08:43 AM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa

Langa Letter: Getting The Grunge Out Of Your PC

Fred Langa cleans the dirtiest PC he can find, and along the way shows you how you can easily tackle yours.

In our last article, Curing Laptop Overheating, we showed you, step-by-step, how to make your laptop run cooler--and quite possibly last longer--by thoroughly cleaning the dust and dirt from its cooling system.

All PCs can benefit from a little regular physical housekeeping. You see, a PC's constantly whirring fans draw in a huge volume of air. Even in a seemingly clean environment, the amount of dust and dirt that can build up inside a PC's case is nothing short of astonishing. This layer of dust literally acts like a sweater on your PC's delicate electronics, preventing them from getting rid of their heat, and heat is the enemy of all electronics.

At best, excess heat will shorten the life of a PC; if allowed to worsen, it may cause erratic behavior, data errors, spontaneous reboots, and other intermittent problems; and in the worst cases, a PC can literally cook itself to death.

So you see, it's not a matter of being fastidious to clean out a PC from time to time: There are real, tangible benefits in terms of increased longevity and reliability.

Still, few users bother to clean their PCs--apparently thinking it's some arduous, complex task, requiring exotic gear and specialized knowledge. But it's not hard at all.

Our test system: The dirtiest PC I could find!

(click image for larger view)

Our test system: The dirtiest PC I could find!
Over the next few pages, let me show you just how easy it can be to clean even a seriously dirty system. (Yours probably won't be as bad as the one I'll show you.) After seeing how easy it is to handle this worst-case system, it'll be a snap for you to clean your PC, and accrue all the benefits of having a cleaner, cooler-running, longer-lasting machine.

(By the way: The article mentioned previously also contains some generally useful information on cleaning PCs that will help provide a foundation for this article. If you haven't read the earlier article yet, it might be good to take a moment now to do so.)

Like many dirty PCs, our test PC looks fine from the outside: You can't tell from a casual inspection if a PC really is OK, or is slowly cooking to death on the inside.

This specific unit is an ancient Dell that was removed from service in a standard office-type environment: It wasn't in an especially dirty location--in fact, the workspace was cleaned regularly--and there was nothing about the installation to suggest a problem with dust and dirt.

The air intakes on the front of the PC likewise look OK: Nothing to suggest the need for a cleaning. But as we'll soon see, looks can be deceiving.

Even the air intakes look fine;
no hint of trouble here.

(click image for larger view)

Even the air intakes look fine; no hint of trouble here.

The PC's fans, on the back of the unit, tell a different story. In Photo 3, you can see the dirt and dust inside the power-supply fan.

A look at the power-supply exhaust fan on the back of the case begins to hint at trouble.
A look at the power-supply exhaust fan on the back of the case begins to hint at trouble.

(click image for larger view)

The case/CPU cooling fan, next to the power-supply fan and similarly visible only from the back of the PC, also shows heavy dust buildup.

Likewise, the case/CPU cooling fan also shows heavy dust buildup.

(click image for larger view)

Likewise, the case/CPU cooling fan also shows heavy dust buildup.

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