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Noise versus performance

Posted on 20th Jul 2009 at 08:59 by Antony Leather with 34 comments

Antony Leather
With the hot but undoubtedly brief summer finally making an appearance here in the UK, I imagine that plenty of bit-tech and Custom PC readers have had to ramp up their PC's fan speeds to keep the machine cool. Maybe you've even had to buy new cooling hardware to keep that shiny new overclocked Intel Core i7 system under control?

In any case, most of us have had to alter our PC's cooling at one time or another but what's always surprised me is how varied noise tolerance is from person to person and how different their goals are when tweaking their PC to enhance its cooling capability.

It's my view that PCs should be seen and not heard which is why I hate hard disks and noisy GPU and CPU coolers and love SSDs and water-cooling. The quieter the better really and as much as my wallet screams at me, I'm prepared to pay the price to make my PC as quiet as possible.

However this does have its drawbacks. For starters running fans at 800rpm means they shift a lot less air than at 1,500pm (which is the speed most of my case and radiator fans are rated at). This in turn means that I have to have both a double and a triple 120mm fan radiator to keep my 4.2GHz Q9650 and GeForce GTX 280 cool. This means added expense over and above what would normally be needed to cool my particular selection of hardware. But for me, having a massively overclocked but nearly silent PC is has always been my goal and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Noise versus performance Noise vs Performance - what's your story?
Plenty of fans and large radiators can keep overclocked systems cool and quiet.

Friends of mine have had very different views. In the past they’ve been quite happy to let their GeForce 6800 Ultras shriek away, and they didn’t hesitate to use manual fan control to push its cooling to what for me were intolerable levels. However their systems did run cool - and of course, the extra cooling they often got was free too.

Noise versus performance Noise vs Performance - what's your story?
In games, graphics cards such as the GeForce 6800 Ultra spin up and become very noisy. The same is unfortunately true of many modern graphics cards too.

A fan controller can certainly help fine tune things and provide cooling on demand but I believe once you’ve seen how quiet your PC can be, you’ll catch the noise reduction bug. Maybe it’s what you use your PC for that also counts – as I use it for everything from watching TV and films, listening to music, gaming, photo editing and work.

There are times, mainly during film and music playback when I don’t want my PC noisily interfering. I’d like to know what your position is - do you spend a fair amount of time (and money) choosing quiet components, have you opted for water-cooling mainly to reduce noise or does noise simply not bother you, especially if it means getting cooling for free?

34 Comments

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Pookeyhead 20th July 2009, 09:15 Quote
If I can hear myself think.... it's quiet enough. :)

You want silence? Get a less powerful rig. You want the maximum performance you can have on a desktop? Then live with a bit of noise.

Just turn your speakers up ya big girls! :)
Silver51 20th July 2009, 09:33 Quote
Until I went SSD, the loudest part of my rig was the hard drives.

Q6600, GTX260 maxcore OC and four gigasquaggles of RAM are locked inside, but Zalman coolers, the fanbus, SSDs, foam and grinding away the fan grilles each do their bit. It's still not totally silent in a silent room (and there's a whoosh of air during gaming,) but when the TVs on I've had to double check to see whether I actually started it up.
GFC 20th July 2009, 09:54 Quote
It really depends on one simple thing: do I have headphones or not? 99% of my time I have my headphones on, so I don't really care about the noise (I have my fan controller on 100% even on idle at this very moment), but when I briefly turn my music off - I often notice the noise. I instantly get my fan controller to the minimum speed.
yakyb 20th July 2009, 10:54 Quote
im not too interested in my gaming pc being quiet as it is easily overtaken by the explosions going on, however my home server and development pc are near silent and often im not even sure whether my HTPC is on or not
capnPedro 20th July 2009, 11:07 Quote
My HTPC is silent, but my gaming rig annoys me with it's volume. I watercooled, but it's just as loud as it was on air (:()... stupid tiny chipset fan which I can't get a waterblock or passive cooler for and PSU. I really would like a quieter PSU!
dolphin-promotions 20th July 2009, 11:57 Quote
I had a HTPC in my bedroom for a while and the quest to make the system as silent as possible but still semi powerful drove me a bit nuts.

For normal systems like my work one or main home PC I just take noise into consideration rather than obsessing about it. I don't mind paying an extra 10% or so on the system price to make sure I have decent quiet(ish) cooling.
Xtrafresh 20th July 2009, 12:27 Quote
I am watercooling for the performance and space benefits. The way i constructed my PC, it's low-profile at the motherboard section, which makes it rather impossible to fit a decent aircooler.

