Quieting a noisy PC

Just as PCs seem to (or sometimes really do) get slower as they age, PCs also tend to get louder as they age. Considering many of them are plenty loud when new, that’s not good.
When a PC is loud, it’s due to one of two types of components: hard drives or fans. The key is to isolate the noise. To do that, your best bet is to open the case, then power the computer on. Running your PC long-term with the cover off isn’t exactly good for your computer, but running it that way for a few minutes won’t hurt anything.

But before you turn the PC on, blow the dust out of it with a can of compressed air. Resist the temptation to just use a small vacuum cleaner attachment; those are static magnets. In some rare instances, just blowing the accumulated dust out will quiet the PC. In nearly all instances, it will make the PC run cooler, and it’ll make you feel better to not have all that crud accumulated inside your expensive equipment.

Loud buzzes are usually caused by failing fans; clunky noises are usually caused by a loud (and often not long for this world) hard drive.

Oiling a fan will usually quiet it and dramatically increase its life expectancy. As long as the fan hasn’t completely died, this is a good bet. It’s certainly cheaper than replacing a fan, and sometimes it’s easier. Don’t ever try to replace the fan in a power supply–oil it, very carefully, and if the noise doesn’t go away, replace the power supply. There are voltages inside power supplies that will throw you across the room, if they’re in a good mood. If they’re in a bad mood, they can potentially kill you, and I really don’t want that.

You can test a fan by stopping it with a pencil or a similarly shaped object. If the noise goes away, you’ve found your culprit.

There’s not much you can do if the hard drive is loud. I’ve heard of people taking hard drives apart and oiling them in efforts to quiet them. Don’t do that. You might well quiet the drive. You also will certainly prevent it from ever working again.

Instead, replace the drive. Modern drives run pretty quietly. Most retail-boxed drives come with free software to copy your old hard drive to the new one, making the upgrade painless. If you’ve never done this before, buy a drive at retail–an OEM drive from a clone shop or mail order outlet may be a little bit cheaper but won’t have any instructions or software–and set aside a Saturday afternoon. Even if you’ve never undertaken anything like this before, it generally doesn’t take more than a couple of hours. As of this writing, a 20 GB Maxtor drive costs $69.99 at CompUSA. The OEM version of the same drive costs $68 at Newegg.com. As you get into bigger drives, the price gap tends to increase, but for many people, 20 gigs is plenty.

Once you’ve oiled or replaced the fans and/or replaced the hard drive with a newer, faster, and quieter model, your formerly loud PC ought to run pretty quietly.

8 thoughts on “Quieting a noisy PC

  • January 25, 2003 at 11:42 am
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    I have worked quite a lot with brushless DC motors (like the ones used in fans in computers) from various different manufacturers. In contrast to what you say above, I have never heard any of them recommend oiling their motors unless they don’t have ball bearings. In cases where they don’t have ball bearings (using sleeve bearings instead) the manufacturers usually allow oiling them up, but only with a very specific, manufacturer recommended type of oils. There is an extreme variety of oils on the market and only a select few are good for bearings. Remember that these fans might run hot and they run at high speed. The recommended oils are also of the expensive type.

    If a brushless DC motor fan (with ball bearings) is making noises it is because the ball bearings are giving in. Oiling them up may shut them up for awhile but in the long run your oil may cause more damage than just leaving it as is. Also, using the wrong type of oil could result in it being sprayed all over your box by the fan itself. My recommendation is that if your fan is making a lot of noise then clean it out (they can get really dirty and sometimes that dirt can tip the fan blades off balance which will result in noise). If that doesn’t work, replace it. You can buy new fans from everything like two bucks (for the loud, short lived ones) to $20 for high quality, extremely quiet, log life units with speed regulation built in.

    /Dave T.

  • January 26, 2003 at 11:21 pm
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    I second Dave T.’s motion. I detest and despise sleeve-bearing muffin fans for just those reasons.

    Quiet power supply fans can be found here (but please leave fan replacement to the professionals!).

    Maxtor drives of recent vintage are quiet. IME Seagate (since 1998) and Quantum (since 1996) drives rattle like the Toonerville Trolley; ditto the WD8250 Caviar.

  • August 24, 2003 at 12:30 pm
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    I opened my Sotec. I noticed the fan blade was too close to metal casing. I used washers to pull fan blade away. If you notice the inside, one can see where the metal has been scraped by the blades. The fan tilts and wobbles, sometimes hitting metal cover. The blades don’t make any noises when I took the fan out of the casing.

  • August 24, 2003 at 3:09 pm
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    I just installed some computer board screw washers to my fan. And is working quietly.

  • November 19, 2003 at 3:20 am
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    my sotec 3120x used to be quiet, now the fan rattles like a mutha. i can’t figur out why either. took the case off and everything; and it’s a quieter rattle with it off, but still a rattle.

    feels like the fan’s plastic so dunno where the rattle is coming from…

  • November 20, 2003 at 4:58 pm
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    Well, elsewhere I mention my experience with the new barebones clone that I put together. After figuring out the meaning of AC97 5.1 surround sound with only three jacks (no input jacks available) I moved on to the awful noise. Ignoring good advice, I dissasembled the power supply, snipped the fan out (connections soldered to a pc board) and hooked it up to a 12V power supply. It was whisper quiet! The noise from the power supply must have eminated from the rattling of the extremely crappy sheet metal case around it. The case had a design similar to one of those old sardine-can shaped rotary noise makers you used to have at your birthday party if you were a child in the 50’s or 60’s, when metal was disposable and the earth was ours to despoil. But, it was louder than a baloon placed in between the spokes of your Sting Ray. There were no rivets or spot welds, just folds and holes for screws.

    I broke down and paid $50 (more than the whole $26 case ) for a power supply which is very quiet.

    Then, to play with various distros’ I mounted a removable IDE drive drawer in the front which was laying around from an old special at computergeeks.com. This bad boy has a little, tiny fan that now makes the big noise. I am tempted to snip power to that little fan. After all, the sliding case seems pretty well ventilated, and how hot does a hard drive get anyway? (I admit, I once toasted a drive in one of those drawers without a fan, but that was during a conversion to a journaling file system which caused a read-write operation to occur on every sector of the disk, and even then I have no conclusive proof that heat was the culprit.)

    So if anyone wants to offer me advice about the degree to which cooling is important in a hard drive, I will be happy to just go ahead and fooloshly ignore it again. But I will admit -with proper attribution- if the advice would have saved me.

  • December 16, 2003 at 10:30 am
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    Laptop Fan Motors:

    The problem with these new fancy super fast and cheap Laptops is their Fan Motors.

    To run @ those high speeds their little processors have got to have air. MUCH AIR!!!

    So they slap a super fast RPM little motor on it and ship them out!

    Those super fast motors are noisy as Hell!!!

    These new laptops have no fan or cpu controls. You can’t slow the fan or the cpu down to reduce the noise!

    If you could just run the fan continous @ a slower speed it would probably never have to go to hi speed.

    I’m keeping my Dell 8100 and taking this new fangel
    Emachine M5105 (wide screen) back to Best Buy Today!

    Bob
    w5bw@msn.com

  • December 17, 2003 at 2:25 pm
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    does adding fans improve performance? (if so by how much) i used ghetto engineering by taking a surplus cpu fan that i had and mounted it in a free standard size fan opening in the rear. This is pretty close the the AGP slot/Video Card. I noticed an increase in framerates in a certain graphics intensive game. Is this the case? If so i’ll add more fans.

    mikeb, AC97 5.1 sorround should have sound input. what is the model of your mb?

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