As PC gamers, we’ve probably all booted up our favorite game, only to be distracted big time by our graphics card sounding like a Boeing 747 getting ready to take off. This noise is called coil whine, and while many people say that it’s caused by electromagnetic interference (which I’ll discuss later), there’s also another potential cause: GPU sag.
What Causes GPU Sag?
Modern graphics cards are heavy: with the Nvidia RTX 4090 weighing a massive 2186g (almost 5 pounds). This presents a problem for PC builders because graphics cards are often just held onto the case by a few small screws (and the PCIe slot of the motherboard):
This presents a problem because when the case sits upright, there is a natural downward force (i.e. gravity) pulling down on the heavy graphics card. This can cause the GPU to sag, causing it to appear distorted in your case.
While this is often just a visual problem (i.e. it looks a bit odd, but doesn’t cause any problems), in some cases it can result in extra noise coming from your graphics card: coil whine.
How To Fix Coil Whine Caused By Your Sagging GPU!
While many PC gamers say that coil whine is caused by electromagnetic interference (electrical current passing through the capacitors within the GPU), extra card noise can also be caused by physical problems – including your GPU drooping downwards (i.e. sagging). This is because the cooling systems might be affected by the sagging, causing extra vibrations and noise to reverberate out your case.
There’s a few potential fixes for this problem, but I’ll start off with the most common/likely fixes.
Try Propping Up Your GPU
When you hear coil whine coming from your graphics card, take off the side of your case and prop up your graphics. Does the sound disappear? If so, it’s likely that the noise you are hearing is related to GPU sag.
Assuming that your graphics card is secure (which I discuss in the next section), the main solutions here are:
- Buy a graphics card support bracket. These brackets run along the whole length of your graphics card, providing upwards support to all aspects of it (unlike a standard GPU install, where it’s only supported by a few screws at the edge of the case).
- Put something underneath it to physically prop it up. Some people put action figures under their GPU, or even use 3D printed toys. This is what u/SirPhillipOfTheFilth on Reddit did to support his graphics card:
Pretty cunning, don’tchya think? While this method might seem a bit primitive to some, it’s actually an awesome way of making your build more fun – while also solving the root cause of GPU sag (i.e. the graphics card not having enough support at the far end).
Double Check Your GPU Is Fully Secure
Sometimes you just have a screw loose. No offence intended, of course: I was talking about your graphics card…
Even if you think that your graphics card is completely secure in your case, it’s often really hard to know for sure because the PCIe case screws and motherboard slots can be hard to see. While it can be annoying, it’s always worth double checking that your GPU is secure by:
- Shutting your computer down.
- Opening the case and removing the screws that hold it in place.
- Remove the GPU completely from the motherboard, by pushing down on the release clip(s).
- Reseat your GPU back into the motherboard, pushing it down until the release clip(s) making a clicking noise.
- Hold your GPU in place (make sure it isn’t sagging) while screwing the PCIe case screws back as tightly as possible.
Note: Making sure that it isn’t sagging before tightening those screws is a crucial step, because otherwise the screws might be holding your GPU in place in a way that almost ‘locks in’ the GPU sag.
It Could Be A Defective Graphics Card
It’s rare, but sometimes the graphics card might be defective – potentially having a defective PSB build or cooling fan that is causing the noise that you hear. While this might not strictly be ‘coil whine’, it’s still an annoying sound that could be made worse by GPU sag.
Unfortunately getting this fixed might be problematic, because many GPU manufacturers will refuse RMA (return) claims for noise. Going back to the retailer might actually be your best option (assuming that you didn’t purchase directly from NVIDIA or AMD).
Before contacting the manufacturer or retailer, it could be worth trying to gently look inside your GPU and see whether anything obviously looks wrong. If the fan looks damaged, or the faceplate is badly misaligned, this could be a sign that there’s a physical issue with your card that might be grounds for a successful RMA.
Are The PCIe Power Cables Dragging The Card Downwards?
