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Acoustic Management: How It Works

Acoustically Manage Your Hard Drive
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While all hard drives have supported some form of configurable power management since the early days of ATA-4 (UltraDMA/33), automatic acoustic management (AAM) has been supported since the introduction of ATA-6 (UltraATA/100). In the case of power management, a value between 1 and 254 determines the level of power savings. To take a simple example, if you stay below 128, the hard drive will automatically stop the spindle motor after a defined idle time. Note that this has nothing to do with operating system power management, which makes more sense for day-to-day operation, as it is aware of applications and workloads.

AAM is programmed with values that define drive parameters in a very granular way, allowing for the adjustment of noise,performance, temperature, power requirements, and life expectancy. The range of possible values is 128-254. The actual effect of each of the settings remains hidden within the hard drive firmware, though, and most of the simple utilities on the Web will only let you choose between maximum performance and minimum noise.

Why Noise is Such an Issue

Although it may differ from one person to the next, overall human hearing is limited to the frequency range between approximately 20 Hz and 20 kHz, with increased sensitivity to particular frequencies. Most people are able to hear frequencies between 1 kHz and 3 kHz very well, which means that a reduction of noise just in this frequency range makes more of a difference than trying to insulate or reduce other frequencies. This is where acoustic management kicks in.

Most of the sonic waves between 1 and 3 kHz consist of noise from two different sources. The first is hard drive noise caused by the spindle motor and friction within the drive. This noise can usually only be reduced by modifying hard drive components. The second, though, constituting most of the noise we perceive, is caused by vibration between the hard drive and the computer case. This in turn consists of rotational vibration that is caused by the spindle motor, as well as vibration noise from the read/write heads, which accelerate and brake many times per second.

The fastest way of relocating heads is by accelerating them in the direction of the new track until half of the distance has been covered and then slow down the head movement until they’ve reached their destination. There are multiple options available for changing this operation, starting with modifying acceleration and braking, as well as the impulse power that is required. Adding Native Command Queuing to the equation—which analyzes and reorders all incoming commands in an effort to find the most efficient processing order—helps to decrease head movement, which can improve both access time and access noise.

AAM Tools

There are several utilities available on the Internet to modify the AAM settings. Hitachi, whose Deskstar 7K1000.B we used for this article, provides its own Feature Tool 2.11. The software is powerful, as you can modify cache settings, transfer modes, power consumption, and interface settings, but it is DOS-based and requires command line execution and starting your system from a bootable 3.5” floppy disc or CD image. The image and the Feature Tool 2.11 are available on Hitachi’s download page. This isn’t only the case for Hitachi. We found similar command line apps from hard drive vendors Samsung and Seagate. Other tools, such as the HDD Acoustic Manager by Abacus, the AAM Tool, the Hard Disk Sentinel, and others are written to be more convenient to use.

WinAAM

We decided to use one of the simplest tools that we found: WinAAM. Version 2.9 is the most recent release and worked well with our Hitachi drive. It does nothing other than setting the AAM parameters either to quiet (value 128) or to loud (254), which equals maximum performance. This is exactly what we want, as it allowed us to check performance, acoustics and power consumptions using the two extreme settings.

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  • -4 Hide
    asdasd123123 , December 10, 2008 8:36 AM
    Unless you work in a studio, the sound from a HDD is so incredibly little I doubt most people even notice it.

    Even on a near fanless system, with only a psu fan, that single fan would make more noise.. This all seems a little silly imo.
  • 4 Hide
    daskrabbe , December 10, 2008 8:53 AM
    The sound from the hdd is by far the loudest part of my system.
  • 0 Hide
    stuart72 , December 10, 2008 9:41 AM
    Quick question - was AHCI / Native Command Queueing enabled on the drive?
  • 0 Hide
    V3NOM , December 10, 2008 9:47 AM
    asdasd123123Unless you work in a studio, the sound from a HDD is so incredibly little I doubt most people even notice it.Even on a near fanless system, with only a psu fan, that single fan would make more noise.. This all seems a little silly imo.

    err, my 250gb SATA seagate was by far the loudest thing in my system. could hear it clearly scratching in games >< love my new WD 250gig tho - absolutely silent even with the side of the case off :) 
  • -3 Hide
    Anonymous , December 10, 2008 9:49 AM
    To asdasd123123:
    I agree with you, and also this Hitachi feature is very old one, I recall I was playing with it on my old 80 GB SATA2 HDD. It does make a difference till I bought Antec 180 :p 

    To daskrabbe:
    If u can hear your HDD screaming then you should change it!
    Pay some respect to it because it kept your data safe for lots of years!

