Buying Guide: Ultra-Quiet Upgrades (Part 1)

1/9/2013 5:58:26 PM

If your PC sounds more like an aircraft taking off than a piece of precision technology, join us for aural tranquility

PCs require maintenance to keep them performing at an optimum level. Over time, parts wear out, screws work their way loose, and dust accumulates inside the case. A noticeable side effect is increased noise. When new, your PC may have been a monument to mechanical efficiency and whisper-quiet operation; a few short years later, it likely sounds more like a diesel generator.

So, what can be done to quieten the constant racket emanating from below the desk? Wrapping the case in a blanket or surrounding it with cushions might dampen the noise, but a PC requires good airflow to avoid cooking the internal components.

Moving the unit into a cupboard will garner the same results - and it’s impractical. Thankfully, there are easier and less destructive ways of minimising sonic emissions.

One thing to check before you begin is whether the PC’s Bios settings allow you to control the fan speed.

Look in the Bios (usually accessible by pressing F1 or Del during bootup) for an H/W Monitor section. If there’s an option here along the lines of ‘CPU Smart Fan Target’, you’ll be able to specify the maximum temperature that the CPU is allowed to reach. We recommend you select a temperature below 60°C. Save and reboot.

A wealth of quiet fans, power supplies, CPU coolers, cases and soundproofing kits are available online from sites such as quietpc.com. These will be the perfect aid in your quest for aural tranquility.

Quiet upgrades are easy to administer, but can make a big difference to the operation of your computer. If one of your fans is particularly boisterous, you can replace it with a super-quiet alternative. And if the power supply is whining like a dentist’s drill, perhaps it’s time to plump for a quiet-fanned model.

In the following guide, we show you what types of quiet kit are available. We also explain how you can make a few small, low-cost tweaks that will go a long way in silencing a noisy PC.

Choose quiet kit

The first thing to determine when tackling a noisy PC is which parts are responsible for the racket. A few simple tests will enable you to identify the troublesome component(s). A basic rule, though, is that any component with moving parts is a likely suspect.


In many cases it’s the PC’s fan(s) at the heart of the problem. To find out which fan is responsible for the noise, power off the machine, open the case, then hold a pencil or other thin, non-metal item between a fan’s spokes to prevent it spinning. Now power on the machine and see whether stopping the fan has an effect on the level of noise. If it’s still just as loud, try the same trick with each of the other fans fitted inside the case in a process of elimination. Remember that CPU coolers, graphics cards and power supplies usually have their own fans, too.

AcoustiFan DustProof

AcoustiFan DustProof

Bigger fans spinning slower than their smaller siblings can move the same volume of air, so buying a larger fan can reduce noise. To make things quieter still, the 120mm AcoustiFan DustProof $26, tinyurl.com/d3hz8ku) has a sealed motor to prevent dust clogging up the mechanics and reduce noise.

If you’re a gamer, you’ll need a high-performance fan such as the 120mm Scythe Gentle Typhoon ($26, tinyurl.com/cvogLt8). It won’t be completely silent, but Scythe has implemented various vibration-reduction techniques to lessen the fan’s audible impact. Be sure to measure the size of your existing fans before making a purchase; typically they’ll be either 80mm, 92mm or 120mm.

Apple recently announced a new asymmetric fan design for the MacBook Pro. Here, the frequency range is increased by breaking up the regularity of the fan blades. In theory, this should replace a constant hum with a dissipated sound.

Fans can be almost entirely avoided if you go down the water-cooling route. This gets expensive very quickly, mind. You can read our walkthrough on liquid-cooling your CPU at tinyurl.com/c4zej82.

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

Optical drives

Discs spinning at speed can spoil your enjoyment of a movie. Speed-limiting software, such as CD-Bremse (tinyurl.com/cvc5wop) and Nero CD-DVD Speed (tinyurl.com/2wxrpzp) can aid older models, while newer optical drives such as the LG BH10LS38 ($111, tinyurl.com /aL6ty64) have onboard software that automatically adjusts the spin speed in relation to the task at hand.




Although cases have no moving parts, cheaply made models can rattle in use. With the vibrations created by spinning drives and fans already driving you to distraction, the last thing you need is the system case adding 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.

