How to: Quieten a noisy PC

There are numerous ways to reduce the noise made by your PC, and for not much money. By reducing the speed of your case fans, using a larger, quieter cooler, or adding sound-absorbing foam, you can drastically cut noise without having a huge impact on cooling. To test the effectiveness of these methods, we’ve used a sound meter to measure the impact of our tweaking, which measures the noise level while resting on the top fan vent of the case. The ambient noise level was recorded at 30dBA – the minimum level we can test.

Configure EFI or software

The latest fan control options in EFIs and Windows software utilities are very useful for controlling fan speeds, both with 3-pin and 4-pin PWM fans. Some motherboards, especially boards with an Asus EFI, can actually stop a fan spinning all together, as long as the CPU temperature is below 75°C. 

You can tweak this setting in the EFI or Asus’ Fan Xpert utility. For 3-pin or 4-pin fans, you can run the fan tuning option, which gives the software the information it needs to control your fans accurately. 

You can then use it to stop the fan completely below certain temperatures – which is great for creating a silent PC under certain circumstances. 

Alternatively, you can just run the fan at very low speeds and tweak the fan curve to increase the speed as the temperature rises. We noticed the fan speed reading for 3-pin fans wasn’t particularly accurate, though, so check the fan is actually spinning when it’s set to spin at a very low speeds. You can control the speeds of chassis fans or a CPU cooler fan here, but the latter is limited to a minimum speed of 20 per cent in Asus EFI systems.

Noise levels

  • Max speed    40dBA
  • Minimum speed    30dBA 
  • Fan switched off    30dBA

At maximum speed, you can hear this fan spinning. At its lowest speed, though, the case fan was inaudible outside of the case, and while the airflow was significantly lower than at maximum speed, it adds a significant amount of cooling potential to the system.

Use a resistor cable

Noctua NA-SRC10
$12 (box of three cables)

There’s a much simpler way to reduce the noise your fans make than fiddling around with software. A resistor cable can be inserted between the fan cable and motherboard, reducing the supplied current to the fan. This method can work with fixed fan speeds and variable fan speeds, although you’ll get more flexibility using the EFI software.

Noise levels
Max speed    40dBA
Minimum speed    35dBA 
Fan switched off    30dBA

We used a Noctua NA-SRC10 resistor cable, which saw a decent drop in noise from maximum speed while still dishing out reasonable airflow. However, it isn’t as quiet as an EFI-tuned fan.

Don’t use a hard disk

If your PC is already very quiet, you may have noticed just how much noise comes out of your hard drive. You can consider using a hard disk enclosure to muffle the noise, but these enclosures can be large and expensive. Dropping from a 7,200rpm model to a 5,200rpm drive won’t help much either, as slower drives still make noise. The best way to kill the noise is to go solid state with an SSD. 

Noise levels
Hard disk        40dBA
SSD        30dBA 
Ambient        30dBA

Hard disks aren’t that noisy compared with high-speed fans, but the clicks they make while being accessed can be very annoying. The general whine from the disk equated to around 3dBA with the sound meter sitting next to our silent PC, peaking at 35dBA when the disk was being accessed – that’s less noise than most fans, but the hard drive is clearly still a source of noise.

Reduce graphics card fan speed

Not all graphics cards can switch off their fans completely, but if you head to the Fan tab in the MSI Afterburner settings, you may find you can lower the fan speed to zero, or at least run the fan at lower speeds than normal. 

We found an XFX Radeon R9 390X wasn’t able to completely switch off its fans, but we could prevent them from spinning up too fast too soon. For example, we set the fan speed to 20 per cent until the temperature reached 80°C, when the fan speed would increase to 40 per cent to stop the card from throttling. 

Noise levels
Auto fan profile        56dBA
Custom fan profile        48dBA 

Use sound-absorbing foam

Noise Dampening 
Kit $60

Sound-absorbing foam is used in a number of cases out of the box; it’s similar to packing material, and if you use enough of it, you can deaden the sound from your PC, reducing the noise that hits your ears. 

Overclockers UK offers built-to-order kits for a variety of cases, from the BitFenix Prodigy to the NZXT Phantom 820, as well as offering universal kits that you can cut-
to-size. Unfortunately we could not find any Australian shops selling such kits, but you can have this shipped to you.

Noise levels
No foam        38.5dBA
Full foam kit    36.5dBA 

We honestly didn’t expect the sound-absorbing foam to make much of a difference to the decibels, but there was a clear drop in the noise level once we’d added the sound-absorbing foam to our system. With all the fans set to standard levels, the sound meter registered 38.5dBA, but this result fell to 36dBA with the sound-absorbing foam. 

