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Not So Silent Running

It’s the second decade of the millennium and countless millions of people are swooshing, pinching and swiping their fingers across screens of portable devices that allow them connectivity and facilities undreamed of just a few years ago. Meanwhile you’re sitting bolt upright in your office or home, typing away at your QWERTY keyboard originally devised for a Remington typewriter of 1878, next to a big box the size of a suitcase that attacks your eardrums with a constant cacophony of irritating whining, rattling and whooshing that can barely be drowned out by playing an mp3 of System of a Down‘s Toxicity cranked up as loud as your speakers will go. You don’t have to put up with a roaring noisemaker on your desk, as with careful component selection you can construct a PC as silent as a kitten purring under the covers.

A 747 on Takeoff

I’ve long fought a battle against noisy computers. My last Dell i7 920 system sounded like a 747 on takeoff whenever I was doing anything more complex than using the Windows 7 calculator. When it came time for a new system I was determined to build my own PC to achieve, if not perfect silence, at least something that could be termed as barely audible white noise.

Hard Drives Spin Faster than NASCAR Engines

Most computer components are perfectly silent due to the fact that they have no moving parts. It’s when you start dealing with metal spinning at hundreds or thousands of RPM that you start running into audio trouble.

My old system was equipped with a Western Digital VelociRaptor Hard Drive, and though it provided very fast data access, it spun its platters at a constant 10,000 RPM, or well over the redline of a NASCAR engine. When you combine that with Mr. Dell’s propensity to use cheap and unbearably noisy small fans, which have to be run at high speeds to keep sufficient air flowing past a CPU – whose operating temperatures can approach water’s boiling point, you end up with a system that can only be used with earplugs.

The 3 PC Noisemakers

There are essentially three noisemakers in a typical PC:

  1. Coil Whine
  2. Spinning Hard Drives
  3. Various Cooling Fans

There’s really not much you can do about the first one, as any electronics with coils will whine to some degree, but fortunately (for antediluvians like me anyway) the sound is so high-pitched that no one older than a teenager can hear it. That left me with the two other components to silence in order to achieve my dream of The Silent PC. The Rackety Spinning Hard Drives From Hades were easy to silence by simply eliminating them: My new system has done away with hard drives altogether and uses only Solid State Drives or SSDs.

SSD: Save Serious Decibels

An SSD is essentially RAM memory based on NANDs that store data when power is off, crammed into a little box with a disk drive interface. Instead of a conventional disk hard drive, which features metal platters stacked up like pancakes spinning at Spaceballs’ Ridiculous Speed and read by a magnetic version of an old 33 RPM turntable tone-arm, your data resides inside clumps of silicon. No moving parts = no noise. Although lightning-fast, the problem with SSDs is that their cost per GB is still well above that of disk drives. With some judicious relegation of most of the junk I rarely ever accessed to an external backup hard drive (disconnected when not using it) I was able to pare down my data requirements to 40 GB on the boot ( C: ) drive and just 20 GB on my data drives!

Some types of SSDs have garnered a fairly bad reputation for “bricking” and losing your data, so it’s important to choose them according to their reliability ratings. I chose the highly reputable Crucial M4 series and they have worked flawlessly for months now. Other top rated reliable SSDs are the latest generations of Intel (300/500 series) and Samsung 830. Now that you have your SSDs chosen it’s time to move onto the difficult part: silencing those infuriating fans! I’ll cover that tomorrow in Part 2.