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The gist: Out-of-warranty rackmount servers can often be purchased very cheaply. The major downside to deployment outside a data-center (for instance, in one's garage) is the noise.

I would like to collect suggestions for creating effective noise-dampening/baffling for 1U, 2U, and 3U rack mount servers using cheap, readily-available materials (this is the key constraint). Links to plans with pictures would be ideal.

I was able to drastically reduce the noise from my recently-purchased ($60) HP Proliant DL-145 1U server by forming a sleeve from an inflatable foam sleeping pad, but I would prefer solutions that use waste-materials such as cardboard and polystyrene.

Also welcome are recommendations as to which types of rackmount hardware are quietest (I now know that 1U servers are the noisiest due to their small fans) and tips about other ways of reducing noise such as details on how to reduce fan speed with specific server lines. Criticism of the wisdom of trying to make noisy hardware quiet ok too.

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closed as off-topic by Michael Hampton Aug 7 '13 at 21:20

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When the car makes weird noises I turn the radio up. Could you just play the TV or radio louder in the house? –  Bart Silverstrim Dec 23 '09 at 12:33
    
But the server is in the garage, with the car. Maybe turn on the car (radio) –  pavium Dec 23 '09 at 12:40
    
Unless you are in the garage with the server and the car, noise shouldn't be a problem. –  Keith Stokes Dec 23 '09 at 13:10
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Put a cheap radio next to the rack in the garage? I just got an image of a car rack installed in his garage next to the server rack...it's funny but I won't tell you why. –  Bart Silverstrim Dec 23 '09 at 14:57
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Nice jokes. There is a practical reason to noise dampen. blogs.sun.com/brendan/entry/unusual_disk_latency –  paxos1977 Dec 24 '09 at 6:21

9 Answers 9

up vote 3 down vote accepted

If you are able to monitor temperatures inside your systems accurately (via ipmi for example) then you can do some experimenting. Try disconnecting some fans in the case and see how that affects cpu and hard drive temperature. Obviously this is a little risky but could be one way to reduce the noise.

One thing I've always wanted to try is carefully segmenting the airflow between the front and the back of the rack (with handmade cardboard cutouts and gaff tape). Then, rig up air ducts with larger diameter fans pushing air into the front of the rack and pulling it out of the back.

My suspicion is you could combine these two approaches to dramatically improve airflow with reduced fan noise.

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The problem with 1u servers is they typically have tiny fans that have to spin at 9 billion rpm in order to move enough air to keep the thunderingly hot CPUs cool.

I have a couple of rackable systems that I don't use because they make way too much noise. They've got something like 9 fans, all of them the little tiny noisy kind. I've reused some of the kit by moving the motherboards to another case with larger fans.

That wouldn't be possible with your setup because the HP 1u servers have custom motherboards that wouldn't fit into anything else.

There are products like this that are designed to keep things in the rack quiet. I see such things on craigslist from time to time, usually from failed musician/geeks who wanted to run a home recording studio. You can't put much into these because you'll overwhelm their cooling capacity.

In short, there is a reason these things are cheap.

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Not a physical method but do make sure you have the latest firmware and updates for every part of your server and ensure that you've exhaustively looked into the available power-saving options in the BIOS and OS. In many cases these choices can significantly reduce noise by generating less fan-requiring heat. HP in particular have made some major gains on the last 18 months in this area.

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Most of the noise generated by servers tape drive units and the like are normally fan related of course, however this vibration is normally amplified through the cabinet the units are attached too. I'd use rubber washers or line the doors with sound proofing if its really a big problem. Its not going to dramatically reduce the noise level but a little goes a long way. Limit the travel of vibrations and your halfway there.

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The one thing to remember is that everything that baffles sound almost always baffles in the heat. You could always find a working old refrigerator to mount it in

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Phil's suggestion is essentially what I ended up doing. I was was going to post as a comment, but, well, I want points :)

I made a snug sleeve for the server from several cardboard boxes, sticking out about a foot on either side. Beyond that, the flaps of the boxes fold down about 45°, forming nice free noise traps (the top flaps are dog-eared to ensure airflow). This is enclosed bya foam pad, then a blanket. I definitely want to connect proper S-ducts to both ends, with a large fan on the exhaust, but this is a nice low-effort stopgap. Once I have tweaked this a bit I'll post pics.

Strangely there isn't much info on the net about this, or rather Google isn't indexing it due to it being hidden away in very niche forums (see for example this thread )

P.S. I also wanted to comment on the conventional wisdom that this is a bad idea, which IMHO mostly comes from industry group-think. I paid $60 for this thing, and was able to retrofit it to bring sound to an acceptable level rather easily. Bottom-feeders unite!!

