Quiet As A Library Whisper!

A lot of your fellow readers are discovering that it’s surprisingly easy and inexpensive to achieve major— major!— reductions in PC noise. In our ongoing "Cool and Quiet" series ( http://www.informationweek.com/story/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=21401323 ), we found that it sometimes only takes a simple $10 plug-in fan replacement to make a noticeable difference. But there’s a flip side, too: Some "fixes" don’t do much. I found a couple of dead ends in my search for a quieter PC, for example. And other readers, like this one, found that, sometimes, high priced parts don’t guarantee quietness:

Fred: I read with great interest your foray into the "Silent PC" issue ( http://www.informationweek.com/story/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=21401323 ) and thought that I might share my experiences with you.  I recently built my first computer from scratch and since it was designed to be a Home Theater PC (HTPC) noise was a serious issue.  Unfortunately I did not know how serious at the outset.  After putting the unit together, using very high performance parts, I was astonished at the amount of fan noise it created, especially since the case I used, by Coolermaster, was designed for HTPC use.
After some research I too replaced the case fan and cpu heatsink/fan with less than 20db fans.  The power supply is proprietary and is not easily replaced.  I did not want to risk removing the fan and heat sink from my new AIW 9800 pro card since it would void the warranty but I did consider a Zalman unit.  The Asus motherboard included a program for monitoring fan performance and cpu  and motherboard temperature.
Two things I also tried: first I used gel type dampeners on the case fan and power supply. Second, I contacted a supplier of architectural acoustical material and got some thin, 1/16" thick acoustical dampening sheet material generally used in wall construction and lined the case with it.  This actually worked to a degree.
After all of this I realized that the placement of the PC into an open cabinet with my other equipment had some quirky acoustical resonant effects which I tried to negate with strategically placed acoustical batts.  Keep in mind that after spending close to $2,000 in parts I was still bleeding cash to "fix" the noise.
The bottom line here is that a truly quiet PC should be thought out and designed from the beginning.  Quiet parts, case design and layout, air flow, placement, etc must be considered.  Any PC containing a fan will make some noise and the user must decide whether this is suitable for "living room" use.  It is amazing how even a whisper quiet PC can be annoying in an environment that is normally supposed to be quiet.
Also,  my business Dell seemed to be generating an unusual amount of noise.  A simple cleaning out of the dust bunnies seemed to help that situation, at least a little. Thanks again, Michael Zuckerman

Things are about to get even more complex because we’ll soon see "active sound dampening" technology on the market for PCs: Instead of simply using quiet PC parts, this approach lets the PC make all the noise it wants to, and then tries to cancel that noise: Tiny microphones pick up the sounds, signal processing creates inverse waveforms, and tiny speakers pump the inverse waveforms back at the noise sources to cancel out the sound. (See http://snipurl.com/6wpk ) It works, but why not just use quiet fans in the first place?  I suspect we’ll see a hard sell for this active sound-cancellation technology, but it really seems like overkill when simpler, quieter parts can prevent the problem in the first place.

You can avoid dead-ends and too-complicated solutions with the information in our articles: It can be easy and inexpensive to make your PC as quiet as a library whisper! Check out the details:

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Fred Langa

About Fred Langa

Fred Langa is senior editor. His LangaList Newsletter merged with Windows Secrets on Nov. 16, 2006. Prior to that, Fred was editor of Byte Magazine (1987 to 1991) and editorial director of CMP Media (1991 to 1996), overseeing Windows Magazine and others.