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Last modified April 29, 2017


 

Hints & Suggestions

Here are some hints and suggestions on what to think on regarding a low level of noise emissions when buying PC system units or components.

When talking on what products are the most quiet ones, you have to be aware that the site author only has evaluated a few of them. The statements are mostly based on what has been said by different sources on the Internet and PC magazines.

SilentPCReview (SPCR) is the World's most renowned and trusted Web site focusing on noiseless computing.


 

General

Interested manufacturers can declare their products' noise emissions according to international standard. When searching for a quiet piece of IT equipment, you should check for one that has the lowest possible noise figures declared according to the ISO 9296 standard. Noise figures are usually found in "Product Specifications" below headings like "Acoustic Emissions", "Environmental specifications" or "Environmental Attributes". Read more on this at the ISO 9296 page.

If one buy a new PC or a PC component, and ones first impression when one unpack it is that it seems noisy; listen to that thought, and try to have the shop or company buy it back. Ones first impression here is always right. One will not adapt to the noise. By time will it become a source of irritation.

Don't buy a PC system unit that has to be put on the table near your screen. The more far away the system unit can be placed the better when talking about noise.

Try to build your PC with as few components as possible. Every mechanical device or electronic circuit generate heat, and keeping the number of parts as low as possible will minimize the need for active noise generating cooling. The less parts involved in the system the less will it also be that obstructs air flow in the PC case.

To be able to best utilize passive cooling: Buy a PC case that is well ventilated, with plenty of free air between the components. Tower models are here in general the best ones.

If maximum performance isn't needed one way to aquire a quiet PC can be to buy a second-hand notebook. Some of the earlier models used to be fanless, and have quiet hard disks. Many PII laptops used to be fanless, but most PIIIs are not. For the Macintosh user older PowerBooks can be a quiet solution.


 

Processors

Buy a PC processor (CPU) that generates as little heat as possible. Then you might be able to cool the chip only by using a heat sink, instead of both a heat sink and a fan. You will at least be able to cool the processor with a slower running and more quiet fan if it generates less heat. The web page "Processor Electrical Specifications" by Chris Hare makes your cpu decision easier. CPU Temperatures is an other page with similar information. CPUHeat & CPUMSR projects homepage is yet an other source. Athlon 64 for Quiet Power is a valuable SilentPCReview article concerning the CPU temperature relation to noise.

If you need an active cooling solution for your processor you can buy a temperature regulated fan, or buy a motherboard that is capable of adjusting fan speed according to need. A cpu for a quiet PC should have a built-in temperature sensor. You can read more on temperature aware PCs here.

The term underclocking might sound strange to the people talking on the solely good of high frequency processors and overclocking of them, but today as more and more ordinary people find themselves spending their days, evenings and weekends by overcapacity personal computers making distracting noise, underclocing might actually be a solution. Making the processor run at a slower clock frequency can lower its heat emission, which in turn can make it possible to reduce noise by slowing down fans intended for cooling. In some cases it might even be possible to replace the underclocked processor's cooling fan with a good heatsink. Here is a recent SilentPCReview article on underclocking, and here some experiences shared by Terry Gray - My Quest for Quiet and here by Leo Velikovich in an other SilentPCReview article. You can also read more on the subject on, or post questions to the Silent PC e-mailing list.

The Intel® Pentium® M processor series, although its manufacturer has marketed the Pentium M exclusively as a mobile product, is regarded Intel's best one for building also a quiet stationary PC: This because of its high performance to power consumption ratio. There are a few mainboards and adapters that make it possible to use the mobile CPU Pentium M in stationary PCs.

The AMD® Athlon 64 processor series is regraded the best for building high performing quiet PCs.

The VIA™ C3™ processor can also be a good choice for building of a quiet PC. This since it doesn't require a fan for cooling, a good heatsink should be enough. Dan's Data has reviewed it and concludes: "If you want to build yourself a "Quiet PC", or if you're an assembler who wants to build thousands of the things, and you don't need top-flight performance, the C3 is a fine choice." The VIA C3 CPU is pin to pin compatible with common Intel Pentium III and Celeron CPUs, and as so it can be used with both recent and older socket 370 motherboards. Here VIA writes on noiseless PCs and suggest configurations for silent systems. A disadvantage with todays C3 processors, although featuring a built-in temperature sensor and a solution to make them cut out if they run too hot, is that they don't provide thermal data - making it less obvious how healthy they are regarding temperature in your systems. VIA could change this in future C3 versions, then being better able to attract even the most conscious users, and become compatible with the idea of "the PC autonomic nervous system".

