Physical Computer Maintenance

computer maintenanceThe Cost of Putting Off Physical Computer Maintenance

Of all the preventive maintenance that gets overlooked, physical computer maintenance tasks such as cleaning your PC inside and out is probably the most overlooked. Dust, moisture, salt laden air, rust, pet hair, cock roaches, ants, geckos, coins, and loose screws have all contributed to countless computer failures in the past.

Most desktop computers are fairly easy to open so you can inspect and clean them. You can get a hint about how dirty they might be on the inside by how dirty the intake and exhaust vents are on the outside. I would normally say to clean the interior every 6 months, but not everybody’s situation is the same.

Computers that are placed on carpets, in homes with pets, humid environments, and in beachfront homes can be some of the worst environments for a computer because of carpet fibers, pet hair, moisture mixed with dust, and salt corrosion entering your computer. The following links will show you how to perform some of the physical maintenance to keep your computer clean.

Dirty Computer Case

Take a look at the dirty computer case below and ask yourself, do you know what the inside of your computer looks like? The dirt not only causes your computer to run warmer, but it can also cause corrosion of electronic components and short circuits. Sometimes it’s too late to just blow out the dust to get back on track, because the dirt already caused a part to fail such as the power supply, a video card or even the motherboard.

The bottom line is that you could be looking at a problem that will now cost you labor + parts which could set you back $150 – $300 for a repair. While this is much needed business for a computer shop, it’s a bad deal for you when it could have been prevented with a little time and a $6 can of compressed air on your part.

dirty computer case

Properly Cleaning a Dirty Computer

Preventive physical computer maintenance is primarily about keeping the interior of your computer clean. I’ve talked to many people over the years who realized the importance of keeping their computer clean, but some of them had some very radical differences about how to do it. So yes, there are right and wrong ways to clean your computer that involves anything from the tools and chemicals you might use, to general and electrical safety issues.

An important part of my ComputerAfterCare Membership training is all about cleaning your computer. I’ll show you the very tools and materials I use as well as some more affordable substitutes. I’ll also show you how to safely clean your computer with insight based on my experience as a PC Tech and an Electronics Technician. The goal is to safely clean your computer without causing any new problems. But if you do discover any existing problems, hopefully you found them soon enough before they caused any serious issues.

Physical Maintenance on Laptops

While software issues with a laptop are handled no differently than with desktop PCs, performing physical maintenance on a laptop is quite different and limited when compared to their desktop counterparts.

Access to the internal electronic components in a laptop is very limited for a consumer. Most laptops have compartments to easily access the WiFi card, memory and the hard drive and that’s it! Full access to the CPU Fan and heatsink for cleaning usually requires total dis-assembly and removal of the motherboard. Fortunately, there are some laptops that do grant easy access to these components and you might consider that as a deal-maker when buying your next laptop.

For the most part, all you can do is brush off any dust on the vents from the outside. You can also blow air into the vents to clear out what dust you can. The problem arises when you don’t do this often enough which can cause dust and lint to form over the inboard side of the CPU heatsink like a blanket, much like lint forms in the lint trap of a clothes dryer. To be able to even see this like in the picture below, would require most laptops to be completely dis-assembled. I won’t take in laptop that requires total dis-assembly for less than $150, even if all I had to do was clean the fan and heatsink.

clogged cpu fan heatsink

You can suspect this is the issue when the exhaust airflow is weak, yet the fan is still rotating. It’s almost impossible to blow this lint out through the heatsink to exit your laptop. And if you try to blow it inboard, further into your machine, it will probably get stuck in the CPU Fan shroud which will get swished around between the fan blades, preventing it from circulating enough air to properly cool the laptop.

Either way, a clogged heatsink or a clogged fan, and your laptop is going to heat up causing your motherboard to eventually fail.  And if you live in a city big enough to accommodate a business capable of motherboard level repairs, this will probably set you back about $250. If all they can offer you is a motherboard “replacement” instead of having it repaired, the price will “shock” you and you will just want to buy a new laptop. And it probably won’t do you any good trying to haggle with the price because most PC Techs don’t even like getting involved with replacing motherboards.

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