The effectiveness of this method will depend on the case you use, of course, as any mesh panels will mean more sound can escape the case.  

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'Hearables' and clothing to grow fastest in wearables market, IDC says

Wearable devices that double as clothing or get worn on the ear will grow the fastest of all wearables in the next five years, market research firm IDC said Monday.

Earworn devices, sometimes called “hearables,” will grow by 43% every year over that period, IDC said. They started from a small base: just 700,000 devices shipped in 2016.

Clothing will grow by 77% a year, starting at 2016’s level of 1.3 million clothing wearables shipped, IDC added.

Earwear and clothing together will still make up only 11% of the wearable device market in 2021, well behind smartwatches and a group of wearables that IDC calls “basic” watches.

Today, these two groups of watches make up nearly half the wearables market, with about 49 million units shipped in 2016 out of 102 million total wearables shipped. Watches will jump to 152 million shipped in 2021, IDC predicted.

In the past two years, smartwatches and the more basic models struggled to find a mass market because the value propostion wasn’t clear, IDC said. “Most potential customers saw watches performing multiple functions, but none of them worked exceptionally well to accomplish a myriad of tasks,” said Ramon Llamas, an IDC analyst.

The trend will be to segment the devices into niches like kids’ watches, athletic watches, luxury and fashion watches and more, he said. TAG Heuer sells the Connected smartwatch in the luxury category for $1,500, for example.

One of the biggest watch segments is kids’ watches that offer location tracking for parents. “They aren’t as well-known in the U.S. but they are big in Asia,” said IDC analyst Jitesh Ubrani.

Earwear will be broken into wearables categories such fitness tracking and coaching, while others will have features such as noise canceling and enhanced audio. Doppler Labs, maker of Here One earbuds, takes the concept of noise-canceling headphones to a smaller form factor.

There’s also the prospect of real-time language translation with a hearable, Ubrani said. In one example, Mymanu, a UK-based startup, announced its Clik wireless earbuds earlier this year that can translate in up to 37 languages. The price is reportedly $190.

Clothing wearables are still an emerging market, but Llamas said clothes are being designed to track fitness and to communicate with workers. In one example, a first responder heading into a dangerous situation could have his heart rate or commands transmitted via his outer wear.

At Mobile World Congress in February, outdoor gear for marine rescue personnel was shown that can detect when the jacket is immersed in water and then transmit that information to a remote location.

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Nvidia's Latest Driver Adds Support For 'Mass Effect: Andromeda,' 'Rock Band VR'

If you own an Nvidia GPU and plan to play Mass Effect: Andromeda tomorrow, you might want to update your driver. The company released version 378.92, which provides optimizations for two games as well as SLI support for other titles.

The driver “provides optimal gaming experience” for Mass Effect: Andromeda, which comes out tomorrow, as well as Rock Band VR, which launches later this week on March 23. SLI support will also be available for Mass Effect: Andromeda as well as Deus Ex: Breach and Dead Rising 4.

As always, there are a few issues with the driver across Windows 7, 8, 8.1, and 10. The full list of issues is below.

Windows 10 Issues

  • [GeForce Experience]: Driver installation fails when attempting to perform a driver overinstall. To workaround, perform a clean installation.
  • [SLI][GeForce GTX 1080][Battlefield 1 XP1]: With SLI enabled, corruption appears in the game when switching between full-screen and windowed mode. [1889162]
  • [GeForce GTX 1080 Ti][Mass Effect: Andromeda]: Random memory errors occur when playing the game. [1887520]
  • [GeForce GTX 1080 Ti][Sid Meier’s Civilization VI][G-Sync/SLI/DirectX 12]: Black corruption appears while entering the in-game menu afte skippingthe cutscene. [200283322]
  • [GeForce GTX Titan X][Ansel][Ghost Recon Wildlands]: With FXAA enabled from the NVIDIA Control Panel, the application crashes when enabling the in-game Ansel UI. [200283194]
  • Error code 43 appears in the Device Manager after installing the driver with HDMI display connected. [200283276]
  • [Pascal][Notebook]: The display remains blank while over installing the driver, requiring a reboot. [200273603]
  • [GM204, Tom Clancy’s The Division Survival DLC] Game crashes pointing to ntdll.dll when changed to full-screen and to windowed full-screen. [200252894]
  • [GM204, ShadowPlay] For Honor silently crashes if intro video is skipped and instant replay is on. [200247313]
  • [SLI] [GeForce GTX 970M] Level loading hangs in Gears of War 4. [1826307]
  • [367.77, WDDM 2.1] Driver install/overinstall requires reboot. [1757931]
  • [SLI, GP104] Installer prompts for reboot during express overinstall of 372.69 driver on 372.54. [200231806]
  • [GM204] Quantum Break window either remains blank or freezes in game scene in windowed mode. [1804910]
  • Surround Display icon disappears after rotate mode set to portrait. [200201040]
  • [SLI] Street Fighter V performance drop (pause and play) observed when the game is played at 4K resolution with SLI enabled. [200172046]
  • [Luxmark 3.0] Display driver stopped responding while running benchmark LuxBall HDR (Simple Bechmark:217K triangles). [200153736]
  • [347.09, GM204] Blank screen observed on an ASUS Tiled display when system resumes from shutdown or hibernation with Fast boot option enabled from BIOS. [1591053]

