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As I speak, freshly-built computer has only two fans spinning: the power supply fan, and the CPU fan. The harddrive is an SSD.

Putting my ear up to the power supply, the sound is clearly not coming from it. It's whirring nearly silently.

Putting my ear up to the CPU area, however, lead me to believe that the sound was coming from the CPU fan. I replaced it, and the sound continued. So, on the new fan, I put my finger on the middle of the spinning fan until it stopped (the temps were fine afterward!), and the sound was still there.

Can CPUs themselves make noise? This sound is catastrophically annoying. What could it be?

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If you really want to figure it out, rig a stethoscope with a small "head" and probe around. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 16 '11 at 12:33
    
The keyword might be "whine". See also Any way to disable specific CPU idle (Cx) states? and CPU makes an electric leak like sound. –  Arjan Aug 18 '11 at 18:52
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5 Answers 5

It could be an inductor vibrating from oscillating voltages. Be careful of touching random components in order to still them though since some may be hot.

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Capacitors and inductors can make noise. Capacitors usually look like little beer cans. Inductors are coils of wire. The circuit that's often a problem converts voltage from one level to another.

Take a bamboo chopstick, and lightly touch each component in the suspected area. The sound will stop (or at least change) when you've hit the right point. You can then try some silicone caulk, silly putty, or something else to keep the component from vibrating. Sometimes just wedging a toothpick in helps.

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Have you disconnected your PC speaker, just in case?

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Good idea. I had done that, though! –  Closure Cowboy Jul 16 '11 at 6:51
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The sound might leak into the motherboard's audio and come out the speakers. For example, on my 8GB Win7 desktop PC a certain multi-hour image stitching process (Microsoft Image Composite Editor) oscillates between 4 and 6 GB RAM usage every twenty seconds, looking like a heartbeat in Task Manager. The RAM usage is exactly tracked by the frequency of a faint whine in the loudspeakers. 6 GB is about 3 kHz, and 4 GB is about 1 kHz. (But my PC shows no ill effects, and its RAM tests fine, so I'm not worried.)

If your sound isn't coming from the speakers, use a mechanic's stethoscope to pinpoint the source. Harbor Freight sells them for $3, many other stores for $10 to $15.

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A quick Google search says that many people get sounds (usually high-pitched electronic noise) out of a device you would expect to be silent: An SSD.

It is likely coming from the capacitor.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SSD#Battery_or_super_capacitor

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnson%E2%80%93Nyquist_noise (look at the contents)

If it is still under warranty, I would try to get a replacement.

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To quote the wiki article: Johnson–Nyquist noise (thermal noise, Johnson noise, or Nyquist noise) is the electronic noise generated by the thermal agitation of the charge carriers (usually the electrons) inside an electrical conductor at equilibrium... –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 16 '11 at 12:36
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