    Also if it's new, change your cheap case, because it makes every other part of hardware vibrate!
  • 3 Hide
    arkadi , December 10, 2008 11:04 AM
    If you ask me, my Raptors noise is music 2 my ears lol.
  • 3 Hide
    pbrigido , December 10, 2008 11:06 AM
    Invest in an SLC SSD. Noise problem solved.
  • -1 Hide
    zak_mckraken , December 10, 2008 12:21 PM
    Interesting article. I've been fiddling with computers for the last 12 years and I've never heard of AAM before! It seems like a viable option to reduce noise in a system. However, in my case, my GTX260 is the loudest part I have, even outside games. I'm not sure I would notice an impact at all. Maybe I should do some testing before judging though.
  • 5 Hide
    Minerva , December 10, 2008 12:37 PM
    I have always disabled AAM on all my drives that I possibly could, Performance > Noise ;) 
  • 3 Hide
    drysocks , December 10, 2008 12:37 PM
    Noise? ok, How about the CD/DVD drive! The changes in loudness and pitch are constantly averting my attention.
  • -2 Hide
    zak_mckraken , December 10, 2008 12:47 PM
    Yeah but who uses an optical drive these days? And when you do use it, do you use it constantly for hours? I use my drive to rip music, movies and games and that's pretty much it. Daemon tools takes care of the rest when I need a CD to play a game.
  • 0 Hide
    zodiacfml , December 10, 2008 2:53 PM
    the loudest in my system is a high frequency noise when the system is idle. i suspect its my cheap asus am2 motherboard.
  • -1 Hide
    JonnyDough , December 10, 2008 3:04 PM
    asdasd123123Unless you work in a studio, the sound from a HDD is so incredibly little I doubt most people even notice it.Even on a near fanless system, with only a psu fan, that single fan would make more noise.. This all seems a little silly imo.


    Apparently you've never owned an original WD Raptor drive. I have two paired in a micro atx case sitting on my office table and I can attest that they are quite noticeable, although they are tolerable.
  • 2 Hide
    JonnyDough , December 10, 2008 3:05 PM
    zodiacfmlthe loudest in my system is a high frequency noise when the system is idle. i suspect its my cheap asus am2 motherboard.


    Check your PSU for whine.
  • -1 Hide
    JonnyDough , December 10, 2008 3:08 PM
    MinervaI have always disabled AAM on all my drives that I possibly could, Performance > Noise



    Me too! Performance = time. My time is more valuable than some old hard drives longevity and my appreciation of silence. AAM makes barely any difference in noise anyway.

    To Zak who posted before you: If you've built PCs for 12 years and never heard of it, then I would have to ask what you've been doing for 12 years... I discovered it before I'd ever even built my own PC.
  • 0 Hide
    erikstarcher , December 10, 2008 3:47 PM
    Could you enable this in the bios, or is that a different feature?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 10, 2008 3:58 PM
    GREAT article! Silence is a must for me, especially as one of my machines is located in the living room and is almost always on! TY
  • 0 Hide
    pomokey , December 10, 2008 4:05 PM
    thank you so much for this! I was unaware of such an option, and my hard drive drives me nuts if it gets going while I'm asleep (it will actually wake me up). Now I can barely hear it.
  • 0 Hide
    asdasd123123 , December 10, 2008 4:23 PM
    You wouldn't be putting a raptor in a silent computer in the first place, that argument doesn't make any sense.

    I can admit I haven't owned either Hitachi or Seagate drivers for years, and WD drives has only made noise after a few years.
    A little too many Seagates have broken around me to ever buy one again..

    My three Samsung F1 1tb drives atm, are dead silent. I only hear them when the spin up, but when they hit their target RPM it just goes silent again.
    My case is nothing special, although it is a very thick-sheet iron case.
  • 0 Hide
    zak_mckraken , December 10, 2008 5:19 PM
    JonnyDoughI discovered it before I'd ever even built my own PC.


    Gratz?

    For my part, I guess I was just doing "normal" stuff. Building, configuring, tweaking, fixing errors, removing viruses and spywares, making backups, etc. It didn't occur to me that I could "downgrade" my hard drive in order to save a couple dB. Like I didn't think that downclocking a CPU could be very useful. It's just me I guess.
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