Downgraded My Graphics Card – Twin Fans Blow!

Update (2017.11.27): I reinstalled my R9 270 yesterday, because GTS450 was a little blurry and I had gotten used to how well 270 performed in Guild Wars 2. The fan noise is considerable and annoying, so I may replace the fans at some point.

A few years ago now I bought a “refurbished” graphics card from Newegg.ca for a good price. It was a current model (AMD R9 270 2GB, made by MSI) at the time, so more than likely it was new and simply returned, though it did come in a plain white box. Anyhow, when I fired it up for the first time I instantly knew why someone had sent it back…

It’s two big fans spun at different variable rates, causing an audible modulation in the sound waveform. In normal terms, they make a constant “wubwub weeb wubwub… wubwub” noise that can be distracting and annoying.

The sound never went away, but I usually avoided listing to the difference wave by setting a custom fan profile that made the fans run at least 40% all the time. The constant noise was at least, constant. I used it like this for years and yeah it bugged me, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Finally though, it wore me down.

It’s funny, several years ago I wanted to build an entirely silent desktop. I tried to order an Nvidia 8600GT that had an enormous passive cooler on it, but the e-tailer was incompetent, so I ended up with an EVGA version that had a tiny, loud heatsink/fan unit. It was one of the worst retail experiences I have had so I just threw my hands up at the whole experience and went with it. Eventually I replaced each piece of hardware with little thought given to the noise, thinking it didn’t matter much because I wore headphones while gaming most of the time anyway.

Fast forward several years and I don’t really play many games anymore, rather I spend most of my computer time… listening to my bloody loud machine!

Dust is a huge problem in our house, so I take our PCs outside and blast them with the air compressor a few times a year (3 times so far this year). Each time I am amazed at how much grey fuzz accumulates on the CPU and GPU heatsinks. So amazed, I even took pictures this time.

Crazy, eh?

Anyhow, I decided once more that I would prefer having as quiet of a desktop as is reasonably possible for the low, low price of “free”. So, I made the following changes to the o’l 1990s era AT server tower:

  • Swapped my AMD R9 270 2GB for my old Nvidia GTS450 1GB, because its single fan is quiet and its performance is acceptable for my needs (mostly Guild Wars 2 at 1600×900 resolution).
  • Removed the 92mm exhaust fan. Originally I had a nice 120mm fan in there, but it died. The temp replacement was one I pulled from a server, but I am quite certain that fan started its life in aerodynamics testing… The CPU tower fan blows straight out the hole now.
  • Removed the 60mm fan I had blowing on the motherboard VRMs. It was not a terrible fan, but I could hear it.
  • Down clocked my FX-8320 to 3.8GHz. I run it clock-locked with the turbo off, because it makes for steadier frame rates in games and it doesn’t negatively impact its idle temperature. 3.8GHz is the sweet spot for the FX CPUs in terms of power consumption / performance – anything beyond that uses exponentially more power. My CPU can only handle a 4.0GHz over clock at stock voltage and I don’t want to increase the voltage, because that would also increase heat and fan noise. I would rather turn down a couple game settings or wait 5 to 10 more seconds for a compilation to complete.
  • Down clocked my 2133Mhz DDR3 RAM to 1600MHz so I could reduce its voltage to 1.5V from 1.65V. I plan on buying another two sticks of RAM to aid in compiling software and the best value for the dollar at the moment is 1.5V 1600MHz 2x2GB ($45 CAD or so). Looks like my set should work alright with the cheaper stuff at the same voltage (and timings)!

Interestingly, everything seems to perform exactly the same as it did before. Goes to show how much overkill modern PCs really are, given how both the FX-8320 and the GTS450 were considered crap by “gamers” even when they were new.

When I spin down my two Western Digital hard drives (1TB Linux storage, 500GB Windows 7 installation – kinda old and definitely the louder drive), there is still a fair amount of noise coming from the CPU fan and the GPU fan. I have to give NZXT credit, I can barely hear the fan in my power supply! However, it is a lot quieter even when everything is all spun up, so… yay me!

The next time I buy some hardware, I am leaning towards retiring rotational media and using an APU rather than dedicated graphics card. I don’t “game” much anymore and I would rather have more RAM for working and a quieter system than a super gaming machine. I suspect an AMD Ryzen based APU, with 4 core / 8 threads and an over sized horizontal heatsink/fan unit, would be great. I am even thinking that I will revamp the layout of my case again, this time to add dust filters and make it as quiet as possible – hard to believe that at one time I had a full ATX and a mATX desktop inside there!