Building a quiet PC

March 16th, 2006

It seems to me that more and more people want the best of both worlds – they want a fast, powerful PC but at the same time they want it to be a [tag]quiet PC[/tag].

That’s the kinda PC that’s gonna cost ya!

Power and speed means that things have to move faster (hard drives, CD/DVD drives) and it also means that there’s a lot of heat to get rid of (especially heat from the CPU and the thrashing hard drives.  Problem is, things that move fast (hard drives, CD/DVD drives and cooling fans) all make a noise.  Each individual component might only make a small sound but added together and amplified by a badly designed PC chassis these small sounds can become a huge, annoying racket!

So, what can you do?

Start off with a good PC chassis.  Cheap = noisy so expect to spend $75 – $100 or more on a decent case (such as a Thermaltake case). 

Into that good case, install a good quality PSU.  Don’t expect a $30 PSU to be nice and quiet.  Once more, expect to spend around $100.  Check out some of the power supplies made by QuietPC.

After the PSU, the hard drives represent the biggest noise-making component in a PC.  It’s tough to find quiet hard drives – years of experience has led me to the generalized conclusion that the quietest hard drives from the Seagate Barracuda range are the quietest, while anything Western Digital is going to sound like a chainsaw.  It’s a generalization but not an unfair one.

Make sure that the PC is going to sit on a firm surface – a wobbling case generates sound.  Make sure that it’s also on a solid, stout surface – putting a PC on a flimsy desk means that the desk acts like an amplifier for the noise. 

I tend to steer clear of hard drive enclosures that are supposed to dampen sound – I find that they can all too easily cause a hard drive to overheat and a overheating hard drive is an unhappy hard drive and isn’t going to last long.  if it’s a trade-off between noise reduction and reliability, reliability wins hands down, after all, I can always wear earplugs.

Fans are another major source of unwanted sound.  Invariably, cheap fans (case fans or CPU cooler fans) are much noisier than expensive fans.  Cheap fans might be nice and quiet for the first 50 hours or so of operation but after that the rattling will start and will just get worse and worse.  Steer clear of cheap fans by no-name makers.  Stick with fans from Cooler Master, Arctic Cooling or Antec.  I always try to use variable-speed fans, this way I can tweak the fan settings to give me the best balance between cooling and noise (a laser thermometer and a thermocouple probe on my multimeter are also useful – this way I can keep an eye on the temperature at various points in the PC case).

If you don’t want to use fans then there are a number of other devices that you can use that have no moving parts and are therefore silent – such as Peltier coolers.  These are expensive and effective but remember that if you have a noisy PSU or hard drive, replacing the CPU cooler with a Peltier cooler won’t help!

If you want more noise-reduction then you should invest in a sound-proofing kit for your PC chassis – this will help keep the noise generated by your PC inside the chassis.  These kits are pretty effective but they can be a pain to fit and can cause overheating issues in some cases – remember – be careful about sacrificing reliability for noise reduction.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 16th, 2006 at 16:24 and is filed under PC Doctor Tips, The PC Doctor Performance Tips. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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