As for noise, i don't mind a slight hum, as long as it's not an unpleasant one. People talk about noise levels all the time, but not about what kind of sound is produced. If it's the squeal of tiny fans, i cannot stand it at 17db, but the reassuring whoosh of my San Aces is very acceptable at 30db.
tron 20th July 2009, 12:52 Quote
I like quiet stealth systems as well. However, I would NOT compromise on gaming performance in order to achieve near silence.

I am not a serious overclocker, so I don't have extreme heat issues to water cool.

One thing I have realized is that a lot of people over rate the noise reduction of water cooling. Water cooling usually requires fans for the radiator that need to spin at a reasonable speed in order to cool the radiator. Ideally, the water cooled PC should also have some air intake as case fans to keep the general system cool.

If you compare a decent or high end water cooling setup with regular stock air cooling, then of course water cooling is usually a lot quieter. But it is not significantly quieter than the same PC with an efficient air cooled setup comprising high end aftermarket air cooling / gas heat pipe components.

I don't get offended by the 'quiet' sound of hard drives at all. Even 10,000rpm VelociRaptors. The only sound I would try to avoid is the sound of loud fans resembling the sound of helicopters. 800 rpm or 1200 rpm fans are not very loud at all, especially if the fan is a Slipstream, a Noctua or Akasa Apache super silent fan.
Skiddywinks 20th July 2009, 13:06 Quote
I spend a lot of money on performance cooling and have it quite noisey. For me, performance is the number one goal, noise reduction comes second. Unfortunately, my wallet comes third! Before I got my fan controller, I had six 2000RPM fans going at full pelt on my triple rad (Q9550 and 4870X2 loop) and that was damn loud. But it never really bothered me. I'm always playing music when on my computer, or playing games, so the jet engine sounds get drowned out sufficiently as to not hear them.

Even now I run my fans at ~1250RPM, which is hardly silent, but much better than it used to be. Fortunately, with that many fans it seems to have not made any measurable difference to temps, loaded or otherwise. I think the sheer number of fans is making the difference.
Skiddywinks 20th July 2009, 13:12 Quote
EDIT:

Double post, sorry :/

****ing phone internet!
thehippoz 20th July 2009, 14:56 Quote
I put quite a bit into noise reduction too.. a fan controller is a must along with large fans if you can get away with it- target mainly the exhaust fans rpm

even then my gaming rig isn't as quiet as non-overclocked apps rig.. and I do use riva to ramp up the gpu fan depending on the game automatically.. so on the desk it is about as quiet as it's gonna get.. gaming the nvidia fan goes full blast and my amp drowns it out
Combatus 20th July 2009, 15:11 Quote
Well it seems there's quite a few differences of opinion but mostly people aren't too bothered by noise! Reading a bit more into it, it does seem to be those that use their PCs primarily for gaming don't mind the noise too much as the games usually drown out most of the noise. Have to say I agree with thehippoz about fan controllers - a must with any fan over about 1,250rpm.
Boogle 20th July 2009, 15:27 Quote
I'm with Antony, I value silence and performance - so I have watercooling with fans spinning at 800rpm. Also have my pump hooked up to a fan controller too, just to make sure everything is as quiet as it can be. I should be able to absorb myself in a game - even in the quiet parts, without a noisy PC making itself known in the background.

The HDs make the most noise, but I don't find them too intolerable.

I really don't know how people can take a loud PC, some of them are crazy-loud. That would drive me nuts the second I turned it on.
Aracos 20th July 2009, 15:31 Quote
Before I replaced my X1300 Pro's cooler which was EXTREMELY loud and inefficient I would hear my PC from the next rooms in the house with doors closed, doors open, you can hear it upstairs but now it's passively cooled it's a lot better but no where near silent, I still got that 2500rpm CPU fan going but it's sleepable now :) when I get my new build together (PHII 720 or Lynnfield) I plan on a specific sound level of 20DBA max! That way I hope I won't be able to hear it that much and it'll run cool with the right crap :D
tad2008 20th July 2009, 20:38 Quote
I have a zalman desktop style case with dual 12cm case fans than make a slight purr and a zalman cnps7000 cpu cooler that is whisper quiet at low speeds and both are drowned out by my nvidia 8600GT graphics card fan which I am looking to replace with a completely passive option.

It's not completely quiet or uber powerful, but it performs well and noise levels are minimal.
naokaji 20th July 2009, 21:13 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Combatus
Reading a bit more into it, it does seem to be those that use their PCs primarily for gaming don't mind the noise too much as the games usually drown out most of the noise.

