Dust–PC Killer

I recently did an overhaul on one of my client’s PCs and as usual found a load of dust inside the machine. (It’s very important that I state up front that this is true of pretty much every PC I open up and have a look in, not just this particular client’s machine).

Most PCs get clogged with dust as quite rightly users do not want to have to take a screwdriver to their PCs, most being worried that they might damage the PC or get electrocuted.  I would certainly recommend that you leave the cleaning of your PC to  professional like me, but I would say that wouldn’t I. If you must do it yourself, make sure that you do the following:

  1. Disconnect the power – VERY IMPORTANT.
  2. Disconnect the PC from all devices like monitor, printer, keyboard and mouse.
  3. Get the machine into a place where you have plenty of light and easy access with a vacuum cleaner.

Before you get the PC case off, make sure you know what screws have to be removed or other connectors and make sure you keep them safe in a small container (you don’t want to suck them up into the vacuum cleaner!).

When you get the case open be aware that you must not hit any of the components inside with the vacuum nozzle as you may damage the PC. Also make a note of any connector wires inside the case then if you do dislodge anything you will know where to put it back. If in doubt take a picture with your digital camera before starting.

The areas to concentrate on are the fans and any grilles that protect the fans, also anything that has a set of cooling fins will inevitably be clogged up.

If you do this sort of cleaning about once every 6 months and each month just remove any dust from the external case vents without opening the case, you will probably extend the life of your PC by many years.

More Extensive Dust Removal

When doing an overhaul of a PC I take it to the next level and I certainly DO NOT recommend that end users attempt this unless they are familiar with constructing PCs as it involves removing the CPU fan and other case components.

As you will see from the pictures below, the client’s case had managed to gather quite a bit of dust from around its cooling fans and cooling fins:


This PC is a Shuttle model and because these are relatively compact designs, keeping dust at bay is a bigger concern with them as there is a more cramped interior as compared with a larger desktop tower case. As you can see from the image above, the area around the CPU was a place where dust had collected.  The CPU cooling vanes and fan had been removed already for this shot.

Other areas that had collected dust were as below:


The fan above is the main fan that pulls cool air from outside the case over the cooling fins that are attached to the CPU.

In the following picture you can see how dust has collected on the grille over the fans that extract hot air from inside the case to the outside world.


The following image shows the vents on the power supply and again dust can be seen building up on the vents and if you look carefully on some of the components inside the power supply. Another client who had the same model as this lost his PC when the power supply overheated and packed up.


How to Rectify This

The first step was to remove the CPU cooling fan and vanes. Once removed I was able to get the CPU out and give that a clean as well as removing the dust on the motherboard with the vacuum cleaner.  I then removed the old CPU thermal paste cleaned the surfaces and replaced with all new compound.

When I built these PCs about 4 years ago, I tended to be a bit over zealous with thermal paste. Nowadays I tend to put a bit less on, as the whole point of thermal paste is to make an air free bond between the CPU cooler and the top of the CPU. Too much paste will have the same effect as having an air gap.

If you just attached the cooling fins without using paste the small microscopic scratches in the surfaces would allow an air gap between the vane and the CPU.  The paste ensures that all heat from the CPU gets directly to the vanes with no loss during transfer caused by minute air gaps.

Once the CPU and vanes were cleaned and all dust blown from the vanes (I use an old tooth brush to get the really stubborn stuff), the assembly was put back in the case.

I also removed all fans and grilles and gave them a good going over with the vacuum cleaner and also used some General Purpose cleaner and a tissue to carefully wipe collected dust off the fan blades.  You must be very careful when doing this not to damage the blade or throw the fan off alignment as the whirring noise it will cause will drive you mad.

You can see the before and after on the main CPU fan:





There is still some really difficult to get at stuff near the centre of the fan but the main stuff has been removed off the vanes.

Below is the before and after shots of the main CPU cooling vanes:




As you can see the airflow now is not being impeded by the clogged dust.

The Benefits of Having This Done

Clearly  this is a bit of a job to do, but I think it is well worth it in these times of saving every penny. I reckon paying me for a couple of hours work cleaning and thus removing the danger of losing your PC due to overheating is worth it. Also you have the added benefit that because the cooling effect of the vanes and fans is improved the heat sensors will detect this and not need to force the speed of the fans up to compensate. This means a much quieter PC.

I often notice client’s machines are a lot noisier then they were, where the client may not.  This is because the client has not noticed the very gradual change over time, whereas I do as I have probably not not seen the machine since I supplied or built it.

So Siv’s rant of the day, keep your vents clean and periodically send the machine to your friendly neighbourhood IT guy to get it cleaned!!


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