I'm sure you've heard it before. The music fades out, the microphone opens and you hear a room full of noise. Twenty-five years ago, that noise was probably those bad bearings in the triple-decker cart machine. Today, the noise is likely the computer in the control room. At WKAR, we've had a computer in the control room since 1990.
There are many ways to deal with the noise generated by PCs. Some like to use extension cables for the keyboard, video and mouse, dealing with the noise by putting the noisy PC outside the studio. Others use extension boxes that do the same thing, but manage to put everything onto one Cat-5 cable. I have put thermostatic controls on the fans inside to maintain a constant 40°C temperature. This lowers the noise by running the fans at a lower speed. All these techniques address the problems of PC noise but none can really be considered a solution. The solution would be not to generate noise in the first place.
Silence is golden
My search for a truly silent PC started with one of the Internet search engines, which led me to a website: www.silentpcreview.com. This website includes a lot of information about quiet, low-noise or silent PCs. Armed with this information, you can build a PC that would generate much less noise than most commercially made computers.
While that is one way to proceed, I really wanted a computer that was designed and built to be quiet by someone else. Radio engineers are a busy lot these days, and I didn't want to start building PCs for work, and risk making something that wouldn't work or wasn't quiet.
I found a computer reviewed on the website from a company called Hush Technologies, that claimed to be silent. No fan noise, because there are no fans. Medialink Communications is the U.S. representative, as Hush Technologies is located near Stuttgart, Germany. Silence came for a price, which is the golden part, but the Hush computer comes in black or silver.
Heavy with fins, not fans
I wanted to get a silent PC and see if it would really work in our operation. I selected a Hush Technologies ATX computer to replace our older Gateway, which our program hosts (we play classical music so our DJs are called program hosts) use to access the music database, AP news, the Internet and e-mail. While it's important to the operation, it's not as vital as the computer that runs our BE Audiovault.
Performance at a glance
No fan noise
Hefty heatsinks for cooling
I was struck by the pictures on the website of the computer, which looked more like a streamlined audio power amplifier than any PC that I had seen. Convinced enough to order one, it arrived quickly, even given that the manufacturer is in Europe. And when taking it out of the box, I found hefty heatsinks that are the sides of the PC box. Big fins are in with this PC, which is nearly 17.5" across, and 15" deep. While the computer case is not rackmountable (and I'm not sure you would want to hang it in the rack from the front fins anyway), it will fit — barely — into a good quality rackshelf. The computer cools all those hot components with conduction via heatpipes to the finned heatsinks to be cooled by convection.
The CPU, video chip and the chipset are all connected with heatpipes to the external heatsinks. The interior of the Hush ATX is clean, with all cables nicely harnessed. It'll stay clean too without fans drawing dust into the cabinet.
And on the air, this PC is silent, with the noise that we've heard in the microphone of the whirring fans for so long gone.
The next step was to start replacing the PCs that came with our Audiovault system in 1997. The regular configuration for the Hush ATX has only one PCI slot available. And I knew that I would need two slots to support the Audiovault. I fired an e-mail to the distributor at the time, and received ordering instructions the same day for customized Hush computers with two PCI slots.
Now installed, all fan noise in the studio is gone. Faintly, with your ear close to the cabinet, you can hear the hard disk spinning and the heads moving. The CD drive makes some noise when operating so you wouldn't want to burn CDs when the microphone is open.
This brings us to why I bought Hush Technologies' ATX instead of extension cables for our operation. After all, extension cables work, and they are probably cheaper than purchasing a new PC. To do so places the CD media slot outside the control room. Add the sound card cabling, and USB or Firewire and the result is a much more complicated solution than putting a computer that is truly silent right in the control room where it can be easily accessed. This allows the flash recorder to be plugged in, edits made, and files copied to the automation and burned to a CD without hassle.
We had a power supply fail early in the life of one of our Hush ATX computers, but it was quickly replaced under warranty. Silence is golden and silence never sounded so good.
Beer is chief engineer at WKAR, Michigan State University.
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