A Closer Look

The Buzz on Quieter Computers

By Daniel Greenberg
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 3, 2006

Sometimes, it's the smallest noises that can be most annoying -- like crickets chirping outside your bedroom window in the middle of the night.

Or those buzzing, roaring, humming and rattling noises that come from inside your computer.

Silence from your computer is more important now than ever before, especially as computers become hubs for media -- for activities such as watching DVDs and playing video games.

And there's always the theory, supported by environmental psychologists, that low-level background noise can increase health risks and lower an employee's motivation.

Computers don't have to be noisy, thanks to some new innovations in cases, fans, hard drives and even chips.

Computers can generate a lot of heat, and that can lock up hard drives and fry internal components. That's why the manufacturers sometimes go overboard with fast, noisy fans.

There are two ways to have a quiet computing experience: Buy a machine designed for quiet operation, or retrofit your computer to tranquilize its loudest components.

If you go the route of a new machine, do yourself a favor and don't gauge its noise level in an electronics store. The booming hip-hop music from the stereo aisle will drown out any hum or rattle. Instead, consider these tips:

· Buy a Mac. Apple has led the way in quiet computing, due in part to much more efficient design and in part to less powerful components that need less cooling.

· Buy a Core 2 PC. Intel recently released a new generation of computer processors known as Core 2, which are not only considerably faster than the Pentium processors but are also nearly twice as energy efficient. These machines run more quietly because they generate less heat and can cut back on fans. Intel has also changed the arrangement of the basic computer components on Core 2 PCs to improve airflow and increase cooling without noise.

· Buy a BTX PC. Wait. Don't go running from another technology acronym just yet. What you need to know is that PCs with the newer BTX motherboard (the computer's main circuit board) are designed to run noticeably quieter than the older ATX motherboard. Be warned, though. Not all PCs list the type of motherboard they have -- and a nonscientific sampling of local electronics stores turned up only a few salespeople who were familiar with the term. If you really want to go this route, shop for a PC made by Gateway, which is making all of its consumer models with the quieter BTX.

The second option -- retrofitting your machine -- can be much easier on your wallet, but you need to be comfortable opening up your computer to make some modifications.

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