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It isn't a bad idea -- I took all the fans (including the power supply fan) out of my main computer for years. The CPU and disk drives got hot (really hot) but I didn't care. It never broke, but if it had, I wouldn't have complained. You could probably just rewire all the fans in your server to run at 5v (making them spin at a much lower RPM) and see how loud the server is. The main sketchy part of this is taking apart the power supply and altering the fan in that. –  chris Dec 26 '09 at 1:59
    
i believe all the fans (including the power supply fan) are removable. the voltage for the fans are regulated by the BMC based on temperature sensor data (each fan has an RPM sensor, the BMC applies voltage to reach a desired speed). At least this is what I've gleaned from what research I've done so far. –  Eric Drechsel Dec 26 '09 at 6:33

The gist: Out-of-warranty rackmount servers can often be purchased very cheaply. The major downside to deployment outside a data-center (for instance, in one's garage) is the noise.

I would like to collect suggestions for creating effective noise-dampening/baffling for 1U, 2U, and 3U rack mount servers using cheap, readily-available materials (this is the key constraint). Links to plans with pictures would be ideal.

Look at this list of Links:

Fan Tray Manufacturers xxxp://www.interfacebus.com/Fan_Tray_Manufacturers.html

This looks easy to build or just buy one.

Orion Fans - AC Fans - DC Fans - Fan Trays http://www.orionfans.com/products/fan-trays

Specifically this one. Run big fans slowly for lots of cooling and the least amount of noise.

9 Fan 1U Tray http://www.orionfans.com/images/stories/images/products/9fantray.jpg

Pull all the 1U Fans from the Servers and hook up the Fans on the Fan Tray that are above the nearest 1U "HP Proliant DL-145" Motherboard to it's Fan Control Pins.

Hook up the Fans that are above the open _spaces_ of the "HP Proliant DL-145" 1U Tray to the Motherboards of the next lower Unit so that the second 1U controls it's own Fans and does not affect the top Unit.

There is a fair chance you could use one Fan Tray with three 1Us, if that works then strap them all together with a chunk of Rack Rail and flip it on it's side to make it a 4U Tower Case. That will look pretty mean on your Desktop (or under the Desk).

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I am reviewing your firsttime late answer and would suggest you abstain from quoting large parts of the question unless you answer multiple parts with specific paragraphs. –  eckes Dec 13 '12 at 2:17

Had the same issue with a group of dl145g2's running in my basement lab. Popped the top disconnected all the fans (except the powersupplies). Mounted two cpu fans and replaced the hd's with ssd devices.

I had two issues to deal with power and noise. This solution took care of both issues.

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My first 1U server was not cheap or out of warranty - a brand-new first-generation Mac Xserve. I was horrified when I turned it on. It was too loud in a closet in an office with the closet door closed (no server room then or now.)

I made a box from recycled MDF (particleboard) which allowed the server to suck cool air from the back, below itself, to the front, and then exhaust hot from the back, above itself, to the front. There was a door panel that could be unlatched (on hinges) at the front, and one that could be unscrewed at the back. Air passages were large and had foam and/or carpet linings to adsorb noise. Made the whole thing some 6-7 times thicker and at least 6 inches longer than the bare unit, but it was bought for its abilities (and included software license), not its size, and I did not have anywhere to hide it that I didn't have to listen to it. It's now retired - the server is irrelevant age wise, and the power supply died (the server never overheated according to its monitors, just doesn't work right - probably bad capacitors - made it about 10 years or so.)

That box helped immensely. While you still know the server is running, the box sucks up a lot of the teeth-on-edge high-pitched noise from the tiny fans spinning madly. One (an HP, not an Apple, about 4 years old) I just picked up surplus is either going to go live in a room where I don't care about noise (not in existence when the previous one was bought) or I might consider a fan replacement. Problem being those are something of a mechanical nightmare and may involve fighting with fan-control software on modern server boxes. I could (and might) re-use the Xserve box, but it is rather ungainly (MDF is heavy - on the plus side, it does not resonate much) if it's not absolutely needed.

The box is effectively an "S" with the server in the middle of the S. The upper and lower ducts taper so the whole package is rectangular, with the server at a slight angle (back higher than front) inside. It could easily be altered if you needed a few servers in one box, or wanted to pipe it to air-conditioning directly or the like.

A fanatical job could connect the duct-work to outside air. This was not a fanatical job. I don't have any pictures handy and I'm replying to a 4 year old post, mostly because I'm sure it's a subject that comes up over and over again, so perhaps it will help someone in the next 4 years or so.

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