Quiet PC - Acoustic PC Resources And Quiet PC Cooling Products
A quiet PC by defention is a personal computer that makes little noise. Common uses for quiet PCs include video editing, sound mixing, recording
and as home theater PCs. A typical quiet PC uses quiet computer fans, quiet CPU cooler, and quiet hard drives and energy-efficient parts such a 80
plus efficiency Quiet power supplies. The term "Quiet PC" is used subjectively and there is currently no standard definition for what constitutes a
"Quiet PC". However, a general definition accepted by most is that the sound emitted by such PCs should not exceed 30dB when recorded 1 m away
from the computer.
Here is a chart to better help you Decibel Ratings
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Causes of PC noise
There are two main causes for PC noise. One is mechanical friction noise generated by micro motors and fan bearings as well as vibration noise
from low quality chasis and improper assemblies. The other main cause is electrical noise generated by electrical coil parts used in motherboard
and power supply.
Noise in personal computers has been increasing with increased computing power and number of transistors on a single die (integrated circuit).
More transistors translates to more power consumption, and consequently higher heat. This results in a requirement for faster-rotating cooling fans.
Also, motor rotation speed for hard disc drive (HDD) and Optical disc drive (ODD) have been increasing for faster data processing with technological
advances in micro motors.
The noise issue had received wide-spread attention with AMD's early Athlon CPUs and Intel's Pentium 4 Prescott core CPU known for its excessive
heat and bundled fan noise running on high RPM. With the introduction of Home Theatre PC (HTPC) concept, the excessive heat and noise problem,
that had been mostly confined to the overclocking community, has come to the attention of the general public.
There have been two main approaches to solve noise problems for personal computers in home or office environment, especially for Home Theatre
PCs (HTPC). One is improving bearing technology or cooling parts design & material to decrease friction, thus noise. Another approach is to reduce
the heat generation at its origin by using energy efficient parts and decreasing transistor unit size in microprocessors.
By the laws of physics, higher rotation (usually marked in RPM) causes higher bearing friction, thus more noise, given the same bearing technology.
By the same laws, a higher electrical current will cause more heat through resistance than a lower current in a wire of the same resistivity.
Common silencing methods include:
Replacing fans with low-speed, large-diameter fans with low bearing and motor noise. Larger fans can move more air per revolution than smaller
Replacing the power supply with a quieter model. The two main considerations, from a noise-reduction point of view, in choosing a power supply
are fan quality and AC/DC conversion efficiency. Efficiency is important because the less heat that is produced the less work the fan has to perform.
Replacing heat sinks with more efficient models. This often entails the use of larger copper or aluminum heat sinks which may incorporate heat
Replacing hard drives with quieter models. Hard drives can also be replaced by solid state devices like compact flash or networked file systems like
Replacing fans with passive cooling solutions where possible, such as fans on motherboards and GPUs.
Covering the case with sound insulation material such as foam or fiber mat, although this method has limited effectiveness. The material can
(because of its weight) dampen case resonance, and can also absorb some high-frequency sound. It can also have the undesirable side-effect of
reducing air flow due to its bulk, and therefore be counter-productive by increasing the need for active cooling.
Mounting fans on anti-vibration mounts.
In energy-hungry computers, water cooling may be necessary for quiet operation. Older water pumps sometimes can make systems noisier than
air-cooled, low-power computers.
However, recent advances in 12v DC pump technologies has resulting in many pumps being virtually inaudible (Laing Thermotech DDC, D5). In a
modern watercooling system geared towards silence versus performance, the loudest component in the computer is often the Hard Drive or Optical
Drive when performing accesses to the media.
