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In PCs, Silence is Golden
January 26, 2004
By Brian Livingston

Brian Livingston What's wrong with this picture: You've finally gained an audience with the top executives you sought, and they've assembled in their plush, oak-paneled conference room. You've started your computerized presentation on the screen, and the sound pouring from the PC's speakers has faded to a whisper just as you're about to make your most important point.

But the pause in the audio portion of your program calls attention to what is now the loudest noise in the room: the fans in the PC that's running the presentation, whirring irritatingly, like a miniature jet engine.

Excuse Me, Did You Just Say Something?

It's not just top-level corporate meetings in which the noise from PCs can detract from productivity:

Small departments. In genteel divisions of a company where background noise isn't a constant roar — such as investment banking or human resources — the incessant whine of PC fans can make some people want to head repeatedly to the water cooler just to escape the ever-present drone.

Corner offices. The executive suite, where your most important thinkers have the privilege of closing their doors to concentrate, may suffer more from PC noise than is the case in mere cubicles, since office space gets quieter as you rise to the top of the corporate ladder.

Entertainment centers. The quietest passages of a symphony orchestra compete poorly with the monotonous "whoosh" from the fans in the PC that's playing back the digital recording.

The entertainment scenario that I've just described is the main selling point of a small German company that's engineered the world's quietest PCs for use as a kind of stereo component — but the invention is equally well suited to corporate board rooms and the desks of VPs.

PCs Should Be Seen and Not Heard

Hush Technologies of Leonberg, Germany, released last month the new Hush AVX Music Server, an almost totally silent PC that the company says can hold and play back the equivalent of more than 1,600 compact discs.

This model was followed only two weeks ago by the shipment of the Hush ATX, a business-oriented unit that supports CPUs from both Intel and AMD.

In each of these designs, the noisiest thing you might ever hear is the hard disk when it's accessing a file. Even then, you might not be able to hear anything, but only feel the disk activity by pressing your fingers against the Hush PC's sleek aluminum case.

Passive Cooling Soothes the Savage Beast

Hush accomplishes this degree of silence by "passive cooling" of the PC case. This method wicks away the heat of the CPU and the PC's other components through a series of small ridges or fins. These cover the left and right sides of the case but are unseen when viewed from the front.

Markus Kremer, Hush Technology's CEO, says his company's quietest models don't need fans, even when the hardware heats up under a strenuous work load. As evidence, he cites a review by the German product-comparison site The reviewer, Raphael Thanhoffer, states that a Mini-ITX, a Hush model with a 667 MHz processor, rose to a CPU temperature of only 93 degrees F. after running a program that strongly exercizes the hardware components. That's well within the acceptable temperature range for desktop CPUs.

To support the highest of today's CPU speeds, some Hush models do include a small fan that turns itself on when the heat inside the case increases due to heavy number crunching. But Kremer explains that fans should be avoided when possible, because they get noisier over time. Dust collects on the originally smoooth surface of the blades, creating turbulence in the air flow and producing what office workers experience as a constant background whir.


Whether you're responsible for preparing corporate conference facilities, executive suites, or a surround-sound home theater system, technology is now available to make the PC at the heart of the operation so close to silent that we humans would never notice it.

Machines designed by Hush Technologies are sold in the U.S. and Canada by the Boston-based firm Logic Supply. The vendor currently lists the Hush Mini-ITX for $750 and the more-powerful Hush ATX for $1,675.

Brian Livingston is the editor of Brian's Buzz on Windows and the co-author of "Windows Me Secrets" and nine other books. Send story ideas to him via his contact page.

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