Why Computers “Whine” and What It Means

If you’re someone who puts their PC under strain, whether it’s rendering the latest game or processing videos, you’ll know the soundscape of your computer changes as it undergoes stress. You can sometimes tell just how much strain your processor is feeling by the sound of its heat sinks alone.

One noise that people don’t expect from their computer, however, is a soft whining sound. Not all computers have one, but if it does, the user will definitely notice! Most users report that this whine only occurs when their computer is pushed to its limit and can sometimes predict what kind of apps will cause it to whine. Why is this happening?

coil-whine-stress

Computers whine for one of two reasons: either “coil whine” or “capacitor squeal.” The latter is diagnosed by looking inside your computer and searching for any capacitors that are bulging or leaking liquid. If you see one, then you’ll want to replace the component the capacitor is on.

Most of the time, however, it will be a case of coil whine. This is especially true if the computer has been whining for a while, as capacitor squeal usually spells a quick end to whatever component it’s attached to. Coil whine is when one of your components begins to get a little hot and starts whining as a result. One of the bigger culprits of coil whine is the graphics card, but it can also come from other components.

So you have a component that doesn’t want to stay quiet. Why is it whining in the first place, and what’s going on under the hood?

In order to understand this, we need to look at how these components are built. Components will often have coils on them, usually in the form of an inductor or a transformer. When these coils begin to work hard, they can begin to vibrate as a result. Usually you won’t hear these coils as they begin to heat up. In some cases, however, this vibration will get to the point where it will cause a whining sound.

You can hear an example of coil whine in this video:

coil-whine-graphics-card

Thankfully, while whining coils aren’t ideal, it’s not a sign or symptom that the component is on the way out. It just means it’s being put under a strain that’s causing it to resonate at a specific frequency. While it can be annoying, it’s not a sign of anything drastic to come.

So now we know how the whine is caused and what conditions the whine can appear under. Evidently, what we’re tackling here is a problem caused by the physical hardware. This means we can’t fix this problem with something like a simple driver or operating system update! Don’t give up hope just yet, however. If your computer is whining at you, there are still a few things you can try before resigning to the whine.

Changing Video Settings

coil-whine-settings

If your computer begins to whine when you use system-intensive software, you can try straining the hardware less. If the whine is caused by playing games, you can try tweaking video settings to alleviate the stress. Turn down the graphical options or the resolution and see if the whine dims down. If the graphics card is whining, turning V-Sync on, either via individual software or by setting a system-wide option, can also help alleviate strain. This is especially true if a powerful card is rendering something basic (like a menu screen or a game with simple graphics), and the frame rate skyrockets as a result.

Changing System Voltages or Clocks

Something for the more advanced user: you can change the voltages or clocks for the whining component in the hopes that it changes the frequency at which the coils vibrate. Of course, undervolting or underclocking a component can result in the component working and whining less, but some users have reported success by overvolting or overclocking as well. Again, this is quite an advanced trick, so only do it if you’re confident in your abilities to tweak the voltage and clocks in your computer.

Try a Different Power Supply

Usually a fix for a whining graphics card, sometimes a different power supply can fix coil whine. This is when the whine has more to do with the power being fed into the card rather than the card itself. If you can, try a different power supply and see if the issue goes away. You can also research your card online and see if people have managed to fix their whining issues with specific power supplies.

Try to Return the Component

Before you dip into your wallet to shell out for a new component, see if you can get the current component replaced by the company. If it’s still under warranty, see if you can get a “return merchandise authorization” (RMA) on your whining component from the manufacturer. Some manufacturers will diagnose coil whine as benign and won’t replace it, while others will be happy to. Hopefully you can fix the problem without having to spend any more money than you already have!

Sometimes components will give a distinct whining sound when pushed to its limits. While there’s nothing you can do software-wise, there are measures you can take to help dampen a noisy component.

Have you ever had a whining component before? How did you fix it? Let us know below.

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