Best way to make a desktop PC quieter?
June 1, 2007 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Best way to make a desktop PC quieter?

I recently took delivery of a Dell XPS 710 h2c desktop PC, supposedly a very high-end machine. Part of the reason I got this expensive machine was its reputation as being quiet (b/c of the liquid cooling system).

But it's still fairly noisy, IMO. Despite the liquid cooling system, there is still a fan, and perhaps other components generating noise. I'd really, really like to cut down on the noise level. What's the best way to do this?

I've researched quieter fans, but it isn't obvious to me how to go about installing them, whether they would work well enough on this particular machine, and so on.

Also, what other options are there -- perhaps something I can put around the outside of the case?

This particular machine uses a Intel Extreme quad-core chip, which I understand tends to run quiet hot. Obviously, I'd prefer not to fry it.
posted by mikeand1 to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
I totally understand; I hate PC noise. One of the noisiest components is the power supply, which might just be a stock PSU despite the liquid cooling system. I use Seasonic PSUs and they make a huge difference. I've also used Nexus Real Silent case fans with great success.

A general principle is that if you can replace smaller fans with larger ones you can run them at fewer RPMs, which makes things quieter. But there is no substitute for engineering when it comes to the fans -- a high-quality fan running at high RPMs is quieter than a cheap stock fan running more slowly in my experience. Generally, it isn't that big of a deal to replace an internal fan with one of the same dimensions.

Here is a site that has tons of advice on this subject.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 11:04 AM on June 1, 2007

Throw in a solid-state hard drive. While they're still expensive, they're coming down in price. I plan on having one in my next desktop (a Mac mini for my digital darkroom) where all my system data and apps will live and keep my actual photo data on a firewire RAID enclosure hidden away somewhere.

In addition to improved sound, you'll also experience lower temperatures (hence, less need for whirring fans) and increased data access times. A win, all around.
posted by mjbraun at 11:05 AM on June 1, 2007

Quieting a PC is a difficult task. Several areas of the computer make noise: the CPU fan, the PSU fan, the GPU fan, and the hard disk. On powerful computers, there are additional fans on the motherboard. All can make noise of varying degrees.

Often it's not the loudness that matters, but the quality of the sound. A moderately noisy low-pitch whirr is better than a quiet high-pitched noise that will drill into your ears. I had this problem recently with a Seagate hard disk that had an almost inaudible high-pitch whine that was a little like having tinnitus. I had to replace it (I used a notebook drive, which are quieter and vibrate less than a standard disk).

Try common sense first. Put the PC base unit on the floor, beneath the desk. Often just trying to live with the computer is the best bet. Give it a few weeks.

If that doesn't help, Silent PC Review is definitely worth visiting but a word of warning. Firstly, it gets complex--lots of talk about air flow and vibrations. It's an end in itself, and lots of people treat it as a hobby.

Secondly, it gets expensive. There are companies out there that will gladly strip you of your cash for very little reward. That said, a lot of the Silent PC Review guys prefer DIY solutions.

Be aware that powerful computing isn't always compatible with quiet computing. Slower computers, needing less cooling, are easier to make quiet.
posted by humblepigeon at 11:26 AM on June 1, 2007

Having done a few PC-silencing projects, I would have to respectfully disagree about looking into an expensive HD first.

Mac Minis have an external PSU and are nearly fanless inside, IIRC, which means that the HD is likely to be the only noise offender. They also use low-wattage mobile CPUs which means that they don't require a lot of cooling.

In a desktop PC, CPU/case cooling and the PSU are usually the noise culprits. The HD isn't a huge factor in the heat inside the case in my experience -- it isn't usually the HD heating up the CPU that is a potential problem, but the CPU heating up the HD.

I put together an Athlon-based server recently that is inaudible, and it has a normal (albeit 2.5") HD in it. My server is underclocked, which makes it easier to cool, but the noisiest thing in there wasn't ever the CPU cooler, it was the PSU and case exhaust fans.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 11:30 AM on June 1, 2007

I know this doesn't pertain to new PCs, but dust removal helps older PCs cool down. Auto-controlled fans on the processor and graphics card will slow down too, as result.

I remember badgering my guild leader about how noisy his gfx card was whenever I heard it over VoIP. Eventually, he noticed too and found the problem to be a massive dust buildup on the card.