We live in an age where people are shamed for their messy PC builds. (Side note: hopefully no-one judges me on my cable management…)
Some people suggest that you should hide as many cables as possible (via the back of the case), and only have the cables ‘appear’ (through a cable routing hole) right before they go into a component:
While this does lead to awesome looking builds, it can have an unintended side effect: the cables are under stress and they end up pulling components downwards. If the GPU PCIe power cable(s) have been pulled through tightly in order to minimize a “messy” looking case, this could actually be the cause of your GPU sag – and hence coil whine.
To verify this, try and gently prop your GPU up so that it’s back to a normal position. Do you feel any resistance (and does the PCIe PSU cable have barely any slack left)? If so, try loosening the cable management slightly so that the cables aren’t causing constant downwards pressure on your graphics card. Your eyes might not like it, but your ears will!
Maybe The Coil Whine Isn’t Related To GPU Sag?
Before I wrap up, I should point out that some PC builders disagree that GPU sag can cause coil whine. They instead say that EMI (electromagnetic interference) is the most common cause of coil whine.
This is because the really high-pitch noise that we associate with “coil whine” is often caused by capacitors (and similar power-related components) inside our hardware. As electrical current passes through these power-delivery components, a whine-type noise is emitted.
If you strip back your graphics card to the bare PCB, you will see a number of capacitors on your GPU:
You might also only experience coil whine when you’re playing a graphics-intensive game, for example the latest AAA game with all graphical settings cranked up to max. In this case, the cause of coil whine is almost certainly EMI and not GPU sag, because the GPU will have more electrical current passing through it (when playing the intensive game).
The below video from Optimum Tech drills into some useful tips for getting rid of general GPU coil whine:
However if you don’t want to try some of those tips (i.e. because undervolting your GPU will lead to lower performance), here’s a few other things you can try out to hopefully reduce the coil whine.
Use Rubber Grommets And Anti-Vibration Pads
Remember those rubber screws that you can use for your chassis case fans? They help prevent the fans causing a bunch of vibrations around your case (the soft rubber material will dampen any vibrations, especially compared to using the standard metal screws that come with your fans).
Well you can apply a similar strategy with your graphics card. StAndrew on Overclockers purchased rubber grommet rings and used these when screwing the graphics card to the case. The rubber helped to reduce any vibration-related noise.
This general idea can be used in a few areas: if your GPU is almost touching another component, you could try purchasing anti-vibration pads (including small silicone or rubber pads) and putting it between the card and the other component. This can also really help to reduce case or GPU noise.
Change These Windows Settings If The Coil Whine Comes Through Your Speakers
If you can hear ‘coil whine’ through your PC speakers, it’s possible that EMI or signal interference is playing a role here. In short, you might have some sort of audio equipment (including a line-in microphone or headset) that is picking up some interference and ‘replaying’ the whine sound through the speakers.
Strictly speaking this isn’t coil whine because that’s purely due to EMI (and this issue is often caused by signal interference – such as having a mic at the back of your PC, near your graphics card). But either way, you should go into your Windows sound settings and see whether changing any of the settings helps improve the problem:
Try changing the line-in/input device and volume, and see if that helps reduce the noise that’s coming out of your speakers. If it does, you should check where your input device is located and either move it away from your GPU, or look to add extra cable shielding if it can’t be moved.
Check Driver Updates & GPU Settings
Before wrapping up, it’s worth mentioning that a noisy GPU can actually be caused by software: whether that’s buggy drivers, or overclocking that you attempted then forgot about.
If the GPU coil whine is hard to ignore, I would firstly reset your GPU’s settings back to their defaults (via the relevant software – AMD Adrenaline or GeForce Experience). Then I would update the drivers by uninstalling them, restarting my PC, and downloading the latest version via the GPU maker’s website:
Tip: Never rely on Windows Update to download your graphics drivers. This can often install an out-of-date – or simply incorrect – driver for your GPU. It’s always better to go directly to the GPU maker (such as on amd.com or nvidia.com) and get the drivers from them.
Restart your computer a final time, and then launch a game and see if the coil whine is any better. Sometimes the simple step of resetting the GPU can help improve coil whine, especially if you had previously experimented with altering the voltage going to your card.
If you have any questions, feedback or suggestions about this article, please leave a comment below. Please note that all comments go into a moderation queue (to prevent blog spam). Your comment will be manually reviewed and approved by Tristan in less than a week. Thanks!