Looking for an ultra-quiet notebook
August 21, 2007 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Looking for a really, really quiet notebook (UK).

Any particular brands or models known for their quietness, and sold in the UK? I've got to emphasise that I want a virtually silent machine. I have a first-gen Macbook that soon will be hitting eBay because it whistles, whines and whirrs in my very quiet office environment. If I play a video, it's like somebody's switched on a hair drier.

If I buy from somebody like Dell, can I audition the machine and send it back if I don't like it? Aside from Dell, do any other manufacturers offer direct sales?
posted by humblepigeon to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
I recently bought a Thinkpad T60 (still with the IBM logo but made by Lenovo) and aside from being utterly delighted with it and thinking it's the best thing ever, it's also one of the quietest machines I've heard.

I got it from Dabs and their returns policy is pretty good - I believe you can just package it up and return it within 7 days and get a full refund. You might have to pay for return postage though.

Generally I've found Dabs a good place to buy hardware, so if you get a better (or cheaper - the Thinkpad was £1300 including VAT, mostly because I wanted a posh display) recommendation I recommend you go there.

Lenovo sell direct, but their prices aren't the best.
posted by altolinguistic at 9:36 AM on August 21, 2007

oh, in case it's not clear, I'm in the UK, Dabs is a UK firm (based in Bolton) and Lenovo have a UK website.
posted by altolinguistic at 9:38 AM on August 21, 2007

my thinkpad x60 is quieter than my partner's mac, fwiw, but it's not silent - i can sometimes tell when the fan turns on.

have you tried throttling your cpu? something like "power save mode" (in kde on windows it's via kpowersave menu option). the fan in a laptop will typically only come on when the cpu is working hard (by the same logic it should be better to get an over-specced machine and then run it throttled).
posted by andrew cooke at 9:47 AM on August 21, 2007

kde on linux, duh
posted by andrew cooke at 9:49 AM on August 21, 2007

I second the x60; it's really quiet.
posted by gadha at 9:56 AM on August 21, 2007

no, mine's not silent, but does a silent notebook exist?
posted by altolinguistic at 9:56 AM on August 21, 2007

Sony offer direct sales too; I got an ultra-portable TX1XP from them (not a quiet model, sadly, but their LED illuminated X-Black displays are very good). I have no idea what their other models are like though.

Dabs aren't one of my favourite retailers these days; their support's gone downhill tremendously and their prices aren't anything special. My first port of call for hardware these days is Scan, since they're a bit less faceless and more responsive to problems. Their range isn't particularly large, though.
posted by Freaky at 9:59 AM on August 21, 2007

If youre willing to pay in the 2300 dollar range you can get a panasonic toughbook cf-y4 or cf-y5. They are sealed fanless laptops and weigh next to nothing. Silent as a tomb.

The only thing that makes noise on this is the CD drive and there's no getting around that.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:52 AM on August 21, 2007

I've been using Toughbooks for years, and with the exception of the gigahertz monster in my lap now, they were all conductively cooled through the magnesium case, no fan needed.

That, plus the fact that the hard drive is always mounted in a shock-absorbing gel or foam of some sort, makes Toughbooks some of the quietest machines around.

You probably don't want to pay new prices for a rugged machine, so shop used, but heed the advice on our wiki. Specifically the point about driveless machines on the used market also being missing other critical pieces.
posted by Myself at 6:43 PM on August 21, 2007

Thanks for everybody's advice. Unless I pay over £1000 for a notebook, it sounds like I'm not going to get anything quiet.

I've decided to stick with my Macbook. I did some research and found that you can use the CHUD tools (on the install DVD) to switch off one of the processor cores. This removes some of the background sound—a kind of white-noise buzz. It seems the dual-core chip itself makes a slight whirr/whine.

But I think the tinnitus-like whine I can hear is coming from the hard disk. If I set it to sleep after one minute, it seems to go away when the drive spins down. It's a Seagate drive and, oddly enough, I've had similar problems with them in the past. It must be a characteristic of the motors they use. Luckily it's easy to swap drives in a Macbook.
posted by humblepigeon at 12:55 AM on August 22, 2007

There is supposedly a firmware patch to address fan noise / cooling issues.

I don't have a lot of experience with laptops, but you might have some luck with reducing fan noise by buying a cooling base for the laptop to use in your office.

Fan noise is usually related to RPM, and the laptop fans being small have to have a really high RPM to push enough air to cool the laptop.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:55 AM on August 22, 2007

The hiss you're hearing is probably magnetostrictive noise from the motherboard's switching power regulators. There's not much you can do about it as a user, unless you want to open the machine and give the inductors a heavier coat of dope.

In general, a sturdier chassis will contain more of the noise, and some designs are simply quiet by nature. Others use a switching frequency that's above the range of human hearing, though many are just on the edge of "annoys teenagers", which my 29-year-old ears seem more than happy to pick up. I just returned a battery charger for precisely this reason (after sampling the sound, slowing it down 50%, and burning the result to a CD which I packed with my return explanation, so there'd be no question as to the problem).

As for the hard drive noise, seriously consider a solid-state disk. You can DIY for a few bucks with a compactflash card in a suitable adapter, and with flash under $10/GB now, it's getting awfully affordable. Just store the mp3 collection on a network drive out of earshot. ;)
posted by Myself at 8:22 AM on August 23, 2007

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