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How to Identify the Sources of Noise in a PC

Posted: Thu Jan 20, 2005 5:58 am
by MikeC
Your computer is too noisy. You know you want to quiet it down.

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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. :roll: :lol:

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.

Posted: Fri May 12, 2006 10:24 pm
by NightAire
You link to the page of useful links brings up a "page not found" error. :-(

Has it moved, or is it gone?

Posted: Fri May 12, 2006 11:10 pm
by Tephras
The site was recently redesigned and some pages have gone "page-not-found", see this post.

Posted: Fri May 12, 2006 11:24 pm
by NightAire
Sizzle wrote:
I may of missed it, but I no longer can locate the Web Links section with links to manufacturer's, software, and vendors that are pertinent to the SPCR mission.

This is something we're working on. It may require a manual rebuild.
Aha... so gone for now, but hopefully back soon; thanks for the tip! I'll keep an eye out for it.

Posted: Fri Feb 15, 2008 1:11 am
by casebuyer
your second link has gone also

Posted: Sun Dec 28, 2008 3:54 pm
by alcachi
The link is gone. Is there any alternative link?

Good Stuff

Posted: Fri Jan 23, 2009 4:45 pm
by harozi2

Re: How to Identify the Sources of Noise in a PC

Posted: Thu Jul 25, 2013 1:17 pm
by eary
My suggestions:

A (non-electronic) mechanics stethoscope is cheaper than a medical stethoscope and works better in diagnosing mechanical noises although I'd say that neither type of scope makes the cause of of most problems immediately obvious. You have to listen at many places before it's clear where the noise is the loudest.

I also have an electronic mechanics stethoscope, but I don't find it to be more effective than the non-electronic kind.

I've also used an (expensive!) ultrasonic leak detector to listen to computer noise. It wasn't effective. (Compact flourescent lightbulbs turn out to be the loudest source of ultrasonic noise in my house.)

The computer case itself is a prime suspect in faint buzzing and humming noises. These are very hard to eliminate - the power of harmonic resonances is amazing and irritating. Sometimes buzzing noises are caused by places where the metal parts of a case meet at a joint that isn't tight. Crimping the joint with pliers or forcing slipes of paper or elastic caulk or "Goop" brand glue into the joint may fix the problem.

The only solution I've found for humming noises from the cage that holds the hard drives is to suspend the hard drives between elastic bands - as described in an article on this website I use laptop drives suspended between thick rubber bands. However, I stiil get occasional faint humming due to the fact that the power supply has thick cables and the cables themselves transmit vibrations.