G5 Quad: How quiet is it?

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
February 2nd, 2006 • 10:47 am

Now that I’ve been using my new G5 Quad for a couple of months, it’s time to take stock, especially regarding noise levels.

Noise is a notoriously difficult thing to describe and evaluate. It’s inevitably a subjective thing.

What I can say for sure is that the G5 Quad is significantly quieter than my previous machine, the infamous G4 MDD. (Infamous as far as noise levels are concerned, that is. It is, after all, a machine for which Apple ended up offering a power supply replacement program because of complaints about atrocious noise levels that led to a well-organized petition campaign. And even with the replacement power supply, it remained a noisy machine.)

I am quite sure that, if I were to measure noise levels in decibels, I would notice a big gap between the G4 MDD and the G5 Quad. When the G4 MDD is on and the door to my office is open, I can easily hear it from other adjacent rooms. When the G5 Quad is on, however, as soon as I leave the room, the noise is gone.

Computers, however, are not usually used remotely from another room. So how is the noise situation when sitting next to the machine all day long?

Well, first I need to stress that I live in a very quiet environment. I work at home, and my home is in the country. There is no background noise coming either from outside (no traffic noise, no city noise) or from inside (no machinery, the house is heated with a wood stove).

So when I am sitting at my desk, most of the time my computer is the only thing I hear. I guess this makes me particular sensitive to noise. In such a context, I have to say that, while the G5 Quad is definitely much quieter than the G4 MDD, it’s still not as quiet as I would like it to be.

If I had to compare the nature of the noise of the G5 Quad to the nature of the noise of the G4 MDD, I would say that the noise of the G4 MDD was more of a loud “white noise,” i.e. a typical noisy fan noise. The G5 Quad, on the other hand, has more of a hum to it. It’s a different kind of noise, and it annoys in different ways. (Maybe it has to do with the fact that the G5 Quad uses a combination of fans and liquid cooling.)

It’s not that bad, but it’s definitely noticeable, particularly in a quiet environment like mine. In my quest to have as little noise as possible, I have tried various things, including putting the machine in a different location in the room (but I am limited by the length of the video cables, obviously) and covering the table under which it is located with a quilt. I have also hidden both of my external FireWire drives inside a closet, because they too make a certain amount of noise.

All this, however, has done very little to change the noise level as I perceive it. It’s still there, and somehow my mind hasn’t yet been able to block it out entirely. It’s not a huge annoyance, but part of me still dreams of a powerful machine that would be completely silent. I am guessing that is simply not possible with today’s technology. You have to either sacrifice power (the new Intel-based iMacs sound like they are pretty quiet) or learn to live with a certain level of noise.

Don’t get me wrong: I can live with it. All this power under the hood is something that I wanted, and I am willing to pay the (small) price in terms of noise levels.

I should also note that the noise levels have never changed at any time since I first got the machine. I’ve never noticed any increase in fan noise due to higher CPU activity. The only time the machine is somewhat noisier is while it is starting up. But as soon as the startup process nears completion, the noise goes back down to its usual level and stays there.

Intriguingly, I have been monitoring temperature levels using Marcel Bresink’s Temperature Monitor, because on the G4 MDD the temperature level was a pretty reliable indicator of what the noise levels were going to be. With the G5 Quad, however, I cannot really understand what the monitor is indicating. The Temperature Monitor menu has five indicators:

Temperature Monitor with G5 Quad

I haven’t monitored the four indicators displayed when the menu is pulled down, but I have been monitoring the “MAIN” indicator which is visible at all times in the menu bar. And that’s where it has been intriguing: This “MAIN” indicator displays a temperature, but this temperature never changes. If I start the machine up after it’s been off for a while and has completely cooled off, the “MAIN” indicator typically reads something like 20 °C—and stays at that level all the time. But then if I restart the machine when it’s already warm, after the restart the “MAIN” indicator reads something like 40 °C—and stays at that level all the time.

I am not sure what to make of this. It’s as if the “MAIN” indicator displays the current temperature at the time the machine starts up, and then stays stuck there, regardless of whether the machine warms up or cools down. It could be two things: a flaw in the Temperature Monitor software itself, or a flaw in the temperature sensor itself.

In any case, the temperature levels as indicated by this “MAIN” indicator have absolutely no impact on the G5 Quad’s noise levels, so I guess they are pretty much irrelevant.

Lastly, I would like to mention another thing that I am trying right now. Since there’s pretty much nothing that I can do to reduce the G5 Quad’s noise levels, I thought I’d try to give it some competition.

I don’t usually like “background music” while I am working, because I find it too distracting. But with our satellite TV provider, we get a bunch of audio channels with commercial-free, 100% music all the time. Since I have an extra satellite TV receiver that I can hook up to the satellite dish in my office, I decided to give that a try. I’ve hooked up the satellite TV receiver’s audio connection to a pair of quality computer speakers with a subwoofer that I had lying around.

I’ve hooked up the video connection to the MigliaTV card that I have on my G4 MDD, so that I can see the TV screen on the G4’s computer monitor whenever I need to see what I am doing with the remote. (I don’t have a TV in my office.) But since the audio is connected to the speakers directly, I can put the G4 MDD in deep sleep (which shuts off all its fans) when I don’t need to see the video (and don’t need to use the G4 for anything else).

With this setup, I have access to audio channels for all kinds of music. I tend to favour classical music (baroque music, chamber music, etc.), but I am sure that, when I am in the mood for some jazz, the corresponding channels will do just fine too.

I’ve been using this for a few days now, with the music volume level relatively low, and I find that it works quite well. It certainly is not distracting, and, while it does not cancel out the G5 Quad’s noise, it does compete with it in a way that makes it less noticeable.

So there we are. The G5 Quad is not a very noisy machine, but it’s not an ultra-quiet one either. Depending on your sensitivity to noise, your overall noise environment, etc., you might find it noticeable—or not. I guess it’s about all I can say!

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