Apple muffles PC noisemakers
Acoustic Annoyance Model
A pair of Apple filings published Thursday by the US Patent and Trademark Office aim to lessen the annoyance provoked by your PC's various and sundry noise-making components by letting you take control of how it sounds.
The first filing focuses on determining a user's opinion of various annoying sounds, then ameliorating them - and not just by tamping down volume, but by smoothing out variations in pitch, tone, and the like. The second focuses on managing a PC's noisemakers.
Despite their different focuses, the two filings cover substantially the same material. Both describe how a PC's "acoustic noise" - as opposed to its "audio noise," meaning hum and crackle emanating from a PC's speaker - can be determined using a number of methods, which can be roughly divided into two broad techniques.
The first of these includes predetermining the sounds produced by a PC's noise-making components, which the filing defines as "a hard drive; an optical drive; a fan, blower, pump, or other cooling device; a capacitor; an inverter (such as a power and/or a video inverter); or a transformer (e.g., a power adapter)." Once the loudness, tone quality, and fluctuation of these components are defined, the resulting data is assembled into an acoustic noise profile for that PC.
The second method uses microphones and other sensors to monitor the system in real time, either adjusting the predetermined acoustic noise profile or creating one on the fly. The sensors determine not merely how loud a device is, but also the changes in pitch and tone quality as, for example, fans speed up or slow down.
The first filing introduces an interesting concept: an "acoustic annoyance model" (AAM) that varies according to the type of noise produced, a user's preferences, and the environment in which the PC is being used. The AAM, for example, can include not merely how loud a device is, but where and how it's being used.
If, for example, you're cranking up a vintage track from Extreme Noise Terror's Earslaughter, fan noise may not bother you. But if you're a teacher with a classroom full of laptop-using teens, you may want their machines set to provide nearly silent running.
An individual user's tolerance for "acoustic annoyance" can be determined by a PC-delivered set of both questions and tests to determine, for example, if they'd prefer quietude over performance - and in what circumstances and applications - and how well and what frequencies they can hear.
After all, why bother silencing a whiny power supply if the user's aging ears can no longer hear high-frequency sounds?
When acoustic annoyance exceeds a user's preferred parameters, the noise-management system kicks in and makes the PC more euphonious. The most obvious way of doing so would be, of course, to make fans spin more slowly. If doing so would cause the PC to heat up dangerously, the system would throttle performance.
But there may be situations in which simply turning a fan down wouldn't be the right strategy, especially in systems that contain more than one fan. Sometimes, multiple-fan systems can produce air-flow interference that results in audible "beats." In this case, it might be better to match fan speeds, even in cases in which traditional temperature sensors would have the two fans running at different speeds.
The system can also be used to prevent fans from varying in speed too often - a sustained but relatively loud noise can at times be less acoustically annoying than a fan that continually speeds up, slows down, speeds up, slows down, and so on.
In fact, that latter example is the core concept of this pair of patents. The object is to not allow a PC to maintain its own idea about how loud it should be, but for it to bow to the will of its user, depending upon how the PC is being used and in what environment.
For example, as the filing states: "A user may be more disturbed by a device that produces a quiet-but-tonal acoustic noise than by another device that produces a louder, but smooth-sounding, noise."
And shouldn't you be allowed to choose, and not your PC? ®
Noise is relative
Used Mac since the Classic SE (no fan but the 20 mb HDD creaked a lot).
In my experience the following has been true:
iMac G3 constant low fan whine (not a problem)
iMac G4 variable speed fan very quiet even when thrashed (even better)
iMac G5 hot chip, hot GFX card, 2 noisy fans that sound like a small remote controlled aircraft is flying around the room (not deafening but bad)
Mac Pro 6-9 fans depending on kit inside absolutely bloody silent except at start up when they run full blast for 3 seconds (stunningly good)
My friends PC gaming towers do Harrier Jump Jet impersonations from start up and get louder the harder they get thrashed. Their laptops are quieter but tend to meltdown and freeze up as they're systems core temp reaches 90ºc. Alternatively you have a laptop with no balls at all so it never overheats...
Liquid cooled monsters are quiet but a lot of work and money with 1 more thing to service too, Apple tried it in the G5 PowerMac towers and then dropped it again.
Noise is relative one man's racket is ignored by another, Apple are not the first to copyright a silly concept go look at Microsoft's list of ludicrous "me first" litigation.
The important thing is if you can live with the equipment's overall ambience.
Mind over Matter: If you don't mind it don't matter.
Paris? Because she knows the importance of a good blow and how much noise you make when your on the job.
Re: Never understood why.
"I still can't understand why people care so much about a little sound from a computer."
Obviously you've never done any serious audio work with a computer ...
@ Sajjad Syed
For many Macs, it ISN'T possible. Muting the volume before shutdown, StartupSound pref pane, and TinkerTool System all fail on my PowerBook. StartupSound used to work on another computer, but became ineffective after an OS update. Apple doesn't support disabling it, since it's a diagnostic test – a different sound plays if you have bad RAM or some other hardware problems.
As for the WindTunnels, a bit of warranty-voiding work (http://www.xlr8yourmac.com/systems/quicksilver_noise/quieting_quicksilver_noise.html) makes a big difference. I get more noise from the hard drives than fans now.
Varying fan speed
"The system can also be used to prevent fans from varying in speed too often - a sustained but relatively loud noise can at times be less acoustically annoying than a fan that continually speeds up, slows down, speeds up, slows down, and so on."
Yes, I've got an HP (really Compaq...) slimline machine at home with a P4-3.0, with Ubuntu on it. It sounds like it's got a turbo in it! Seriously, you can just pull down a menu and it's like whiiiRRRRRRRrrr...... (I.e., it goes from slow fan speed right up to max in under 1 second of CPU load, then spools it back down after a few moments of relative inactivity.) Luckily, videos don't tax it enough to keep the fan revved up. That said, in this case, I wouldn't want it to keep the fan revved up -- it's loud -- and I wouldn't want it to keep the fan spooled down and cook the CPU either. In this case, the REAL solution is a better cooling system -- I've seen an I assume later revision of the same machine, they replaced this cheezy paper-thin-cardboard fan duct with a real fan duct -- those models do not rev the fan except under extended heavy load.
So, the synchronizing fans to avoid beat tones sounds cool. The rest sounds daft -- if there's a noise versus speed control, I'd rather have a slider than have the machine ask me 20 questions then decide what it's going to do on it's own. Can you imagine the tech support nightmares? If the machine got dusty, or just plain decided the owner hates noise all of a sudden, the owner'd be like "Hey, what the hell.. my computer started running so slow except when I'm watching a movie or playing music?" Hah!
Never understood why.
I still can't understand why people care so much about a little sound from a computer. To me, there is no greater glory than standing in the middle of a room full of a thousand servers humming all about with A/C noise blasting in the background. The gentle song of lulling is akin to the soothing sound of the ocean as waves crash on the rocky coast line.