Why some computers are noisier than others

"Nothing beats getting it right"

By Salon Staff

Published June 22, 2000 7:55PM (EDT)

Hush, little PC BY ROBERT BRYCE (06/16/00)

The reason that the Apple iMac doesn't require a fan is because the PowerPC chip that powers that computer produces considerably less heat (approximately 20 percent) than its Pentium counterpart. A PowerPC chip is one-quarter the size of a Pentium, and its enclosure (which includes external logic and heat sink) is one-eighth the size of a Pentium enclosure. Despite the disparity in size and clock speed, the iMac's 350 MHz PowerPC processor is more than a match in speed for the comparably slow 533 MHz Pentium. To add insult to injury, the PowerPC chip costs less than the Pentium as well. Say what you will about Apple, at least they're using superior chip technology in their "little PCs"...

-- Michael Clarke

Robert Bryce would have done better switching operating systems. By his own admission, he bought the cheaper machine and promptly spent the difference in cabling to put his Windows machine in a closet. Now if he wants to put in a CD, he's going to have to get up and open the closet. Nothing beats getting it right. As far as learning new software commands, it sounds like he's extrapolating from his Windows environment. I use PCs at the office and am always talking to our help desk. I don't think that there's been a time that my wife or I haven't been able to figure out a problem ourselves using our Macs at home.

-- Michael V. Oei

As a technician who works for a major chain, and who works on all brands of computers, including all Macintoshes and their now-aging clones, I believe I am thoroughly qualified to say that the new silent iMac is one of the least reliable machines on the market. Why? The silence is deafening. Apple did not put an effective cooling system in place, and the machines frequently overheat, even in the best of circumstances. This is not a favorable trade by any means. Heat buildup causes part failures and degrades performance. Fans also perform another vital duty in computers, and that is to ameliorate the amount of dust that settles on any computer, and internally as well. Several of the iMacs I have worked upon were killed by a thick layer of dust holding in the heat. While working toward a quieter computer is a valid and worthy goal, it must be done by addressing the need for the noise as opposed to eliminating the immediate cause; in other words, computers that run cooler, and have no need of more than the one fan to keep the dust from building up.

-- Robert P. Durbin

Much as I admire Apple, they can't take credit for the first silent PC. Sinclair, the English electronics company, made a silent PC in the early '80s. This computer used the power supply of the monitor to power the computer. The monitor did not require a fan so the computer was silent. Unfortunately, PC users of the time were not ready for a silent computer, most users were convinced that the computer would not last. This hurt sales so much that Sinclair had to add a completely useless fan that did nothing except make noise.

-- Giles Alexander

Computers are designed to be noisy for the same reason that motorcycles, rock music and heavy-duty machinery are loud: The noise conveys POWER! Unfortunately, manufacturers know that if they sell you a box that sits there silently, you'll think that nothing is happening inside, but if this expensive piece of iron makes neat whirring sounds (and has flashing multicolored displays), you'll know that you've got your money's worth. I recently purchased an industrial case for my CPU. It contains four fans -- three of which are unnecessary (and now disconnected), but BOY, you should hear the power! Until users actively demand to move up the aural evolutionary scale, the mainline manufacturers will do nothing to change their designs.

-- M. David Eaman

Salon Staff

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