Infrastructure
Commentary
3/11/2005
09:59 AM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
Commentary
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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.

Anti-Corrosion Liquids, Pastes, Sprays
Anti-corrosion products come in a variety of forms, each suited to a particular type, size or scale of application. Here are some representative examples:

One of the first products offered for preventing corrosion in PCs also is one of the best: Stabilant. A "block polymer," Stabilant seals and lubricates your PC's electrical contacts. It's conductive across very small distances, but non-conductive over larger distances. This means it can be applied to the entire width of a card-edge connector, for example, and won't cause electrical signals to leak from one connector to another. Stabilant is available in several formulations, including some with mild detergency that can initially help clean dirty contacts; and then go on to seal the contacts to prevent future problems. Stabilant has been a long-time favorite of Byte Magazine's Jerry Pournelle and Windows Magazine's Karen Kenworthy.

Stabilant is a liquid applied literally by the drop; a little goes a long way, which is a good thing because it's hard to find and is rather expensive.

For larger plugs, sockets, and connectors, or in cases where more extreme protection is needed, you might try a moisture-sealing, nonconductive lubricant such as that used in automotive plugs and sockets. It's known generically as dielectric grease, or paste and is available in small tubs and squeeze-tubes at any auto-parts store for a couple dollars.

Dielectric grease is designed to seal and protect electrical connections even in harsh environments like under the hood of a car or in exposed trailer hitches where the wiring can be subjected to extremely forceful sprays of water--even salt water, in winter driving--so it certainly can succeed in less extreme circumstances such as in a PC. In general, dielectric grease works well, and is both cheap and readily available. But it's messy to use (similar to petroleum jelly) and hard to clean out when you disassemble a component that's been treated with it. For this reason, dielectric grease is best used on larger connectors, like power supply plugs.

Also from the automotive industry, there are dielectric sprays, often silicone-based, that can be used to corrosion-protect larger surfaces. Although I've never heard of a dielectric silicone spray damaging a circuit board, it's possible that some formulations might contain carriers or other volatiles that could act as a solvent on some plastics, so it'd be smart to test the spray on a tiny area before spraying, say, your entire motherboard. Similarly, many spray products employ flammable propellants or other ingredients, so you'd need to make sure the PC is kept powered off until any and all potentially flammable vapors have dissipated.

There also are specialty sprays, especially from the marine and aviation industries, that are expressly designed to be applied to electronics gear. For example, the plainly named Corrosion Block spray was even used to protect electronic gear from salt-air corrosion during the production of the movies "Titanic" and "Water World." But, as with most specialty products, it's harder to find and more expensive than the generic products.

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