Windows 8.1/Windows 8 Issues

  • [3DVision] While a stereoscopic 3D video with stereoscopic 3D enabled is played, the monitor refresh rate switches to 60 Hz after changing the resolution using the Windows control panel. [1314811]
  • [Video, Notebook] The Nvidia Control Panel video color settings have no effect on YouTube flash video playback within Internet Explorer 10. [999485]

Windows 7 Issues

  • [GeForce GTX 1080] Battlefield 1 hangs when campaign loaded with Fast Sync enabled from the Nvidia Control Panel. [200254350]
  • [SLI] Street Fighter V performance drop (pause and play) observed when the game is played at 4K resolution with SLI enabled. [200172046]
  • [3DVision] While a stereoscopic 3D video with stereoscopic 3D enabled is played, the monitor refresh rate switches to 60 Hz after changing the resolution using the Windows control panel. [1314811]

You can download the driver for your GPU and OS on Nvidia’s website, and you can take a look at the release notes here. If you’re still on the fence about Mass Effect: Andromeda, you can read about our hands-on time with the game.

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Samsung unveils Bixby voice assistant for upcoming Galaxy S8

Samsung revealed Monday that Bixby, an intelligent voice assistant, will run on the Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphone slated to be announced March 29 in New York.

Bixby will be activated using a special physical button on the side of the phone, differentiating it from some other assistants that rely on a trigger word, like “Alexa” or “Siri.” Samsung also said Bixby will eventually work on millions of Samsung-made devices, potentially including TVs and washing machines.

The S8 will come with a subset of preinstalled apps that are Bixby-enabled, according to Injong Rhee, executive vice president of software and services for Samsung Electronics. Over time, this set of apps will expand; Samsung will release a software toolkit to allow third-party developers to Bixby enable their apps and services.

“Bixby will be our first step on a journey to completely open up new ways of interacting with your phone,” Rhee said.

Gartner analyst Werner Goertz said Bixby is a late-comer to the digital assistant game, arriving two years after Amazon’s Alexa and behind Google Assistant, which already have rich databases of voice inquiries and searches to add context to queries.

Alexa is well known for working with Echo room units. However, just last week, Amazon announced that Alexa works in its Amazon app on iOS devices.

“Bixby is going to be playing catch up,” Goertz said. “Samsung faces a complete greenfield with its knowledge base.”

Even Alexa is in its “very early stages” in terms of how well a user can get an answer to a complicated question. “Everybody has a good time trying to trick these digital assistants, but if you bring in Bixby it’s going to be even easier to trip up Bixby.”

The functions of converting speech to text with digital assistants “works relatively well unless you trip it up with accents and background noise,” he said. The more critical issue is the knowledge base needed to find accurate information.

Still, Samsung argued that Bixby will offer a “deeper experience.” The company said that the feature in a Bixby-enabled app will support almost every task the app is capable of performing, including touch commands. By comparison, most agents currently only support a few selected tasks, which can confuse users about what works by voice command in an app.

Samsung also said Bixby will know the current context and state of an app to allow users to carry out work in progress. Users will be able to weave touch with voice interactions, depending on what they like.

And Bixby will also be smart enough to understand commands with incomplete information to the best of its knowledge, then ask for more information. “This makes the interface much more natural and easier to use,” Rhee added.

Even though Samsung is getting a late start with Bixby, Goertz said it stands to gain traction quickly, partly because Samsung is so large.

