How to Identify the Sources of Noise in a PC

Got a shopping cart of parts that you want opinions on? Get advice from members on your planned or existing system (or upgrade).

Moderators: NeilBlanchard, Ralf Hutter, sthayashi, Lawrence Lee

Post Reply
Site Admin
Posts: 12285
Joined: Sun Aug 11, 2002 3:26 pm
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada

How to Identify the Sources of Noise in a PC

Post by MikeC » Thu Jan 20, 2005 5:58 am

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.

Posts: 3
Joined: Fri May 12, 2006 9:07 pm
Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma USA

Post by NightAire » Fri May 12, 2006 10:24 pm

You link to the page of useful links brings up a "page not found" error. :-(

Has it moved, or is it gone?

Posts: 1140
Joined: Tue Sep 07, 2004 11:03 am
Location: Europe

Post by Tephras » Fri May 12, 2006 11:10 pm

The site was recently redesigned and some pages have gone "page-not-found", see this post.

Posts: 3
Joined: Fri May 12, 2006 9:07 pm
Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma USA

Post by NightAire » Fri May 12, 2006 11:24 pm

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.

Posts: 119
Joined: Mon Jan 29, 2007 10:30 pm

Post by casebuyer » Fri Feb 15, 2008 1:11 am

your second link has gone also

Posts: 7
Joined: Mon Dec 22, 2008 3:17 pm
Location: Santiago de Compostela

Post by alcachi » Sun Dec 28, 2008 3:54 pm

The link is gone. Is there any alternative link?

Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Jan 23, 2009 4:41 pm
Location: DC

Good Stuff

Post by harozi2 » Fri Jan 23, 2009 4:45 pm


Posts: 3
Joined: Thu Apr 18, 2013 8:49 am

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

Post by eary » Thu Jul 25, 2013 1:17 pm

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.

Post Reply