Peace and quiet at last

Last night I finally worked out how to install my Zalman VGA fan. I’ve now replaced all the internal fans with Zalman fans, and I’ve enclosed the hard disks inside acoustic cases. I really can’t recommend doing this enough; my PC now is whisper quiet; just sounds a bit like a convection heater on the lowest setting. Previously the whines and whooshes were unbearably loud, especially the graphics card.

The graphics card in question is a pre-release GeForce FX5800 I wangled from NVidia during my games development days. An excellent little card, if BLOODY LOUD. It’s one of those cards with the two-speed fans: slow but squeaky during normal operation and Harrier Jump-Jet taking off during 3D rendering. The jump- jet I could handle — just — as usually I’d be playing some loud game or other, but during normal work the whiney squeak of the fan was beginning to undermine my sanity.

I didn’t even discover that the main source of noise in my PC was the graphics card until recently; I went on a spree of noise-prevention, attacking the CPU, motherboard fan, case fan, and hard disks first. Still it was noisy — only the highly scientific approach of putting my finger on the graphics card fan to stop it turning was able to demonstrate that this was the culprit.

So, I headed off to QuietPC and found myself a new VGA fan (the Zalman VF700-Cu if you’re taking notes). There’s a lovely Flash animation demonstrating the ease of installing the Zalman onto your graphics card — and indeed it is utterly simple and nearly idiot-proof to attach the new fan and heatsinks onto your GeForce. Of course, what they neglect to tell you is it’s nearly impossible to remove the bloody existing heatsink and fans!

The GeForce board’s heatsinks were extensively pushpin-clamped to the circuitboard. I’ve never had to remove a pushpin before, and I’m sure my approach of ‘wrench it hard until the plastic snaps’ is not an IEEE-sanctioned method. It did work, however. This left the fan unit itself. I carefully unscrewed everything, but still the thing didn’t want to move. It seems welded onto the board by some unseen force. In a fit of frustration, I just stuck on all the new Zalman heatsinks and left the original fan stuck on.

This turned out to be a bad idea. Windows booted OK, but anything remotely taxing on the graphics card and the drivers went into panic mode and disabled acceleration. Oops…guess those little Zalman heatsinks rely on the Zalman fan blowing air over them (the NVidia one hardly seemed to move any air, despite the noise it made!)

So, I yanked out the graphics card again and took it downstairs to where I’d left all the tools. In doing so I was holding the thing by the fan unit....and I noticed it was starting to budge! Of course! The bloody thing isn’t glued to the board; the thermal grease is holding it there! Once the thing’s heated up, the grease became slightly gooey instead of glue-like. I was able to wrench off the fan with little problem, to my immense relief. A few minutes careful cleaning of the chip with some borrowed nail polish remover and I was away. The new fan went on very easily.

Then to the moment of truth — virtually no noise; a temperature lower than before; no jump-jet during 3d acceleration — fantastic! It’s been all worthwhile! I’m now writing this without feeling like I need loud music to disguise my PC’s sound. And I’ve still not risked putting the fan on ‘silent’ mode — it’s on ‘normal’ at the moment. On silent it’ll probably generate negative amounts of noise or something.

Filed under: Blog
Posted at 09:48:54 GMT on 21st February 2005.

About Matt Godbolt

Matt Godbolt is a C++ developer working in Chicago in the finance industry.