Also, I know it's not really the solution you're looking for, but you'll have better audio and less distractions if you use headphones instead of speakers. I have a gaming rig, fishtank, and highway nearby all distracting me. But some nice big headphones give me silence or nicely rendered music.
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:49 AM on June 1, 2007

I saw one guy who stuck it in a closet and ran thick cables to his lcd, keyboard and mouse to control it remotely. I don't recall if he had an external cd drive for installs, etc.
posted by mecran01 at 12:08 PM on June 1, 2007

I'm sure you want to keep the Dell case so you're probably stuck with the fan sizes you have.

Your best bet is to find quieter (like Panaflo) fans or lower RPM fans.

Also check to see if your hard drives have rubber grommets to reduce vibration. You also can dynamat (sound insulate) parts of your case too.
posted by mphuie at 12:22 PM on June 1, 2007

Try SpeedFan. It's free software that reads the temperature sensors present in many components. You can tell it what maximum temps are allowable for the components, and it controls the speeds of the fans to stay below those. When I power up my desktop, the fans start in at full roar, but after SpeedFan finishes reading all the sensors, it lowers their speeds to 15%, which is inaudible. As the components warm up, the fans pick up speed, so nothing overheats.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:58 PM on June 1, 2007

Resonance kills.

I'm spinning a pair of 10K SCSI drives in my desktop. I can't hear them. Why? Shock mounting -- the vibration of the drives isn't coupled to the case, which means that A) the sound is absorbed by the shock mounts and B) the case doesn't resonate with the vibration, thus, amplifying it.

All the fans and drives, mod the CDRW, are mounted using rubber shock mounts, not metal-to-metal screws. End result? The *loudest* thing in my computer is the CD drive, which isn't used much.

Other tricks -- large fans turning slowly will cool as much as small fans turning quickly, and with much less noise. Bonus: Should heat problems occur, the large fans can then turn quickly and move *vastly* more air. This is very, very loud, and tells you something is wrong.

So, the ideal system has very large, shock mounted, variable speed fans with the monitoring systems needed to control them. Even without this, decoupling the fan and drive vibration from the case will make for a significantly quieter machine.
posted by eriko at 1:17 PM on June 1, 2007

Agree about the shock mounting. Just keep in mind that isolating the drives from the case also stops the case from being a heatsink for the drives, meaning that they are stuck with more of the heat that they generate, and you should use Speedfan to see what the HD temps are and make sure they are cool enough with respect to their max operating temperature, which can be found in the HD specs.

I suspended a drive in rubber cords in my silent PC and it was really quiet as a result, but it ran 3 degrees hotter (celsius) than when it was mounted directly to the metal parts of the case.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 1:54 PM on June 1, 2007

Last year I built myself a PC because I got so insanely annoyed with the noise from my older Dell. The previously mentioned Silent PC Review was a good resource, but I also recommend The Silent PC and Quiet Computers - End PC Noise.

Even stuck in a Dell case, it is possible to reduce the noise problem. Several places sell silicone gaskets that you can put between various componants and the chassis that will reduce resonnance. And getting better quality case fans, ones from companies which build for quiet operation, would make a huge difference. If your Dell doesn't have a proprietary power supply (unlikely), you could change that out as well. On my old Dell the PSU was the worst noise offender, until I put in a graphics card with a tiny fan. Tiny fans make the worst noise! Although they can be hard to find, there are graphics cards out there with only passive cooling. In my new box, the Samsung Spinpoint hard drive is the noisiest component, but for the DVD drives. And it isn't terribly bad. The way my desk is set up, my head is only about two feet from the computer and I don't mind it a bit.

If you do plan to replace some parts, I'd suggest Scythe fans to start, as even swapping out for the same size they have got to be quieter than whatever Dell put in there and fans are pretty easy to install. Good confidence builder.

(For the sake of the curious, I have in my machine: 2 120mm Scythe S-flex case fans (1 800 rpm, 1 1,200 rpm), a SeaSonic 430w psu, and a Zalman CPNS7700 cpu cooler. These are all known for quiet operation. And I've found that aside from having the best replacement terms in the business, Seagate hard drives are also quiet and very dependable.)
posted by monopas at 7:47 PM on June 1, 2007

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