Quiet PC

Maybe your PC has always been noisy, or maybe it has become noisier over time. What can be done to make your computer quieter? Wrapping the case in a blanket, or surrounding it with cushions might dampen the noise but will ensure that the internal components cook themselves in no time at all.

Moving the unit to a cupboard will garner the same results unless you cut a hole in it and even then the internal temperature might still be a problem. Thankfully there are easier and less destructive ways of minimising sonic emissions, all they require are an hour or so of your time, a screwdriver, and a cup of tea (optional).

One thing to check before you begin is whether the BIOS settings on your computer allow you to control the speed of the PC's fans.

In most BIOS menus (which you can access by pressing F1 or Del during booting) you’ll see a H/W Monitor section. Look in there for an option like CPU Smart Fan Target, which allows you to select the maximum temperature that you want the CPU to reach. Anything under 60 degrees Celsius is good. Save your changes and reboot to bring the changes into effect. If that doesn’t do the trick then it’s time to go shopping.

BIOS hardware h/w monitor fan control

A quick perusal of websites such as Quiet PC's will reveal a wealth of specialised, low-noise fans, power supplies, CPU coolers, soundproofing kits and even cases, all of which can aid you in your quest for aural tranquility.

This kit offers the ability to incrementally improve your existing machine, without the need for major works. If one of your fans is particularly boisterous then you can swap it out for one that is super-quiet. Is the power supply whining like a dentist's drill? Maybe it's time for semi-fanless variety instead.

Of course you also have the option of building a new machine from scratch with purpose-designed components to make it as decibel defying as something with moving parts can be. So, for this guide we decided to make a few adjustments to our sorry old office machine, which would take very little time and, more importantly, a minimal amount of money.

Quiet kit

The first thing to determine when quietening a PC is which parts are actually making the noise. There’s a few simple tests that will enable you to identify the troublesome component(s). The basic rule is that if something has moving parts then it’s a likely suspect.

See also: How to quieten your PC for £70

Quiet PC components: Fans

Acoustifan 80mm

In many cases it’s usually the fans that can be at the heart of the problem. To see which fan (as PCs often have more than one these days) is the noisy neighbour you’ll need to power off the machine, open up the PC case, and then hold a pencil or other thin, non-metal item between the spokes of a fan to prevent it from spinning up.

Then power on the machine and wait for a minute or two to see if blocking the fan has any effect on the sound of the computer. If it does then you just need to replace that part, otherwise repeat the procedure until you find more offenders. Remember that CPU coolers, graphics cards, and power supplies usually have fans too, so don’t neglect testing them.

Bigger fans spinning slower than their smaller siblings can still move the same volume of air, so buying larger fans can have a noticeable effect on system noise. For even more noise reduction there’s the 120mm AcoustiFan Dustproof (£18), which has a sealed motor to prevent dust clogging up the mechanics and to reduce noise.

Scythe Gentle Typhoon

If you’re a gamer then you’ll want a high-performance fan such as the 120mm Scythe Gentle Typhoon (£18), with its powerful motor. Of course you won’t get silent running, but Scythe has worked on the solidity of the motor and used various vibration reduction techniques to lessen the impact. Be sure to measure the size of your fans before making a purchase, typically they’ll be either 80mm, 92mm, or 120mm (measured along each edge).

Apple recently announced, with much fanfare, its new asymmetric fan design included in the MacBook Pro. The idea is that the frequency range is increased by breaking up the regularity of the fan blades, which in theory should replace a large regular hum with a more dissipated noise. In typical fashion you can expect to see similar products from other manufacturers soon. Fans can be almost totally avoided if you go down the route of water-cooling. This gets expensive very quickly but offers one of the quietest solutions and can look impressive too.

Another option is to buy an oversized 'passive' heatsink for your CPU, and a graphics card with a similar passive cooler. However, you'll still need one or two case fans to keep air moving over these heatsinks.

Quiet PC components: Optical drives

DVDs spinning at high speed can spoil a movie. Using speed limiting software such as Nero CD-DVD Speed or CD-Bremse can aid older models, while newer high-end devices such as the LG BH10LS38 Blu-ray and DVD rewriter (£75) have onboard software that automatically adjusts the drive speed in relation to the task at hand.


Next page: hard drives, cases, CPU coolers, graphics cards

Quiet PC components: Hard drives

Hard drives are being slowly replaced by silent SSDs. It’s still early days so SSD prices remain comparatively high, but increasingly we’re seeing PCs that install the OS on a small SSD (something like the Crucial 64 GB M4 - £60) and then use a hard disk for mass storage. This makes Windows feel more responsive without adding too much cost.

