Ways to reduce Noise of Hard Disk Drives

General

Despite the arrival of alternative, faster and also noiseless storage media, such as SSD drives, almost every PC still contains at least one classic hard drive. And unfortunately, in addition to the case fans, the Hard disks are one of the two top sources of noise of a PC, the other one being the multitude of fans scattered around the case and attached to many components. Contrary to what many people might think, it's not the operating noise emitted by the hard disk itself that's important here, but most of the annoying hard disk noise originates somewhere else. Why this is the case — and what how to get them under control — that I want I aim to explain in this section in more detail.

The Cause

The operating noise of a hard disk drive results in large part from the friction created when the spindle that holds the platter(s) of the drive rotate in its bearings, and in other part from the noise created when the actuator arm moves the read/write head(s) to position it in oder for it to be able to read or write the data. The hard disk itself emits a part of the noise via its casing into the PC's interior; however, as already indicated, a large part usually arises at a much more distant location. Since a hard disk is connected to the case of your PC, its vibrations are inevitably transferred to the case and are transmitted by structure-borne noise inside the case. This also creates vibration in the side walls of the case, which in turn act like the membrane of a speaker and emit the noise to the outside. Since these noises are actually outside the PC, an insulation inside the case itself unfortunately has little to no effect when it comes to reduction of hard drive noise. There are still things that you can do to a case and which are described in the section about silent PC cases.

The Remedy

The ideal and sadly for many of us also unaffordable option is, of course, to forgo the use of hard drives altogether and stick to noiseless alternatives in the form of SSDs. Unfortunately, the prices for SSD are still significantly higher than those of a hard disk of the same capacity. Furthermore, SSDs in the size of one of the larger hard drives are (currently) not yet available, at least in the consumer segment. So, changing all HDD to SSD might be a possibility in the future to significantly reduce the noise emission of our PCs, but for now we have to look for a solution how to achieve this with our still needed hard disks.

As just described, we have to look at two sources of noise when it comes to hard drives. The best way to get a handle on the operating noise generated by the hard drive itself is to buy a suitably quiet hard drive. If the hard disk is only rarely used, for instance only for an PC internal backup — whereby this is strictly speaking is no 'backup' solition at all!; but to go into this in more detail would go beyond the scope of this article — then you can let this disk drive enter sleep/standby mode when it is not in use using the windows energy settings. The disadvantage is that the disk has to wake up before each access (which can take quite a long time and a delay of 10 seconds is to be expected). And even if you don't want to access the disk, a hibernated disk can lead to unpleasant delays, e.g. if an application wants to display all drives when opening a dialog and the necessary accesses lead to the disk waking up. The same applies to accesses to the S.M.A.R.T. attributes, e.g. for reading the hard disk temperature, because also for this action the hard disk must wake up again and be set into rotation. All in all, you have to decide how important the operating noise is to you and often, with modern hard disks, the direct operating noise is less disturbing in a well insulated case. But of course, everyone has to evaluate that for herself.

The second and more important noise source of a hard disk is the emission of the hard disk vibrations over the side walls of the case. Although it is possible to reduce this inside the enclosure itself if necessary by using heavy insulating mats made of bitumen, the best way to go here is to prevent the transmission of vibrations from the hard disk to the case as far as possible. For this purpose, there are appropriate mounts where the hard disk is either decoupled from the case. In some cases, rubber buffers are used for this puprose. In other mounting variants, the hard disk is clamped in rubber cords and only held by them. These rubber bands themselves are stretched into a frame, which is then connected to the housing. Unfortunately, the decoupling by rubber buffers has proven to be less efficient, because if they are too thin or too tight then the vibrations are still continue to be transmitted well to the PC case. Also, with all these changes to how the hard drives are fixed, one thing is very important to mention: the purpose of bolting them to the case is not just to fix the hard drives in one place, but it also dissipates some of the heat to the case via the connection. No matter which decoupling is chosen; if there is no longer a good contact with the case, then ideally, less vibrations can get into the case, but in any case, the heat transport is also effectively prevented and it is advisable in any case to provide for a good cooling and to keep the operating temperature of the hard disks in the eye to keep. Programs such as Argus Monitor can be used to monitor the temperatures of the hard disks, generate a warning if temperature limits are exceeded or can even control chassis fans depending on the temperature of the hard drive.

Date published: 16.06.2021

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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.