Feb 23, 2010

Bag your limit of dust bunnies

Even here in usually-balmy Florida, winter means cooler, less humid weather. For folks who work with computer systems every day, the drier air can mean only one thing.

Dust bunnies.

When there is less humidity in the air, individual particles of dust collect higher charges of static electricity. And the more static electricity these tiny particles of dust collect, the more likely they are to band together into large collections of fuzzy, gray crud that can gum up the heat-reducing ventilation system and other inner workings of your desktop PCs and servers.

When is the last time that you cleaned (or had someone clean) your computer – or when did you last even take a look at your computer’s ventilation ports?

Chances are that your computer’s vents and case are full of dirt, dust, and other bits of unspeakable debris. If you have a pet running around near the PC, the system is likely to be loaded with hair, too. If your PC or server sits on the floor, under your desk, it’s gathering even more dust.

Most of the time, when a customer brings a computer into us for service, one of the first things we have to do is give the thing a thorough cleaning. While disposing of all the …stuff… we dig out of computer cases hasn’t turned our business location into an EPA Superfund Cleanup Site just yet, sometimes those boxes can be pretty polluted on the inside.

We recommend leaving a lot of the ‘open box’ cleaning chores to either professional technicians (like us) or, at the very least, experienced ‘power users’ who know what not to touch inside of a computer case. But there are a couple of things you can do to keep your computer cleaner, freer of dust and happily running at a lower operating temperature.

You can remove large clots of dust from the fan ports and air vents by vacuuming them from the outside of the case. We don’t recommend you attempt to vaccuum inside the case. Even if you’re using one of those specialized ‘PC vaccuums’, don’t touch the motherboard or any add-in cards. At most, just suck away the dust that is lying on the base of your case and on the bottoms of the system’s empty drive bays. Do not use brushes on any of your computer’s components.

Alternatively, if the weather is dry and not too cold, carry the PC outdoors, and bring along a can of compressed air. It’s best if you use a can that has an air hose attached; you can also buy tubing at a hobby store. The hose is perfect for clearing away dust throughout the case. It lets you hold the air can upright, as well; spraying the can at a tilt causes a wasteful blast of icy liquid propellant, and the resulting temperature change can damage components.

Note: Only use canned, compressed air to clean your PC’s vent ports. Do not use an air compressor as the air they pump out often contains a mix of oil and water. And for heaven’s sake, don’t try to clean out your PC with a leaf blower…

To reduce the frequency of future cleanings, elevate your PC off the floor. Raising your computer off the floor, even just 6 inches, will seriously reduce the amount of dust that gets sucked into the fan vents. You can prop it up by using castors or a small furniture dolly, both of which are available at hardware and home appliance stores.

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