Hard Drive Silencing: Sandwiches & Suspensions

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March 24, 2002

Along with the CPU heatsink-fan and the power supply unit, the hard drive is a major noise source in a typical PC. It whirrs and whines when just sitting idle, and clatters and grinds when in seek or write mode. There are many ways to reduce hard drive noise. The simplest and most obvious of these is to replace your existing drive with one that is quieter, such as a Seagate Barracuda IV, currently by far the quietest hard drive available. Still, even the quietest hard drives make some noise and vibrate, so drive silencing is useful in most PC noise reduction projects.

Sandwiching the Hard Drive

A solution I created some time ago is to clamp the hard drive, top and bottom, between two heavy aluminum plates, and line all exposed HD surfaces with high density sound insulation. This technique basically blocks the sound, and effectively muffles the noise of a hard drive, especially the higher frequency noise. It works best when the clamped drive assembly is decoupled from the rest of the PC case to ensure that the vibrations from the drive don't cause case panels to make noise as well. This is achieved by simply placing the sandwich HD assembly on a thin piece of foam. A surprising side benefit is a high degree of cooling for the clamped drive -- the aluminum plates act as heatsinks and draw the heat away from the drive very effectively.

All of this is detailed and documented in an article originally published at Overclockers.com and updated here in HD Sandwich Redux. The drives I quieted in this way were IBM 75GXPs -- several 30G & 40G models.

Since then, I discovered the Seagate Barracuda IV hard drives. These are all the rage among silent computing aficionados. The single platter models are rated for a noise level of just 2 bels (20 dBA) at idle and 2.4 bels during seek. These numbers are at least 6 dBA better than any cited by IBM for its 75GXP drives. That is a very significant, very audible difference.

After some weeks of experimentation with the 20G and 40G models, I was convinced of the Barracuda IV's clear noise superiority over not only the IBMs but all the other recent model 7200 rpm drives I had in my possession: Maxtor, Western Digital, Quantum. The absence of any high frequency whining, so prevalent with all the other drives, is remarkable. It also is at least as fast as the IBMs, which were my favorite for over two years.

Eventually, all the other HDDs in my systems were replaced with Seagate Barracuda IVs. I felt the improvement in noise was good enough that I abandoned the aluminum drive sandwiches.

I did notice that mounted normally inside the PC cases, the Barracuda drives still emitted some audible noise. The noise was lower in frequency than with the previous drives, and much quieter, but still noticeable. I discovered that the Barracuda was held in my hand, it was much quieter. This led me to the conclusion that vibrations transmitted from the drive to the case were causing added noise.

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