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Making the computer sound pleasant

Posted: Sat Jan 31, 2004 3:47 am
by Inexplicable
Here's something provocative to ponder upon.

Having gone through the rounds of silencing my two computers, spending oodles of money on quiet components, modding this and that to make them even quieter, stretching cables for maximum airflow, suspending hard drives.. well, you get the picture. Having done all this, I have started to wonder whether there is something fundamentally wrong with this approach.

The problem is that I keep finding more and more annoyances. Minor noises that I didn't use to hear at all are now driving me up the wall. The computers are much quieter than before but I have more things to complain about. How ironic is that?

The dynamic range of human hearing is such that it will simply adjust to any change in noise level, cruelly negating all the hard work we do on our computers. Reducing a few dBA here or there gives a momentary warm glow of satisfaction until, suddenly, everything is as before and the computer sounds too loud again. The more balanced our noise sources are, the more different noises we can pick out. Nothing new here, I guess, the PC silencing addiction is familiar to all of us.

All this has lead me to think that, maybe, we're pursuing the wrong goal. The assumption is that, if we can only make our machines quiet enough we will finally be pleased with them. However, that seems a holy grail that, despite heroic efforts, forever remains just out of grasp.

Perhaps the goal we should be pursuing would be to make the computer sound pleasant. Sure, it should be quiet as well but perhaps it doesn't have to be totally silent. Perhaps it could make pleasant, soothing noises that would drown out all the tiny annoying clicks and whines and warbles that always seem to crop up just in time to ruin the day.

Personally, I like the sound of rain, the sound of wind in the trees, or the sound of the ocean striking a rocky beach. Why can't my computer make sounds like that?

Posted: Sat Jan 31, 2004 4:23 am
by ArtCubed
Couldn't you just put a Bose noise machine (or whatever they're called) and put it next to a quiet PC to drown it out?

Posted: Sat Jan 31, 2004 4:28 am
by Sam Williams
Thanks for such an interesting point, Inexplicable. I agree with you, but only halfway:

When I'm working or sleeping in the same room as the PC, I always tune in on the low-level noises it makes; this is when I want something to mask out the annoyances, even if it makes the overall noise level higher.

On the other hand, the rest of the time I'm listening to music through the PC. In these situations, I do want the absolute lowest noise floor attainable.

One way to regain some perspective on whether all the silencing effort was 'worth it' is to go and listen to a friend's computer. I did so the other day; it sounded like the end of the world. :shock:

Amazingly, there are actually programs for both PC and Mac which can generate white, pink and other colours of noise... I've downloaded SoundMasker and can recommend a mixture of two parts pink and one part brown for a good generic ocean/waterfall simulation. Also recommended is putting an MP3 of actual ocean sounds on repeat for work/sleep; very effective.

Re: Making the computer sound pleasant

Posted: Sat Jan 31, 2004 4:28 am
by CharlieChan
Inexplicable wrote: Personally, I like the sound of rain, the sound of wind in the trees, or the sound of the ocean striking a rocky beach. Why can't my computer make sounds like that?
When my children were babies we brought a device which is attached next to the cot. It emits all the sounds you have mention and help them to sleep. May be you can buy one and attach it to your computer :mrgreen: .

Posted: Sat Jan 31, 2004 5:05 am
by Inexplicable
Sam -- I agree. Maybe I just need a CD with soothing nature sounds. :) I was wondering, though, if anyone has experimented with putting e.g. a speaker inside the case in order to produce some masking sounds and whether that would produce a better result than an external sound source.

Charlie -- Ahh... :lol: I better try that at home first. Wouldn't want my boss to find me at my desk, sleeping like a baby with the word YTREWQ impressed on my forehead. :shock:

Posted: Sat Jan 31, 2004 5:11 am
by Ralf Hutter
How about just setting Winamp to play looped Frank Sinatra songs 24/7? :)

Posted: Sat Jan 31, 2004 10:27 am
by MikeC
There's a lot of truth to Inexplicable's comments. Human hearing perception is highly adaptive, which explains why many of us get sucked into perpetual tinkering for ever-reduced noise. Of course, for some of us, it becomes sport or even a livelihood. :lol:

I realize that that I have a semi-instinctive prioritized list of less & more desirable PC noises -- that I apply half-consciously when working on noisy machines that people sometimes bring to me for help with.