Low/no cost methods:
Undervolting CPUs. Many of today's CPUs can run stably at their stock speed, or even with a slight overclock, at a reduced voltage, which reduces
heat output. Underclocking can be done for the same effect, however this reduces performance and is not as effective as undervolting; all the same,
underclocking may allow further undervolting. Power consumption varies as V*V*F, that is, linearly with the clock frequency but with the square of the
voltage. This means that even small reduction in voltage can have large effect in power consumption. Undervolting and underclocking can also be
used with chipsets and GPUs. Reducing fan voltages. This is easily done for fans with Molex connectors . With 3-pin fans, either fixed inline
resistors or diodes, or commercial variable resistors such as the Zalman Fanmate can be used. Many newer motherboards support Pulse-width
modulation (PWM) control allowing the fan speed to be set in the BIOS or with software. Isolating hard disk noise either by using anti-vibration
mounts (generally a rubber or silicone grommet), or suspending the hard disk to fully de-couple it from the PC chassis (generally mounting it in an
5.25" drive bay using high-grade elastic). Replacing the fan in the PSU for a quieter one (which still offer adequate airflow to cool the PSU), or
undervolting it. Note that opening a PSU can be dangerous. Removing restrictive fan grills to allow easier airflow. Enabling Cool'n'Quiet for AMD K8
CPUs or EIST on a few of Intel's latest CPUs. Using software such as Nero Drivespeed to reduce the speed of optical drives. Setting hard drives to
spin down after a short moment of inactivity. This, however reduces drives lifespan and commonly conflicts with the OS and running programs,
though it can still be useful for drives which are only used for data storage. Defragmenting the hard drives to reduce the drive heads' need to search
widely for data, also improves on performance. Setting the AAM value on to its lowest setting. This reduces the seek noise produced by the hard
drive, but also impacts performance slightly. moving wires around in the computer. Some unused wires hang inside the computer and block the
airflow, which can increase heat. They can be easily moved to the side of the case so that air can pass through more easily Removing dust from
inside the computer. Dust on computer parts will retain more heat. Cases fans can take dust into the computer from outside and leave it inside,
which helps dust build up quickly. It can be removed with a vacuum or leaf blower. Special anti static vacuums should be used however to prevent
Electrostatic Discharge. It's a good idea to do this at least a couple of time every year, because dust can build up quickly.
Individual components in a quiet PC
The following are notes regarding individual components in quiet PCs.
Silicone grommets in a computer case for mounting a hard drive to reduce vibration.Previously hard drives used ball bearing motors but they got
noisy when the rotational speed of the drive was increased to 5400 RPM or 7200 RPM. Nowadays, all hard drive manufacturers have switched to
fluid bearing motors in standard desktop hard drives. The first hard drive widely reputed to be quiet was the Seagate Barracuda ATA IV.[attribution
needed] Samsung, Western Digital and Maxtor are considered to produce some of the quietest high capacity 3.5" drives as of Summer 2006, with
noise varying per model.
The smaller 2.5" form-factor hard drives generally vibrate less, are more silent, and use less power than the traditional 3.5" drives. On the other
hand, they have lower performance and less capacity, and cost considerably more per GB.
To minimize vibrations from a hard drive being transferred to, and amplified by, the case, hard drives can be suspended with elastics or placed on
soft foam or Sorbothane.
Solid state storage
Solid state disk (SSD) storage offers faster seek times, lower power consumption, no moving parts; making it theoretically more reliable and silent.
There is scope for very high capacity drives; however, they are currently extremely expensive per GB and are fairly scarce. Samsung launched first
notebook with their own 32 GB SSD drives on May 23, 2006, the first consumer-oriented SSDs, but still far more expensive and at far lower
capacities than traditional drives.
Compact Flash cards
A small number of people also use Compact Flash cards (or "CF cards" to make short) to load their OS. Adapters can be bought which connect to
an IDE port or cable and allow the CF card to be seen by the PC as a normal hard drive. CF cards are also very small, allowing very SFF PCs to be
made, produce no noise, use very little power (further reducing heat output in the AC/DC conversion in the PSU), and an insignificant amount of heat.
However, they are very expensive per GB and are only available in small capacities. There are also issues regarding the maximum number of
reads/writes to each sector; often specified as 100,000 MTBF. However, there are industry grade cards which specify a higher MTBF and
technologies such as EWF can reduce the writes to the card. Also, CF cards will fail gradually, so it will be easy to notice before any significant
amount of data is lost, unlike the possible immediate failure of HDDs. Due to their small capacities they are easy to back up entirely, and often have
10 year or even lifetime warranties. Windows minimization projects such as Winimize (Windows 98, less than 20MB) and Linux projects such as
Puppy Linux mean that running an OS in small capacity, cheap compact flash card is possible. By virtue of the fact that these have many OS
components removed they are also less prone to viruses and other malware. The sustained transfer rate of current CF cards is a maximum of
around 25MB/s, compared to an average of around 70MB/s for modern hard drives. However, the speed of flash memory is increasing at a faster
rate than that of hard drives, and they also have minimal seek times compared to hard drives, which rapidly increases the speed of loading many
small files, and makes the PC seem more responsive therefore as most operations performed by the OS include small files. Due to the fast seek
times CF cards also don't suffer from file system fragmentation like hard drives do. CF drives only operate in PIO mode, which will limit the
maximum transfer speed of future CF cards. It is possible to use a compact flash card for storing only information that isn't changed very often - such
as music, videos and binary executables, while storing the small config files and other frequently modified data on a 2.5" hard drive or i-RAM.
