Coping - computer noises

Please note: the information presented this article, today (September 2003) is pretty outdated as the number of cooling fans, and especially their noises, are getting pretty hard to take care of. I've left it posted here the way I first wrote it as some of the info still applies. As a sidenote, about the only specification of any importance whatsoever on any computer on the market now today is the number of BTU's it produces...

Computers can make all kinds of noises. Here's what you can do about some of them. But - kind in mind, it involves opening your machine and taking some parts out to work on. If you are not comfortable to do so - DON'T. I purposely will not go into a lot of details on how to do things. If you feel you cannot figure it out from what I've written, sorry, you should not be trying to tackle it yourself - pay someone qualified to do it instead.

Mechanical noises:

Floppy drive

  • Only during read/write access - whirring/grinding/whining sound, operation time usually too little to worry about it.

Hard drive

  • Always on when computer powered up: whirring and/or whining sound.       Harddrives are usually not rated for dB levels. The noise level will       probably vary even in units of same manufacturer and same model. Put little rubber rings or rubber feet between the harddrive and the plate it mounts on. Be sure to use a ground wire from the harddrive to the mounting area (or anywhere on the casing). This helps prevent the case from vibrating and resonating.

CD ROM drive

  • Only during read/write access - whirring/grinding/whining sound, operates continuously depending on application. If you only use it to install software, put up. If you play a lot of movies, audio cd's or work a lot with encyclopedias (don't bug me about encyclopediae please) - see harddrive.

Cooling fan (power supply and/or CPU)

  • Continuous use (hopefully...). Disect the power supply and take a look at the blades of the fan. If you've used your computer for a while you notice a lot of dust built up on the blades. Especially if you smoke around your computer the crud really piles up. The dust and crud adds wind resistance, often to the point where it starts to whistle. Simply cleaning the blades with a tooth brush with a bit of dishwashing liquid (or whatever mild soap) can produce unbelievable results. Don't splash water around, fans are not dishwasher dafe, and DO NOT lubricate. Same trick applies to CPU fans (if your computer has one). Generally CPU fans are too small to create noise problem to start with. Some fans are noisier than others, fans using ballbearings are almost silent. It might be worth your while looking around for one of these. Use the rubber ring trick (see harddrives) for the power supply fan, NOT for the CPU fan. When remounting the power supply, use rubber rings or feet, or a crumpled up bunch of kleenexes as this is a like area for noise to resonate also. Once more for good measure: DO NOT lubricate fans!

Tapedrives (for backup): that good ol' Black and Decker feeling...

  • Personal soap box opinion: these horrid things have no place in modern technology. Considering the price of harddrive has tumbled down, buy a second harddrive and a sliding/removable bracket. Backup AND verify all your stuff in only about 10 minutes or so. Why put up with anything less. Zip drives are an attractive alternate choice if you need to carry your data with you.

Computer case: resonating noise where it stands.

  • Put rubber feet under the case, or set the whole thing on a sheet of styrofoam, foam rubber etc. to prevent the case from rattling and resonating on your desk. Is the motherboard properly fastened inside the case? If not, expect some rattling here too - tighten motherboard hardware. Anything standing on top of the case that's merrily rattling away?

Mousies: click-a-dee-click.

  • Some just click louder than others, some you barely hear. Nope, can't use Slick 50 here either.

Keyboards

  • see mousies.

Electronic noises:

Various electronic components on the motherboard and cards can produce whining noises:

Capacitors

  • Usually black, or light blue thingmies: all over the motherboard and       accessory cards (i/o, video, sound etc.) If you can identify noises, humming or whining, from capacitors try bending them ever so slightly if it improves. BE CAREFULL you might break them off! If a cap is noisy (opened up) replace it if you know how.

Crystals

  • Silvery looking, about 1cm X 1.2cm, on mother boards and cards. They often sport numbers like 10 MHz on them. When the casing becomes unglued, they produce a nice whining. See capacitors.

Transformer

  • Mounted inside the power supply, a big and heavy thing. These are made up from a lot of plates sandwiched together. Some times these plates get loose and start vibrating or humming. Some of them have nuts and bolts going straight through them and can be tightened. Check to see if the transformer is bolted down tight to the housing of the power supply - no rubber feet here! The power adapter of laptops is mostly transformer, check it out too.

Monitor

  • Whining, whisteling, enough said. Usually the flyback transformer or something. Capacitors, synch pulses - big time noise hunting. Big time voltage if you hit the wrong wire - big time better taking it to a repair shop.

Video card

  • Some video cards interact somehow with the monitor and produce terrific high pitch frequency sounds, especialy when set at high resolutions. Try picking a lower resolution as a cheap fix, it often works. Besides, you you really need to slow down your machine with 16 million colours while balancing your cheque book?

Computer next to stereo

  • Nice program on AM, nice whistle or chainsaw from the computer coming in through the stereo's speakers. Time to hook up an external antenna using shielded cable (RG58 etc.).

Other considerations:

  • Monitors do not get along with fluorescent lighting. The monitor flickers at one frequency rate, the fluorescent lights at 50 or 60 Hz., depending on what part of the world you are in. The flickering at different rates is known to cause headaches. Headaches are known to make you feel bad. Feeling bad is known to cause people pay more attention to tinnitus than they should, or certain Pauls to reach for yet another box of chocolats.

Monitors - again.

  • The proper position for a monitor is BELOW eye level (when looking straight at it). At, or above, eye level and you'll run stiff necks etc.

Printers

  • Bubble, or inkjet, printers are the quietest. If you cannot use one of these for whatever reasons, get an extension cable and put your printer farther away - in another room if necessary.

What make of hardware is quieter than another? Hard to say, keep modern assembly practices in mind: any make, or brand, may be manufactured in one country one day and in another the next. The same goes for any of the components used. One day they use harddrive brand A, brand B tomorrow - this applies to all manufacturers. That beautifully silent machine your friend bought last month might well be the noisiest one around today.

When buying your hardware talk to your dealer about your specific reasons for wanting quiet gear. Anybody wants/has to make a buck, but don't be afraid to ask to make an after-hour appointment to listen to the equipment when all's quiet in the store. If they don't want to accommodate this request, you might to consider dealing with someone that does.

If despite all your handy work you're still not satisfied with the noise level of your computer there's always the big, yet simple, solution: extension cords! Get one for your keyboard, the monitor and other things you need close by, and toss the whole thing out the door. There's nothing that says you couldn't put it in the room next door, or in a closet or out in the hallway. Of course, the latter is not the most ideal thing to do if you live in an apartment building... On the other hand, maybe all the squeaking was only your swivel chair. Yup, Slick 50's ok here.

  

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This article was first published in January 1997 on the alt.support.tinnitus newsgroup and is Copyright 1997 Bart Veerman.

 

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