Computers are amazing tools. Combine the right selection of hardware and software, and they turn what they receive into amazingly useful output.
One input that we often forget about (at least until we have a problem with our system) is electricity. As the components use power, it is converted to heat – some of these components reach temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
When everything works as designed, your computer stays cool enough to work properly and prevent damage to the electronics. Unfortunately, one of the most important parts of a cooling system can also be one if its greatest enemies.
As your computer’s cooling fan pulls cool air from the room into the case, it can also bring dust, lint, pet hair, and airborne chemicals along with it. These collect within the computer over time, and begin to insulate the components and restrict airflow. As the layers build up, temperatures can rise above acceptable levels, which can cause performance issues and premature hardware failures.
Here are some early warning signs of a system which is having cooling issues:
- The fans on your computer seem to be running faster, or are “more noisy than usual”
- Unexpected operating system crashes – appearance of “Blue Screen of Death” on Windows or the grey “You need to restart your computer…” screen message on Apple OSX
- Memory error messages or programs suddenly crashing
- System slowness, especially that seems to only occur once the computer has been on for a while
- Appearance of dust, lint, or pet hair around the system vents
- System case is unusually hot to the touch
Failure to correct cooling issues can lead to costly hardware failures, system downtime, and data loss. If your computer is showing any of these symptoms, it’s imperative to act quickly. Unfortunately, if you respond with the wrong approach, the same things can happen (along with the possibility of personal injury).
Before you choose to embark on a do-it-yourself dust removal project, here are some key things to NEVER to:
- NEVER clean a system which is powered-on. Computers contain components which can deliver a life-threatening electric shock if you mishandle them. Unplugging the system isn’t enough, you need to fully discharge power from the system. This alone is enough reason that most people should think twice before opening their computer.
- NEVER turn off a system that has been running for a long time without having a verified full backup of the system. Your data storage devices can be especially sensitive to temperature and impact, and letting a hot system cool down can sometimes cause unexpected hard drive failures.
- NEVER use a vacuum to clean a computer. Nearly all vacuum cleaners generate high levels of static electricity as they pull air and dust into their hoses. Touching the wrong place on your computer with a statically charged vacuum hose can destroy the sensitive chips and components inside. Canned air is the recommended method for amateurs to use when removing loose dust from components.
- NEVER remove a heatsink or board-mounted fan unless you understand whether it uses thermal compound and know how to properly replace that compound and the removed component. An improperly installed heatsink is usually worse than a dirty one.
- NEVER use canned air in enclosed spaces or around sources of ignition. The fumes from many of these products can be both toxic and explosive.
- NEVER spray the liquid from canned air onto any part of your body or any computer component. Doing so can cause frostbite to you and fatal thermal shocks to the system components.
If you would rather not take the risks associated with this common problem, here are a few recommended courses of action.
- Be proactive. Keep your computers away from dusty areas, and frequently wipe the dust and other contaminants from the case of your system.
- Keep it cool. Don’t put your computer into an enclosed space or on a soft surface that will block the flow of cool air into the case.
- Pay attention. When your computer acts strange, check the temperature of the critical components using a software program that’s designed for this purpose. We like SpeedFan for this purpose. Use it to baseline your system before you have an issue, and compare the results to the manufacturer limits for your hardware.
- Call the Pros. When it comes time to clean things up, seek help from a professional that you trust.
With that last point in mind, we offer several services that will help to keep your computer clean and running in tip-top shape. Check out our Proactive Maintenance and Computer Cleanup services to learn more about them.