Computer Hygene

December 2, 2007 at 9:23 pm (Links)

No, this time I’m not talking about software. A friend asked me (read ‘my wife’) if I would reconfigure an old computer of theirs so that their kids could play games on it. I gladly accepted (read ‘my wife said sure’)

When I first got the machine, I noticed that it was pretty dirty, so I thought I’d crack the case before I plugged it in – they had been complaining about speed problems also. Well, the machine was dirty, so I closed it back up and set it aside. NaNoWriMo took most of my free time last month, so it sat and waited patiently. To make a long story not quite as long, I have a few machines backed up – Christmas presents mostly, but these were ahead of them, so I decided to start. What I found was…

WARNING: Image Heavy

DIRT – and lots of it. Initially, it looked like the greasy kind of dust that accumulates on stuff near a kitchen. You know, the kind that doesn’t come off just by blowing on it. I was fully expecting to have to run parts of this machine through the dishwasher (if you’re not an exceptional geek, don’t even try it)

Here is what I saw when I opened it the first time.

Yes, those are dust bunnies stuck to the cabling. This was an outside job – as you can tell by the lighting. First, I pulled off the airflow guide:

Here’s a closeup:

And here’s what was hiding under it:

Next, I removed all the cards and cables. Here’s the pile-o-stuff I pulled out. Notice the dust bunnies

Here’s the motherboard with the stuff removed:

I decided to clean the cards & cables, just to see how difficult it would be. I was pleasantly surprised when the dirt came off just by vacuuming and brushing with an old paintbrush. You can really see the difference.

I next removed the heatsink and fan from the CPU. This may be the cause of the speed problems. Most motherboards will sense when the cpu is running too hot, and slow it down. If the heatsink and fan are clogged, it is guaranteed to run hot. How much airflow do you think was getting through these?

This was the only part that I actually had to wash in the sink. The brush just wasn’t strong enough to dislodge all the dirt. Just how far did I go to clean this machine? Does ‘bare’ mean anything to you? Everything that could be removed was removed – All the decorative plastic from the case, all the drives, everything came out. I even had to take the cover off the power supply and clean it’s fan out too.

Here’s what I had when I started putting things back in:

Yes, I removed and wiped down all the cables that you see there.

Here’s the system reassembled – minus the airflow guide, which I cleaned in the sink also.

Notice how clean the fan and heatsink are? I had an extra dimm of the type that the machine used, so I stuck that in as well. Isn’t it just shiny? I thought it was missing something, so I added a little extra sparkle…

Now for the advice part.

If your computer is on the floor, or is in a dusty environment, you should clean it out occasionally. Dust is not a conductor, but it does tend to capture moisture. Damp dust can become a conductor and short components easily. Usually compressed air will work fine to remove the dust. Be extremely careful if you use a vacuum cleaner, because some of the components are very sensitive. The capacitors (cylinders with silver tops) are only held on by two leads. Bumping one of them too hard means replacing whatever they were connected to – video card, motherboard, etc. Also, the traces (thin metal lines on the motherboard or cards) are extremely small. You could easily scratch one without even noticing it. Again, that means replacing whatever component was damaged.



  1. Koopa said,

    Did the computer run faster after cleaning it up? I get pretty lazy when I see massively dusty computers. I tend to clean out the large clumps but don’t fret the little stuff. The worst computer I worked on was in a hair salon…it was completely filled with dust. It put these pictures to shame. Ironically, the server was shutting down because the fans were clogged.

    Good times.

  2. capitalggeek said,

    I didn’t power it up prior to cleaning it, but they had complained that it was slow. The part that would have slowed it down was the clogs in the heatsink for the processor. Modern machines have thermal cutouts that throttle back the cpu speed when the temperature exceeds a set limit.

    They also may have had a lot of spyware/popups/malware etc. Other machines that I have cleaned for them have been seriously infested (due to unsafe browsing habits). I don’t know about that either, because they wanted the machine refreshed, so I nuked from orbit & laid down a fresh OS without even looking at what had been there previously.

  3. Blogmaster said,

    The inside of that machine was capital g gross! It’s now wonder they were having speed problems after seeing the heat sink. I’m surprised that the machine wasnt’ shutting down because of thermal events that would have been caused by the excessive heat. Ever think of going into computer detailing? You could create your won market. Commerical contracts alone would keep you in business for years! Need a business partner? 😉

  4. capitalggeek said,

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