Hardware & Infrastructure
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3/17/2004
09:33 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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Langa Letter: Cool and Quiet, Part III

Fred Langa wraps up his exploration of the causes--and cures--of noisy PCs. His step-by-step process, including successes and failures, ensures you won't make mistakes as you work to make your PC cool and quiet.

I took out the original case fan--a simple screwdriver operation involving just four screws--and replaced it with one of the new fans. I mounted the second fan in an otherwise-empty spot in the front corner of the case, aimed upward toward the bottom of the hard drive. (There had been no fan there originally, although the system was designed to accommodate one.) Both fans simply plugged into existing fan-power connectors on the motherboard.

This initial, crude experiment was a partial success. My hard drive temperatures dropped to within a degree or two of the case air temperature, so I had successfully eliminated the dead-air spot inside the case. But the ticking noise remained when the fans were at low speed. Clearly, it wasn't the fans that were the problem there, but the way they were being driven. That was "aha!" moment No. 1.

"Aha!" moment No. 2 came when I realized that the two fans together didn't seem much noisier than the one original fan had been. How could that be?

That's when I finally realized that something interesting was going on, and that there was more to PC cooling than met the ear. I then belatedly began the research that turned into Parts One and Two of this series.

Once I was up to speed on the sources of fan noise--including odd ticks and clicks--and learned why two fans weren't necessarily twice as loud as one fan, I was ready for a more serious attempt at controlling noise in my PC.

First Full Success
For all the reasons discussed in Parts One and Two, I decided to opt for voltage-reduced, slow-spinning fans. I ordered a $9 Zalman ZM-F1 fan that includes an integral resistor; and a $3 Zalman "Multiconnector" so I could feed the previously installed hard drive fan 5v instead of the 12v supplied by the motherboard.

The Zalman fan is an exact replacement for any standard case fan: Unplug the old fan's connector from the motherboard, remove four screws, and take the fan out of the case. Put the Zalman fan in, insert the same four screws, plug it in exactly as the other fan had been (fan connectors are keyed, so you can't plug them in wrong), and you're done. Total time: Maybe five minutes.

The multiconnector is even simpler to use--a no-tools, fingers-only fix. Plug the multiconnector into any unused power supply connector (it's keyed so you can't plug it in incorrectly), unplug the fan's power connector from the motherboard, and plug it into the multiconnector. Total time: Maybe a minute.

When I restarted the system, I entered the BIOS setup, and disabled BIOS control of the fans, so the voltage-reduced fans would be fed steady power, without the BIOS trying to control their speed.

It all worked beautifully: Both fans now spun slowly, quietly and steadily, without clicks; the hard drive temperatures remained almost 20F/12C cooler than they had been before; and the system temperatures overall were essentially the same as they'd been with the slow-but-clicking BIOS fan control. The cost of the Zalman fan, the multiconnector, and the new hard-drive fan totaled around $20. It's about the best 20 bucks I've ever spent on hardware!

Other Fans, Other Noises
I could have stopped there--a simple, two-fan $20 fix that removed my system's most annoying noise problem and solved a previously hidden hard-drive thermal problem. But I was intrigued: If it was so simple and inexpensive to solve PC noise and cooling problems, what else might be possible?

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