Transmeta™ Crusoe is a very cool running processor. It features a built-in temperature sensor. Transmeta is working hard in the energy efficient direction of PC technology. They have been rewarded for this by EPA Energy Star.

Intel and Pentium are registered trademarks of Intel Corporation in the United States and other countries. AMD is a trademark and AMD Athlon a mark of Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. VIA and VIA C3 are trademarks of VIA Technologies, Inc. Transmeta is a trademark of Transmeta corporation.


 
 

Hard Drives

Hard disks can be declared according to the ISO 9296 standard. An extra sign of quality is that the manufacturer also states its discs sound quality characteristics, how much it vibrates and its power dissipation. The connection between the moving and the not moving parts of a hard drive is critical. Here some kind of bearings are used to minimize friction and vibration. The most quiet bearings now are the fluid ones.

2.5" drives, earlier almost only used in notebooks, are commonly much quieter and cool running than the 3.5" ones used in ordinary desktop computers, but mostly at the expence of performance. In the article "IS the Silent PC Future 2.5-inches wide?" discusses this subject and here Tom's Hardware Guide teaches how to use quiet 2.5" drives in Raid configuration in an ordinary desktop machine for noise reduction purpose: "The benchmark results are quite clear: only two 2.5" drives are able to outperform a modern desktop drive in terms of transfer performance - and without the high temperatures and obnoxious noise!"

The Seagate® Barracuda ATA IV series, now discontinued, used to be the World's quietest high-performing hard disks. In a recent SilentPCReview (April 10, 2004) the Samsung SP1614N and Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 disks are compared: "The Samsung SP1614N clearly beats the Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (ST3160023A) in both performance and acoustics. It is a far quieter drive, and faster, too!" Editor Mike Chin adds a note: "As both the Seagate Barracuda IV and V appear to be discontinued, the Samsung SP series are the current 3.5" quiet hard drive champs."

If possible choose a hard disk with built in temperature sensor and a software solution (most often is this named S.M.A.R.T) for monitoring of temperature. Then you will be safer that your disk doesn't overheat if you put it in a noise dampening enclosure.

Seagate is a registered trademark of Seagate Technology LLC.


 
 

Ramdisks, Network Booting & Thin Clients

Ramdisks

A virtual disk of ram memory can make it possible to avoid a local hard disk, or shut down a noisy hard disk; at least for some time.

Diskless Windows 98

How to use a Ramdisk for Linux®


Network booting

Netboot and Etherboot are two examples of software packages for to avoid a local hard drive. One can find other software related to this tip at the Solutions page.


Thin clients

An increasing number of companies and tax-paid services these days utilize thin clients with the primary goal to cut costs. A positive side-effect of thin clients is that they often can be made to run very quiet, and even silent.

The thin client device is a simple terminal or other computing device connected to powerful servers where applications and data are stored and processed. Sometimes old and cheap computers are reused as thin clients simply by adding a special software. Here their slow performance often isn't att all recognized. A disadvantage using old computers can be that they are noisier than the new thin clients manufactured for this very purpose.

Chip PC is the maker of the Xtreme PC thin clients. Their EL 4310 is one example of the low power consumption of, and thus the lack of need for active noisy cooling solutions for thin clients: It consumes 3.5W! This is about the same power dissipation as for an ordinary bicycle lamp; to be compared with the about 100W dissipated by only one component of an ordinary PC system unit, the CPU.

NCD ThinPATH PC is a software that can be used to convert old PC system units to thin clients.

Linux Terminal Server Project

PXES Universal Linux Thin Client is a micro Linux distribution allowing you to build thin clients or diskless workstations.

Citrix® is one of the most important manufacturers of software related to thin clients and their central servers.

Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds. Citrix is a registerd trademark of Citrix Systems, Inc.


