Step-by-Step: How to Quiet those Hard Drives

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Neat, cheap How-To – Chris McQuistion

This article is Part Three in my series on Quiet Computing. In my previous two articles,
Step-by-Step: How to Build a Cheap and Quiet AMD Dually and Step-by-Step: Building a Quiet PC from the Ground Up, I recommended using computer cases with rubber grommet shock-mounts for hard drives. These mounting methods significantly lower hard drive noise, but most cases don’t have them.

If you already have a case that you love, or you just don’t like the cases I suggested, but you still want quiet hard drives, then this article is for you.

In this installment, I will show you how to make a shock-mount hard drive rack that will significantly lower the noise from your hard drives. Both idle noise and seek noise are lowered dramatically and this rack is compatible with almost any case. This method is actually a bit quieter than the rubber grommet method, but only a bit.

I originally got the idea for this project, about a year ago, from this excellent article by Mike Chin of SilentPCReview and a product for sale from NoiseControl, called NoVibes.

I liked the method, used in Mike’s article, but I didn’t like his particular design implementation. I felt that it would be too large for most cases and it didn’t allow the airflow that I thought was necessary. The product, sold by NoiseControl, is nice, but it is very expensive and you have to mount it in a CD-ROM bay, where it won’t get any airflow, unless you get the version that has a fan attached (more fans = more noise.) I had a better idea for the design.

I love to tweak computers. I also love to build things, fix things, figure out how things work, and do woodworking. For this computer project, I utilized my other hobby and headed to the woodshop.

I built several of these before I finalized a design that I thought was most effective and easy to duplicate. Best of all, my design only costs a few dollars to build.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Hard Drives, at least the ones that I have, measure 5.75″ deep, by 4″ wide and 1″ high.

The computers that I originally built these for were Antec/Chieftec Mid and Full Towers. These cases have one to two hard drive racks, but the hard drives attach directly to a removable metal rack, which is then rigidly coupled to the metal case. In my last article, I went on a rant about the vibration transfer between hard drives and metal computer cases. I won’t go into detail again, I will just say this; it is bad, bad, bad for a vibrating hard drive to come into direct contact with the metal chassis of your computer case. It causes and amplifies quite a lot of noise.

These Antec/Chieftec cases all have a space at the bottom-front of the case, underneath the lowest hard drive rack. In front of this space there is an 80mm intake fan. I thought that this would be a perfect location for a shock-mount hard drive rack. It has a fan, for hard drive cooling, and there is enough space to put a small structure. I’ve noticed that most cases have this kind of space in the bottom-front, with a case fan.

I measured this space in my Antec/Chieftec cases and determined that it was about 7.5″ deep, 6″ wide, and 4.5″ high. A structure that large could fit in that space and not touch my long PCI cards, or long video card.

My hard drive rack, therefore, will be 7″ deep, 5.75″ wide, and 3.75″ high. This will leave a little room, just in case I need to move it around or run some cables behind it.

This hard drive rack will support up to two hard drives and allow excellent airflow around both drives. It will hold the drives, suspended by elastic, so that much of their vibration and noise is absorbed by the elastic and not transferred or amplified. Additionally, this rack will hold the drives well enough to transport the machine, without worrying about damage.

Some cases, of course, will have more room for a rack, so the design could be modified to fit many more drives, if necessary. I recently purchased a Compucase LX-6A19, which is similar to the Antec SLK3700AMB that I recommended in my first article. I removed the hard drive rack that came with the case and replaced it with one of my shock-mount hard drive racks. There is enough room that I could probably build a shock-mount rack to hold four drives, in this particular case.
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Chris McQuistion

PREPARATION

I know that not everyone has a wood shop, but there are really only a few tools required for this project. With some ingenuity, you could modify the construction of this project and build it with no woodworking tools at all.

Here are the materials you will need:

  • 4.5 ft of 1/4″ doweling -> $1
  • 1.5 ft of 1/2″ x 1/2″ wood -> $1 or use scrap wood
  • 4.5 ft of 1/2″ elastic -> $1 (1.5 yards is a common length of elastic for sale)

Here are the tools you will need:

  • Drill Press with 1/4″ drill bit
  • Table saw, or some way of cutting the wood down to 1/2″ by 1/2″
  • A saw for cutting pieces to length
  • Some clamps and wood scraps, for use on the drill press
  • Scissors, for cutting elastic

CONSTRUCTION

There are three wooden parts to this shock-mount hard drive rack. It consists of four corner posts, four 7″ dowels, and four 5.75″ dowels.

