Ambient noise can be a huge issue when trying to record and mix. It can wreck great takes and mask tricky mix decisions. Having a separate isolated place to put your computer like a dedicated machine room or iso-cabinet will solve the problem, but for many it isn’t an option. The whizzing of fans, and buzzing and knocking of hard drives must be tackled at the source. When it comes to a silent computer for audio recording, the quieter the better!
We investigated a variety of options for our 2 year old custom built PC. It runs as a HD3 Accel Pro Tools rig using OSX. While it is not the fastest machine by modern standards, it has been reliable and stable even with the abuse it cops from being thrown around in a 3-unit road case from venue to venue, and studio to studio. Over the past week I took the opportunity to breathe a little extra life into it and silence it up a little more with some carefully selected components.
Tips for silencing a PC
- Heat equals noise. It sounds odd, but a lot of moving components in your computer are there to remove heat. The hotter your computer operates, the harder those moving parts need to work to cool it down. Heat critical components like CPU’s usually list in their specifications the thermal design power (TDP). This is the amount of power in watts that a CPU can continuously draw while maintaining a stable thermal state as it operates standard software. If you can choose an Intel processor that has a TDP of 95 watts or less, or an AMD processor with a TDP of 65 watts or less, you will be on good ground for creating a quiet recording PC. Over the last few years we have seen some great leaps in CPU efficiency with some current 4th Gen Intel i3 processors putting out just 35w of heat.
- Dust increases heat. Heat sinks rely on fans and airflow to dissipate heat. So to keep your system as cool as possible you need to ensure it is as dust free as possible. Periodically you will have to open it up and give it a blast with some compressed air and a vacuum to remove the dust they will be inclined to build up between the fins of heat sinks and within the frames of fans. It is a simple, yet necessary job.
- Moving parts make noise. So try and consolidate them with your component selection. You most likely will always need a case fan or two. You will find it hard to avoid a CPU fan on a powerful PC build as well. When it comes to the graphics processing unit (GPU) and the power supply unit (PSU) it is possible to select components that have no additional moving parts to cool it. Using onboard GPU’s, or fanless GPU’s and PSU’s will keep your PC much quieter while relying on the natural airflow created by your case fans for cooling.
- Forget water cooling. On paper it sounds like a quiet way of keeping things cool. In reality, a water cooled system relies on the coolant being pumped between the hot components and the radiator that cools the water down. The water pump that keeps the coolant flowing is much noisier than standard air cooling.
- SSD’s and 2.5 inch HDD. Standard 3.5 inch hard disk drives can be noisy. Very noisy. Running solid state drives for your applications and operating system, and using 2.5 inch hard drives for your audio and sample drives will help keep the sound of spinning platters to a minimum. An SSD will give you a great performance increase as well.
- PWM & Temp Monitoring. Most aftermarket fan manufacturers offer low noise adaptors and PWM fan control. Using temperature monitoring software such as Temperature Monitor or iStat Menus, you can experiment to your hearts content with low noise adaptors and case fan locations. Even swapping your case fan connections between system fan 1 and system fan 2 motherboard plugs can result in lower fan speeds while maintaining case temperature levels. Don’t forget that your fans will move faster as your system works harder. Geekbench 3 will put your system through some strenuous tests to give you an idea of how hot it will run under heavy loads.
- Rattles and Vibration. A common cause of noise in a computer system is the rattle and vibration that they can cause. Tightening up loose bolts and screws and using the supplied rubber grommets and spacers with cooling fans is a good start to minimising these rattles. You can also utilise PVA tape to pack out any aspects of the case that aren’t tight fitting like the case access panel. A few select strips of PVA tape in the right spot will make the panel fit so much more snug and rattle free.
You will have to check for compatibility with your specific system. Here is a list of silent or quiet components ideal for use in recording computers. Quite often replacing an entire component will yield lower ambient noise than just updating the fan attached to it.
