Computers make noise. For their office/household appliance status – too much noise at times.
And unfortunately that noise is very hard to eliminate.
Photo by helmet13
Performance and cooling
- Computers work by consuming electricity.
- Since electronics can’t be 100% efficient – part of that electricity is lost and transformed into heat.
- Heat over threshold value (different for different PC components) is dangerous to consumer-grade electronics so they require cooling.
- Blowing some air on heated components is cheapest form of cooling.
- Fast air movement is noise.
- Moving air actively creates vibration, which may create additional noise.
For years release of more powerful and more hot components consumed more energy, created more heat, required more cooling and created more noise. To the point of people becoming aware of problem and rising need for more efficient and less noisy computing.
- video card fan;
- processor fan;
- power supply fan;
- motherboard fans;
- case fans.
Air based cooling can be replaced with superior (more efficient and expensive) or alternate (water, passive) solutions to reduce noise.
- engine noise (hum);
- heads movement noise;
- vibration that may cause case to resonate and amplify noise level.
Not much can be done with hard drive vibration except tinkering with case and picking efficient and quiet drives.
Common (and wrong in my opinion) way to reduce noise is containing it inside of the case.
- This is achieved by making case soundproof – more thick and with less outlets.
- Soundproofing helps to contain noise and air movement.
- Most of cooling is based on active or passive moving of hot air outside case – soundproofing makes that harder.
- Which increases amount of cooling required.
- Which increases internal noise.
- Which requires more soundproofing. Loop.
Instead of trying to keep noise inside case should:
- help dissipate heat – more outlets, good heat-conducting materials, smarter airflow design;
- help reduce vibration – heavier weight, solid construction.
Choice of parts
Simply forget about last model ultra-x-something parts.
- Estimate your computing needs.
- Choose configuration that will be enough for those plus some extra for software progress bloat over time.
- Look into availability of silent (passively-cooled) versions for components you need.
- Spend money saved on case and cooling.
Few years ago, when heat issue was really bad, I took few years off Intel (Pentium 4 sucked) in favor of AMD Ahtlon64. Which run cooler and pioneered dynamic switching of speed to fit current load.
But some (more dedicated) people started looking at using notebook parts in desktop computers. Number of manufacturers that cater to latter is very small. Still some parts like hard drives are relatively easy to replace with smaller and quieter notebook-grade alternatives.
Quieter computer in general case will run hotter and that will somewhat reduce its lifespan. I don’t think there is any hard data on computer life expectancy freely available to consumers. My personal rough estimation is that silence-optimized computer (a lot of passing cooling, running fewer fans at low speeds) lasts approximately three years.
Chasing silent computing may seem like a lot of trouble. And it is.
I think silent home server and working in calm and quiet room is worth every extra dollar and minute spend. What’s your take?