Recent 27" iMacs are NOT silent

motrek

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Sep 14, 2012
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So I have a pretty quiet office at home and I have good hearing and I value silence when I'm trying to focus on something. The office can get down to 29 or 30 dB at night.

For the past ~8 years I've had a Mac Mini which I put on the outside edge of my desk, on the floor. If it wasn't under load, I literally could not near it. I did a test once where I had a friend turn it either on or off when I wasn't in the room, then I'd go into the room and guess if it was on or not. It really was just guessing and I was only right about 50% of the time.

The Mini was getting long in the tooth though and I'd been thinking about a 27" iMac for the past 2-3 years, but didn't pull the trigger because I thought the noise from having the fan right in front of me would be annoying.

So I did a bunch of research and there are about a million posts on various forums about how the iMac is virtually silent if it's not under load, with a lot of people saying they can't hear it at all, that it's literally silent, etc. etc. etc. Finally I found a YouTube video of a guy reviewing his iMac and showing that it didn't move his SPL meter app when he turned it on. (The app only showed integers, BTW...)

So I got up the courage to finally get an iMac (with an SSD of course), after years of on-and-off handwringing, and it is NOT SILENT AT ALL. It is very quiet. According to my SPL meter app, it raises the volume at my listening position from 29 dB to 30 dB. By any standard, that is very quiet. If anything else in your vicinity is making any noise, that thing is probably louder than an iMac. Many settings will have ambient noises that drown out the sound of an iMac, like the HVAC system in many offices, etc.

But, it is not silent. And moreover, the character of the noise isn't super great. If you put your ear close to the fan vents, the noise it makes is a not-unpleasant whoosh. But that sound interacts with various surfaces, such that at a normal seating position, it doesn't sound nearly as nice. I suspect that the... aesthetic?... decision to point the fan vents at the iMac's stand doesn't help. I imagine the stand acts as sort of a partial horn.

Anyway, I just wanted to get on the record in case there are other people out there like me who value silent computing and want to know just how silent an iMac REALLY is. Because again, there are a lot of people claiming that it's silent. And I can see why they might think that. But different strokes for different folks, and in my opinion, if you value truly quiet/silent computing, you should really think two (or three) times before getting an iMac...
 

Lankyman

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I have the 2TB FD 2019 iMac and it's so quiet it makes me think I'm sitting in a vacumn. Perhaps you should have gone with the FD drive, a truly great choice for the average user. 😁
 

uller6

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May 14, 2010
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I had a SSD only 2014 5K iMac 27” for a couple years and I had the same issue. Not quiet whatsoever, especially on idle. Under load it sounded like a jet engine. I’m obsessed with quiet computing and despise fans, but need massive computational power. These two generally don’t go well together. My 2013 nMP is quieter, but still makes too much noise in my opinion. I hear the iMac Pro and the new 2019 Mac Pro are even quieter, but don’t have personal experience with those machines.
 

spiderpumpkin

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Oct 27, 2014
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The 2019 iMacs have a fan that runs all the time at an idle speed of 1200rpm. A quick search for 2019 imac fan speed or 2019 imac fan noise shows many topics on this subject.
 

Fishrrman

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Feb 20, 2009
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The iMac will have a fan and [possibly] a platter-based hard drive inside (depending on which one you bought).

As such, it's NOT going to be "silent" (if by "silent", you mean "no noise at all").

Some folks are more obsessive about this than others.

If you bought an iMac with a fusion drive inside, you could return it for one with an SSD (no moving parts in that kind of drive). That might make it "quiet-er", but it will STILL have the fan inside...
 

TiggrToo

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Aug 24, 2017
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Out there...way out there
The iMac will have a fan and [possibly] a platter-based hard drive inside (depending on which one you bought).

As such, it's NOT going to be "silent" (if by "silent", you mean "no noise at all").

Some folks are more obsessive about this than others.

If you bought an iMac with a fusion drive inside, you could return it for one with an SSD (no moving parts in that kind of drive). That might make it "quiet-er", but it will STILL have the fan inside...
The OP stated it has an SSD...
 
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mabaker

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Jan 19, 2008
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The base 2015 models were virtually silent on idle. Good to know the 2019 ones are noisier.
 