Crucial M4

Quiet PC components: Cases

Although cases have no moving parts, cheaply made examples can sometimes rattle. With the vibrations that spinning drives and fans create, this can become another sonic factor as the case adds its creaks to the chorus. A badly ventilated case can also cause the internal temperature to rise - thus requiring the dreaded fans to spin up to maximum speed.

To combat these factors, noise-reducing cases tend to employ higher-quality components in the construction, add weight to the base, and (in this age of laminate flooring) even include softer feet to reduce the transference of vibrations to the ground.

Nexus Thrio 310

A good example of a reasonably priced quiet case is the Nexus Thrio 310 (£40). The insides are lined with noise-absorbing material, various bumpers stop rattles, and you can even mount the PSU upside down to expel the hot air straight out of the case.

For those with bigger budgets the NoFan CS-70 (£180), as the name suggests, is specially designed to eschew fans and instead promote natural convection cooling. The only snag is that it will accept only MicroATX motherboards - the less attractive CS-70 (£80) will take a full-size ATX board.

NoFan CS-70

Quiet PC components: CPU coolers

When choosing a new cooler be aware that some require access to the underside of the motherboard, which is a far more involved job than those that attach to the top instead. Also be careful to select a model that matches the socket type of your CPU. Models range from the cheap and cheerful Siberian Quiet £7, which is designed for small chassis machines, up to the Nofan CR-95C Icepipe £945, which is completely fanless and can handle Ivy Bridge processors.

Nofan CR-95C Icepipe

Quiet PC components: Graphics cards

Graphics cards do some serious work and therefore need plenty of cooling, which means noise. Manufacturers such as Gigabyte offer specific quiet models such as the GeForce GTX 660Ti Windforce for around £260. You don’t have to change your card, though, as there are several options of quieter fans you can use on your existing units.

Arctic Cooling Accelero Extreme GTX Pro

The Arctic Cooling Accelero Extreme GTX Pro (£33), is a quiet cooler for the nVidia GTX range of cards, while the Gelid Icy Vision Rev 2 (£33), works well with a wide range of AMD and nVidia cards.

Next page: power supplies, fan controllers and how to fit a fan controller

Quiet PC components: PSUs

As fans are usually built into power supplies it can be tricky to simply replace that noisy component. Thankfully exchanging your old unit for a quiet model is easier than ever now with a wide range of options available.

If your computing demands are not that intensive but your need for silence is utmost then opt for one such as the Nofan P400-A (£145). Gamers should look towards models such as the Aerocool Strike X (£60), which offers 600W of power and has a quiet 139mm fan. Those who just want a simple, affordable PSU for everyday use would appreciate the Zalman GS-500w (£40), which is a fine budget model.

Nofan P400-A

Quiet PC components: Fan controllers

If your BIOS doesn't have good fan control, you can fit a fan controller. These devices allow you to monitor and adjust the speed of each connected fan and typically also let you keep an eye on the internal temperature of your machine.

Scythe Kaze Master

The Scythe Kaze-Master (£30) fits in a optical drive bay and offers control over up to four fans, and displays temperatures and speeds on an LED display. If you don’t want to go down the hardware route then a great software solution is the free SpeedFan utility. As well as controlling fan speeds, it can also read the temperature sensors that are built into the motherboard.

Fitting a fan controller

If you like to maintain your fan speeds manually then a fan controller is a simple and effective addition to any PC. Simply attach the fans directly to the controller, bypassing the motherboard's fan headers, and you can adjust the RPM via controls on the outside of your machine.

Some controllers also have temperature probes that you can position inside your PC (on the hard drive or the outside base of the CPU cooler for example) which report the temperature in critical areas of your system. Here we've used a Scythe Kaze-Master, which can control up to four fans.

1. Connect the power cable to the four pin socket on the back of the controller marked ‘Power1’ but don’t plug it into the power supply connectors just yet. Also fit any of the included fan adaptor leads into the four sockets marked ‘Fan1', ‘Fan2’, etc. They’re a little tight so be careful not to damage any of the neighbouring capacitors.

2. Next fit the leads for the temperature sensors. They’re numbered in relation to the fans so RT1 will show its results under the front panel display for Fan1. Obviously you’ll want to place the gauges near to their relevant fans in order to monitor and control the internal temperature accurately. They can be positioned either way up and secured by using the provided yellow stickers.

3. Now slide the control panel backwards into an empty 5.25in bay and securely fit it with the provided four screws. Attach the other ends of the fan adaptor leads and power supply. Now refit the side panels to the case, turn on the power and watch for the LED display on the controller to come to life.

4. Above each dial on the panel you’ll see the RPM of the fan and the temperature that the sensor is measuring. To adjust the RPM simply turn the relevant dial and the fan will either speed up (more noise) or slow down, either of which affects the temperature. As a rule we recommend running machines below 50 degrees Celsius.