Spring Cleaning

Time for spring cleaning.

While summer is still a couple of weeks away, now is a good time to pay attention to your computer and its needs for the long hot days ahead. Many people fail to realize that their computers need a good cleaning every now and then. Some people assume that I'm talking about cleaning up files on your hard drive. While this is a good idea, it's not something that will affect your computer when the weather gets warmer. (and don't do the file thing too often; it's not that big of a problem these days.)

Your computer generates heat. Depending on the components, it can be a lot of heat. We're talking hot heat. The CPU, the heart of the computer, generates lots of heat. This needs to be cooled down or else it will destroy the CPU. A modern CPU running without cooling is on the short path to destruction.

Cooling for the CPU consists, in most computers, of two things: the heat sink and the fan. The heat sink is generally a lump of metal with lots of fins. The metal is used because it moves heat around very easily, balancing the heat throughout the entire lump. The finns on the heat sink are designed so that heat from the CPU flows up into them, carrying the heat away from the CPU. The fins then radiate the heat out into the air. This is where the fan kicks in. The fan moves lots and lots of air over the fins, taking away the heat. Generally, your computer will have two or three fans to move the heat from the inside of the computer to the outside, allowing cooler air back in. This moves a lot of air. This is because your computer can generate, on average, between 1400 to 2400 BTUs. An average window air conditioner will be rated at 5000 to 10,000 BTUs.

Consider that for a minute.

Now then. What happens when those cooling systems on your computer fail? What happens when the air flow around the heat sink stops of the fan ceases to work? Simple: you are in the market for a new computer.

Avoiding this is easy.

Your computer moves lots of air in through it all the time to cool itself. As with any electronic equipment, dust builds up. It's the effect of the electronic equipment itself. Even the freakiest of neat freaks cannot control dust getting into a computer. Unless you are my mother in law.

But we'll not go there.

Back on to the topic at hand. Dust. Dirt. Grime. It all build up in your computer. It builds up in the worst parts too, where the air moves the most. Through the vanes of the heat sink and on the blades of the cooling fan. Only bad things can happen in this case.

Warm weather will make it harder for your computer to cool itself. This will generally decrease the life of your expensive computer as the heat can damage the internal components.

So. How do you deal with this? Rule One: keep the vacuum cleaner away! Your vacuum will generate lots of static electricity. Forget about buying USB cleaners or their ilk. They are useless.

You may want to do this outside, as you are about to generate a lot of dust. Use some of those paper masks you can get from the hardware store.

Ideally, the cleaning should be thus:

Unplug the computer. Remove the access to the internal components. This is usually done by taking off the side panel. But not always. Figure out your case before you break something.

Ground yourself. Also ground the computer. A good anti-static wrist strap is always a good idea.

Now, when you have the access off, look. Don't touch. I've seen computers with hairballs the size of my fist. If any are present, pull them out gently. Do your best to not touch anything. If you have dust balls, think about getting it professionally done. This is where it gets nasty.

Now, using electronics grade canned air, slowly work your way down from the top to the bottom. Keep the nozzle at least six inches away from any components. Pay particular attention to the fan and heat sink. Spray the power supply from the inside of the computer outwards, as well as any other ventilation fans or openings. Do not touch any of the electronics.

If the machine is particularly dirty, you may need to pay special attention to the main fan. You'll need cotton swabs and cleaning alcohol. All of these things should be easily gotten from your local office supply store. Don't use cotton balls or Q-Tips® as they will leave lint behind. Moisten the swab with the cleaning solution (do not use rubbing alcahol) and gently rub the blades of the fan. Hold the fan blades steady while you are doing this, as they generally have delicate bearings. Do not touch any of the electronics.

Next, use a one piece towel to clean up the vents, the inside of the case cover, the inside bottom of the case and exposed cables. Again, be very careful when touching any of the insides of the computer. Do not touch any of the electronics.

Replace the cover and wipe down the exterior of the case. You have successfully cleaned your computer.

Last thing: make sure you know where your cat is. Cats always want to help clean up the computer. Getting locked in makes them upset though.

1 comment:

pixelmeow said...

Hey, you write that to clean the fan you use cotton swabs, but not Q-Tips. What's the difference?