HDD Noise Control

Lately I’ve been on a quest for blissfully quiet computing. I’ve bought a new quiet case and quiet CPU fan, as well as silicon washers and vibration-absorbing pads for just about everything that moves in my PC. The results have been amazing and I’m encouraged to go further by replacing my medium-noise two-fan Antec PSU with a single-fan quiet model. I also plan on ditching my new Leadtek GF6600GT video card for a fanless Gigabyte model.

They say that with quiet computing, once you eliminate the noise from your loudest component, the next loudest component becomes ‘loud’, so the quest continues on and on until nothing has been left untouched. Quiet computing really is an addictive hobby (the quest for a super-quiet rig), much like the quest for a performance rig is addictive.

One item which had hitherto avoided the silent treatment is my Maxtor 6Y200M0 200GB SATA HDD. It had been set at the factory to an Automatic Acoustic Management (AAM) Level of 256, which means bloody noisy seeks! I used a nifty tool called Active SMART (v2.42) to read the AAM value. It also told me that the vendor’s recommended setting is 192. I found a program that would let me change the drive’s AAM value here. It’s called “Feature Tool” by Hitachi, and comes on a DOS boot disk image (a bootable CD image is also available). The results are amazing, because now I can barely hear the drive. It no-longer rumbles and chatters like a drive possessed. The noise is still audible but only barely so. It’s so much more pleasant than before that there’s no comparison! The drive was always quiet when the heads were still and the drive was just spinning due to its Fluid Dynamic Bearings. It just used to explode with rumbling chatter when reading but now this tweak has clobbered that on the head.

Even though the drive itself knows 192 is the recommended value, Maxtor must set it to 256 at the factory so that hardware review sites can get excited over their performance benchmarks, knowing that people will often just blindly pick the highest performing drive (oblivious to noise and reliability ratings!). Have I experienced any performance slowdown? No. Well, none that I can perceive in my daily usage. HDtach might show a smaller graph if I cared to fire it up, but I don’t notice any difference in performance and that’s the real test. The only thing I notice is that my PC is so much quieter now!

One last tweak I will do to this drive is to mount a heatsink on it. The drive is already isolated from the case by way of the Antec rubber washers in the case I have, and there is plenty of room above the drive for a heatsink. My Antec SLK3000B case is Intel TAC compliant. The TAC feature is a big funnelled air intake directly over the CPU, and grills to get airflow over the GPU. This is great for cooling my CPU as cool air sucking in from the side means I can get away with a low-RPM fan on the CPU, and a fanless GPU. Alas it robs some airflow over the HDD as my HDD temp is currently a tad high for my liking. From EVEREST Home Edition v2.0 my temps are as follows (in degrees Celsius):

Motherboard: 22
CPU: 33
CPU diode: 40
GPU: 38
GPU ambient: 26
Maxtor: 46

A heatsink should get that drive temp down to 40 I think. It’ll be interesting to see what my GPU temps are like when I get a fanless model. At stock clock speeds I’d imagine it’d be well under 50, which should be fine… but that’s for another blog post (this one’s just about my HDD).

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