From worse to better:

1) intermittent production of any of the top 3-4 noises below
2) screaming small fans with bad bearings
3) screeching, whining hard drives
4) whine/scream & dynamic "chattering" of coils in PSUs, motherboards & VGA -- mostly from coils, sometimes capacitors
5) rattling/humming case panels
6) loud crackly grinding HDD seek/write noise
7) CRT monitor whine
8 ) whooshing of air turbulence from fans

This last item is the least annoying of all PC generated noises, IMO, and can simulate pink noise closely if it is at the right level & frequency balance. The tricks are:

- min 80mm fan diameter, 120mm is best
- no whistling or high pitched noise from fan blade edges (ie, rpm must be low enough)
- no whistling or high pitched noise from vent obtructions (no grills & smoth vent openings help)
- no rumbing or humming caused by panel resonances (more prevalent with aluminum; decoupling fans & HDDs helps)
- ~30 dBA or less

In other words, if a computer makes 30 dBA of mostly smooth air turbulence noise, with a minimum of other noise components, I would probably be perfectly OK with it in my room, even though it is a much high SPL than I am used to (well under 25 dBA). I'm willing to bet this is true of a lot of folks who come to SPCR in search of relief from PC noise.

EDIT: BTW, Sam, this is too funny & apropos:
One way to regain some perspective on whether all the silencing effort was 'worth it' is to go and listen to a friend's computer. I did so the other day; it sounded like the end of the world.
:lol: :lol: :lol:

Posted: Tue Mar 09, 2004 4:30 pm
by Trip
Inexplicable, what about a watercooled PC that used a waterfall to cool the water instead of a radiator?

I was just thinking of that, searched to see if it had been discussed, and found this thread. What do you think? Can't get anymore pink than a waterfall.

Posted: Tue Mar 09, 2004 4:51 pm
by MikeC
Some people (like... er... me) also can't stand that trickling electric waterfall noise. Somehow, it is not random enough, at least to me, it sounds canned. It doesn't really sound like natural pink noise -- which to me is the sound of distant gentle surf or breeze in the trees.

Yeah, I know, totally over the top, I went off the deep end a long long time ago. :lol:

Posted: Tue Mar 09, 2004 4:58 pm
by flyingsherpa
my parents had a small fish pond in their backyard and it had a small pump for a mini-waterfall. we'd go sit out on the back porch to relax and inevitably someone would immediately get up and say "damn, that waterfall makes me have to pee". :lol:

i wouldn't want that in my bedroom, but maybe if you had a fishtank nearby it would fit the nautical theme of that room. interesting idea.

Posted: Tue Mar 09, 2004 5:07 pm
by Trip
MikeC, I don't like unnatural noises either... I'm currently debating on whether or not to move more into the country. Needs to be within distance of the university and good liquor store, have access to cable internet (roadrunner), and not near a trailer park.

flyingsherpa, :lol: that's too funny. Y'know, running water makes people want to pee but it makes animals, ie. cats, want to drink...

Posted: Tue Mar 09, 2004 5:38 pm
by einolu
I dont really find the woosh of a fan annoying, its more the high-pitched noises that really bother me, they get into your head and gave me headaches. I suspended my HD, got a new PSU, and got a Zalman for my Radeon and got a nice fan on my HS and Im pretty happy at the moment, its not perfect, but it doesnt have any annoying noises and I dont get those annoying ear/head aches I used to get.


Posted: Wed Mar 10, 2004 8:16 am
by Inexplicable
Trip wrote:Inexplicable, what about a watercooled PC that used a waterfall to cool the water instead of a radiator?
Well, that would be a seriously cool case mod. :D

In fact, how about replacing both radiator and reservoir with a small water fountain? The warm water shoots out of the nozzle (left ear of a mermaid, or whatever), arcs over some alluring soft curves (cooling in the air), falls onto an aesthetic arrangement of rocks below (raising a fine mist to playfully reflect the light from the plasma tubes), and finally accumulates into the basin, waiting to be squirted on top of some burning ASICs again?

flyingsherpa -- Good point there. On the other hand, a loud computer makes me want to start drinking. The end result is often the same. :lol:

Posted: Wed Mar 10, 2004 4:52 pm
by Trip
Inexplicable wrote: flyingsherpa -- Good point there. On the other hand, a loud computer makes me want to start drinking. The end result is often the same. :lol:

say, how much water would be needed for a waterfall cooled computer? The waterfall would add a lot of surface area and should transfer heat fairly well.

may need more additives to prevent stuff from growing in the open tank...

I think I read someone built a computer w/o a pump but I can't figure out how that would work... The pump should still be needed and would produce non-pink noise.

