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2002-2012: A Decade of SPCR

The passage of a decade is always considered a major milestone, and on Sunday April 1, 2012, SPCR entered its second decade.

Ten years is just a blink in the span of human history, but it is half the life of the WWW, which effectively began in 1993, when the first graphical web browser, Mosaic, was introduced. A half billion (an arguable number) web sites vye for your attention today, though only a small percentage see the bulk of the traffic — the old 80/20 rule. SPCR is virtually venerable, being among the top 10~15% of the oldest web sites; when it was first launched, there were perhaps 70 million sites, a huge number of which no longer exist today.

SPCR was born as an enthusiast hobby site to serve as a center for everyone seeking quieter computers. Its niche was unique, covering a wide range of computer hardware reviews, modifications of computer hardware, extensive acoustic analysis, and recordings of noise. Given that only 10~20% of people seem to have high sensitivity to noise, the audience is limited, but traffic grew rapidly, to a high Alexa rank of around 20,000 in 2006. The number of visitors continued to grow, albeit at a slower rate, but the relative ranking declined with the explosive expansion of the web, especially social media — Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, etc. Today, SPCR continues to be the web center for silent computing, and we continue to review hardware and analyze noise, but things have changed.

Enormous changes occurred between 2002 and 2012, through any filter you care to apply. Energy consumption in the average computer dropped by a factor of at least two; when computational power is factored in, the efficiency improvement is probably 20-fold. With the lower thermal profile, there is no need for multiple high speed fans in the average computer any more. Hard drives also underwent huge changes: At least a doubling of capacity each year, general plummeting of prices, and near universal adoption of fluid dynamic bearings, which helped drop noise levels across the board. Power supply efficiency improved from a typical <70% to well over 80% today, again allowing reduced cooling fan speed with an attendant drop in noise. These and other energy-efficiency improvements in computer hardware have reduced both thermal and acoustic profiles of typical computers. My guess is that a typical desktop 10 years ago had an idle SPL of perhaps 30~35 [email protected]; today, many run closer to 25 dBA or less. The quality of noise is still not benign, but the level is low enough that until the fans push up to higher speed under load, the majority of users don't notice the noise, especially the majority living in dense, crowded urban environments. Besides, the explosion of mobile computing devices over the past decade — laptops, tablets, smart phones — means a lot of computing is done away from the traditional desktop PC. Many mobile devices are solid state and mostly noiseless, and even if they do make some noise, they're often used in noisy public places.

So in its second decade, SPCR's focus has to broaden considerably beyond the traditional desktop and its components. We've already been examining non-traditional, often fanless and small variants of desktop PCs for years. Ditto laptops, though not regularly. Computer-based audio/video technology is also a routine part of our review mix — partly addressing the question of what you can do with a quiet PC. There's the increasing importance of audible electronic component noise, not the whoosh or hum of fans and hard drives, but the high pitched squealing whine of actual circuit components like capacitors and inductors, which becomes increasingly annoying as the other noises fade. This may be the most important noise issue in laptops today. Then there's a world of noise-polluting machines in our homes that beg for more systematic attention — everything from major appliances to exhaust fans. These are among the many factors that will reshape SPCR.

These ten years have been a journey of discovery, and SPCR has taken me to many surprising places, both geographically and intellectually. I have much to be thankful for: The countless fascinating people met over the years, friendships developed, at trade shows and other industry events from Taipei to Toronto; my green awakening about computers; the research, planning and building of my own hemi-anechoic chamber; the opportunity to travel far and wide... though none are as memorable as the visits I made as a consultant for the installation of solar powered classroom PCs in remote Burmese refugee camps in Thailand back in 2007. My great thanks to all the supporters, both individual and corporate, whose contributions helped SPCR to reach this milestone.

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Related Articles of Interest:

How SPCR Came To Be

Seven Years

An Anechoic Chamber for SPCR

SPCR in the News

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