Lankyman

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The 2019 iMacs have a fan that runs all the time at an idle speed of 1200rpm. A quick search for 2019 imac fan speed or 2019 imac fan noise shows many topics on this subject.
Mine is definitely more silent than my 2011 iMac which has an SSD fitted with no HDD. As said in previous post the silence is exceptional. I can only comment on my own personal experience of this fine machine.
 

MistrSynistr

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May 15, 2014
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My 2015 is silent unless you're pushing the absolute hell out of it running tons of things at the same time, like loading RAW files while using handbrake and a few other things. And even then it's still not "noisy" loud.
 

gilby101

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Mar 17, 2010
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My impression (I don't have hard evidence) is that the fan 'tuning' has changed on the 2019 i9 iMac with one of the Catalina releases.

When I got my iMac (last April) it seemed very reluctant to increase the fan speed unless all cores fully loaded. It preferred to reduce the speed boost to keep the temperature under control before raising the fan speed.

Now the iMac seems to raise the fan speed sooner when under medium load with the result that the CPU speed boost remains higher for longer.
 

MacManiac76

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Apr 21, 2007
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I find it funny that people think the iMac is like an iPad with no fan in regards to noise. There is a fan always spinning at a minimum of 1200 rpms, so there will always be noise. If there is no other sound in the room, you will hear it. Most rooms have other ambient sounds that drown out the fan noise. Anybody that thinks an iMac is silent is a fool.
 
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motrek

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Sep 14, 2012
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The base 2015 models were virtually silent on idle. Good to know the 2019 ones are noisier.
Actually the one I bought is a late 2015 model that had been used very infrequently. Used often enough that I'm sure there's not a problem with e.g. the fan bearing lubrication, but used little enough that I'm sure nothing is worn out. I'm sure the fan is functioning as Apple intended, and it is not silent. Or even really very quiet.

I've had two 11" MacBook Airs that, when idle, were extremely difficult for me to hear in a quiet room. Right now I have an early 2015 13" MacBook Pro which is apparently semi-passively cooled, so it is literally silent when idle (aside from any sort of capacitor whine, which, if it has any, I can't hear). My Mac Mini is fairly easy to hear when placed on my desk near me, but inaudible when placed on the floor alongside my desk.

The late 2015 iMac is significantly louder than all of these computers. Disappointing that Apple is able to make portable computers that are so quiet and apparently unable to make similarly quiet desktop computers.
 

Double-Slit

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Feb 8, 2016
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My late 2015 model iMac (27" / 3,3GHz / i5 / SSD) is silent. I also have a good hearing and value silence. Sitting in front of the iMac I can't hear any noise. Only when putting my ears close to the iMac I am able to hear some noise. With regards to fan noise, every iMac seems to be different and fan noise is not related to MY. It looks like it's just a matter of luck whether the iMac you receive is silent or not.
 

vertical smile

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Sep 23, 2014
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So I did a bunch of research and there are about a million posts on various forums about how the iMac is virtually silent if it's not under load
While "virtually silent" is very subjective, I would say that my Late 2012 is virtually silent at times.

I don't use any equipment measure it and I have suffered some hearing loss while in the military, but at times I can't hear it over ambient noise.

I think people are using silent in relative terms, because relative to other computers, the iMac is pretty silent.

If anyone thinks the iMac is loud, you should hear my Power Mac G5.

To the OP: why not return it and get a Mac Mini if being close to silent is a priority to you.
 
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Lankyman

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I find it funny that people think the iMac is like an iPad with no fan in regards to noise. There is a fan always spinning at a minimum of 1200 rpms, so there will always be noise. If there is no other sound in the room, you will hear it. Most rooms have other ambient sounds that drown out the fan noise. Anybody that thinks an iMac is silent is a fool.
Well I can’t hear the noise if it exists, so one fool reporting for duty SIR!
 

motrek

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Sep 14, 2012
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My late 2015 model iMac (27" / 3,3GHz / i5 / SSD) is silent. I also have a good hearing and value silence. Sitting in front of the iMac I can't hear any noise. Only when putting my ears close to the iMac I am able to hear some noise. With regards to fan noise, every iMac seems to be different and fan noise is not related to MY. It looks like it's just a matter of luck whether the iMac you receive is silent or not.
I think it's more likely that people are listening to their iMacs in settings with different levels of ambient noise.

