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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 6 Issue 2February 2012
In This Issue
Don't Let Your Computer Die From Heat Stroke!
There is a mechanism built into your computer that can eventually cause it to overheat and die. Here's my advice on how you can prevent this from happening to you.
Don't Let Your Computer Die From Heat Stroke!

The problem: Heat; The solution: Exhaust fan
You expect your computer to do a lot of things for you, and quickly. As computers have grown in speed and processing power, they also consume more electrical power and generate more heat than ever before. Modern computers run hot! Because of this, your computer (whether it's a Windows machine or a Macintosh, a desktop machine or a laptop) has an internal exhaust fan to keep it cool enough to operate properly; some models have multiple fans.

The fan blows out through outflow vents in the back or the side of your computer's case, pulling cooler room air in through intake vents on the other side or the bottom. Even on a hot summer day, it's probably 30-60 degrees hotter inside your computer!

This cooler air flows over your computer's motherboard (the central circuit board inside your computer), keeping it from overheating. Problem solved, right?

The problem caused by the solution: Dust! More heat!
Unfortunately, the fan will also pull in dust, carpet fibers, pet hair, pollen, smoke, and other airborne particles (including construction or remodeling debris), which over time will settle on the motherboard and form a "blanket" of dust.

This blanket will in turn cause heat-related problems:
  • It will reduce the cooling effect of the fan.
  • It will hold in the heat generated by the electronics on the motherboard, preventing it from dissipating.
Over time, the accumulated dust will build up, making the blanket thicker and thicker, increasing the level of heat inside your computer.

As your computer runs hotter, it may start to exhibit problems, including running slowly for no reason, or other odd behavior.

It may take years, but eventually the very mechanism intended to keep your computer from overheating (the fan) will cause it to overheat and die, possibly taking other components and peripherals with it.

I had a client with a perfectly good 5-year-old computer that went "boom" one day. It turned out that the dust inside had built up to such a degree that it overheated and died. Luckily, the backup survived, so moving him to a new computer was relatively painless, but periodic dusting could have prevented this disaster from happening in the first place.

As a repair buddy of mine likes to say, "Your computer is the most expensive air cleaner you'll ever buy."

The real solution: Get your computer dusted out by a professional
Having a professional open the case and remove the accumulated dust every year or two is very cheap preventive maintenance against this predictable disaster.

Most repair people will use compressed air to blow the dust out. They can also tell you how it compares to other dirty/dusty computers they've seen over the years.

I don't recommend doing this yourself, since taking a computer apart can be tricky, and one accidental swing of the wrist might also break something inside your computer.

When you arrange for a professional computer person to do this for you, make it crystal-clear that you want them to "clean out the accumulated dust from inside the case." If you simply ask them to "clean out my computer," a well-meaning tech person may misinterpret that vague phrase to mean "check for and remove software infections" and may not dust out your computer at all. If you're concerned about infections, then by all means mention that as well, but do your best to avoid any potential misunderstanding.

And, since you'll have someone working inside your computer, it's also a good moment to have them upgrade it to the maximum amount of RAM it can hold, another very inexpensive thing you can do to make your computer run faster and more efficiently.

Signs of potential dust accumulation and overheating
Ask yourself:
  • Is your computer more than 2 or 3 years old? (Or, has it been more than 2 or 3 years since the last time you had it dusted out?)
  • Does it run better when it's cool (e.g., you left it off overnight) than when it's warm (e.g., it's been running all day or for many days in a row)? By "better," I mean "faster, and fewer problems."
  • Do you see accumulated dust around the computer's intake our outflow vents, or on other parts of the case?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, get your computer dusted out! I cannot guarantee that dusting will permanently solve speed issues or other strange problems, but it's a really good investment in your computer's long-term health.

  • It's not a question of "if" your computer will wear out and die, it's only a question of "when" and "why."
  • You can do something about this! Don't let your computer's life get unnecessarily shortened by an easily preventable problem like accumulated dust! As another friend of mine likes to say, "It's a dumb way to die."
Where to go from here
  • Get your computer dusted out. It's very inexpensive, especially compared to the cost of computer failure or the frustration of a machine that's running slowly or acting odd. Contact me if you would recommendations of professional computer service people who do this in the Boston area.
  • Since you'll have someone working inside your computer anyway, have them also upgrade your computer's RAM to the maximum amount it can hold. This is another very inexpensive way to speed up your computer.
  • If you haven't already done so, set up a thorough, scheduled backup system for your computer(s). When your computer dies (and it's guaranteed to happen someday), having a good backup is an enormous help. Not having a backup can be devastating and expensive. See "What's the single best way to protect my computer?" (http://www.kadansky.com/files/newsletters/2007_12_19.html)
  • To lean more about computer motherboards: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motherboard 
  • To learn more about computer cooling fans: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_fan 
If you're confused or frustrated by something on your computer, I like to say, "You can do it!" You might just need a little encouragement, or information, or change of perspective, and that's where I come in.
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

Did you miss a previous issue? You can find it in my newsletter archive: http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

Your privacy is important to me. I do not share my newsletter mailing list with anyone else, nor do I rent it out.

Copyright (C) 2012 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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