Posted: Wed Mar 10, 2004 9:06 pm
by MikeC
Trip wrote:say, how much water would be needed for a waterfall cooled computer? The waterfall would add a lot of surface area and should transfer heat fairly well.
There's nothing new under the sun... it has been done extensively, it is often called Evaporative Water Cooling. I think this article at may be the first posting about such a system: Nuclear Tower Water Cooling -

Posted: Wed Mar 10, 2004 10:15 pm
by Trip
Wow, thanks Mike

I hadn't thought of the water evaporating... this is amazing!

Posted: Sun Mar 14, 2004 5:35 pm
by sctakeshi
I can identify with the original poster. I haven't yet really started trying to quiet my PC, but when I do I am really concerned about the idea that I might quiet my computer, but in turn just make it more annoying. My main concern is trying to sleep while my computer is on. I sleep 4 feet away from it. I have no problem sleeping when the air conditioning turns on in my room; it's a pleasant, constant, white-noise-ish sound. My computer as it is right now, in addition to just being too loud, has an inconsistency of noise that makes it not a constant sound. This is far more annoying than the constant sound of my air conditioning or ceiling fan. Thus HDD silence was my main concern; turning on AAM has quieted the seek noises beneath my roaring fans, but when I start to quiet my components I fear I will be able to hear the seek and whine of my HDDs again. Thus they are my primary concern. But my main concern is just getting everything quiet enough that hopefully I can buy a portable fan (well, maybe not that one, but something like it, I guess) and turn it on next to my computer to drown out all the inconsistencies of the noise from my computer. Hopefully the sound from the fan will be pleasant, constant, and just loud enough to drown out the sound of my quieted PC. That is my goal... but I am paranoid that I will not be able to achieve it and will have made my computer more annoying than it already is...

Posted: Sun Mar 14, 2004 8:01 pm
by chylld
here's an easy solution that works extremely effectively: run a watercooling system with a reservoir that isn't filled all the way to the top. the result is a nice trickling water sound that is known to be very very therapeutic. ymmv, but i absolutely love it.

Posted: Sun Mar 14, 2004 8:12 pm
by Trip
sctakeshi, just go for a low powered system, good case, and a good heatsink. Apparently laptop HDDs can be silenced easily. If constant fan noise is your goal, then you can achieve it. Have you seen Ralf's setup? He went with a high powered, well vented system.

Note: Constant fan noise and constant high pitched fan noise are entirely different. Read about quiet laptop HDDs from article on SPCR front page and from searches in forums, for anyone curious about them.

EDIT: added Note and link to Ralf's page.

Posted: Sun Mar 14, 2004 9:46 pm
by sctakeshi
Unfortunately one of the main reasons I bought this machine was because I needed more hard drive space. I already had a laptop with a 60GB HDD, and it is almost completely filled up. So I got a desktop so that I could have more HDD space; thus my two 200GB HDDs (I really only need 1 200GB HDD, but the second one is to back up the first because I am paranoid about losing my data). Otherwise using laptop HDDs sounds like it would be a sound plan, but it just doesn't work for my situation, unfortunately. :(

And, yeah, I definitely want a lower-pitched sound, like what I get from the air conditioning vent in my room, not a high-pitched whine. I've gotten used to the A/C noise and it's even comforting for me when it happens to turn on, so if I could get my machine to put out sound like that it would probably be fine. I think it's at least a bit too loud right now anyway (probably understating), though, and obviously it is putting out much more inconsistent sound than the A/C, which makes it very annoying.

What was I supposed to look at in particular with Ralf's system, BTW?

Posted: Sun Mar 14, 2004 9:59 pm
by Trip
What was I supposed to look at in particular with Ralf's system, BTW?
err, Ralf had just created a quiet machine... Nothing particularly.

He's a sharp critic of noisy computer parts and is content with his P4 3.0. I was thinking that if you needed a quiet, high performance computer, then it was possible. If it's quiet storage you're after... good luck! It could get expensive. BTW, is your HDD the biggest noise maker?

Posted: Sun Mar 14, 2004 10:05 pm
by michaelr
My company has 'white' noise coming through its speaker system. It is very effective in toning everything down from phone conversations in the next cubicle to seek on my notebook. Highly recommended for every office.

Posted: Sun Mar 14, 2004 10:12 pm
by sctakeshi
My HDDs aren't the biggest noise makers right now (after I turned on AAM on my Maxtor, at least), but if I'm planning on quieting the rest of my system (which has noisy stock case fans, stock PSU, stock HSF, etc), then I don't doubt that the noise of my HDDs (seek and whine) will resurface. I'm just hoping that if I quiet this system down to a certain point, then I would be able to drown out the whole thing with a pleasant, constant portable fan (or something), at an acceptable volume (and I think the level of my A/C would probably suffice as a benchmark for this volume)

White noise sounds like a good idea, and is basically the general idea I was going for when I put up the idea of drowning out the inconstistant PC sound (once it is already quieted to an acceptable level) with a portable fan. I don't know if a white noise machine/system (if I'd even know where to buy one) would do such a good job when I'm 4 feet away from my PC, but maybe.

