any one of the products available.
As well as replacing some or all of the noisier components, you can also try some other tricks that may help. Firstly, try tightening everything up. Make sure your motherboard is securely screwed down. Tighten the drives in their mountings and ensure the case is on good and tight. This can help cut down on additional vibration and amplification of the noise already there. You can also try adding some rubber seals around the case such as you would use on a draughty door.
Different hard drives have different noise characteristics and drives from such companies as Fujitsu with their improved bearing designs might help. Also, several drive manufacturers have utilities on their web site to make the drives run slightly slower but more quietly.
If you can cope with such a trade-off, you might want to consider under-clocking the CPU. A CPU designed to run at 133FSB might cope OK at 100FSB with a good-sized heat sink but no fan. If you can keep the CPU temperature under 50 degrees Celsius when stressed your CPU won't suffer any unduly. Your machine will naturally run a little slower though.
Make the most of any operating system options you might have. For instance, you can set your hard drives to power down after a few minutes of inactivity. Some systems also let you set one or more cooling fans to power up and down only when needed.
Finally, the ultimate option is to buy some extra long cables extenders for the keyboard, mouse and monitor and actually keep your PC somewhere else completely. That way it doesn't much matter how much noise it makes!