That and very likely influenced by the rather poor sound quality of games, unlike music or so it won't matter as much if you don't hear every detail.

You can get a low - mid range computer surprisingly silent even with aircooling, however the price for high performance silent aircooling can get dangerously close to a wc setup.

Of course, once you step into the realm of 4ghz+ I7 running 100% 24/7 especially if paired with a spaceheater (better known as 4870x2) or any other multi gpu setup water simply becomes the only way to cool the pc without resorting to 3000 rpm fans.

One thing that seems missing from the blogpost and the thread so far (or maybe I'm just influenced by bad experience), optical drives, I went through at least 5 until I found one that is not too loud.

Also, SSDs ftw it can't get anymore silent than no noise.
ch424 20th July 2009, 21:48 Quote
My computer is pretty much silent in general use (web browsing/working with music on/watching tv), with only the hard disks rattling. However, when I start gaming the CPU and GPU fans spin right up, but it doesn't matter because of the audio. The fans also get loud when I'm encoding video but I don't mind that too much. I just bought a P180 so hopefully that'll deal with the hard disk noise, and apparently there's some Asus software that I can use to tune the fans so that they kick in at 60C rather than 45C. :)
The_Beast 20th July 2009, 23:09 Quote
My computer isn't too loud but it could be a little less noisy


It's fine when the TV is on or I'm listening to music but when there's no TV on it's kinda loud
Ross1 21st July 2009, 00:31 Quote
1) Forget watercooling. Its never your 'value for money' option (you would have to spend a huge amount to beat an IFX-14 with even 1 fan and an exhust on the rear of the case). It will not quieten your system, you still end up using just as many fans. Makes me laugh when i hear 'high performance air system cost as much as a WC set-up'. The waterblock alone will cost almost as much as your IFX-14!

2) Your case should:
• be heavy. Steel sides, decent padding... the case vibrating can easily be the loudest part once you have quiet fans and suitable HDD dampening.
• have suitable HDD dampening. rubber grommets can work well, elastic suspension tends to be even better (trust me, stretch magic really is magic for this)
• Offer sensible airflow. forget fans on the side, they create just as many problems with airflow as they solve. I like to have at least as much air through my intake fans as through the exhaust. any any air pushed on the intake isnt a bad thing, you have control over all the air coming in, and it doesnt matter as much where the air is leaving. plus you case wont be as dusty (as long as you have filters for the fans). But you need a clear path to your cpu and gpu heatsinks. if hdd's are in the way, make sure they are spaced out.

3) Use something like the HR-03 or the accelero S1 as you gpu heatsink. Its amazing how much noise those stock fans make, and its amazing how much better those heatsinks are than the ones on most retail cards. It will still need that airflow passing through it, whether you need to stick a fan on it is dependent on the card and your case set-up.

4) Fan noise increases exponentially as you increase the RPM. however CFM increases in a linear fashion to RPM. in short; bigger, more but slower = better. Fan quality also makes a difference.... thanks to ms for this: http://is.gd/1FHEW

5) Power supplies have got pretty decent in the last few years. It used to be a huge amount of them created lots of waste heat and had loud fans that werent able to spin down even when the pc was idle. However you tend to find the power supplies by the reputable manufacturers hit the mark very often now. seasonic finally have competition from enemax, bequiet, certain cosairs and antecs, and others. There are lots to choose from.

6) optical drives are a bitch. Once you manage to find a good one thats quiet, stick with for as long as possible.

spcr have decent advice for a quiet pc that still performs. their forums offer a lot of good info too.

my current set up: http://rossaaa.googlepages.com/001.JPG (honestly, the loudest thing is case vibration. i dont hear the hdd's, and all the fans are running at 700-800RPMish - the cumulative noise is barely audible from 1m away)
Sterkenburg 21st July 2009, 07:59 Quote
The exhaust for my case is two 80mm fans, which kick up quite a whine at 2000 RPM. Unfortunately until my new fans get here (darn Canada, takes forever to ship stuff across it!) I only have them and my PSU for exhaust, so I'll be putting up with them for a little while longer at least. After the exhaust fans my case is so quiet I can't tell what the second loudest component is, but I think it's the stock Intel i7 cooler.
tron 21st July 2009, 10:14 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ross1
1) 3) Use something like the HR-03 or the accelero S1 as you gpu heatsink. Its amazing how much noise those stock fans make, and its amazing how much better those heatsinks are than the ones on most retail cards. It will still need that airflow passing through it, whether you need to stick a fan on it is dependent on the card and your case set-up.

