When the PC's primary home was in the office, noise wasn't a real factor. But no one wants a noisy computer in their living room. And as PCs make a serious play for a spot in your den or as part of your home theatre setup, users and vendors have started paying more attention to this annoyance.
Here's the problem: to handle media-heavy functions, PCs need lots of processing power. Power means heat, and that typically means more buzzsaw-like fans. But two companies, Hush Technologies and Voodoo PC, now offer PCs that boast multimedia power, bold style, and very low noise level, thanks to fanless cases.
Each company uses the same basic method to cool its PCs: custom-designed heat pipes and a case that acts like a big heat sink. With fans gone, hard drives are the main source of noise. But that's where similarities end. Aimed at both the digital home and the executive office, the Hush ATX-Business PC (available from around £850) is a tightly integrated machine in a sleek, low-profile case with the minimalist appeal of high-end audio gear. The Voodoo Rage F-50 ($3750 (£2066)) is a server-like system well suited for networked gaming, with broad expansion capabilities, easy access to the interior, and a macho, industrial look. (Prices do not include a monitor.)
Both units deliver on the promise of muted operation. The Hush at idle measures 27 decibels adjusted for a human ear's sensitivity (dBA). With the drive cranking, that figure rises about 6dBA. The Voodoo has a noticeably quieter idle state at 23 to 24dBA, but that goes up to 38dBA with its two 120GB RAID-configured drives at work. The Voodoo's thick-walled aluminum case helped keep noise down at idle. But unlike the Hush's rubber-cushioned drives, the Voodoo's drives are hard mounted, and the noise with drives at work seemed to echo in the undampened interior.
Though neither system is completely silent, both yield far better results than typical PCs, which measure up to 60dBA, a level few users would tolerate in their living rooms.
Whether either of these PCs is right for you depends partly on the level of low noise you require, and whether their unusual styling is worth the cost. Specialists such as Arm Systems and even PC market leader Dell offer fairly quiet PCs using optimised fans and case designs at better prices.