Changing a modern hard drive’s automatic acoustic management setting (AAM) from fast mode to quiet mode—or vice versa—did make a difference in our in-depth evaluation. However, this difference is only noticeable in a few benchmark disciplines, and is probably not very significant for average users.
Acoustic management settings can be changed using freeware or shareware utilities, or using the command line tools that you can typically find on your favorite hard drive manufacturer's Web site. However, you have to work with a boot disc or a bootable floppy disc in most cases, which we found inconvenient. Despite only offering two options—fast or quiet—we used the application WinAAM instead.
Setting your hard drive to quiet mode will mainly impact access time and I/O performance, which both dropped significantly: in quiet mode, the Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.B performed like a two-year old hard drive in these benchmark categories. The decreased random activity performance also has an impact on application benchmarks, although the price you pay for silence will be acceptable for most users. Transfer rates, by the way, were not impacted at all.
We expected drive idle power consumption to remain the same, but for reasons we cannot explain, it appears that the fast mode was actually a bit better in the power area, as long as the drive was idle or only taking on sequential workloads. The situation was entirely different for random workloads. In such a case, the “fast” drive delivered more performance at increased power consumption, which made the “quiet” drive the winner in terms of performance per watt. Differences for streaming operations were smaller.
Should You Do It ?
One question has yet to be answered: are the noise level improvements worth switching the acoustic management into quiet mode? If you are trying to reduce system noise, then the answer has to be yes. The reduced drive vibration level made a significant impact on our noise level measurements, and it has even more impact once the drive is installed into a case, which will always convey vibrations, making them audible. Enthusiasts using high-performance drives should definitely consider installing a sound dampening frame or enclosure. As long as you get a decent product, this will noticeably reduce hard drive noise without any performance impact. Average users with low performance ambitions should definitely spend some time to acoustically optimize their hard drive(s) by switching them into quiet mode.
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