June 2, 2005\nSounds of Silencers Are Loud and Clear: PCs Are Too Noisy\nHobbyists Hear a Whisper And Improvise a Damper; A Computer Oil Bath\nBy CHARLES FORELLE\nStaff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL\n\nCarl Bohne has a half-dozen computers in his St. Louis home, in various\nstages of disassembly. He's hard at work putting together a shrunk-down\nmachine the size of a toaster.\n\nMr. Bohne isn't trying to soup up computers for added power. He wants\nto quiet them down. Bothered by a noisy PC a few years ago, he took it\napart to figure out what was causing the clamor.\n\nNow, building quiet machines is his chief hobby. His computers are\npacked with foam insulation, noise-damping filters and custom-sculpted\nhunks of copper that divert heat from the microcircuitry so the\nbuilt-in fans won't have to work so hard.\n\nLong an afterthought in the performance-obsessed world of technology,\ncomputer hum is topic A for a growing "quiet computing" movement.\nAlthough the noise from a standard desktop registers only about 30 to\n35 decibels -\- roughly the level of a whisper -\- for some, it is a\ncacophony that must be muffled.\n\n"When I go visit other people, it drives me nuts," says Isaac Kuo, a\ncomputer programmer in Baton Rouge, La. "I can always tell where the\ncomputer is unless it is turned off." But he keeps it to himself. "I've\nlong since discovered not to even bring it up with any friends, because\nthey just don't care," he says.\n\nTomas Risberg, a Stockholm neurologist, calls computer noise "a freedom\nissue." Why "should I have to listen to something I don't want to\nlisten to?" demands Dr. Risberg, who helped persuade the Swedish\ngovernment to adopt computer-noise standards.\n\nQuiet computing isn't just being practiced on the fringes. More\nmainstream manufacturers are seeing value in quieter PCs. Some of\nLenovo Group Ltd.'s new IBM-brand desktops have a cooling system\nengineered to reduce noise. Apple Computer Inc. markets its new Mac\nmini as "whisper-quiet." Dell Inc. maintains several acoustics labs\nwith echo-free test chambers, in part to ensure that its machines meet\nthe various noise guidelines employed in Sweden and around Europe.\n\nDesigners say noise is becoming more of an issue as PCs rev up and push\ntheir way into the living room to play digital music, video and games.\nA computer's mechanical parts -\- including cooling fans and spinning\ndisk-drives -\- generally work harder as a PC takes on more tasks. And\nnoise barely noticed amid the buzz of the workplace can be less welcome\nat home.\n\nThe sounds the silencers are trying to vanquish can be very small. A\nfast, loud gaming PC can hit some 55 decibels, measured from three feet\naway -\- about equivalent to the background noise in a mall. Nirvana for\nsilencers generally comes below 20 decibels, which is a sound all but\ninaudible, even close by.\n\nMr. Bohne, who makes his living as an auto mechanic, ekes out the most\ncooling from the fewest fans by cramming the insides of his PCs with a\ncarefully engineered system of ducts that direct cool air to hot spots.\nHe uses whatever is handy -\- a plastic cookie jar, a clothes-dryer\nexhaust hose -\- and picks up bits and pieces at the hardware store.\n\nSerious silencers post pictures and swap tips on sites such as\nSilentPCReview.com1. One popular tweak described on the site:\nsuspending disk drives on a hammock made of elastic bands to reduce\nvibrations transferred to the computer's shell.\n\nFor insulation, silencers buy up sheets of Sorbothane, an elastic\npolyurethane valued for its damping properties that is used in the\ninsoles of sneakers and in shotgun recoil pads. They also turn to a\ncottage industry of online retailers selling special, quieting parts,\nincluding flower-shaped copper "heatsinks" (about ) that draw heat\naway from a chip more efficiently than the aluminum that comes standard\nin many PCs.\n\nSilentPCReview.com founder Mike Chin, a music lover who plays piano and\nguitar, has set up a studio in a converted kitchen of his Vancouver,\nBritish Columbia, home. Equipped with a digital microphone and a\nsensitive sound meter, he records computers and parts in action, then\nposts the recordings to the site, where the discriminating audiophile\ncan evaluate their "sound signature" for various annoyance factors.\n\nMr. Chin, who sometimes consults with companies, says the worst\nemanations are the "pure tones" -\- or whines and hums that come from\nspinning parts or vibrating metal. Also bad are repetitive clicks from\na shoddy fan. Less objectionable is the gentle whoosh, which tends to\nfade into the background. "It's the sound of trees, it's the sound of\nwaves," Mr. Chin says.\n\nMichael Campbell, an engineer in Plano, Texas, said he turned to a\nquiet PC after suffering with a Hewlett-Packard Co. Pavilion model\n"just a little bit quieter than this side of a jet engine."\n\nAmeer Karim, an H-P executive, says the Pavilion machines have gotten\nquieter in recent years, and he says that H-P's internal acoustic\ntesting shows that its machines are "equal to or, in most cases, better\nthan our competitors."\n\nMr. Campbell replaced the PC with an </body>,800 custom quiet model from\nEndpcnoise.com, a small Web retailer, about 18 months ago. Mr. Campbell\nsays it was "worth every penny. ...You don't really know that it is\nrunning unless you look at the power light."\n\nJon Schoenborn, Endpcnoise.com's general manager, says interest in\nquiet computing is picking up rapidly. His offerings include such items\nas a 70-pound, </body>,200 computer case dubbed the "TNN," for "Totally No\nNoise." It dissipates heat, entirely without fans, by transferring it\nover copper pipes to the box's thick metal walls. The price is for the\ncase alone, with no computer inside.\n\nRuss Kinder, an architect in Grand Rapids, Mich., turned to a more\nradical approach: computer submersion. After setting up a PC that had\nto run day and night, he didn't want any nocturnal buzzing. So, he\nsays, he plunged the computer into an acrylic tank filled with mineral\noil.\n\nOther liquids, like tap water, would conduct electricity and fry the\ncircuitry. But oil is nonconductive. Mr. Kinder says it worked fine as\na muffler, so long as he topped off the oil occasionally to replace\nwhat had evaporated. He admits the oil gummed up his hard drive until\nhe figured out a way to detach it from the rest of the computer and\nsuspend it above the tank.\n\nMr. Kuo first became concerned about noise when he hooked up a computer\nto his living-room TV set in order to watch digital movies on the big\nscreen. Doing so required a faster graphics card, which came with a\nnoisy fan. "It just got to be too much," he said. Whenever the movie\ngot quieter, "instead of hearing quietness, you heard buzzing-buzzing\nlike someone operating a power tool in the next room."\n\nSeveral modifications later -\- which included replacing a few parts and\nengineering an air duct out of an empty plastic snack cup, sliced in\nhalf -\- the setup was quiet enough to be drowned out by the ticking of\nhis wall clock.\n\n"My wife, she thought it was perfectly fine," Mr. Kuo said. But he was\nstill bugged. "This is what happens when you start getting into quiet\ncomputing. Your standards for how loud is too loud...get lower and\nlower."