Environment

Introduction

In 2017 I developed permanent Tinnitus, which for me is a constant noise I hear (more left than right) like a CRT Television that is not tuned, but of a higher pitch. I have sought and received professional medical advice and support to help me. I hear it every waking moment and it can change and remind me that its there. One of the consequences for me is that I’ve found that I’m far more sensitive to sound, especially high pitched sounds, such as screams, hums and any loud repetitive noises. Therefore my environment and the nature of the equipment I use has become a necessity for me to control to mitigate my condition. In this post, I’ll discuss the decisions I’ve made and why.

Disclaimers

I am not a medical professional and am only describing my own experiences of Tinnitus. If you are at all concerned about your health, then seek professional medical advice.

I am not being sponsored in anyway by the products / companies mentioned. Their products are purely my choice that I have purchased for myself.

Names / logos can be trademarks of their respective owners. Please review their website for details.

I am independent from organisations mentioned and am in no way writing for or endorsed by them.

The information presented in this article is written according to my own understanding, there could be technical inaccuracies, so please do undertake your own research.

References

The development machine

After my tinnitus started, I replaced my older PC with an off the shelf new one, more in a moment of panic due to a severe upgrade OS upgrade failure that wiped my hard disk, thus given the age of the machine and the need to get up and running as soon as possible, I replaced it. But then as the noise was the same if not a bit quieter than the older machine, then I kept going with it. However, I was not entirely happy, the hum and whirr it made. I needed something better, quieter, that used standard sized components that I could replace when required. One that would be as quiet as I could make it and yet be powerful at the same time.

On the old machine, a Shuttle XPC, by chance the combined rear fan / CPU heat pipe cooler failed after many years of use – making a racket, so clearly the bearing was going. Searching for a replacement, I was recommend by an online retailer, that I had purchased from for many years, to use a BeQuiet fan as they had one of the correct size. I was impressed by how quiet it was, despite the HD noise, more on this in a moment. This impression stuck with me, so when it came to considering the approach I needed to take then their products would be a start.

I did consider an Apple Mac / MacMini, but then I looked at the cost and how much software I would need to replace, and indeed I wanted to be able to do a bit of gaming too. I also don’t have much fear when it comes to computers, so decided to stick with Windows and have the flexibility to run Linux if I wanted to. Like off the shelf PC’s, Apple’s are the same and don’t seem to come with flexible upgrade options. The choice was then clear to me, I would build my own PC and if I made a mistake with one component, then I could replace it for another.

Doing some research, I came across ‘PC Part Picker’ where you can select a component and then see if its compatible with another and then if your whole combination of components including the case is likely to work. Many days later after lots of research I had a combination that I wanted for the budget I could afford at the time, with room for additions later on like a dedicated graphics card.

The components

Case and fans: The case is a mid-tower ATX and came with two case fans. These proved to be too noisy, so IC replaced them with a 120mm and a 140mm BeQuiet Silent Wings 3. Apparently, the bigger the fan, the slower it needs to spin in order to move the same amount of air and makes a lower pitched noise, so less speed = less noise too. The Shuttle’s fan is 92mm and definitely higher pitched.

HD: I started off with a 2TB hard disk running at 7200rpm. Despite the position in the case, it made quite a racket and vibrated. It was from my old machine so had seen quite a few years use already. Again, more research lead to the understanding that 5400rpm HD’s tend to be quieter, so I replaced it with a 4TB 5400rpm one. It’s by no means perfect, but close.

SSD: The motherboard has M2 slots, so I have a 256GB SSD for the OS, which is clearly silent.

Motherboard: I read that some cheaper motherboards can be heard to ‘whine’ a little, so went for something mid-range that would be of a better overall quality.

CPU Cooler: I didn’t want to go for the complexities of water cooling or the potential noise of a water pump, so for the Intel i5 9500 I’d chosen (for onboard graphics as the dedicated card was out of budget at the time) I wanted something that was more than enough for the heat it would generate, a BeQuiet Dark Rock Slim, 180W TDP on the basis that the more metal there is to absorb and distribute the heat generated, the slower the fan needs to run over the available surface areas.

Power supply: PC Part Picker will give you an idea of the wattage you’ll need for your system, and thus I went for a 550 watt BeQuiet Straight Power 11, on the basis that it has their fans and the capacity to power the dedicated graphics card at a later date, combined with the fact that it is ‘fully modular’. This means that you only use the cables that you need, and so removing unnecessarily obstructions to airflow, hence cooling ability, and hence the fans needing to run faster = noise. As I hoped that the power supply would also easily cope and not get too hot and so its fan kick in at a high speed and generate noise.

Keyboard: This was a late addition a year or so afterwards. I do a lot of typing! And the noise was getting annoying, combined with the strain on my hands and wrists. Discovering the world of mechanical keyboards, I found Cherry MX Silent Red keys, then off to find keyboards that have them. As I hardly use the numeric keypad, a ten-key-less (TKL) type keyboard made sense to save space on the desk. I bought a Ducky One2 TKL RGB keyboard, not only because of the switches but the adjustable legs and I hope, the longevity it will bring. It is taking a bit of getting used to as there is no ‘click’ to say when you’ve activated the switch, however, with a light touch I’m getting to learn not to bottom out the keypress and generate noise. I did look at wireless keyboards but couldn’t find anything that had good all round reviews, and the prices were comparable, so if I was going to spend X, then I might as well go that bit further and spend Y instead.

Conclusion

Getting my work environment equipment to a comfortable level has been a necessity for me. It has taken lots of time, research and effort to achieve but overall I’m very pleased with the result. The machine is virtually silent most of the time. This enables me to have better control and manage the auditory environment around me. There is a bit of irony though, as I think I’ve inadvertently created more of a mid-range gaming machine! However, that’s not its main purpose, its an all round development machine that will run all the applications I need to do the job.

What do you think? Please let me know in the comments.

Gareth Barnard
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Gareth Barnard

Gareth is a developer of numerous Moodle Themes including Essential (the most popular Moodle Theme ever), Shoelace, and other modules such as course formats.

2 thoughts on “Environment

  • blank
    17th August 2021 at 7:13 am
    Permalink

    Thanks Stuart :). Ah, I’ve added lighting too, a strip and a fan light. The graphics card has a light as well, but that can be configured to show the temperature of the GPU in a traffic light way, so useful when playing games. And… forgot to mention that the graphics card also has silent’ish fans that can be configured not to be in operation when the GPU is below a certain temp, so great and not so noticable during games, when I’m listening with headphones anyway.

    Reply
  • 16th August 2021 at 11:55 am
    Permalink

    Great post – and fascinating project.
    I built a monster ATX box 10 years ago, totally clear acrylic, with all the fan lights (and UV stick!) etc. even the SATA cables were UV reactive.
    It looked amazing.
    It was great, but definitely noisey.
    So after about 5 years I went the “other direction” towards a silent box.
    This was really so podcasting and video-conference background noise was reduced.
    So I got the silent fan (which was almost silent I have to say), replaced all the glitzy fans with ‘silent’ fans (which again were surprisingly quiet – could hardly hear them unless you put your ears net to them). SSD’s replaced any rotational drives.
    Also went to the level of adding rubber mounts for most case screws etc., and a silent CPU cooling fan.
    I also stopped short of water cooling … it ‘does my head in’ thinking about water flowing around my computer and data, lol.
    So, I didn’t end up with a silent box, but it was almost there, probably 5% of the noise previously.
    So quiet that I definitely didn’t notice the noise above any ambient or local road noise.
    Fun project, with definite benefits.

    Reply

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