Once a minor annoyance, noise from PCs has become a growing concern as ever-more-powerful computers require stronger and often noisier cooling systems--especially with PCs moving out of the office and into living rooms and bedrooms.
The quest for quiet computing has inspired a cottage industry of specialist manufacturers, growing attention from major PC companies and a small underground of acoustic cultists who'll go to any extreme to eliminate another decibel of PC din.
Keepin' it quiet
"People are writing in all the time saying, 'It sounds like a jet engine taking off when I run my PC--what can I do about it?'" said Mike Chin, a freelance technical writer in Vancouver, British Columbia, who started Silent PC Review to share what he learned while building a quiet PC. The site has become one of the leading resources for PC owners looking to muffle their rackety rigs.
"In most cases, it's just bad, inconsiderate design," Chin said. "You see some companies really paying attention and trying to do better, but acoustics still doesn't get much attention."
One big PC maker that may be catching on to the trend is Dell, which has unveiled a fleet of business PCs it says are faster, more secure and more environmentally friendly than their predecessors.
The Round Rock, Texas, company launched five Latitude notebook and Precision mobile-workstation models at a news conference in New York and took the wraps off a redesigned OptiPlex GX280 desktop for its business customers. The OptiPlex, which comes in mini-tower and traditional desktop form, uses a new chassis design created to boost PCs' cooling capacity and reduce the noise they make.
The Latitudes incorporate the latest version of Intel's Centrino chip bundle for wireless notebooks, as well as a security chip.
HP's new models
Hewlett-Packard, meanwhile, unveiled 10 new mobile PCs, including its first convertible tablet PC, a notebook whose screen rotates 180 degrees and folds flat to create a writing surface. The company also announced alliances with Good Technology and Nokia, and said it plans to deliver a smart phone later this year. HP says it's using the new products and alliances to better adapt mobile technology to the business world.
Apple Computer's latest PowerBooks, which debuted this week, come with faster G4 processors, lower prices and a couple of new tricks. The Mac maker offered updates to its models with 12-inch, 15-inch and 17-inch screens, including a new scrolling TrackPad designed to make it easier to get through long documents. Another new feature is the Sudden Motion Sensor, which helps protect a computer's hard drive if the machine is accidentally dropped.
The announcement was a bit of a disappointment for some, who'd been hoping for a speedy G5 laptop. Apple customers have been waiting for such a device for some time. The more powerful chip first arrived in the Power Mac line in 2003, and Apple began offering it in the iMac last year.
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Technically, the company could offer a G5 PowerBook now. But given the relatively power-hungry nature of the IBM PowerPC 970FX processor--Apple has dubbed the 970FX and its predecessor, the 970, "G5" chips--such a machine would require compromises in size, weight and other aesthetics such as noise production. Apple, and likely most of its customers, wouldn't be willing to live with that.
"It'd be this really thick, heavy notebook, and it would be loud as all get-out," said Kevin Krewell, editor in chief of the Microprocessor Report. "Those would not be design choices that Apple would want to pursue."