Years ago, I had an office job and they gave us computers that I was super-impressed with because I thought they were basically silent. I could only hear the computer they gave me by placing my ear an inch or two away from the exhaust fan. When the next upgrade cycle came around, they gave us the option to buy the old computers and take them home, which is what I did. When I got the computer home I found out it was actually louder than the computer I already had at home. Obviously the ambient noise at my office (from the HVAC system?) was loud enough to either drown out or mask the noise from the computer. Which is what I assume is happening with everybody who says they can't hear their iMacs. Seems like a more likely explanation than variations in manufacturing.
 

motrek

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To the OP: why not return it and get a Mac Mini if being close to silent is a priority to you.
Well, I guess that's the decision I have to make.

In just about every regard, the iMac is a superior computer to the Mini, particularly the display. I suppose 27" 4K IPS displays are pretty cheap these days (under $300) but I suspect you have to buy a pretty expensive one for it to compare well with an iMac's display, in terms of contrast and uniformity and color accuracy and especially color gamut (P3).

And even if you connect a Mac Mini to a 4K display and run it at a logical resolution of 1440p, you will be using integrated graphics, which many people report is kinda slow and stuttery and those resolutions.

So I guess the question is, do I like the iMac's display more than I like the Mac Mini's silence.

I'm going to give the iMac a week and see if I get used to the noise. At this point right now it still seems like a constant distraction...
 

Zen_Arcade

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Jun 3, 2019
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I tried this with my i9/FD/580x in my basement office, where ambient noise is typically about 30 dB.

Under load, it went up to a rough average of 48 dB. This was with my phone about 2' from the iMac's fan (I placed it on the desk, parallel to the iMac screen). Without load, it averaged ~34 dB.

I also tried it with a 2015 iMac 27" that had an SSD; under load it registered a rough average of 49 dB; without load it averaged a tick higher than the 2019, at ~35 dB.

EDIT: The problem with the Mini is that if you spec it to be competitive CPU wise with an iMac, it's not so silent any longer. An i7 2018 Mini is darn near as audible as the iMac.
 

retta283

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Jun 8, 2018
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Both of the 2006 iMacs I owned were silent to my ears. My 2008 was silent except the hard drive. My 2010 and 2019 I can hear constantly though if there is no ambient noise.
 

motrek

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Original poster
Sep 14, 2012
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I tried this with my i9/FD/580x in my basement office, where ambient noise is typically about 30 dB.

Under load, it went up to a rough average of 48 dB. This was with my phone about 2' from the iMac's fan (I placed it on the desk, parallel to the iMac screen). Without load, it averaged ~34 dB.

I also tried it with a 2015 iMac 27" that had an SSD; under load it registered a rough average of 49 dB; without load it averaged a tick higher than the 2019, at ~35 dB.
I don't really care about when the computer is under load. I rarely do anything that would push the fan speed above idle. And when I do, I'm happy to put up with the noise tradeoff. Out of curiosity, I did load up my new iMac to see how it sounded, and found it to be fairly loud but not unpleasant.

Sounds like your iMacs are louder than mine, mine only registered a ~1 dB difference on my SPL meter app. Or maybe my app isn't very accurate.

Again, make no mistake, the computer is very quiet. I'm just disappointed that it isn't quieter.
 

Zen_Arcade

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Jun 3, 2019
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I don't really care about when the computer is under load. I rarely do anything that would push the fan speed above idle. And when I do, I'm happy to put up with the noise tradeoff. Out of curiosity, I did load up my new iMac to see how it sounded, and found it to be fairly loud but not unpleasant.

Sounds like your iMacs are louder than mine, mine only registered a ~1 dB difference on my SPL meter app. Or maybe my app isn't very accurate.

Again, make no mistake, the computer is very quiet. I'm just disappointed that it isn't quieter.
How far away from the fan grill did you have your app? Sounds like you already know this, but room acoustics, proximity, etc., make a huge difference.
 

motrek

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Sep 14, 2012
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How far away from the fan grill did you have your app? Sounds like you already know this, but room acoustics, proximity, etc., make a huge difference.
Yeah, I was placing my phone where my head usually is when I'm sitting in my office chair.
 

Nismo73

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Jan 4, 2013
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This debate has been going on since late 2012. It has a single fan that always spins and it's a design that's from back then. For mine, if the room's quiet I can just hear it, if there's a video playing or other ambient noise I generally don't hear it.
I have a 2012 27" and I'm waiting for the redesign to upgrade b/c I always knew that I would hear the same noise coming from it regardless of spec updates.