At the beginning of 2001, I had been working as a freelance technical (and sometimes tech marketing) writer for some years. Money was good in tech writing in those days, especially with several long-term contracts. I splurged a few grand on a third computer in my home office. It was then a state-of-the-art PC, something like a 1 GHz Athlon Thunderbird on an ABIT motherboard, fitted with a big Swiftech heatsink and a mean 0.6A 80x35mm Sanyo Denki fan, dual-19" monitor setup with a Matrox G400 Max, an Enermax 350W PSU, two IBM 75GXP hard drives in RAID, and various other goodies. It was noisy when I first turned it on after bringing it home from the store, but I didn't think much of it. It seemed so much faster than my other machines in the office, a P3-600 and a Celeron 300, both overclocked to the nth degree.
Within a week, the noise of the new system had started to drive me crazy. I spent the better part of the next six months sporadically tearing into the machine, researching ways to make it quieter, and learning first-hand to mod all kinds of things like the "whisper" quiet PSU, the ridiculous jet-engine sound-alike fan, and so on. I even built a massive steel-frame medite box with muffler-equipped intake and exhaust tunnels. After that noisy machine was silenced, even the noise of the other quieter computers got to me, so I applied what I learned to those machines as well. I'd spent over 20 years obsessing over high end audio, so this was kind of a side path off the main road. By the end of that year, my office was quieter than it had ever been, even with all three computers on. It was marvelous.
It was during this early modding stage that I discovered the now venerable site, The Silent PC, started in 1998 by Tomas Risberg, a Swede who was then a medical student. He is now a busy neurologist, but Dr. Risberg finds time to maintain his encyclopedic web site, still about the best IT acoustics resource around. (He also finds time to exchange the occasional email with me.) The Silent PC didn't have a forum, but there was a very active Yahoo! Group called Silent-PC, which is still around, though much less active now. Because the Yahoo! Group was basically a mailing list, there was always talk of starting up a proper forum, but nobody did anything. I exchanged a lot of emails with another subscriber by the name of Kurt Lieber, who happened to have advanced web development skills, and we started Silent PC Review together, mostly as a hobby, with the intent of making a better place to discuss silent PCs than the Yahoo! group. The site and forums went public at the end of March 2002; for convenience, I consider April 1, 2002 SPCR's birthdate. April Fool's Day seems appropriate.
I had worked as a magazine writer and editor for a number of years. The old journalistic juices got fired up with SPCR, and I went nuts developing content for SPCR all through 2002 and 2003. I was working full time on various tech writing contracts, then putting in yet another 30~40 hours a week into SPCR, mostly at night. I'm sure I aged a lot in that time. Somewhere along the way, Kurt got tired of this project that made no money but still demanded lots of time and effort; we parted company more or less amicably at the end of 2003.
I own the site exclusively, and continue to be SPCR's driving force. Someone has to do it! It now represents at least 75% of my work, and manages to bring in just enough revenue that I don't feel desperate about seeking out other work. SPCR has always depended on the involvement of participants, and contributions from well-wishers, however. Even today, SPCR relies on such support. Russ Kinder was an early adopter of SPCR and its forums from the Yahoo! Silent-PC group, as were many others who contributed immensely to the site's growth. "Ralf Hutter", as you know him, jumped aboard with an Antec SLK3700 case review back in spring 2003. John Coyle, Edward Ng, Charles Gilliatt and many others far away from Vancouver contributed much valuable time and effort over the years.
Locally in Vancouver, Alistair Durie helped me think through aspects of running SPCR as a business, and Richard Grams continues to be invaluable for his developmental and maintenance work on the server and site programming. Volunteer lab assistants Jordan Menu and Sean Boyd, and enthusiast Leo Quan all gave generously. Devon Cooke was a dedicated and highly productive for a couple of years, in both the lab as well as in writing articles; he comes back with occasional contributions still. In the last couple of years, Lawrence Lee, who first caught my attention with succinct user-reviews of motherboards on the SPCR forum, became a primary editorial contributor, and developed nicely as a writer/reviewer.
The SPCR lab, which was just a portion of the spare kitchen at first, has now swallowed up some 800 sf, much of the main floor of my house, and it is spread across three rooms, one of which also doubles as my office. There is a lot of gear and test equipment purchased, donated and/or fabricated some designed specifically for the unique testing we do. Vast collections of PSUs, fans, heatsinks and other PC components line the shelves, and several networked PCs run 24/7 for instant access to various data and programs essential to SPCR. I considered a move to a commercial space but quickly ruled that out when I realized there is no rentable commercial space where <20 dBA ambient is possible. With reader and corporate sponsor donations, I converted one of the test rooms into an anechoic chamber, whose acoustic isolation and low ambient (10-11dBA) have greatly improved our acoustic testing precision and accuracy.
For a site that began as a mad hobby, SPCR has come a long way. It has the respect of many long-established, reputable hardware sites, and is often visited by staff members from many computer companies. Noise is now a clearly recognized issue in computing; compared to when SPCR began, the change is dramatic. The rest of the industry is finally on the road we've been travelling mostly solo all these years. Although the work can be a grind at times, amazingly, I still love discovering things about products and processes, and finding ways to share those discoveries with readers.
So where to now? You could say more of the same. We'll continue to attend the key tradeshows, trawl the industry for new developments relevant to silent computing, encourage companies to take acoustics seriously, and find ways to grow revenue so that SPCR can be better, bigger and more resourceful. We continue expanding coverage into more packaged systems, especially from mainstream brands, and other components as consumer electronics, communications and computers all merge and blend. Hopefully, our continuing presence in the tech media will attract more editorial talent and raise awareness of the need for quiet preferably silent computers and other digital devices.
Mike Chin ,
Jan 7, 2010
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