How to reduce noise levels of your GPU

General

There might not be a graphics card in every PC nowadays, as CPUs with integrated graphics units can be found for the less demanding user (so-called APUs — actually a marketing term from AMD, Intel calls them 'CPU with integrated HD graphics'), but as soon as the demands on the graphics performance are are higher, there is no way around a dedicated graphics card. With these, there are again two different noise sources, whereby I have dedicated a separate section to one of them and will in this one only focus on the other one, which is of much more importance to most users.

The Cause

With graphics cards, as mentioned, there are potentially two sources of annoying noise, one of which fortunately only affects a small portion of graphics cards. This is the noise generated inside the coils of the coltage converters and manifest in the form of so called coil whine, about I have written in a separate section. The other is the more obvious problem, and it affects almost every modern graphics card: the fan noise caused by the graphics card fan(s). And since, with a few exceptions, no graphics card can do without at least one — more often two or three of these — of these fans, this source of noise can also be found in almost every PC.

The Remedy

In this section I limit myself to the possibilities of intervention in relation to the graphics card fans, because for the more exotic topic of VRM coil whine, there is a separate section in which I describe the somewhat more complex causes and ways of reducing this problem. So let's focus on the fan noise, and in that respect the same that was just said before about other fans applies as well: the smaller the fans are and the faster they turn, the louder. Now, one has no influence on the type and size of the fans installed on a graphics card, i.e. in this regard, you have to make the decision before buying and then at least live with the installed hardware. There are also different cooling concepts for graphics cards, whereby some suck in the air in the case via a radial fan and and then transport it out of the case through the cooling fins of the GPU to the back via the slot bracket. This is almost always the noisier option. Another variant is to suck in the air inside the case via axial fans and then then release the warm exhaust air back into the case, leaving its final 'disposal' to the environment outside the PC case to the case fans. This has the disadvantage that it gets even warmer inside the case, which also affects the cooling of the other components. Acoustically however, this variant has the advantage that the waste heat can be transported much more quietly into the environment via the much larger case fans. But once you are settled with one specific GPU, one has — apart from the choice of the model when buying — only one way to influence and reduce the noise a fan of a graphics card will emit.

If one wants to get an existing PC to operate more quietly without exchaning the GPU altogether, then the only thing you can do is to control the GPU's fan speed. The good news here is that many modern graphics cards usually completely turn off their fans in desktop mode and therefore in most cases perform their service silently. Luckily, most the fan control characteristics of modern GPUs are usually good enough that manual intervention is rarely required. Only in case you want to get an optimal result and control the GPU fan speed yourself, you find programs such as Argus Monitor that will allow for an individual fan control curve to be used.

Date published: 16.06.2021

Contents

Author: Udo Rietschel

Written by Udo Rietschel

Udo is one of the two founders of Argotronic UG (haftungsbeschränkt). He is writing software since he got his hands on his first computer (a ZX Spectrum 48k back in 1988, while living in the GDR; a country that does not even exist anymore -- much like his ZX Spectrum).
Today, he is working as a software engineer, creating software for autonomous vehicles as well as Argus Monitor, which is — in his (biased) view — the best fan control software for Windows.