I once ripped out the stock cooler on a 9800 GTX card and replaced with an Arctic Cooling Accelero extreme. What the ! . .. the gpu with the Nvidia Stock cooler on IDLE used to be 60 C. The Arctic Cooler dropped the idle temp to 40 C.

On load (hours of heavy gaming), the temp doesn't even reach 60 C (even during the recent heatwave).

In terms of noise levels, I only realized how loud the nvidia stock cooler was when I replaced it with the aftermarket cooler. I can hardly hear the Accelero. The accelero has 3 'quiet' fans which are much more quieter than the stock cooler's single blower. I also notice now that the ambient case temperature is significantly cooler than before, even though the Accelero does not push the heat out the back of the case. This has allowed me to further reduce the speed of the case fans.
CampGareth 21st July 2009, 10:19 Quote
Personally, i've got my entire machine dipped in about 20 litres of oil so any noise it makes doesn't bother me. What's more the noise of the 400mm fan on the industrial air conditioning unit who's radiator i have commandeered is not noticeable. The main issue is pump noise but i just tune that out using my nice noise cancelling amp and speakers which do exactly what they say on the tin. In the past though, i had an antec 1200 and really didn't mind whatever noise it made.
capnPedro 21st July 2009, 10:30 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CampGareth
Personally, i've got my entire machine dipped in about 20 litres of oil so any noise it makes doesn't bother me. What's more the noise of the 400mm fan on the industrial air conditioning unit who's radiator i have commandeered is not noticeable. The main issue is pump noise but i just tune that out using my nice noise cancelling amp and speakers which do exactly what they say on the tin. In the past though, i had an antec 1200 and really didn't mind whatever noise it made.

Welcome to the forums!

However, I must now inform you that you are contractually obliged to post pictures of this setup.
Hamish 21st July 2009, 10:34 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ross1
1) Forget watercooling. Its never your 'value for money' option (you would have to spend a huge amount to beat an IFX-14 with even 1 fan and an exhust on the rear of the case). It will not quieten your system, you still end up using just as many fans.
you're missing the option of using 3 (or more) extremely slow fans on a radiator to get the same (or better) cooling performance as 1 faster fan on a heatsink with much lower noise

i also run w/c setup for low noise, combined with an SSD, P182 and what mechanical disks i do have powering down it is extremely quiet and i wouldnt have it any other way :)
sandys 21st July 2009, 11:18 Quote
I run a water setup its not really that quiet but what it is, is consistent, my main issue running a high end SLI setup was the continual ramping up and down of fans and how noisy they can be, even when you doing something thats not that graphically intensive.

On water I have no controllers etc, so its just one low noise whatever the computer is doing, works great.
CampGareth 21st July 2009, 11:18 Quote
capnpedro, your wish is my command. the pictures and descriptions will be up soon on the pimp your mod thread under the modding section of the forums
Ross1 21st July 2009, 11:54 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hamish
you're missing the option of using 3 (or more) extremely slow fans on a radiator to get the same (or better) cooling performance as 1 faster fan on a heatsink with much lower noise

If you read my full post, you would have noted i didnt miss the point of more, slower fans at all. In fact have a look at the bit you quoted. Have a look at the IFX-14. Its a big enough heatsink to support many (140mm) fans ;)
wuyanxu 21st July 2009, 14:04 Quote
the article forgot to mention the industry's need for automatic fan controllers. almost all fan controllers i see are manually adjust the fan speed. it's good when you want a quiet PC or a performance PC. but what if you want a quiet PC when it's idling/surfing and a performance PC when you are gaming/under load?

Abit uGuru has been fantastic. set the temperature parameters and allows the fans to spin up when a particular sensor temperature reaches a mark.

