The sound of silence

As a podcaster, I’m conscious of the need for ambient quiet in the room where I record audio and video. That’s my home office. It’s not a formal recording studio with sound-absorbing panels, etc, just a room with a view, desks, a picture or two, a bookcase, some knick-knacks, and three computers with monitors.

A few weeks ago, I bought a new microphone, a Rode PodMic USB that also has XLR connectors for using it with a mixer such as a Vocaster One that’s connected to my primary desktop PC, a highly-spec’d Dell XPS 8940 I’d bought in early 2022. The overall new combination gives me excellent audio quality without requiring major work in Adobe Audition.

In test recordings, I noticed the excellence in the quality of the audio that the microphone and mixer created. That’s when I also noticed a slight humming sound, a resonance, in the background of the recorded audio.

A bit of sleuthing produced the answer – the sound of the hard disk drive (HDD) in the computer. Being an electro-mechanical device, the HDD has a series of platters inside it that spin at 7,200 revs per minute. This physical activity makes noise, not that you’d typically notice it. But the new Rode mic picked it up.

Western Digital 1TB hard disk drive (HDD).
The noisy culprit

The HDD is a second drive in the computer, the prime storage medium for everything except the Windows 11 operating system and programs, which are installed on an NVMe solid-state drive (SSD).

One of the great things about Dell desktop PCs is how easy it is to add, replace or remove many of the internal components such as memory, graphics card, and disk drives.

For the latter, this PC has spaces for four drives in addition to the NVMe drive: two 3.5″ drives (the size of the 1TB Western Digital Blue HDD pictured) and two 2.5″ drives (the size of the Samsung SSD pictured at the top).

Replacing the HDD with a new (and quieter) drive is easy enough and deciding to replace this with an SSD didn’t need a lot of thinking about. There are significant performance benefits compared to HDDs – and SSDs have no moving parts and make no noise at all.

And so I bought a 2TB Samsung 870 QVO SSD at a very keen price on Amazon UK. Ordered on Thursday afternoon, arrived on Friday, and installed on Saturday.

Easy installation and setup

It’s probably five years if not more since I swapped out a hard drive from a computer for a new one. Back then, it was quite easy with some advance planning. Today, it’s even easier:

  1. Open up the computer.
  2. Insert the new SSD in its caddy, place it into the drive bay and connect the cables.
  3. Close up the computer.

You can see in the photo below how that looks. At top left, you can just see the new SSD in the drive bay (and you can get a sense of scale at how compact this drive is) which can hold two SSDs. To the far right of the CPU fan in the centre is the HDD bay with the HDD in it, now removed. At top right is the second, empty, HDD bay.

You can also see the 500GB NVMe SSD mounted on the motherboard below the CPU fan and above the small Dell logo.

Inside the Dell XPS 8940.
Inside the Dell XPS 8940

Of course, there is a bit more to it than just opening up the PC and inserting a new drive.

I knew what I wanted to do, and was confident I could do it without issue, so I created a task list that was a step-by-step procedure:

1: Check the Dell Community Forum to see if there was any chat about adding a new SSD to an XPS 8940, and if there were any issues to be aware of or special preparations to do beforehand. I saw nothing alarming there so I proceeded with my plan.

2: Ensure I had a full backup of everything on all hard drives. That was done overnight on Friday to cloud storage.

3: Be sure about the procedure to change the drive letter of a disk drive. This is important as after I added the SSD and removed the HDD, I intended to assign the same drive letter to the SSD that had been for the HDD. I’ll explain why a bit further on. (If I hadn’t wanted to do that, this step is unnecessary.)

4: Physically add the new SSD to the computer (shown above) but without removing the in-place HDD yet. Then close up the PC, connect all the peripherals to it – monitor, keyboard, USB devices, etc – turn it on and check via the Disk Management system utility in Windows 11 that the computer recognises the new SSD.

  • If the PC doesn’t recognise the new SSD, you will need to troubleshoot for a solution including double-checking that the drive is properly placed inside the computer and connected correctly. You cannot proceed otherwise.

5: Initialise the new SSD and follow all the steps in Disk Management to complete preparation so the disk is recognised by the computer and is then ready for use. If that is a success, then continue to the next step.

6: Download and install Samsung Magician, a useful software utility from Samsung that provides you with a wide range of information about Samsung SSDs connected to your computer. From here you can update firmware, run diagnostic tests and benchmark performance. It will also show some basic info about non-Samsung drives although it’s pretty limited for that.

Samsung Magician dashboard
Samsung Magician

7: Close all running programs and reboot the computer. This might not have been necessary, but as I had just made some significant changes to the computer’s hardware configuration, I wanted to be sure that everything worked as I expected (it did).

It also sets the scene for the next step.

8: Copy all the content from the HDD to the newly-installed SSD.

If you’ve gone through a similar activity with adding or replacing a hard drive, you might be wondering why I didn’t use migration software or one of the software utilities you can find online that clones one disk to another.

As the new SSD replaced the old HDD which was the secondary storage medium for data – only documents, images, audio and video files, games, etc, with no operating system or program files on this drive – copying all those files from the HDD to the SSD was the simplest and most effective procedure. If I had been doing this on a drive that has the operating system installed on it, I would have either cloned the disk or started from scratch by installing Windows 11 as new.

After I checked the integrity of the copied files – did they match the files on the HDD (they did) – I was set for the next and near-final step.

9: Remove the HDD from the computer after shutting it down, disconnecting all peripherals, and opening it up. It is a simple procedure requiring disconnection of the cables from the HDD and removing the drive from the drive bay. Close the computer case, reconnect everything and turn it on.

10: Change the drive letter Windows 11 assigned to the SSD to the letter used for the HDD. When I bought the PC, I had changed the default location of documents, pictures, music, video, etc, in Windows from the location on drive C, the boot drive, to new locations on drive D, the data-storage drive. Windows assigned drive G to the new SSD. If I had stuck with that, I would have had to reset all the file locations to G, plus other things I’d changed that I’d probably forget.

Now that the HDD was no longer part of the overall computer configuration, I could choose the letter D for the SSD using Disk Management. Once I rebooted the computer again, the contents on drive D (now the SSD) were accessible as before, as if nothing had changed. Which was how Windows saw it. I then checked if all was good with synchronised files on OneDrive and whether it reported any issues (it didn’t).

Part of the reason I’ve written this explainer – more detailed than I originally had in mind – is that it might help you if you’re considering doing something similar. It’s also an aide-mémoire for me if I need to do this again in the future.

As I conclude this post, I sit at my desk savouring the enjoyable quiet in my office.

Silence really is golden.

If you prefer to listen than read, I recorded an audio version of this article that’s posted on Soundcloud. It’s also a good example of the great audio quality I get using my Rode microphone, and now saving recordings to the new SSD.