 
 

DVD & CD-ROM Drives

Following the rule to keep the number of heat and noise generating components as few as possible buying a combo DVD/CDRW instead of a separate CDRW and DVD writer/reader can be a solution.

Look for a CD ROM or DVD player that is capable of having its speed adjusted, so that it can be lowered the times when you want acoustic ergonomy more than speed. The best ones are those capable of adjusting their speed according to need at any given time.

Check that the CD Rom or DVD player you intend to buy doesn't run so hot so that it feature a noise generating fan for its cooling.

DigitLife here reviews DVD drives and takes acoustic ergonomy in consideration.

Engineers seems to face great challenges trying to build quiet and yet very fast CD and DVD drives. This could be due to physical facts and limits for these kinds of solutions not possible for engineers to control - a fast spinning relative loose mounted CD or DVD disc inevitable has to generate a lot unwanted vibrations, and for natural reasons built-in to a system unit these vibrations must be very problematic to handle; and prone to generate unwanted sound. The problem with fast spinning noise generating removable media can be compared to the often a lot more quiet hard drives: In a dust-free environment hard drives utilize one or more perfect balanced discs attached to the enclosure with perfect bearings, minimizing both the emergence of vibrations and their transmission to the rest of the system unit. A solution for not all the time having to stand CD and DVD reader noise can therefore be to use a program that copies the material of these storage medias to a quiet hard drive; there creating virtual discs. Such programs can be found on the Solutions page of this site.


 
 

Graphic Cards

Choose a 3D graphics card that doesn't need its own fan to keep cool, unless you aren't an extreme game player and need the fastest of the fastest cards: Then your only silent option is watercooling.

Nvidia - Geforce4 MX440, ATI - Radeon 9000, ATI Radeon 9200 and Matrox - G550 are today's highest performing cards not requiring a cooling fan. Note that the ATI Radeon 9000 Pro, and probably also the 9200 Pro, is clocked higher and comes with a fan. In terms of 3D performance the Nvidia and ATI cards are approximately equal, though the 9000 tends to score slightly higher in most benchmarks. Both cards perform at a much higher level than the G550, which isn't really marketed as a gaming card. Some Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 cards are built fanless. Lastly, the ones not interested in playing the most extreme games and intend to build a system around an Intel® CPU, can invest in an Intel motherboard featuring built in graphic capabilities: The Intel® 845GE, 845GV, 845G and 845GL chipsets feature integrated Intel® Extreme Graphics, and are not equiped with any on board fans.
Thanks to Jay Patrick Howard for these facts.

Zalman Tech in 2002 introduced a silent heat-pipe cooling solution for graphic cards, the ZM80-HP. Here is an in-depth SilentPCReview. Sapphire with their Ultimate Radeon 9700 Atlantis PRO provides a silent running high-performance card equiped with a heat-pipe cooling solution similar to or identical with the Zalman one.

Confusing Graphics is an Nordic Hardware article that tries to sort out the often too complicated and non-standardized names of graphic cards.

“Cool” and “Quiet” or Anti-Extreme Overclocking Experience - is an Xbit labs article on how to make your graphic card quieter.


 
 

Power Supplies

The best power supplies for a quiet PC are the ones running so cool that fans are made unnecessary. Second to the silent running power supplies are the ones utilizing quiet fans and the ones being capable of adjusting their fan speed according to need. Since power supplies today also most often are made responsible for evacuating heat, will they run in to problems keeping quiet if they have to handle a too great amount of system unit heat.

SilentPCReview's Power Supply Fundamentals & Recommended Units section can help you in your power supply decission making. One of the conclusions: "..higher efficiency is the key to cooler, quieter PSU operation" and therefore also this closely related link: 80 Plus is a US buy-down program for desktop computers and desktop-derived servers that contain highly efficient power supplies.

Mikhailtech here, among other hardware reviews, provides a series of quiet power supply ones.

Externally Mounting Power Supply: Sometimes it's discussed whether it's possible to mount the power supply outside of the system case or not. Here is one that did it.


