If you want to reduce fan noise on your PC, check out these specialized hardware and software recommendations below for tips on getting a quieter PC.
Get low-noise case fans
The goal of a fan is to move air, and moving air makes noise. Even cheap fans can accomplish this basic goal, but they do it inefficiently. The cheaper the fan, typically the louder it will be. More expensive fans can be better designed, with profiles that reduce unnecessary mechanical and airflow noise. You’ll also need fans that support pulse-width modulation, or PWM. With this feature the fan can run at less than maximum speed, producing less noise by running as slowly as possible to produce the cooling necessary.
Fans like Blacknoise’s Noiseblocker line use specially-designed rubber grommets to mount to the case, reducing the vibration of the fan’s mechanical components against the case’s metal. Other good options include the Nexus 120, the Antec TrueQuiet line (which sports LED options) and the Scythe Splitstream.
Upgrade your CPU cooler
Your case fans only represent half the battle. You’ll also need to quiet down your PC cooler’s fan, which is typically the loudest single fan on the machine. If you’re using the stock cooler that came with your PC, you’ll want to replace that immediately. Instead, install the largest heatsink your case can support.
A heatsink transports heat away from the processor with large metal conducting plates. That heat is then carried away by CPU cooler fans and the case fans. Make sure you’re using a high-quality thermal compound that can transfer heat from the CPU to the heatsink as efficiently as possible.
Heatsinks like the Scythe Kotetsu can work as a passive cooler, or users can attach fans to upgrade cooling performance. Water coolers like the NZXT Kraken X61 are also a great option, but remember that a water cooler still uses fans to move heat away from the radiator.
Clear the way
While the design of your fans has the largest impact on how much noise the fans make, using the right case can help or hinder their impact. If a case features poor airflow, your fans need to blow harder to cool your PC components. This means more noise, even with quiet fans. Make sure your case contains plenty of room for air to flow around. A cramped case will be harder to cool effectively, and the air blowing over crammed-together components will create noise-causing turbulence.
You’ll want a clear path for your airflow to move through. In most modern designs, your case should pull in cool air from the front of the machine and then exhaust hot air out the back. You can refer to the diagram above to see what that setup looks like in most cases. If you can, avoid blocking the intake with a hard drive which can cause noisy turbulence and produce a ton of heat.
Use a quiet case
If you’re in pursuit of quiet, you’ll want a case specifically designed for hushed operation. This is not the same as a gaming PC case, which often has features diametrically opposed to quiet computing. A quiet PC case will provide unrestricted airflow vents and feature a good airflow path within the case. They’ll also include sound insulation to reduce audible component noise and vibration-resistant housing. Gaming cases, with a focus on aesthetics and top- and side-mounted fans, fail to provide any of these features. Cases like Fractal Design’s Define R5 are built for quiet, running with full-size GPU and plenty of room for expansion.
Adjust your fans
If you’ve straightened out the hardware situation on your computer, we can start supporting the hardware with software options. We’ll need to install some monitor software to track the speed of our fans. The freeware SpeedFan is the most popular choice in the community, and it can both view and edit fan curves.
Ideally, you want your fans to spin as slowly as possible while still preventing overheating. This requires experimentation, and you’ll need to create curves that suit your case, components and workloads specifically.
Keep dust down
Dust is the single noisiest part of older, poorly maintained PCs. It builds up around fans and other components, preventing efficient air travel and ruining cooling power. If you want to keep your PC running quietly or refurbish an older PC, you’ll need to keep it as dust-free as possible. This means cleaning off any dust that’s already accumulated with compressed air and a micro vacuum. If you have an extremely dusty environment, consider dust filters but be warned that they might increase noise by restricting case venting.
If you want to quiet down your PC, you’ll need to invest in some high quality fans. Also make sure your airflow isn’t unduly restricted and get a good CPU cooler to help keep noise levels down. If you want to dig deep into quiet and silent computing, check out SilentPCReview.com for in-depth articles and product recommendations.