Noise-reducing cases tend to employ higher-quality components in their construction, with sound-deadening material and softer feet on the bottom to reduce the transference of vibrations to the ground.

A good example of a reasonably priced quiet case is the Nexus Thrio 310 ($60, tlnyurl.com/cqbc5nk). The interior is lined with noise-absorbing material, various bumpers stop rattles, and you can even mount the power supply unit upside down to expel the hot air it generates straight out the case.

Nexus Thrio 310

Nexus Thrio 310

For those with bigger budgets, the NoFan CS-70 system case ($269, tinyurl.com/bece2m2) is designed to eschew fans and promote natural convection cooling. The only snag is that it will accept only MicroATX motherboards. The less attractive CS-80 ($134, tinyurl.com/brqkL4x) will take a full-size ATX board.

Hard drives

Hard drives are slowly being replaced by their silent brethren, solid-state drives (SSDs). It’s still early days for this technology, so SSD prices remain comparatively high, but increasingly we’re seeing PCs that install the OS on a small SSD (such as the Crucial 64GB m4, $90, tinyurl.com/cnktnao) and then use the a cheaper hard disk for mass storage. This gives you a nice performance hike, minimises the use of noisy hard disks, and the drives run cooler, so there’s less demand for fans to spin into action. SSDs also enable Windows to feel far more responsive, with faster startup and shutdown times.

Crucial 64GB m4

Crucial 64GB m4

CPU coolers

When choosing a new processor cooler, be aware that some require access to the underside of the motherboard, and their fitting is a far more involved job than it is with those that attach to the top. Also be sure to select a model that matches your processor’s socket type; Quiet PC marks all the products it sells with the relevant socket type, and offers a helpful guide to choosing a CPU cooler at tinyurl.com/autbun8.

Siberian Quiet

Siberian Quiet

Models range from the cheap and cheerful Siberian Quiet ($11, tinyurl.com/aup8wco), which is designed for small-chassis machines, to the NoFan CR-95C IcePipe ($141, tinyurl.com/bdw6pk2), which is completely fanless and suited to Intel third-generation Core processors (aka Ivy Bridge).

Graphics cards

Graphics cards do some serious work and therefore need plenty of cooling. In other words, they can make a right old din. Manufacturers such as HIS and Gigabyte offer specially designed quiet models. An example is the Gigabyte nVidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti Windforce ($378, tinyurl.com/c4p2st9).

Gigabyte nVidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti Windforce

Gigabyte nVidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti Windforce

If you don’t want to change your graphics card, instead consider adding a quieter fan. The Arctic Cooling Accelero Extreme GTX Pro ($50, tinyurl.com/bL8sne4) is a quiet cooler for nVidia GTX graphics cards, while the Gelid Solutions Icy Vision Rev 2 ($48, tinyurl.com/boxcr7s) works well with a range of AMD and nVidia cards.


Don’t even contemplate opening up your PSU to replace its fan. You’ll need to exchange the entire unit for a silent version, of which several options are available.

NoFan P400-A

NoFan P400-A

If your computing demands aren’t particularly intensive, but your need for silence is utmost, opt for something like the NoFan P400-A ($218, tinyurl.com/aoyn3oo). Gamers should look to models such as the AeroCool Strike-X ($74, tinyurl.com/azgm7Lf), which offers 600W of power and has a quiet 139mm fan and a striking design. Those who just want a simple, affordable PSU for everyday use would appreciate the Zalman GS-500w ($60, tinyurl.com/cs6ywcz), which is a fine budget model.

Fan controllers

If your Bios doesn’t allow you to tweak the fan speed, another manipulation method is offered by a fan controller. These devices allow you to monitor and adjust the RPM of each connected fan, and let you keep an eye on the internal temperature of your machine.

The Scythe Kaze-Master

The Scythe Kaze-Master

The Scythe Kaze-Master ($59, tinyurl.com/atfdoqo) fits in an optical drive bay and offers control over up to four fans. It also notes the spin speeds and internal temperatures on a built-in LCD.

If you don’t want to go down the hardware route, a solid software solution is the free SpeedFan (almlco.com). As well as allowing you to control your PC’s fan speeds, SpeedFan can also cleverly read the temperature sensors that are built into the motherboard/processor.

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