Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Small fans suck

It's 3am on a Monday morning. My son Colton was up because he hasn't been feeling well. My amazing wife managed to get him back to sleep after some tender loving care, seriously she is awesome. But I'm up for the day; so I wandered downstairs, made some coffee, and got on my computer to get some work done. As soon as I sat down, the serene silence of my morning started being cut to shreds by the buzzing of a fan coming from my computer. It had started several days ago but I haven't had the time to fix. Next thing I know, I'm shaving a  yak.

First some background before I get into detail about how I screwed up and what I did to fix it. A while ago I spent several weeks being obsessive about the noises coming from my computer. It took a surprising amount of effort to get everything down to a tolerable level. I eventually got it so quiet that I moved my cpu tower onto my desk next to my monitors (and out the reach of toddler fingers).

For those of you wondering, here's my recipe for a quiet PC. First, get rid of any small fans in your case. They  Replace them with bigger fans, then run those larger fans at a slower RPM. Fan speeds can be tuned in your computer's BIOS, so hit that F2 (or whatever) button on boot and get in there to tune them down. Run them as slow as you can. Your computer will shut itself off if it gets too hot, don't worry about it. Computers are not people, they have a different temperature range they can run safely at. If you absolutely think your computer is too hot, add more big fans running at the slower RPM. After a lot of research and chatting with friends, I settled on the Cougar quiet fan listed below. It has a good blade design and rubber grommets where the screws connect it to the case.

Next, get rid of the default CPU heat sink and fan. I went with liquid cooling at first, but since you have to run a fan over the radiator this doesn't have any benefit over just getting a larger heat sink. After I had one liquid cooling unit stop working I actually eventually settled on just a big heat sink to replace it, which was also way cheaper. I replaced all fans with the large Cougar fan I mentioned above, the default fans on everything were noticeably louder. I like passive heat sinks that allow me to move air parallel to the board. This allows me to arrange the fans to move air through the case in a coherent way rather than creating eddies. Here's links to the hardware I'm talking about:

I had it good for while with this setup, then I messed it up; here's how. This is a picture of the front of my computer for context. Sorry for the low quality, it's dim in my office right now.

I've had this case for over ten years, it's an Antec 1080 and it's been great. I splurged at the time, but it ended up being worth it. After a few years of strictly console gaming (7ish) I've started using my PC to play games again. This is mostly because my PC is in my office and I'm not comfortable playing most video games in front of my children yet. The content of most modern video games is perfect fodder for children's nightmares and I don't want anything to do with that. Now, I run Linux for most everything, but occasionally there's a game not available and I have to use Windows. For a long time I just partitioned my drives and dual booted to accomplish this. But this solution is rife with problems that I don't want to deal with. So, I bought an extra SSD drive and a 4 bay hot swap device. It's the thing in the picture with the four red clips. I only have one of the drive bays actually connected to the computer (top left); the other three are just holding slots. With this setup I can have four different operating systems and when I want to switch I just shutdown the computer and switch the drive I want to use to the active bay and power up. It's been super convenient, so much so that I bought a larger hot swap bay to use larger drives. The larger hot swap bay is second from the top, just under the optical drive. With the larger bay I went with a trayless one. This way I can grab any old sata hard drive and just shove it in there without having to worry about screws or buying extra bays.

The only downside of these devices is, you guessed it, they come with integrated tiny fans. When first installed, the fans ran quiet enough and things were alright. But only a few months later and the little fan turned into a buzzing whining nuisance. Never trust a small fan. Thirty minutes with a screw driver and I liberated the nuisance from my computer case. Here's a picture of the scoundrel.

My computer is back to it's normal quiet self. Thanks to my big fans pushing air around my case I don't expect to have any drive heating issues. If I do I'll post a follow-up here. Yak = shaved. Now, I'm back to work.