Langa Letter: Getting The Grunge Out Of Your PC - InformationWeek

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IoT
IoT
Infrastructure
Commentary
2/25/2005
08:43 AM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
Commentary
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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.

Digging Deeper For Dirt (continued)
Here's why it's smart to remove the plug-in cards: In this system, a swirl or eddy of air has deposited little drifts of dust on the motherboard and card sockets. It's much easier to clean these when the cards are out of the way.

Removing the plug-in cards will let us clean dust like this off the motherboard.
Removing the plug-in cards will let us clean dust like this off the motherboard.

(click image for larger view)

You also may wish to unplug any cables or wires that get in your way. Make a note of what goes where (take a digital photo if you wish; or mark the cables with a permanent marker). Most cables are either "keyed" with specially-shaped plugs that can't be plugged in the wrong way, or have color coding so you can correctly orient them when you put them back. Note the two flat gray cables in the photo: they both have one edge marked with a red stripe. That red stripe should end up in the same place when the system's later reassembled.



Optional: You may find it easier to clean if you unplug various cables to get them out of your way. But if you prefer, you can work around them.

(click image for larger view)

Optional: You may find it easier to clean if you unplug various cables to get them out of your way. But if you prefer, you can work around them.

Don't pull on the wires or cables directly. Either pull on the plastic connector itself; or, as shown in the photo, pull on the flexible plastic pulling-tab, if your cables are so equipped. Either way, the idea is to keep the mechanical strain off the actual wires and cables.

When a system's this dirty, I use a very slightly water-dampened cloth to wipe off the worst of the dirt and dust. The cloth should be dampened only just enough so that the dust will cling to the cloth instead of being scattered by it; if you can wring drops of water out of the cloth, it's too wet! You want it just barely dampened; no more.

A barely damp cloth can help get the worst of the grunge off the system. See the full text of this article for precautions.
A barely damp cloth can help get the worst of the grunge off the system. See the full text of this article for precautions.

(click image for larger view)

Working slowly and carefully, I gently wipe where I can. We'll clean more thoroughly later, but this step gets the grossest clumps out of the way.



The same barely damp cloth can easily clean the exterior of the power supply.

(click image for larger view)

The same barely damp cloth can easily clean the exterior of the power supply.

I also gently wipe down the interior of the case and t0"> usty exterior of the power supply.

Using the barely-damp cloth, I clean everywhere my fingers can reach.
Using the barely-damp cloth, I clean everywhere my fingers can reach.

(click image for larger view)

Likewise, I clean what I can off the front of the case, in the area normally beneath the bezel. (It may be hard to tell in the photo; but you may be able to see that my damp cleaning cloth is now distinctly gray.)

Our test PC uses an old CPU design, but almost all PCs will have some kind of CPU carrier with a heat sink mounted atop the CPU. Many newer systems will also have a separate CPU fan mounted right on the heat sink. Whatever the design, your task is to get access to the heat sink and any parts of the motherboard blocked by the CPU assembly.

In newer PCs with fans atop the heat sink, there are usually clips or screws holding the fan in place. Once these are removed, the fan simply lifts off. But don't remove or loosen the heat sink from the CPU: It needs a very firm fit to the CPU so heat can flow via conduction from the chip to the sink. There's usually a thin layer of thermal cement or compound between the heat sink and CPU to facilitate the heat transfer; that joint should not be damaged. Work so that you can get at the heat sink without actually having to remove it from the CPU.

Newer systems rarely require removal of the CPU/heat sink assembly, but our test system is actually toward the "worst case" side of the spectrum: the CPU is mounted on a vertical card that plugs into the motherboard; the heat sink is mounted on the side of the vertical CPU. The assembly totally blocks access to the area behind it, and the aluminum heat sink is made up of little tunnels, instead of plain fins; each tunnel is packed with dust, and would be very hard and messy to clean in place.



Newer systems rarely require removal of the CPU/heat sink assembly, but our ancient test system is actually toward the "worst case" side of the spectrum, and is easier to clean with the entire CPU carrier removed.

(click image for larger view)

Newer systems rarely require removal of the CPU/heat sink assembly, but our ancient test system is actually toward the

I opted to remove the CPU/heat sink assembly as a whole. (Note: Even here, I'm not removing the heat sink from the CPU--I'll leave them together, and remove them from the system as a unit.) This ancient design of CPU allows for removal either by flexing the vertical tabs of the white plastic CPU holder, and then pulling vertically on the CPU/heat sink assembly; or by removing everything--heat sink, CPU, and CPU holder--all at once. Because I want to avoid stress on the CPU/heat sink assembly, I removed everything.

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