Samsung finished 2016 as the largest smartphone maker globally, although Apple edged ahead of it in the fourth quarter, according to IDC. Amazon has 10,000 integration partners for Alexa — everything from lights to security systems. But Samsung has a SmartThings home automation line and also makes a wide range of products beyond home devices like washing machines and TVs, including heavy construction equipment.

“Bixby will be a great addition” to Samsung products, Goertz said. The S8 should also support Google Assistant if it ships with Android 7.0 as expected, “so users will have a choice between Bixby and Google Assistant.”

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The CaptoGlove Motion Controller Gets A KickStarter

The CaptoGlove is an input device (er, garment?) meant for a variety of platforms–its creator seems to be aiming for “platform agnostic”–including the PC, mobile devices, and for XR. It’s designed to allow you to ditch standard input devices such as gamepads, keyboards, and mice, and the company making it, also called CaptoGlove, has just launched a Kickstarter campaign.

It’s important to understand what the CaptoGlove is and isn’t. When we tried out the CaptoGlove at GDC, we played through a VR version of Left For Dead, and the CaptoGlove served as our trigger finger. Regardless of the weapon we wielded, we stalked around with our right hand in a “gun” gesture, and we pulled an imaginary trigger with our right index finger to blast zombies. It also detects motion, so you as you move your hand, your view can move around, too. The glove offers 10 degrees of freedom (10Dof), and the company said that each glove can support up to 20 individual controls. With a pair of CaptoGloves, then, one could enjoy 40 different controls.

However, the CaptoGlove is not a hand tracker–it’s a motion controller. That is, it doesn’t recreate your hands in VR, for example; it lets you essentially remap input controls, and in doing so, it enables the 10DoF, which comes quite naturally because it responds to your hand movement.

In the L4D demo, because the CaptoGlove was in this case mapped to the shooting controls, it’s not as if our hand was replicated in the VR environment. This is, then, not a camera-based uSens or Leap Motion hand tracker, nor a Finch VR-type hand controller, nor for that matter even quite like the tracked controllers for Rift and Vive. It was about the input, not so much about the hand tracking, in this particular demo.

However, the CaptoGlove’s capabilities can be expanded. You can add “CaptoSensors” for “more advanced positional tracking of arms and hands,” according to the Kickstarter page, and the CaptoGlove was accepted into the Vive Tracker program.

Even so, CaptoGlove is probably overselling the XR capabilities. By contrast, the company may be underselling its use as an accessibility device. In fact, that’s the origin story of the glove; someone in their circle had an injury that prevented them from effectively using a mouse or keyboard, and they got the idea of a glove-as-input-device. Because the CaptoGlove is a motion controller, and lets you perform actions with programmable taps, gestures, and the like, it could help lots of people with certain limitations more easily and naturally control their phones, PC, and VR experiences.

The CaptoGlove already works with Windows, Android, iOS, and even some smart TVs. It uses a “dead reckoning” system to track your movements and recognizes hand input for controls including roll, pitch, yaw, acceleration, and more. You can use five-finger bends to make something happen, and the fingertips of the gloves are pressure-sensitive. It appears that individual fingers can be mapped to separate controls, so, for example, a bend of the forefinger, middle finger, and ring finger could all trigger different events.

It connects to devices primarily via BTLE, but below is the full list of platform compatibility and connectivity:

  • Microsoft Windows 8-10 via BTLE connection

  • Microsoft Windows 7 via non BTLE connection (Windows 7 do not support BTLE, Wi-Fi required)

  • Microsoft Windows 7-8-10 via USB cable connection

  • iOS & 4th Generation and above Apple TV via BTLE connection

  • Android mobile devices via BTLE connection

  • Android Smart TV consoles via BTLE connection (coming soon)

  • BTLE gaming consoles (coming soon)

  • BTLE Raspberry Pi (Linux Support)

When connected to a device via USB, the system recognizes CaptoGlove as a human interface device (HID). You can customize preset controls or create you own; generally speaking, a CaptoGlove rep told us, the company has tried to make configuration software simple. It even has an app. Calibration is designed to be quick and easy, too.

The glove can offer analog input, too, detecting levels of bending or pushing. The fabric is capacitive, so you can leave the glove on and tap on your phone screen without taking it off–which if nothing else is helpful, in practice, for when you’re fiddling with your phone to set up VR experiences with your mobile HMD.

The CaptoGlove team said that the device supports “all existing VR headsets” and listed the Rift, Vive, Gear VR, and Google Cardboard as examples. It also said that the glove can take the place of the gamepad for any mobile game. Console support is forthcoming, and the company is currently developing haptic feedback support.

