Q: Where to start?
A: Identify the noisiest components.
This means removing the cover while the computer is on, stopping each of the fans one by one, and listening carefully. The fans can either be unplugged or stopped by hand by pressing on the center hub of the blades while it is spinning. 10-20 seconds of this will not overheat or hurt anything. (To reduce the chance of static electricity causing any damage, just touch an unpainted, uninsulated part of the PC case -- like the back panel -- with your bare fingers a couple of times before you poke around in there; that will discharge to ground any static electricity you might be holding.)
Fans can be found on:
- CPU heatsink (just about always)
- motherboard Northbridge chip heatsink (not always; usually tiny & whiny)
- video card heatsink (not always; also tiny & whiny)
- case intake/exhaust fans (not always; on front/back panels)
Note that there are 2 other steady noise sources (we'll ignore the optical drives for now, at least you can choose not to use them):
- fan(s) in the power supply unit (PSU)
- hard drive
The simplest way to stop the fan in the PSU is to stick something softish but not totally floppy and non-conductive into the blades while it is running. It's not exactly good for the fan, but I've never really hurt one doing this. I've used sturdy plastic straws, thick plastic "zap straps" (plastic locking wire tie, unlocked) and other similar things.
Listening to the hard drive by itself means stopping all the fans, which can be a bit of a challenge.
Some people find a cardboard tube or rolled up sheet of paper useful in isolating the noise of a specific component without having to jam you ear up to it. Ditto a stethescope, although you need to be careful with electrically conductive parts with this -- the metal end can cause shorts.
Once you have established the noisiest offenders, consider:
- If one is much louder than the rest, a simple swap for a quiet replacement will make a dramatic improvement in noise. It might be enough.
- If a number of components are all equally noisy, quieting one or two will not make much of a difference, the loudest thing will still tend to dominate. That usually means changing everything. You could then choose to
- replace the whole PC with a quieter one,
- replace all the noisy components at once, or
- start with one swap and consider it the start of a long term project.
Be warned: Most who chose the last step live here.
Once you have identified the noise offenders, you can research more effectively on the site or post more cogent questions and get lots of helpful answers. We are a helpful bunch, by and large.
Don't forget to check our Useful Web Links, which is an invaluable collection of info sources relevant to silent computing, including a pile of totally useful utilities and software.