Is Your MacPro Louder Than Your Audio Mix?

Here at SuiteTake we try to be neat. We try to be clean. You know, it impresses clients when they walk into a nice neat and clean suite instead of a smelly pit of filth. So we vacuum, we take out the garbage filled with empty coffee cups, Chinese food containers, and the occasional empty bottle of Baileys Irish Creme, we wipe down the counters, we scrub the caked up residue of hundreds of lotiony hands turning the various doorknobs. Sure, this makes for a pleasant working environment for us and our clients but what about the real work-horses of the office – the Macs?

A can of compressed air should clean this puppy right up
A can of compressed air should clean this puppy right up

We have a few MacPro’s here at the office with the ATI Radeon X1900 XT graphics cards. Yes they work great and are blazing fast, but have you ever noticed that they have a tendency to be loud? If you’re a proud owner of a X1900 you are already fondly familiar with its wizzingly loud startup sound as the fan boosts to overdrive during the initial moments of startup.

Observe the X1900 in its natural environment
Observe the X1900 in its natural environment

After running the X1900 for well over a year I began to notice that the X1900’s fan was getting louder and louder. At first its speed would increase slightly, to the point where you could just barely hear it, for only a few seconds then it would settle down to its normal, near silent, state and speed. I didn’t think much of it at the time, I had just upgraded to Leopard and was using its nifty new mosaic-like iPhoto montage screen saver and thought it was just a little GFX power boost that was needed when the screen saver kicked in. As time passed, however, the fan began to get louder and louder more and more often. Its speed would increase dramatically and remain there for longer periods, then, when it would settle down its overall speed was always increased.

This was getting really annoying especially because now I could always hear the fan whirring and wizzing, speeding up and slowing down all day long. I checked software, driver, and firmware updates. I emailed support at Apple and ATI to no avail. I searched and posted forums pleading for an answer or just to find at least one other person with the same problem. Eventually I found what I was looking for. About 27 Google searches in I stumbled across a forum where people were having the same issues and discussing the problem. Some suggested driver updates, others suggested a total re-install of the OS. But way down at the bottom the simplest and easiest solution was offered: clean the damn thing!

The problem is that the X1900’s heat sync is covered by a protective plastic shield with the fan at one end and an opening and air intake at the other. This shield creates a sort-of wind tunnel channeling air flow past the heat sync and out the back of the Mac. Since the heat sync’s slats are bunched so tightly together they collect a blanket of dust on them that in effect blocks off the air flow through the unit hence the increased and variable fan speed. The X1900’s fan has to speed up because it’s not able to pull enough air past it to maintain its optimal temperature.

The actual heat sync is orange colored, you can't even see it
You can't even see the heat sync below the dust

The solution, simple. Just pull out the card (may or may not be necessary depending on the tools you have) and remove the dust blanket. I pulled mine out so I could photograph it and used a pair of needle-nose pliers to remove the dust taking care not to damage the heat sync during the procedure.

Removing the X1900
Removing the X1900
Using pliers to remove the dust
Using pliers to remove the dust
Now you can see the heat sync below the dust
Now you can see the heat sync below the dust

It was nice that the dust pulled off kind of like a sheet.

The leftover dust-bunnies
The leftover dust-bunnies

The procedure took only a minute once the card was removed and it left a sparkling and shiny new heat sync.

All shiney and new
All shiny and new

Add in a little compressed air to spruce up the rest of the card and it was as good as new.

Reinstalled
Reinstalled

I fired up the Mac right after I reinstalled everything and all the fan speed and noise problems were instantly gone and have not come back. The fan now happily spins at its near-silent state and is no longer a nusiance.

If you have a MacPro with the ATI Radeon X1900 and haven’t payed much attention to cleaning it chances are pretty good that your heat sync looks just like ours did. Even if you’re not experiencing any fan speed or noise issues yet, pop open your Mac and pull off the dust blanket. A bit of preventative maintenance never hurt anything.

Ahhh, silent editing...
Ahhh, silent editing...

1 thought on “Is Your MacPro Louder Than Your Audio Mix?

  1. Um, this just came from heaven. Thank you. I had this exact card and situation. Now: bliss. Wow.

    By the way, in addition to the needle nose pliers, a small thin, yet stiff brush that came with my electric beard trimmer was very helpful.

    L.A. black dust is the worst.

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