There’s an SDK for developers, and the CaptoGlove supports the Unity game engine. The PCB where the magic happens (which also houses the battery) is just 4x4cm, and the battery life promises to give you 10-13 hours of juice.

We should note that the glove itself–the fit, feel, and fabric–appeared to be of high quality. (We did not get a chance to feel the interior of the glove with our bare hands, because CaptoGlove mercifully provided plastic “gloves”–like the kind food preparers wear when assembling your sandwich–so GDC attendees weren’t sharing any germs necessarily.)

You can snag a CaptoGlove for $160 via the Kickstarter. A representative told us that the retail version will cost $250. Kickstarter backers will get theirs starting in May; there’s no word on when everyone else can buy one.

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Xbox Insiders To Get Custom Gamerpics, Improved Clubs, And More

Microsoft’s Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb announced that select members of the Xbox Insider Program will soon be able to add their own gamerpics, customize their Club’s appearance, and participate in World of Tanks tournaments powered by the rather descriptively named “Arena on Xbox Live.”

Nelson said in his announcement that the features are part of Microsoft’s efforts to keep Xbox players happy. The company has mostly focused on developing new features such as the Beam streaming tool, the all-you-can-play Xbox Game Pass, and the like over the last few months, but now it’s responding to feedback collected via, uh, Xbox Feedback, with a smorgasbord of improvements to the existing service for which people have clamored.

Perhaps the most notable improvements are the changes to Xbox profiles. In addition to custom gamerpics, which Nelson said were a “top fan-requested feature,” profiles will feature information from Arena for Xbox Live and a “Join broadcast” button to make it easier for you to watch livestreams. You’ll also be able to “hide individual posts, pin posts to the top of your feed, and filter posts by friends, games or Clubs” in your profile’s Activity Feed.

That emphasis on customization and social features will extend to the service’s Clubs. Microsoft will soon let Club owners change their club’s logo and background, help Club owners and admins “stand out and manage their community” by labeling them in text posts, and pin posts to the top of their feed. This is all basic social networking stuff–Twitter has let you do most of those things for a while–but it should still be a welcome addition to Xbox Live.

Microsoft will also improve some odds and ends associated with Xbox. You’ll be able to filter your game library by platform (Xbox One or Xbox 360) to more easily find what you’re looking for. Xbox One will support captive portal internet access so you can use public Wi-Fi, and you’ll be allowed to select audio input and output sources for Party chat via the Xbox app for Windows 10. Oh, and you can use Kinect auto-zoom for Twitch, Beam, and Skype.

There’s also the tournaments via Arena for Xbox Live. As Nelson said in his announcement, the feature will let you:

Discover tournaments from your Xbox One or Xbox app on Windows 10, get notifications when your match is ready, jump directly into your match on the Xbox One, enjoy automatic results reporting, and show off the results on your activity feed.

You can find a full list of other changes in Nelson’s announcement. The improvements are expected to roll out to some Xbox Insiders throughout March. Nelson said the custom gamerpics and Club logos and backgrounds in particular will “be in preview longer than other features to ensure [they’re] great for everyone when released.” (Read: Microsoft doesn’t want people to post a bunch of dongs or other inappropriate pics to its not-quite-social-network.)

Nelson didn’t say when these features might reach other Xbox players.

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Two DLC Packs Coming This Spring For 'Dead Rising 4'

Frank West will become the latest member of the undead horde–and Willamette will become a virtual golf course–in two new pieces of downloadable content (DLC) for Dead Rising 4.

The DLC, titled Frank Rising, puts West at the center of a new viral outbreak. As one of the infected, he must now consume human flesh to stay alive. He also needs to rescue some fellow survivors, and he’ll do so with a suite of new abilities and newfound strength. However, there’s also a larger mission at stake: West will need to find a cure for the infection. Otherwise, the government will destroy the city in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus.

On the non-serious side of new content, there’s also Super Ultra Dead Rising 4 Mini Golf, where the surroundings are transformed into one large golf course. West himself will provide commentary as you make your way from the tee to the green. You’ll also be able to gather some power-ups so you can take out some zombies while playing golf. The DLC will also include additional costumes, golf balls, and clubs. You can compete against three other players online, or you can take turns with a friend in local co-op gameplay.

The Frank Rising DLC is slated for release on April 4, but the release date for Super Ultra Dead Rising 4 Mini Golf (what a name!) wasn’t specified. Both DLC packs will cost $10 each, but they’re both also included as part of the Dead Rising 4 Season Pass.

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