I may be a crank, but I’m not alone

by Michael Alderete on 12/29/2004

I wrote before about “downgrading” to a slower hard disk, just because it made less noise than the fast disk it replaced. I also spent a lot of time researching parts and putting together two PCs from nearly silent components, just to replace my old server and Rochelle’s aging — and incredibly noisy — PC.

After doing all of that, the noisiest item in the office was once again my Mac, which lost the title when I took out the noisy hard disk, but had a couple of fans that were quite a bit louder than the now-very-quiet fans in the two PCs.

When I got my new girlfriend, that noise went away. My PowerBook is normally completely silent, because laptops run cooler than desktops and the aluminum case dissipates heat extremely well. There is a fan, and it makes noise when it’s on, but that’s only when the CPU is really crunching. Now, although they are pretty quiet, the server and Rochelle’s PC are again the noisy items in the office.

It’s really not a lot of noise. A quiet radio or a conversation would cover it, as does the street noise most of the time. But, it’s still there, and since I’m most efficient at night, when everything else gets quiet, it’s starting to be annoying. Which is crazy, because 6 months ago the reduced noise level from those systems made me ecstatic.

I’ve realized that I’m becoming a crank, someone obsessed with something most people find trivial, and I’m sure I will ultimately go mad trying to squeeze that last decibel or two out of the office. My only consolation is that I am not alone, and it’s now possible to find plenty of components, and even whole systems, that make computing quiet.

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The sound of silence

by Michael Alderete on 4/16/2003

Two weeks ago I installed a new hard disk in my Mac G4, a 75 gig IDE disk, to complement the 70 gig SCSI hard disk that came with the computer when I bought it. The SCSI disk is an ultra-high performance hard drive, running at a much higher rotation speed and connected to a dedicated high-performance interface card. The disk and card added $1,100 to the cost of the system, and for speed it (theoretically) blows the doors off the IDE drive.

It’s also incredibly noisy.

It’s a high-pitched whine, and when the disk is on, it pervades the office, penetrates the brain, and drives me nuts. Then when the disk is active, when I’m downloading or running scanning activities, it audibly chirrs and chatters away. It’s by far the noisiest device in the office. Ah, the price of speed.

So I bought the relatively slow IDE disk, for $80, because it is one of the disks with fluid dynamic bearings, and runs nearly silent. My intent was to transfer my entire installation from the SCSI disk to the IDE drive, and disconnect the SCSI disk, hoping to reduce the overall noise level to something bearable.

Last weekend I did exactly that. When I shut down the machine to disconnect the power cable from the SCSI disk, I took a moment to savor the noise my computer makes when it powers down to quiescence (my system normally runs full-time, 24/7; I never turn it off except for maintenance). The SCSI disk makes this slowly trailing off whine, like a jet turbine shutting down. When it finished, the office was eerily quiet.

When I booted back up, the G4 was not entirely silent; the power supply and chassis fans all make some noise, which was hard to notice before, over the whine of the SCSI disk.

The weirdest thing for me was that disk activity is unnoticeable. Booting and during other disk-intensive activities, I could previously hear the disk quite distinctly, and it gave me feedback that the task was making progress. The new disk is completely inaudible over the (fairly quiet) fan noise, and gives me zero clues that anything is happening at all. It’s great, but I find it interesting that I actually depended on the unpleasant disk noise to know that things were running normally.

Guess I’ll have to get used to it. :-)

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