My A61e itself is fairly quiet (though a lot louder than my ThinkPads), but the optical drive sounds like a chainsaw -- is this normal? It's loud enough that you can hear it anywhere in the house (well, maybe not in the basement) when I'm installing software from CDs.
I dunno if I can control the speed, but it is definitely quieter when not running at full speed. I played a DVD on it once and it was relatively quiet; it seems to be noisiest when installing software from CDs or DVDs, which I don't do very often so it's not a big issue. I just have to remember to never install software when someone in the house is sleeping; I installed a couple of new programs early this morning and the drive woke up my teenage stepdaughter in her bedroom.