Imagine:
-quiet PC when you are surfing the web, without any noise, so quiet, WD Green's hard drive spinning can be heard.
-a performance PC that gives the overclocked GPU and CPU performance when you start a game. noise now isn't an issue.
-put those 2 into a single PC, the user don't have to do ANYTHING to switch between the two apart from launching the game.

my p182 is setup like that, silent when idling/surfing. and GPU automatically overclocks (goes to 3D clock) with its fan spins up when gaming. CPU goes from 2.2Ghz to 3.4Ghz automatically when the need for processing power is there. the fans only spin up (automatically) when the CPU has been loaded for a while.
don't forget all of those magic are done by Abit uGuru, not Speedfan or such. result is that even in Hackint0sh, the system noise are still under control.

so, ask yourself. which is better: ultra-expensive silent computer or a silent computer that gives you performance only when needed?? (and saves electricity)
marsey99 21st July 2009, 15:20 Quote
my pc is my tv, radio, alarm clock and evrything else so it needs to be quiet aswel as keeping it all cool. so a fan controller along with bios controlled fans keep the rpm down when im not gaming but its only a couple of clicks in speedfan and the turn of a couple of knobs when i pop in a game disk and the turbine spins up. 6 120mm fans @ 1600 rpm can get loud but as its only when im gaming it doesn't matter becasue then i cant hear my fans over the awsomness of my fragging skillz :D
Cupboard 21st July 2009, 18:13 Quote
My old motherboard (the same IP35 Pro that wuyanxu has) was admittedly brilliant at keeping things under control but my case was pants and let things down. My new motherboard gives me far less control but I have moved into a slightly better case so at the moment things are fractionally better. Once I have worked out a way to control the 120mm fans which only have molex connectors we should be flying.

Is daisy chaining them from a different fan that can be controlled bad? I don't know, and am trying that...

My general aims are to get it as quiet as possible without going overboard. I am not a fan of noise but equally don't just want to throw cash at making it slightly better. A quiet PC whilst internetting and a somewhat louder one whilst gaming is fine by me.
Fazed 21st July 2009, 19:08 Quote
Without a doubt, I put a premium on noise reduction over performance.
Aside from the occasional tinker, I'm not really into heavily overclocking my rig.

Currently cooling my i7 with a Scythe Mugen 2, 4870X2 retrofitted with an AC Accelero Xtreme, Scythe Kaze Master Ace fan controller, 4 x Noctua 120mm case fans...etc etc

The system is whisper quiet. Even during gaming, the Accelero Xtreme does it job, it's barely audible.

Personally, cannot stand a cacophony of buzzing, screetching fans, no matter what task i'm doing on my PC.
Dreaming 22nd July 2009, 12:34 Quote
I have a nice air cooled set up with a front fan controller for them. Goes quite close to silent but not quite silent as when you are getting used to quiet you notice every little noise. Mine is quieter than outside, but when I game I whack the fans up to still quiet levels. Just a low frequency hum most of the time. But then I get a louder noise from the wall which I assume is vibrations from the boiler or something, so you get to a point where further improvement isn't giving any improved experience really.
TGImages 22nd July 2009, 18:12 Quote
Noise has always been an issue for me too. Well, more for the wife than me, but if it's her issue then it's mine too! :)

I solved most of it with a decent Zalman CPU cooler and a passive cooled video card... pretty dated now but as I just do a bit of causal gaming it's fine for me. The loudest component is the HD now. Recently I rebuilt this system into a HTPC case and with no sound you can hear the system running if you pay attention, but with the littlest sound (gaming, media player, movies, etc.) going it easily covers up the bit of drive noise.

My current day to day machine is a laptop MacBook Pro mostly running XP that is usually nearly silent unless you push the video on it (usually a game) at which point it spins up the fan(s?) to a very annoying level.

On the other hand, in my server room at work I've got a couple dozen HP DL360 and 380 servers with upwards of 20 fans in each plus a NAS system with 60 spinning hard drives and a handful of switches and routers thrown in. With dual 5 ton cooling systems you can hear someone else in the room speak if you talk loudly. When one cooling system fails and the temperature starts to rise the servers spin up to a loud whine and it's almost impossible to talk in the room then.
xaser04 23rd July 2009, 08:34 Quote
My main 'gaming' pc (Core i7 / GTX260-216 SLI) is relatively quiet although most of the time I use it I have the manually fan control on my Jeantech Phong set to low. The interesting thing about this case is that despite its relatively small stature and low fan count (two 120mm fans, 1 intake & 1 exhaust) I have found it to do a perfectly admirable job of cooling my components, without sounding like a aircraft on afterburner. It has the perfect push/pull cooling design and plenty of breathing room for the main components. If only it looked better......

My HTPC which is also my gaming laptop (I have it hooked up to a 26" HDTV in the bedroom along with a PS3/360) is lovely and quiet. The laptop fans in the Advent 6555 chassis (actually the MSI 1700 series chassis) manage to emit a low drone rather than the normal high picthed whine laptop fans are normally endowed with. Any noise it does make however is drowned out by the tv / distance it is away from the bed anyway so its a non-issue.
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