The corner posts are 3.75″ tall and 1/2″ by 1/2″ wide. Each post will have four 1/4″ holes drilled in it.

Here are the plans for their construction:

Viewed from one side

Viewed from the other side

Diagram 1
Diagram 2

This project involves twelve pieces of wood. They must all fit together perfectly, so precision is a very important factor for building this project.

Precision is the ability of a measurement to be consistently reproduced. Accuracy is the ability of a measurement to match the actual value of the quantity being measured. For this project, precision is more important than accuracy. If all your posts or dowels are ALL 1/8th inch too long, it won’t matter (not accurate, but precise.) If ONE post or dowel is 1/8th inch too long, your hard drive rack won’t sit flat or worse (not accurate, or precise.)

It is important, therefore, to make sure that all of your posts and dowels are cut to length, properly. Even more important, however, are the holes drilled into the posts. When drilling the holes, put together some kind of jig on your drill press. The jig doesn’t have to be fancy, just a couple boards clamped to the drill press table. These will be your guides. Position them so you can set your posts right against them and drill your holes.

Drill the matching position holes on all four posts, then move and re-clamp your jig, before drilling the next set of holes on all four posts. By doing this, all of your posts will have their holes in exactly the same places and your project should fit together well and sit flat.

I should have taken a picture of my jig, but I didn’t think of it until much later and I had already returned the digital camera I borrowed for the other pictures.

After cutting all four posts, drilling the holes, and cutting the dowels, slide everything together, using a little glue to hold the dowels in the posts.

Your hard drive rack should now look like this, from various angles:

Rack 1

Rack 2

Rack 3

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Chris McQuistion

Now, it is time to work with the elastic. If you bought 4.5 ft (1.5 yards), then you will have 54″ to work with. Cut the elastic into these measurements:

  • Four pieces 10.5″ long
  • Two pieces 6″ long

Now, wrap the pieces of elastic around your rack and tie them. Here are some pictures of the finished product, from various angles:

Rack 4

Rack 5

Rack 6

Rack 7

Now, just slide your hard drives into the rack, like this:

Rack 8

Rack 9

Rack 11

Rack 12

Notice that the elastic on the ends keeps the drive from sliding out of the rack and there should be about 5/8-3/4″ of space between the top and bottom drive and the bottom drive and the case. This space will keep air flowing all around your drives, keeping them nice and cool.

Also, the positioning of the short dowels is such that if a hard drive does slide forward, or back, it will make contact only with elastic and it will not touch any wood surface, which could transfer vibration.

That’s it! The project is done. Depending on your case, and your peripherals, you may have to remove some or all of your PCI and AGP cards to get the shock-mount hard drive rack into your case. Once it is in there, it should be kept in place by the sides of your case and the surrounding structures. If you feel that it is moving too much, then you can use Velcro pads to attach it firmly to the bottom of the case. Alternatively, you may want to place a piece of foam, such as an old mouse pad or some carpet foam, under the shock-mount hard drive rack. This can provide an additional layer of protection from transferred vibration.

I have been using these shock-mount racks in three computers for about a year. One of those is regularly transported to work and back. I have never had a problem with any of the drives moving, dislodging, or becoming damaged in any way. I can verify that a shock-mount system like this will lower your hard drive noise level. It will vary depending on your drive, but I’ve heard an audible improvement with every drive I’ve tested.

CONCLUSION

I’d like to thank Mike Chin, of Silent PC Review, for his informative article which peaked my curiosity. His site is a great source of information on quiet/silent computing. I’d also like to recognize that elastic suspension hard drive racks are not a new idea and I take no credit for the idea, only my particular design.

Just prior to finishing this article, I found another interesting hard drive suspension article at Silent PC Review HERE.This article is written by Scott (aphonos in the SPCR Forums). It is an interesting alternative or addition to my own design. My design only support up to two drives in an Antec-style case. Aphonos’ design could increase that number to four or six, depending on your case.

As always, I hope you have found this article enlightening and I wish you many years of happy, quiet, and thoroughly overclocked computing.

You can find Part One of this series, “Step-by-Step: How to Build a Cheap and Quiet AMD Dually” published HERE. and the forum-version HERE. You can find Part Two of this series, “Step-by-Step: Building a Quiet PC from the Ground Up” published HERE. and the forum-version HERE. The forum-version of this article can be found HERE.

Since I have the ability to update my forum threads, I have made some edits and updates to the forum-versions of the articles.

Chris McQuistion

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