 
 

Cooling

Fans

Most fan manufacturers provide acoustic data for their fans, but you have to be aware that these facts for the present mostly only can be used when compairing fans from the same manufacturer. This since the fan manufacturers strange enough still haven't adopted the international standard for noise measurement of fans: ISO 10302 - "Acoustics -- Method for the measurement of noise emitted by small air-moving devices". If your fan manufacturer doesn't provide easy accessible information on how he has measured and declared his noise data, should you treat him like someone that wants to mislead you: Since dB and B values are relative to how they have been measured and declared, will he be more honest if he says "quiet" than presents figures looking like they weren't relative.

A few Webshops have started offering a "listening room" for the fans they sell. By recording fan noise with different fans under the same conditions, and publishing that, customers can tell what level is tolerable to themselves. One of the first ones out with this is Sidewinder Computers'. An other one, at this moment only in Norweigan: Microplex Norge AS.

The best fans are those equipped with three or four wires. This will allow them to be powered by the modern synchronous pulse-width modulation (PWM) control (needs three wire fans) or high-frequency PWM control (needs four wire fans) circuits: These fan speed control circuits not only reduce acoustic noise, but also lower electric power consumption and increase fan reliability. They can also allow fans to reliably run as low as 10% of full speed. In the article "Why and How to Control Fan Speed for Cooling Electronic Equipment" Analog Devices explains the subject. It is worth noting that synchronous pulse-width modulation (PWM) control isn't covered in that document.

Try to avoid small fans: They generate much more noise than large ones related to their cooling capacity. A large fan can be run slow and noiseless with the same cooling capacity as a small noisy fan. There are adapters to buy which makes it easier to attach a large fan where the original was a small one. For graphic cards a solution is sometimes to attach a large slow moving fan to the case with a strut, instead of direct fasted on the card.

The bearing type used influence the noise emitted from a fan. Here Panasonic writes on the subject.

newFan Noise Solutions aims at users who have a smattering of electrical/electronic knowledge, who can use a soldering iron, and who'd prefer to build something themselves rather than buy a ready-made solution.


 

Heatsinks

Folded fin heatsinks are commonly regarded having better cooling properties than the cheaper and today most often used heatsinks, the extruded ones. Silver, copper and aluminum, in this order, are the materials providing the best thermal conductivity.


 

Heatpipes

Benchtest.Com here writes on a cooling method of increasing importance: The heatpipe. Here is a Tom's Hardware Guide article on a Shuttle mini-PC system equipped with heatpipe cooling. Some interesting pictures are shown, and heatpipe basics are told. Fred Mah has developed his own heatpipe cooling solution, and Mike Chin at SilentPCReview concludes: "The cooling power of this silent system is nothing short of impressive, able to handle the hottest XP without a fan."


 
 

Watercooling

CPU watercooler by Innovatek

CPU watercooler by innovatek OS GmbH.
Image courtesy and © Tom's Hardware Guide. Here is their review.


PC processor overclockers know a lot about how to handle heat generated by electronic components. Water cooling is both a more efficient and at the same time more quiet way to cool PCs than the conventional use of air: Tom's Hardware concludes: "The bottom line in a comparison of water-cooling and conventional air-cooling is obvious - water cools much better and can serve up a substantially lower noise level. Not only that, but processor temperature is guaranteed to remain low even when processor capacity has been maxed out. Since the processor transfers its heat to the cooling water, the temperature in the PC case is automatically lower. It removes the need of additional case fans and therefore reduces noise."

"The Third THG Video: Silent and Ice Cold Water cooling offers the best conditions for overclocking and a silent PC system."

At Overclockers.com Joe Citarella in his article CPU Water Cooling FAQs writes: "CPU water cooling is tons more efficient and quieter than air cooling but carries a higher initial price and will require modification to your case."

Here are all watercooling articles at Overclockers.com listed.

ProCooling.com is another valuable source for watercooling and other cooling techniques. Many of the articles are oriented towards getting extreme power without excessive noise.

Zero Fan Zone: - "BladeRunner's" intelligent pieces of craftmanship in copper. A site which convinces that watercooling is the future noiseless cooling solution for high performance PCs; at least as long as the heat dissipation issues of modern PCs remain unsolved.


 

Basics of Cooling

Amdmb.com provides two interesting guides regarding the basics of PC cooling: General Heat Transfer Guide: "An introduction to the science behind heat transfer." General Fan Performance Guide : "An introduction to the science behind fans."

