The Sound of Silence

Two weeks ago I installed a new $80 hard disk drive in my computer, to replace a much more expensive SCSI disk that makes too damn much noise. Last weekend I made the switch, and turned off the SCSI disk, possibly forever. The difference in noise is remarkable, to the point of being eerie.

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. :-)