Reasonably quiet PCs: Advice?

Here’s the question:

Do you know of reasonably contemporary name-brand desktop computers, or brands in general, at reasonable prices, that run quiet? Not silent, but at least quiet enough so you don’t hear the fan in the next room?

And here’s the background


A little over a month ago, I posted this item, asking for advice on choosing between two well-priced offers for a new PC. I couched it in third-party terms, but was actually looking for myself–thinking that, sooner or later, I may want to replace my current PC (purchased in July 2002), maybe “sooner” now that I can legally load Office 2007 (my wife’s copy is good for three PCs) and a very complete protection suite (my own copy is good for three PCs) at no additional cost.

At the time, I said that “the person” (me) concluded they didn’t have the time at that point to do the transition. That was true–but, when the quad-core system came on sale again two weeks later, for $50 less, I decided it was too good to pass up. And then found that the chain didn’t have all that many units–as in none other than the demonstrator in each local store.

So I decided to wait until this or a comparable machine came on sale again.

I dropped in to the local store in the chain (Office Depot)–and there was the system (Gateway GT5636E), at a very good sale price through March 1 ($650). I asked–and found that this was a closeout, and the only unit was the demonstrator. But, unlike other sale situations, they were willing to sell the demonstrator (at a 10% discount, making it a wonderful price).

Now, just to make this absurd and long story more complicated, I also managed to get a fairly nasty cold on Friday–probably infected on the flight back from Philly–and was (am) only running at about quarter-speed. Given that, PLN stuff, and the need to get C&I ready, I knew I’d take a week or two (or three…) to move all my stuff off the old PC. I did plug it in (and move the display to the new PC) on Sunday, long enough to make sure it was working. It started up with noisy fans, but after two or three seconds they quieted down to a quite acceptable noise level; I assume there’s a thermostat.

So yesterday, with what little energy I had, I decided I should at least get things going on the new machine–and that I really needed a KVM switch if I was going to be working back and forth on two PCs with one display for a week or two. Done. Turned on the Gateway. The fans started out noisy…and stayed that way. Noisy enough so my wife could hear it throughout the house. Intolerably noisy for long-term use.

I’m taking it back. There may be a sample problem (after a little while, I couldn’t get Control Panel to come up, so I suspect there are several problems with this sample unit), but it’s also possible that the quad-core Intel Q6600 just runs hot enough to require much more cooling.

Now, with that lengthy introduction, here’s the question again:

Do you know of reasonably contemporary name-brand desktop computers, or brands in general, at reasonable prices, that run quiet? Not silent, but at least quiet enough so you don’t hear the fan in the next room?

I’m ready to drop back to a dual-core CPU; I’m not really doing enough hotshot stuff to require quad-core. I’m looking to spend $700 or less, not including display. I am looking for a desktop (I’ll continue to use my wireless MS Natural keyboard and optical mouse). At least 2GB RAM (3GB better), at least 400GB hard disk. Vista is fine, although I might consider XP. At least enough expansion slots so I can upgrade the RAM and, if I later decide to go to a two-display system, add a graphics card (unless there’s already a graphics card or integrated graphics that will support dual displays). I’m not a gamer and only intermittently do photo editing.

No terrible hurry. I’d like to recover from this cold, make sure things at PLN are going smoothly, and get out the February Cites & Insights before I do anything about this–and, you know, this “ancient” PC is still working just fine and seems fast enough for most things I do.

(After Steve Jobs’ “people don’t read anymore anyway” comments, I’m less likely than ever to convert–and if that shows bias, so be it.)

7 Responses to “Reasonably quiet PCs: Advice?”

  1. Adam Farkas Says:

    Noisy computers drive me insane too. Short of building it yourself, the best thing you can do is buy a Dell.

    I say this because:

    1) Dell has gotten serious about designing quiet PCs, you can see this when you open them up. Their Optiplex business line is known to be rather quiet and

    2) Dell is one of the few manufacturers who lists their noise ratings (in dB) on the product spec sheets, so you can compare before you buy.

  2. GeekChic Says:

    I’d second the recommendation for the Dell Optiplex line. My current employer uses two different Optiplex form factors (you’d likely want the tower) and both are quite quiet. Also, buying from Dell’s small business line means that you avoid the occasionally flaky consumer-level support (should you need it). A colleague just purchased one of Dell’s new Vostro desktops (another business-class computer) and calls it similarly quiet.

    The only other generalizations I can make are that some manufacturers’ media-center PCs are designed to be quiet as are higher-end gaming PCs. However, you will pay more for the privilege of using both types of computers (a lot more, in some cases).

  3. walt Says:

    Thanks, both. I might look at Dell as a possibility…and I’d thought about media center options as well, although “pay more” does come into play (and this PC will be nowhere near our TV set!). I’m not going to do anything for a week or two, but this is helpful.

  4. Seth Finkelstein Says:

    I’ll third the Dell recommendation. Some of their models are definitely engineered quiet. But it’s important to check which one. Generally the top of the line (now quad-core) is going to be noisy because it dissipates a lot of heat.

    You might find some good information in the forums on this site:

    http://www.silentpcreview.com

    It’s oriented towards hobbyists, but there’s discussion of name-brands too.

  5. walt Says:

    I looked at Dell’s site. I don’t see dB ratings there, unfortunately. I also ran into silentpcreview yesterday, but not the forums; I’ll have to take a look. My experience (and that of my wife) from workplace PCs was in the other direction (the Dells were noisier than some others), but that was a while back.

    Yeah, I’m beginning to think that my desire for a quad-core is one problem–that they’re automatically going to be noisier. And since I really don’t need that kind of power…

    Thanks. I’ll look at the SPCR forums.

  6. Jonathon Says:

    The two Dells my officemate and I have (an Optiplex Gx280 and a Dimension 8400) are mostly quite quiet—but the Dimension’s had issues with its fans, and the powersupply had to be swapped out a few weeks ago. It still rattles occasionally, but generally runs at merely a dull hum now.

    Steve Jobs may be an ass, but I’d still rather have his comments than Microsoft’s software. I’ve been running a MacBookPro at home for about a year now, and doubt I’ll go back. If I had time, I’d be looking at getting back into Linux, but it doesn’t sound like you do, either. . . .

  7. walt Says:

    Thanks. I’ve been reading up (SPCR and elsewhere), and Dell’s heavy use of proprietary parts (including power supplies) is unnerving. In any case, since I’m not a tinkerer (where PC hardware is concerned), I’ll probably just do some ear-to-the-case shopping, and look for a somewhat less powerful, but much less power-consuming, CPU; trying for a Q6600 quad-core was clearly a bad move on my part. (If I’m willing to wait long enough, apparently the next-gen quad-cores, 45nm construction, will be much lower-power, thus not requiring so much fan support.)

    As for Linux…well, if/when I determine that I do need a “travel PC,” it’s still very likely to be Linux-based and extremely quiet, mostly because that goes with “very light, very durable, very cheap”–the ASUS eee or whatever competitors come along.


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