Infrastructure // Unified Communications
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3/11/2005
09:59 AM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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Langa Letter: Rust Never Sleeps: How To Deal With Moisture And Corrosion In Your PC

PCs in non-air-conditioned spaces may need special care. Fred Langa offers a series of options for providing that care and ensuring the longevity of your PC.

In two recent columns, we discussed some physical maintenance that can improve the performance and longevity of just about any PC (see Getting The Grunge Out Of Your PC) or laptop (see Curing Laptop Overheating), but there's a huge number of PCs that also may benefit from some additional care.

You see, most businesses are small businesses, and the PCs used therein don't reside in the air-conditioned, high-rise corporate towers, sprawling industrial complexes, or white-collar cube farms of the larger corporations.

In fact, those air-conditioned spaces are relatively benign for PCs. But they may also be the exception rather than the rule in business. Consider that when most people think of business, they think of the "Fortune 500" or "Forbes 500" or some such. But those lists, by definition, encompass only 500 companies. Now consider that there are fully 17 million small, non-farm businesses in the U.S. According to the US Department of Labor, an astonishing 99.7% of all US employers are classified as "small businesses;" and they employ an aggregate of 52% of the private workforce and account for 51% of the nation's total sales. "Big Business" is actually the minority player in the US economy.

That means that a huge number of "business PCs" don't necessarily live in temperature-, humidity- and dust-controlled spaces. Rather, many of these business PCs may face much harsher operating conditions with wide temperature swings and/or sustained high temperatures, dirt and dust in the air, high humidity, and so on.

(And, not trivially, because many of us bring our work home, it's worth noting that most home systems also face operating conditions far, far worse than ideal.)

Here's a real-life example:

Fred: In the part of the world where I live, we have the same temperature and weather conditions all year, which makes it impractical to use air conditioning. Every day is like a Windows XP desktop wallpaper; pristinely clear with a couple clouds. The problem is the salt. Our community is bordering the ocean. Motherboards and electronics last on average about two years because of the corrosion and rust. Even now, my one-year-old motherboard just lost its PS2 ports and I am using USB adapters for my keyboard and mouse. Is there something that the motherboards and electronics can be dipped in to remove the salt contamination? I am a PC technician and this problem is pervasive here, and expensive. I guarantee you have never seen such weird problems as we get here (ex: Motherboard setting ALL ports at IRQ3, 40 wire cables detected as 80 wire cables and the motherboard will not allow formatting, temperature sensors stuck on 185F/85C, etc.).

-- Howard Rubin

That's an extreme example, of course. But even in less extreme instances, slowly corroding contacts in a PC's plugs, sockets and switches can lead to less-reliable operation and early system failure.

But there's a lot you can do. There are several technologies and products specifically meant for PC use that will solve many of the more common kinds of moisture/corrosion problems, and for severe cases like Howard's, you can borrow technology from the marine, aviation, and automotive industries, which have time-tested, proven remedies and preventatives for making electrical gear more corrosion resistant even in very harsh conditions.

Let's start with a roundup of different technologies and products that can be used on newer, cleaner systems, aimed mostly at preventing corrosion. They also can be used on older systems that have been thoroughly cleaned first (we'll come back to this.)

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