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Acoustically Manage Your Hard Drive

Acoustically Manage Your Hard Drive
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Hard drive manufacturers have been differentiating like crazy in order to provide the right storage products for everyone. They offer mainstream hard drives, drives for notebook PCs, performance-optimized desktop models for enthusiasts, and hard drives for business and enterprise applications. There are also “green” drives that were designed to consume as little power as possible. However, you might not know this, but users can alter a hard drive’s characteristics via the acoustic management feature, which allows the modification of access patterns and changing hard drives from their default mode (fast) into a quiet mode. How does this influence power consumption and performance? We used a Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.B to find some answers.

Fast Vs. Quiet 

All hard drives based on the UltraATA/100 or Serial ATA interfaces include the automatic acoustic management feature (AAM), but you need software tools to access it and modify its settings. Although AAM allows you to set many individual values ranging from maximum performance to lowest noise, many tools only facilitate setting the drive to one of two modes: “fast” or “quiet. ” As intensive hard drive activity typically increases power requirements, less aggressive access patterns may indeed result in decreased power consumption. The key for reducing access noise lies in smoothing out the acceleration and braking of the read/write heads.

Performance First

As far as we know, most hard drives are not pre-set for quiet operation, but rather utilize their fast mode. Most drives we have received and that we benchmarked for inclusion in our 3.5” HDD Performance Charts were set in fast mode. Those that weren’t were manually set to “fast” by our staff. There is no reliable way of telling which mode is currently enabled except by utilizing analysis tools such as SiSoft Sandra, as the performance difference requires significant workloads or benchmarks to be revealed. Die-hard enthusiasts might be able to unmask the quiet mode based on the noise level, but even this requires knowing the differences.

With all of that being said, the difference between the modes is significant, as you will see in the benchmark section. Thus, we do not recommend using the quiet mode unless you really want quiet system operation. We’ll discuss why hard drives have more influence on system noise than you’d think.

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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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