USB flash drives
Where a motherboard supports booting from USB drives, they can be used in a similar fashion to CF cards to run the OS. This is much more difficult
with Windows (as it sees USB drives as removable mass storage devices by default), however it is possible. With some Linux distributions, it is not
much harder than using a CF card. As they both use flash memory, they have the same advantages and disadvantages, however future thumb
drives are limited by the USB bus, rather than PIO mode.
The i-RAM is a solid-storage solution which has four DIMM slots to allow regular PC RAM (DDR, or DDR2 with upcoming version 2) to be used to
store data. It plugs into a regular SATA port and is seen by the PC as a normal hard drive, and may therefore be booted from directly. RAM offers
vastly faster transfer rates, and shorter seek times, compared to traditional hard drives; 3 GB/s is standard; over 25 times faster. Whilst the i-RAM is
highly bottlenecked by the SATA interface, it is still much faster, and does not lose its advantage with seek times. RAM however is volatile, so needs
to be constantly powered to retain data. The i-RAM does this by plugging into a PCI slot, which powers it when the PC is plugged in. It also has a 16
hour battery, which operates when the PC is unplugged or there is a power outage (when it is off but still plugged in, it operates from the PCs
standby power). The i-RAM is very expensive per GB, but offers not only a silent storage method, but significantly decreased boot times, increased
responsiveness and performance.
Problems and solutions
All forms of affordable solid state storage offer relatively small amounts of capacity. They can be used as main storage for tasks which do not use
large amounts of data or large programs, such as web browsing or word processing. Larger files and programs can be stored on a secondary hard
drive which is only accessed when needed. Keeping the OS, often accessed files, and smaller programs on a solid state drive means that the hard
drives can be powered down much of the time. Network-attached storage, or NAS, is another alternative, allowing loud hard drives to be stored out of
the way. Small USB drives or CF cards can be used to make the process of network booting easier also.
Antec P180, with isolated chambers for more segregated airflow.
Another example of the Antec P180, this one demonstrating the use of the Scythe Ninja, a fanless CPU cooler.Noise optimized cases like the Antec
P180 and Antec P150 often have ducting and partitioning within the case to optimize airflow and thermally isolate components. For example, the
P180 has the PSU mounted in the bottom of the case in an isolated partition. This design feature allows cooler air to enter the PSU, reducing the
necessary airflow and accordingly, the noise output of the fan. Apple has also employed this tactic in their G5 workstations in an effort to reduce
noise. Antec's Sonata is often considered by the mainstream to be one of the quietest PC cases; however, it has since been surpassed by the P180
and other more-advanced cases.
The inside of a case can be lined with dampening materials to serve several purposes:
to attenuate the vibration of the case panels via extensional damping or constrained-layer damping.
to reduce the amplitude of the vibration of the case panels by increasing their mass.
to absorb airborne noise, such as with foam.
More obstructive fan grills increase pressure drop and lower airflow, necessitating more noise output. They also increase the turbulence of the flow,
which causes some noise of its own. Cases designed to be quiet typically have honeycombed fan grills which perform almost as well as wire grills
and are far superior to the old style of stamped grill, although some cases come with wire grills.
Cases designed for low noise usually include reasonably quiet fans, and often come with a relatively quiet power supply.
A large copper heatsink and high flow fan provide exceptional cooling for the cooler-running Pentium 4 Northwood.The heat output of a CPU can vary
according to its brand and model - to be exact, its TDP. Intel's Pentium 4E, or so called Prescott is infamous for being one of the hottest CPUs on the
market. On the other extreme, AMD's Athlon series are known for being very cool.
The heat produced by CPUs can be reduced greatly by undervolting, which may require underclocking as well. Underclocking by itself also reduces
heat and power consumption somewhat. Modern CPUs often incorporate dynamic clock throttling to reduce the CPU clockspeed and core voltage
when the processor is not in use, thus further reducing thermal output, such as Cool'n'Quiet and EIST.
Most modern mainstream and value CPUs are made with a lower TDP to reduce heat, noise, and power consumption. Most of intel's desktop Core
2 Duo processors have 65W TDPs, and AMD has newer processors with a TDP between 35W and 65W.
Modern low power CPUs
Maximum TDP: Athlon 64 X2: 45W, 65W, 85W
Intel Core and Core 2 series: 65W, 85W
Intel Pentium M and Celeron M (lacks SpeedStep)
VIA C7: 12W-20W (Fanless)
A 120 mm variable speed fan.Bearing noise and motor noise vary between different fan models and also often between different samples of the
same model of fan.
