Victor Cashes, a member of the Gnomies community, writes: “My computer’s fans are very loud. I recently found a buzz sound when I record a podcast. I need serious help quieting my gaming PC.”
Being a podcaster and a gamer myself, I can certainly relate to this issue. There were times that my computer of choice sounded more like a jet engine than a computer, even during idle times. This was due, in part, to my using uncontrolled fans that linked directly to the power supply. There are plenty of reasons why temperature controlled fans may get a little noisy, despite your best efforts to keep things cool.
Here are some tips to help you reduce fan noise on a desktop computer.
Invest in Quieter Fans
It may seem like a good idea to stick to the fans your computer came with, but there are some options available that are made specifically to reduce the amount of noise your computer makes during operation. Your processor, case, graphics card, power supply, and other component-specific fans may be quiet on their own, but together they can create a significant cacophony that can interrupt audio recording.
When purchasing fans individually, you may notice that some online retailers post noise specifications that let you know exactly how loud (or quiet) the fan is during normal operation. You may need to look into the fan’s specifications or details to see it, but you’ll usually find the noise level listed in decibels (dBA). When a fan lists its noise level as 20 dBA, you can bet that this will be an audible but not intrusively noisy device. By comparison, a refrigerator runs at about 50 dBA.
A quick search on Newegg.com revealed that case fans carrying the “quiet” label had a dBA rating of less than 18. Keep in mind that this is during normal operation, and multiple fans can add up to a loud roar.
Also: Just because a case fan says it’s quiet on the packaging doesn’t make it so. I’ve seen some really noisy (25+ dBA) fans that light up and do all kinds of fun things carry the “quiet” tag. Check the decibel rating, always. If a fan says it’s quiet and doesn’t have this rating listed on the packaging or the site you’re buying it from, it’s probably too good to be true.
You might also want to make sure that all of your case fans are pointing in the same direction. This may sound a little strange, but keep in mind that having air blow in the front of your case and out the back is a great way to keep cool air flowing across your hardware rather than pushing hot air back and forth between components. I’ve seen several situations where a computer overheats, only to find that the fans were poorly placed by a home hobbyist attempting to build a gaming rig.
Your power supply may also be a culprit in the overall noise generated by your system. There are some power supply solutions out there that offer a fan control built-in to the back of the power supply, allowing you to turn the speed of the large fan up or down, depending on your needs. One example is the Antec TruePower Quattro Series TPQ-1200 (a mouthful of a product name), which gives you voltage and fan controls build right in to the power supply.
Buy a Quieter Case
The case you buy may also be a consideration. Some cases are made to let air (and noise) travel freely throughout the entire frame. Others are built simply to hold the components in place, with only minor considerations as to the quietness or efficiency of the case.
In the world of PC cases, you get what you pay for. There really is something to the high-end $300+ case market, though you can find a very decent quiet case for around $150.
While I haven’t tried this option myself, I do know quite a few geeks who have decided to go the route of liquid cooling to keep the temperatures (and noise level) down on their gaming rigs.
Instead of passing air over the components to distribute heat, liquid cooled computers work by passing coolant through a series of tubes to keep vital system components cool. A pump keeps this coolant flowing, and often works at a much lower noise level than an equivalent amount of fans.
Water cooling isn’t for everyone. While there are some solutions available that don’t put your electronics at immediate risk, this doesn’t mean you can’t damage your system should the pump or any other component spring a leak. My brother had this happen to him, and it wasn’t a pleasant situation at all.
Fan Speed Control Software and Hardware
SpeedFan is among the oldest and most highly regarded free solutions to keep your fan speeds under control. Default drivers tend to fire fans off early, or idle at higher speeds than is necessary. SpeedFan allows you to set the barriers at which the fans really kick in, making it easier to keep things quiet while the system is running under relatively safe temperatures.
If you just have your fans plugged directly in to the power supply, you’ll probably just have to deal with the noise they make until you either install a hardware go-between or replace the fan.
It’s worth noting here that it’s never a good idea to overheat your computer for the sake of keeping it quiet. Tweaking the fan speeds to acceptable levels is one thing, but doing so to an extreme can reduce the life of your system. The best rule of thumb here is to let SpeedFan run at its own defaults, which will likely keep your system cool with less noise than default drivers.
There are also several hardware solutions out there, including panels that can be placed at the front of your desktop computer, giving you immediate access to fan speeds and temperatures. They look pretty cool, too. The price of these gadgets range from a mere $20 to something much higher for more powerful rigs. One option available is the NZXT Sentry 2, a single-panel controller that allows you to command up to five channels at one time with 10 watts of power through each channel. With both automatic and manual controls available, you should be able to switch between a lower speed during podcasting, and crank things up during gaming.
Move the Computer
In situations where you absolutely need a completely quiet room in order to record, it’s probably a good idea to move the computer out of the room, as well. This was the solution I came across while doing Internet radio out of my apartment. I set up my computer next to a closet and placed my computer inside. The monitor, keyboard, mouse, and speakers were all handled using USB and audio cable extensions, which allowed the computer to sit almost eight feet away from the desk. With the closet door closed, I couldn’t hear the computer at all.
Be careful where you place your system. Part of your problem might be that it’s not receiving a good amount of ventilation. Do you have things stored on or around it? Even if no air vents are present, stacking items on your desktop computer can increase the amount of heat it retains. Much like a winter coat would a human being, stuffed animals, trinkets, and even monitors can cause an otherwise cool PC to run rather warm.
You may also consider elevating the system using a stand that allows air to flow from all directions. Stands like these are available in just about any office supply store out there, and can work wonders.
Regularly Clean Your System’s Internals
Your desktop computer can collect quite a lot of dust over the course of its lifetime. Taking some time out with each change of the seasons to open your case up and get some of the dust out of it can make a big difference in how loud your fans need to get to keep things cool.
A layer of dust collecting around the blades of a case fan will reduce efficiency and act more as an insulation than anything. This dust can also make its way into the small crevices of the system’s moving parts and cause squeaking and other unpleasant sounds to present themselves.
If you have a fan that is squeaking, this may be a sign that dust (or age) has taken hold of its ball bearing. It might be a good idea to consider replacing the fan at that point. Case fans are pretty cheap — even the shiny ones that blink various colors and glow in the dark.
Kill Unnecessary Processes
It’s possible that your system’s fans are kicking in because it’s working really hard. If you’re attempting to record a podcast while streaming to the Web, checking your email, editing photos, watching yourself on camera, and chatting with people on the Internet, you might be stressing your computer out. You may want to opt to have important processes delegated to another system, keeping the one closest to you (and the microphone) dedicated to giving you the information you need to get through recording.
A netbook or tablet should really be all you need to get you through an audio podcast. If you’re recording yourself while gaming, this can be a tricky solution, but you can probably get around this issue by using some of the steps listed above.
Your CPU will get hotter and hotter with each task it has to carry out. Keeping a CPU cool is a challenge, and sometimes it takes a combination of usage habits, hardware, and software to hold the noise at bay without putting your system at risk.
What about you? What are your tips and tricks for keeping fan noise down, especially in situations where audio is being recorded?