- Zotac NVIDIA GeForce GT 610 512MB DDR3 VGA/DVI/HDMI PCI Video Card
- Sparkle GeForce 610 1GB 64bit PCI Graphics Card
- Gigabyte NVIDIA GeForce GT 610 1GB DDR3 VGADVIHDMI Video Card
- HP NVIDIA Quadro NVS 300 512MB GDDR3 PCIe Graphics Card
- ATI Radeon HD5450 Silence 1 GB DDR3 VGA/ DVI/ DisplayPort Low Profile PCIe Video Card
- MSI Radeon HD5450 PCIe 1GB DDR3 HDMI DVI VGA Graphics Card
- Sapphire Radeon HD6670 Ultimate 1GB GDDR5 DVI/HDMI/DisplayPort PCI-Express Video Card
- Zotac GeForce GT 630 1GB GDDR3 PCIe 2.0 DVI mini-HDMI VGA Passive Cooling Graphics Card
- Silverstone Tek Nightjar Series 500-Watts Fanless 80 Plus Silver ATX 500 PSU
- SeaSonic SS-400FL2 Active PFC F3 400W 80 PLUS Platinum Fanless PSU
- SeaSonic X-400 400W 80 Plus Gold Fanless ATX PSU
- SeaSonic SS-460FL2 460W Active PFC F3 80 PLUS Platinum Fanless ATX PSU
- Seasonic SS-520FL 520W Fanless 80 PLUS Platinum ATX PSU
- NoFan P-400A Fanless Silent 400W PSU
- Noctua NF-F12 PWM 120mm Cooling Fan
- Noctua NF-P12 120mm Nine Blade SSO Bearing Fan
- Noctua NF-B9 PWM 92mm Cooling Fan
- Zalman Accessory ZM-SF3 120mm Ultra Quiet Sharks Fin Blade Case Fan
- Zalman FANMATE Fan Speed Controller
CPU Fans & Heat Sinks
- NoFan CR-95C Copper IcePipe Fanless CPU Cooler
- NoFan CR-80EH IcePipe Fanless CPU Cooler
- Noctua NH-D14 Quiet CPU Cooler
- Zalman FX80 fanless CPU cooler Heatsink
- Scythe BIG Shuriken 2 Rev. B CPU Cooler
- Gelid Solutions Slim Silence i-Plus 75mm Ball Bearing CPU Cooler
- Gelid Solutions Slim Hero CPU Cooler
- Noctua NH-L12 Low-profile Quiet CPU Cooler
- Noctua Fan NH-C14 Intel & AMD CPU Cooler
HDDs & SSDs
- Samsung Electronics 840 EVO-Series 120GB 2.5-Inch SATA III Solid State Drive
- Samsung Electronics 840 EVO-Series 250GB 2.5-Inch SATA III Solid State Drive
- Samsung Electronics 840 EVO-Series 500GB 2.5-Inch SATA III Solid State Drive
- Samsung Electronics 840 Pro Series 2.5-Inch 128GB SATA 6GB/s Solid State Drive
- Samsung Electronics 840 Pro Series 2.5-Inch 256GB SATA 6GB/s Solid State Drive
- Samsung Electronics 840 Pro Series 2.5-Inch 512GB SATA 6GB/s Solid State Drive
- Samsung Electronics 850 Pro-Series 2.5″ 128GB SATA III Solid State Drive
- Samsung Electronics 850 Pro-Series 2.5″ 256GB SATA III Solid State Drive
- Samsung Electronics 850 Pro-Series 2.5″ 512GB SATA III Solid State Drive
- Samsung Electronics 850 Pro-Series 2.5″ 1TB SATA III Solid State Drive
- Western Digital Black2 Dual Drive 2.5″ 120 GB SSD + 1 TB HDD Kit
- Western Digital 250 GB WD Black SATA III 7200 RPM 16 MB 2.5″ Hard Drive
- Western Digital 500 GB WD Black SATA III 7200 RPM 16 MB 2.5″ Hard Drive
- Western Digital 750 GB WD Black SATA III 7200 RPM 16 MB 2.5″ Hard Drive
- Intel 530 Series 2.5″ 120GB SATA III Solid State Drive
- Intel 530 Series 2.5″ 240GB SATA III Solid State Drive
- Intel 730 Series 240GB 2.5″ Solid State Drive
- Intel 730 Series 480GB 2.5″ Solid State Drive
- Scythe Twin Mounter adapter – Dual 2.5″ – 3.5″ hard drive brackets
- Nexus DoubleTwin Hard Drive Vibration Absorber
- Scythe Himuro Aluminium Hard Drive Cooler