Posted: Sun Mar 14, 2004 10:37 pm
by Trip
You may look into a fan controller like the sunbeam rheobus or Zalman if you have an extra 5.25". Then you can experiment and see just what level of quiet is possible w/o replacing your fans, PSU, and heatsink.

Posted: Mon Mar 15, 2004 1:21 pm
by sctakeshi
How about this Vantec? It fits in a 3.5" bay instead of a 5.25", and if I were to eventually want to give HDD suspension a shot having my 5.25"s free would be handy. Is it on par with the Sunbeam and Zalman offerings? BTW, how do you install these things? Just unplug the fans' power plugs from the PSU and plug them into the fan controller? So they get power through the fan controller instead of directly from the PSU?

Posted: Mon Mar 15, 2004 4:44 pm
by Trip
Installing them is just as easy as you say. Plug the 4 pin molex in the controller, plug the fans into their 3 pin slots - use a 4 to 3 pin adapter if needed (I think they are included, check one of the reviews below)

Wow, that looks so much better than the Nexus 301

A full range of power, PVM, and it can take high powered fans!

Note: PVM has a tendency to buzz Nexus 201 buzz and fan failing, Would you use the lights?

review, SPCR thread

Overall it sounds really good to me, especially if you will use the lights. There's a cheaper alternative (also 3.5") that doesn't use PVM but it can't handle near the wattage of the Nexus 305. The alternative also doesn't offer the full range of 0~12V but does have 2 USB ports and won't buzz.

It looks like Nexus has really gotten its act together. Nexus quiet fans, quiet PSUs, and now fan controllers are right on the mark! Heh, maybe Vantec will learn to quiet its performance fans.

Posted: Mon Mar 15, 2004 7:44 pm
by sctakeshi
Alright, thanks. I actually already have a light so I don't know if I'd use the lights that come with the controller or not, but I'm sure I would use the light-controlling feature of the controller to control the light I already have (or just replace mine with one from the box if it integrates with the controller better)

From what I read in the SPCR thread you linked to, it didn't seen like the noise was a problem (anymore) -- maybe it was a problem in the 20x, but was fixed in the 30x? Well, hopefully I'll be as lucky, then.

I like the fact that it offers a full range of voltages, so I can see what the system sounds like without a particular fan. I have 4 main fans: 2 case ones, the HSF, and the PSU one (I also have one of the video card), but I can control the HSF one with software so if I can connetc the PSU fan to the controller (can I?) then I'll be able to control my 4 main fans, just excluding the one on the video card.

Posted: Mon Mar 15, 2004 8:57 pm
by Trip
You may want to try opening the PSU vents, using a PSU duct, or even replacing the fan before unplugging it from the PSU controller. Controlling the PSU fan is good if your PSU is ramping up and down but if you don't want to set it too low. Search the forums for PSU duct and PSU vents.

Also: ... d=x3roGoYK will let you use two fans for a channel.

Check under the "Weblinks and Downloads" page for software to control fans. I only use dTemp but others use MBM, Speedfan, and some others - I think they regulate fan speeds or at least report the RPM but I've never used them, neither worked right on my system.

Video card fans can be annoying, and high pitched... arctic cooling vga silencer is one of SPCR's favorite.

Posted: Mon Mar 15, 2004 9:43 pm
by sctakeshi
Opening the PSU seems way too much of a hassle. I guess I can use the third fan controller for the videocard fan instead, just to see how much sound the video card fan contributes. Would it be this sole wire that I'd want to connect to the fan controller (obviously I'd have to use an extension, but they come with the Vantec)? Is that wire the fan wire? Or would unplugging that wire from the card and plugging it in to the fan controller instead fry the card or something? Heh.

Posted: Tue Mar 16, 2004 9:47 am
by Trip
that's a 2 pin plug and the fan controller takes 3 pin plugs. There are 3 pin extensions but I haven't seen 2 to 3 pin adapters

if you're lucky, the 2 pin wire will detach from the fan and a 3 pin wire can easily replace it. This fan's wire is detachable.

you'd probably need to cut the 2 pin wire plug off and attach it to a 3 pin plug, something I've never needed to do but it looks easy enough :P

overclockers club pic of included adapters: