Silence is Golden – Lowering the Volume on a 7300/200

Silence is Golden - Lowering the Volume on a 7300/200

This weekend, I finally began serious restoration work on the Power Macintosh 7300/200 that I had acquired a few weeks back. Its biggest problem? The machine was Loud LOUD LOUD! Back in the late 1990s’, everyone, including Apple, seemed to accept that computers were simply very noisy, and that not much needed to be done about it. Apple themselves are infamous for 2002’s Mirrored Drive Doors (MDD) G4, which was so loud that it earned the informal designation of “Windtunnel G4” among many users.

Apple PowerMac G4 M8570 MDD

The noise problem on this particular machine became such an issue that Apple eventually replaced the machine’s power supply (PSU) and primary cooling fan with quieter versions, and provided a voluntary do-it-yourself (DIY) replacement kit for all previously sold machines. How could Steve Jobs, a man who obsessed over the smallest of details, allow such a machine out of the door with Apple’s logo on it?

My Power Macintosh 7300/200 was minted in 1997, the year Steve Jobs returned to Apple, but before he had made any significant impact on the product lineup. Like most computers of the day, it was loud – loud enough that it was always a relief to turn it off. In my case, my Power Macintosh 7300 came with two hard drives, one of which was particularly loud (the one with the Linux install on it), and the other of which was not exactly quiet either. After running the machine with the case off in order to locate the source of the racket, it became clear that the primary culprits were the two hard drives. The power supply was not silent by any means, but it was not unbearable.

With this in mind, I set out to find some replacement hard drives featuring good acoustic specs. My approach was not all that scientific – I trolled eBay for every 50 pin SCSI drive they had that was 4 GB or larger, and one by one looked up the specs for each drive on Google to see what the acoustic numbers were. Some I could not find specs for, some that I did find specs for didn’t include acoustic numbers and some that had both specs and acoustic numbers were screamers in their own right. However, eventually and finally, I happened upon Seagate’s ST418318N, an 18GB drive, pictured below:

ST318418N 19GB Quiet HDD - from eBay Ad

ST318418N 19GB Quiet HDD - Label

This drive had outstanding acoustic specs: 2.0 bels in normal operation. Most of the “screamer” class of hard drives are up in the 3.5 bels and above region. Since the bel rating is logarithmic, the difference between a “2” and a “3” is massive. From previous experience, I know that a 2.0 bel hard drive will be largely inaudible. Happy with the specifications, I bid on the drive and won.

If you should chose to do the same thing, please take note. The eBay seller, “media-xpert”, is located in Israel, which is a long, long way from where I am located, and that gave me pause for a moment. However, this seller had the right drive at the right price and very good buyer feedback, and so I placed the order. I am happy to report that the drive arrived exceptionally well packaged, and well within the anticipated shipping interval.

While I was at it, since I wanted to replace both drives, and the second one was for Linux, I opted for an IDE drive. Now the Power Macintosh 7300 doesn’t support IDE, but Sonnet made a very nice ATA66 PCI IDE card for it (Sonnet Tempo Ultra ATA66, pictured below), and I was lucky enough to find one on eBay, bid on it and win it.

Tempo Ultra ATA66 PCI IDE Adapter

That just left the drive. After a similar hunt and check process as outlined above, I came upon the ST3120814A, a 120GB drive with 8MB of onboard cache, pictured below.

ST3120814A, 120GB, 8MB, Quiet HDD (larger)

This drive also had a low acoustic rating (2.5 bels) and so I knew it was just what I was looking for. I bid on it and won it as well. The Sonnet card and the drive cost less than $50 combined, and so I was not breaking the bank with this extra drive.

This weekend I put all this hardware together, crossed my fingers and started the machine up. The 7300 was much, much quieter than it had been – perhaps not as quiet as the proverbial church mouse, but quite satisfactory. The only remaining source of sound pollution is the power supply. On another day, I will have to extract the power supply from the box, tear it down and replace its fan with a quieter one. I did this with a Power Macintosh 7500/100 I own, and the result was almost eerie silence while the machine is running.

Anyway, I booted up the now oh so much more peaceful 7300 with a Mac OS 9.1 install CD in the tray and fired up Disk Setup. It saw both new drives, initialized them both successfully, and I went on to install Mac OS 9.1 onto the 18 GB SCSI drive. Linux will have to wait for another day as well.

So, if you want a little peace and quiet from your vintage Power Macintosh, seriously consider replacing the hard drive with a quieter model. I can personally recommend the ST318418N 18 GB drive and the ST3128140A 120 GB drive. Your ears will thank you.

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