Electronics Cooling is a magazine dedicated to engineers responsible for thermal management in the electronics industry. Their articles are most interesting reading also for conscious personal computer users. Here is the list of articles published in Electronics Cooling Magazine available to read on the Web. Here are two examples:

All you need to know about fans and Noise emission of telecommunication devices.

One can read more on heatsink basics at AnandTech or at The Heatsink Guide, where one also finds a review of a temperature controlled fan. Ars technica on heat sinks and fans: "Since most computers make a lot of noise, it isn't always easy to tell if a fan as small as the one on your CPU has failed."

Case Cooling: a lot interesting articles at Overclockers.com.


 
 

Motherboards

Some motherboards (mainboards) these days has built in support for temperature measuring and fan shutting off when not needed. Some of them even has built in fan speed regulating according to need, and these are the ones to look for when choosing a motherboard for a quiet PC. A motherboard for quiet computing should always support both the latest ACPI specification and Advanced Programmable Interrupt Controller (APIC).

Here Intel writes on thermal management and the ACPI specification. AnandTech here teaches hardware monitoring. A motherboard manufacturer that has included fan speed regulating according to need for cooling is Fujitsu-Siemens with their D1184 motherboard, and more recent ones. (Here is a review, and here is an other.)

You can read more on thermal and power management on the Intelligent PCs page of this site.

The Mini-ITX form factor is a motherboard form factor that makes it possible to build very small and yet very quiet systems: This by taking use of the VIA C3 or EDEN CPUs. Their limit is that they aren't as fast as their bigger brothers, but sometimes the most extreme performance isn't necessary; sometimes quiet operation is more important.


 
 

Operating Systems

The smaller the operating system the more cool can it run. A small system can reside in the system memory. This can make it possible to let the hard disk spin down. Some small Linux distributions will do good with an old 486 machine. This is of course not a solution for people that want to play the most recent games, but for those that don't use any heavy demanding programs like advanced graphic, scientific or game playing software.

Examples of small Linux distributions are Small Linux, muLinux and TINY Linux. QNX is a tiny non-Linux OS intended for embedded systems. Here can one download a copy of the QNX OS that resides on an 1.4 Mb floppy disk, and can be used for to surf the Web.


 
 

Enable Suspend to RAM

Most modern computers and operating systems, and some other kinds IT equipment like printers, support an automatic suspend to RAM feature. In this power saving mode will most machines be totally silent, and often consume 5 watts or less. From this power saving mode will the machine start up a lot faster than from a full start up, often in a few seconds. The suspend to RAM feature is part of ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface). ACPI is an open industry specification and establishes interfaces for OS-directed configuration and power management on laptops, desktops, and servers.

It is clever to enable automatic suspend to RAM after some ten minutes or so of inactivity, both for to save energy, and to reduce noise emissions - if you aren't running a silent PC already.


Windows®

To enable automatic suspend to RAM in Windows: Click "Start" (bottom left corner). Go to "Settings" and click on "Control Panel". Select "Power Options" (Windows 2000/XP) or "Power Management" (Windows 98). From here you can enable your system, monitor and hard drive to go to sleep mode after a certain period of inactivity.

Note that Windows 2000 (W2K) suffers of a problem if combined with old motherboards that can make it difficult to use suspend to RAM and ACPI if you use advanced audio and MIDI hardware and applications. Read more on this subject at this Steinberg page.


MacOS®

To enable automatic suspend to RAM in MacOS®: Select "System Preferences" from the dock (MacOS X), or click on the Apple and select "Control Panels" (MacOS 9). Select "Energy Saver". Under the "Sleep" tab you can enable your computer (and hard disk) and display to go to sleep mode after a certain period of inactivity. Thanks to the Ohio State University for sorting it out in English.


Linux®

Check the ACPI4Linux site for all info.



Experiment with ACPI

Windows and Linux® systems use ACPI, Advanced Configuration and Power Interface, for their power management. Suspend to RAM is here named S3. If you want to experiment with different ACPI power savings modes on your Windows machine you can download the program PassMark Sleeper.


 

More tips are provided at the Solutions page of this site.


 

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