Denver Direct: Your Computer is Dirty

Monday, April 5, 2010

Your Computer is Dirty

Or at least mine was. On Sunday it just shut down on its own, when I wasn’t doing anything. I remembered this happening before, and it was an overheating problem brought on by dust bunnies inside the case.

I’ve owned and maintained over 200 computers since I started ECC, Inc. in 1979 (and sold in 1999). We trained corporate and government workers by the thousands in five separate classrooms with 8-10 computers each. I ran around maintaining, upgrading, and cleaning them. Students can be quite grubby.

So I know a bit about computers.

The fans on computers suck in air to cool the transistors which generate heat while working. The dust in the air accumulates and impairs the cooling effect. The computer overheats. The computer shuts down.

No biggie. I opened the case and was surprised by the tonnage of dust inside, even though I had cleaned it a mere 8 months before. The fins on the CPU heat-exchange were almost covered over with dust.

I’ve got a free program called Speed-Fan which measures the temperate at 6 inside locations. The CPU temp was 139 F.

I keep canned air on hand for the video equipment. I’ve tried vacuuming it out but unless you have one built for the purpose, you can’t do an adequate job. Best to blow it out with the canned air (be sure to use the extension tube for those fins and keep the can upright so you don’t shoot freezing liquid, which, by the way, is flammable, in the guts of your machine), and use the vacuum for cleaning up the floor.

I blasted it out twice, and booted back up. The temp was down to 105 F. Went up to 125 when both of the dual cores were honking, but that was in an acceptable range.

As I was tucking the wires back in, I moved a fan wire that I had previously had to solder in line because I lacked the proper connectors. I had covered the splicet with black electric tape, but in 2 years the heat had baked the tape, the tape had fallen off, and the positive fan wire touched the metal case. Instant off.

Don’t panic. Off-on switch in the back. I remembered that the power supply has a mechanical fuse in it. Hopefully it has just blown a fuse. I removed the power supply from the case, carefully removed the power supply cover, and there, nestled among giant (dust-covered) fins and component boards, was a normal fuse. Reluctant to reach into the innards (capacitance stores electricity even when unplugged), I popped the fuse out with a large plastic tie.

Tested the fuse on the multimeter and it was fine. Yikes. Sudden fear of fried motherboard set in.

I took the power supply to Best Buy and they conveniently tested it in real time. It was fine. The clerk said it was the shiniest power supply he’d ever seen, and it is indeed a chrome-plated 500-watt behemoth.

Incidentally, while I was at Best Buy, I checked on the price of a complete copy (for a clean) install of Windows 7 high-end – $385.00. I’m getting depressed.

Decided to test the power supply again. When I plugged in a fan – nothing. When I plugged in the motherboard, she started right up.

Oh gods of the quantum tunnel, I bow before you.

Moral of the story – The insides of your desktop computer need to be cleaned, but you may want to take it to the shop, unless you can be careful enough not to muck about with the electrons. It’ll cost you $50 to $100 at the shop but it may cost a near-death experience at home.

And while I’m on the subject of cleaning, you should keep your machine tuned with free software. I’ve found that Symantic/Norton are expensive, cumbersome, and slow down your machine. Even worse, once installed, it takes special software to get rid of its death grip completely,

Instead I’ve been using a set of three free downloadable programs. I use Eusing Registry Cleaner, Spybot Search and Destroy, and Malwarebytes on a weekly basis (the last two have to be upgraded every week in order to get the latest virus definitions). These are free downloadable programs that are easy to use and, along with an occasional defrag, will keep you humming.

If you pray to the gods of the quantum tunnel, that is.