My computer was very loud. It was beginning to annoy me. I have seen this discussed on slashdot, as well as many other places. Most suggestions seem to boil down to: buy xxx expensive and rare part from yyy and things will be better. Their suggestions may be true, but I am a cheap bastard. I did come upon one page that recommended making a box out of plywood and lining the inside with carpet padding and sticking your case in there. That would probably work better than what I am about to describe, but in addition to me being cheap, I am also a lazy bastard.

I bought a two square yards of carpet padding ($1 at HomeDepot) and a bunch of hot glue. I carefully lined the inside of all of the panels of my case, an InWin full tower, with carpet padding. Then, I started applying it everywhere else like a lunatic until I ran out of hot glue. If you weren't concerned about your case being butt ugly, I think that applying it to the exterior would yeild a further reduction in noise. I didn't do that.

You may think this is a stupid idea. You may be right. If my computer blows up, I'll let you know so that you can stop before it's too late.

A more sensible thing you can do is solder a switch in series with the 12 volt line for the case fans (not the processor fan. That would be stupid). The turbo switch is a good one for this, as it's on the front panel and doesn't do anything anymore. Having done this, you can just switch off any superfluous fans while the machine is idling, and switch them on again when you're playing quake. Just make sure you're using lots of insulating tape, or the magic smoke might get out. For an automatic solution, thermaltake produce the 'smart fan II', which is the fan from the volcano 9 heatsink. It has a jumper point to which a (bundled) rheostat or temperature sensor can be attached. It could be easily wired to the turbo switch for manual control.

The loudest thing in your PC is the hard drive, not the fans (unsurprising when you consider that it's a large bit of metal spinning at over 5000 rpm with an arm seeking back and forth over it at 50 km/h). Setting the spin-down time to a minute or so will quieten things down. Sticking rubber washers between it and the case can help if the case is vibrating with the hard drive, although some drives have these built in.

Despite being a cheap bastard, there's nothing worse than a cheap processor fan. The bearings make noise, the air going through the vanes makes noise, and really bad ones vibrate. So don't skimp on your processor fan.

I highly recommend the zalman 'flower cooler' range of heatsinks. They come with a seperate fan, which is attached to the card-slots by a gigantic bracket. The fan is huge but slow turning, passing the same amount of air as a conventional heatsink. As it isn't attached to the heatsink, it can't pass vibration on to it.

Guide to making a quieter computer

1) Turn off your computer. This will make it totally silent. However, this won't solve the problem forever.

2) Remove all cables, and place the computer in an open area with plenty of room.

3) Meditate for fifteen minutes, focusing all power into your muscles, utilizing the silent abstract construct of the mind.

4) Examine the computer closely, silently, taking in every niche and feature of it's exterior without touching it. The bottom will be out of sight, so you must keep it in your mind's eye.

5) Strike, drive first, with force. Use all physical advantages to overcome the calculating beast, including your weight to crush the tenuous metal. Let the silence of space, and the infinite thoughts of inertia that result to charge your being as you desecrate the church of frag.

6) Bask in silence.


If wharfinger had written it, it would've been cooled.
Some additional suggestions, for those of you that run Windows on the desktop.

  • Get more RAM. Thrashing noises as the drive furiously flagellates itself coping with a Windows swapfile contribute excess random noise. Run as much as you can out of RAM, and your machine will be quieter. RAM's cheap these days.
  • If you don't care how the machine looks, try using large slow-moving fans instead of small fast ones. Ideally, just embed an 8" or 12" desk fan in the side of the case and have it run just above idling speed. This will move he same amount of air for less noise.
  • I found that gluing a sheet of soundproofing foam (the kind with the parabolic cavities on it) inside the front panel of my machine does a nice job of cutting noise without interfering with cooling.
  • Of course, you could get a Powermac G4 cube. It doesn't have a fan. It's pretty damn quiet.
The Custodian's point about fan size vs. speed is one I've often thought of, but being also of the cheap bastard bent, and having extremely limited tools and time, I've yet to experiment with anything larger than an 80mm case fan as a relpacement for the CPU fan. However, a few things that've worked well for me:

My fileserver doesn't do much other than sit and dish out NFS and NIS data. And since I keep it running 24/7, the noise was audible while watching TV, and other non-computer-related activities (such as... watching TV). So, I decided that the annoyingly loud CPU cooling fan really wasn't justified. So I replaced the heat-sink with a copper one (a Cooler Master one), removed the fan, dropped the clock multiplier to a mere 2x (bringing the clock speed down from 333 to 133MHz), and dropped the core voltage to the lowest (2v) that the motherboard would support. And also made damn sure that the OS was configured to make HALT calls when in the idle loop, and avoided running anything too CPU-intensive on it at all. Nice and quiet. NB. Don't try this at home, kids. And if you do, and your machine overheats, don't say I didn't warn you...

For my workstation machine, which really needs its fans, a different approach was needed. First, a good-quality CPU heat-sink (same copper one as the server), but run from the 5v line instead of the 12v line. It keeps the air circulating at a reasonable rate, but is a lot quieter than normal. The GPU and PSU fans are harder to slow down, but at least they're not as noisy.

The most noticable reduction in audible noise came from where I placed the machine. Out in the open, is still made a racket, but strategically placed underneath my desk and behind it's vertical board, (with access to drives from the side of the desk), it was a lot quieter; particularly since the rear fan exhaust no longer pointed at a reflective wall, but at a bunch of cardboard boxes and manilla folders under the desk which acted as baffles. It's tempting to get some soundproofing foam to line the inner surfaces of my desk too.

I can't help but wonder, though, what the ideal solution is. I almost care enough to calculate how large a surface area of heat sink would be required to maintain a typical PC at operating temperature with convection alone. Nonetheless it surprises me that PC cases don't come with corrugated side panels.

Quieter active cooling systems seem like a good option too, though more expensive. A fan is just the simplest way of keeping things cooler than convection alone, it's not necessarily the best. The most obvious ones are liquid cooling systems, with nice, large radiators and quiet pump motors, but they're risky since spills or leaks could severely damage your kit.

There comes a point, though, when the amount of cash spent cooling a PC machine could be better spent on an alternative, less power-hungry machine; the sadly discontinued G4 cube, or a thin client (plus a server hidden in the closet), but the problem with these is, of course... they suck for games.

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