Quiet PCs typically use low-speed 120 mm fans. Although 140 mm fans are made by some manufacturers, such as Aerocool and Yate Loon, there
are very few cases or heatsinks that can use them.
Fan controllers can be used to slow down fast fans and to precisely choose fan speed. Fan controllers can produce a fixed fan speed using an
inline resistor or diode, or a variable fan speed using a potentiometer or Pulse Width Modulation (PWM). Resistor-based fan control feeds the fan a
lower than standard voltage, while PWM fan control rapidly cycles between feeding the fan full voltage and no voltage. PWM fan control reduces
rotational speed, but can also produce clicking sounds in some fan models. Fans can also be plugged into the power supply's 5 volt line instead of
the 12 volt line (or between the two for a potential difference of 7 volts, although this cripples the fan's speed sensing) to run them at a reduced
speed. Most fans will run at 5 volts once they are spinning, but will often stall when trying to start at less than 7 V. Some simple standalone fan
controllers will only vary the fans' supply voltage between 8 V and 12 V to avoid this problem entirely. Some fan controllers start the fan at 12 V, then
drop the voltage after a few seconds.
Nexus, Yate Loon and some Scythe fans are generally considered the quietest fans as of 2006. In situations where the resistance to flow is very low,
like in free-air conditions, Noctua fans also perform very well. It must be noted that certain brands of fan are prone to unsavory "testing"
methodologies, e.g. noise output is measured at an unusually long distance. Two extensive comparative surveys have been posted by Silent PC
Review () and MadShrimps ().
Intel has recently developed a piezo-electric fan for use in desktop PCs, which is quieter than motor fans and consumes a fraction of the power.
PSUs are made quieter through the use of quieter fans, more intelligent fan controllers (ones for which the correlation between temperature and fan
speed is more complex than linear), higher efficiency, which reduces waste heat and need for airflow, more effective heatsinks and through designs
which allow air to flow through with less resistance. PSU Efficiency has been generally improving.
The electrical coils in power supplies can produce noise which can become noticeable when the PC is quietened to a significant extent.
The fan in a power supply can be replaced with a quieter one, although there is a risk of electric shock when doing this, and usually voids the
Fanless power supplies are available, they are usually equipped with large passive heat sinks and rely on natural convection to dissipate heat.
These power supplies usually have lower wattage ratings. It is also imperative that fan less power supplies be installed in a case with good
A power supply can be made to run quieter by providing it with a cooler and/or less obstructed source of air, as the speed of the internal fan often
relies on the temperature in the PSU, which is in turn affected by the temperature of the air intake source. The method of thermal zones is used in
the Antec P180 to keep the air supplied to the PSU cool.
Passively cooled northbridge chipsets help reduce noise.Most recent motherboards have built in PWM based fan control for one or two fans.
Motherboards can produce coil noise. Many modern motherboard chipsets have very hot northbridges, which may come with active cooling, usually
a small, noisy fan, notably nForce4. Some motherboard manufacturers have got rid of this fan by incorporating large heatpipe coolers, however this
is still heat which is radiated into the case, and therefore requires good case airflow.
CRT monitors can produce coil noise, as can the power brick for an LCD monitor. LCD monitors tend to produce least whine when at 100%
brightness. An LCD monitor with a separate "power brick" tucked out of the way will produce less noticeable noise than one with the power supply
built into the screen housing.
Optical drives can be slowed down by software to quieten them, such as Nero drivespeed, or emulated by virtual drive programs such as Daemon
Tools to eliminate their noise entirely. Notebook optical drives can be bought which tend to be quieter, however this may be because they tend to run
at slower speeds (typically 24x CD speed, 8x DVD speed).
Watercooling, depending of the application's goal of being optimized for silence or performance, can be either extremely quiet or extremely efficient
at heat-dissipation. Both are not possible at the same time and the user must choose trade-offs when assembling or purchasing and must try to
find the right balance according to the user's needs and preferences. Essentially because a watercooling setup usually needs not only a fan to cool
the radiator, but a pump also, it introduces one more potentiallly noisy component. Recent advances in 12v DC pump technologies (for the first time
specifically geared-for pc development) allow for new pumps to be both extremely powerful and extremely quiet. Watercooling is a greater technical
challenge, and typically more expensive and difficult to set up than air-cooling. The Zalman Reserator tends to be seen as the quietest watercooling
solution, which uses a large, passive, combined pump, radiator and reservoir, however most DIY setups where the users piece together the
systems from individually acquired components, far-outperform the passive solutions while being only a slight bit more audible.
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