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Noctua demos active noise-cancelling cooler

Noctua demos active noise-cancelling cooler

Noctua's prototype ANC Project cooler uses RotoSub active noise cancellation technology to silence annoying fan whine.

Noctua has released a demonstration video of what it claims is the world's first CPU cooler to feature active noise cancellation, using technology it is developing in partnership with RotoSub.

Dubbed the ANC Project, the partnership between the two companies attempts to bring the same technology found in noise cancelling headphones to a heatsink and fan assembly. In headphones, a microphone picks up external noise, inverts the phase of the waveform and plays it back - resulting in the cancellation of external noise. Technically, not only is the noise still there but there's now equal and opposite new noise - but because the two waveforms are inversions of each other, the ear picks up little more than a slightly hissing silence.

Noctua's idea is to take a variant of this core concept, developed by RotoSub back in 2011 for use in fans, and integrate it into an upcoming CPU cooler. While not yet ready for release, the company has been showing off prototype models - and has now published a video that shows just what the system can do.

Taking a NH-D14 heatsink, attaching a single NF-A14 140mm fan modified with the FocusedFlow system of the NF-F12 and then integrating the RotoSub Active Noise Cancellation system, the single-fan dual-tower cooler is claimed to offer class-beating cooling performance at significantly reduced noise levels. In the video demonstration, the hum of the fan is clearly as an irritating whine - a whine which almost completely disappears when the noise cancellation system is activated.

The system works, in the absence of handy speakers, by causing tiny vibrations in the blades of the fan using an electromagnetic coil built into the housing and a small magnet at the tip of each blade. An in-built microphone listens to the noise that the fan is making, then adjusts these vibrations to cancel it out - resulting the pretty dramatic noise reduction that is present in the video.

It's a clever concept, but one that Noctua may struggle to sell: for those who want silent cooling, passive cases exist - and low-noise pumps offer quiet water-cooling for those with more powerful components to tame. The CPU fan is often not the loudest component of a system, either, with most high-end graphics cards easily drowning it out when under load.

That said, if Noctua does release the ANC Project cooler as a retail product, there's nothing to stop it offering aftermarket coolers for graphics cards with the same technology embedded - and with RotoSub offering the system to anyone willing to pay for a licence, it could become a standard feature of high-end gear in the future.

If you're not convinced as to the benefits of the system, Noctua's promotional video - followed by a live demonstration of the prototype - is embedded below, and more information is available on the company's website.

11 Comments

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thom804 13th June 2013, 12:52 Quote
WIth an larger electromagnet creating that cancelling effect, will we get the same high frequency whine that you get with an awful lot of devices?
I know i'm not alone, but there are only a few people who can hear it and it annoys the piss out of me. Would rather have a dull hum than me thinking i've got tinitus...
ChaosDefinesOrder 13th June 2013, 13:03 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by thom804
WIth an electromagnet creating that cancelling effect, will we get the same high frequency whine that you get with an awful lot of devices?
I know i'm not alone, but there are only a few people who can hear it and it annoys the piss out of me. Would rather have a dull hum than me thinking i've got tinitus...

You're thinking of transformer coils "sticking" and "releasing" at AC frequency, aren't you? This system should be "DC" (or at least decoupled from mains ripple by the PSU) and tuned to the "offending" noise only in theory...

Of course if mains ripple does make it through the PSU then this system couple amplify it slightly...
Oggyb 13th June 2013, 13:31 Quote
Seems like only the tonal sound was cancelled. Was that the point?
ya93sin 13th June 2013, 13:45 Quote
To be honest, I don't mind hearing a low frequency hum, it covers over the slight noise my PSU makes due to the terrible power supply in my area.
Tangster 13th June 2013, 16:26 Quote
Can I get this for my pump please. :P
Corky42 13th June 2013, 17:33 Quote
More to the point can i get this for the kids ;)
Alecto 13th June 2013, 19:21 Quote
What a fail on so many levels ...

1: As noted in the article, CPU fan is hardly the loudest source of noise in a computer. There are other active sources (GPU and PSU fans, HDDs etc.) that this will no affect, but the one I find by far most irritating is ...

2: Resonance. No matter how many spacers/pads I use and no matter where I put them, some bits (of enclosure ?) will eventually slowly drift in and out of resonance. I can only imagine how an additional noise source that is frequency locked with existing noise source is going to impact that.

3: While active noise cancellation sounds (no pun intended) good in theory, there's always the issue of phase shift (microphone takes finite amount of time to record the noise, speaker takes finite amount of time to reproduce its inverted waveform). Combined with issue #2 this is just begging for more problems (induced oscillations), something that can happen with any system employing feedback loop.

4: And ultimately, a very practical consideration of active noise cancellation: how do they expect to project the inverted noise in exactly same direction(s) as the original (CPU fan) noise ? This is easy in headphones (outside noise comes through the ear canal), not so when dealing with an object that radiates noise in virtually every direction, while there is no such thing as an isotropic loudspeaker (plasma speakers aside, they are not going to employ this kind of technology here, besides it couldn't overlap the original noise source). Inverted noise signal will not cancel out with the original noise the further you move away from the axis of projection of that additional noise, meaning that you'd have to sit in one spot to benefit from this, while you'd get amplified noise (up to twice the sound pressure that CPU fan generates alone) everywhere else.
Woodspoon 13th June 2013, 20:19 Quote
It's only a tech demo at the moment, but I can see it leading on to things.
Noise cancelling sound is used on top end cars if it can be adaptive enough to cope with a cars cabin why not on the inside of a case?
It may only be a basic tech demo at the moment but I think it shows something that could be very good in the future.
YEHBABY 13th June 2013, 21:03 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Woodspoon
It's only a tech demo at the moment, but I can see it leading on to things.
Noise cancelling sound is used on top end cars if it can be adaptive enough to cope with a cars cabin why not on the inside of a case?
It may only be a basic tech demo at the moment but I think it shows something that could be very good in the future.

I agree. While it may not currently be perfect and I wouldn't buy the first model released, it's nice to see companies investing in this sort of technology. In a few years a powerful, totally quiet PC may be a possibility.
jon 14th June 2013, 19:56 Quote
It's been ages since I browsed Bit-Tech ...

I think the really interesting application here will be if this ever migrates to laptops. My desktop, I don't mind so much. Three active fans, and we can get quiet-enough fans these days that the noise levels are fairly inaudible in a "normal" environment, particularly if you think about silent cases, water cooling, etc.

Laptops, however, are another story. The tendency for heat build up is high, and the noise levels of those tiny fans can be excessive as they try to cope with limited air flow and very tight spaces. And since laptops tend to be much closer to the user's ear, that noise becomes much more oppressive. If this tech makes it into laptops, you'll start seeing much better cooling solutions, as they can start pushing more air with less audible impact to the user, making the laptop experience that much better.

-j
John_T 16th June 2013, 14:03 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by jon

Laptops, however, are another story. The tendency for heat build up is high, and the noise levels of those tiny fans can be excessive as they try to cope with limited air flow and very tight spaces. And since laptops tend to be much closer to the user's ear, that noise becomes much more oppressive. If this tech makes it into laptops, you'll start seeing much better cooling solutions, as they can start pushing more air with less audible impact to the user, making the laptop experience that much better.

-j

That is a very good point - I could see that working really well.
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