now browsing by tag


Dust: The electronics killer.

Standard CPU Heatsink

Standard CPU Heatsink

As with most of my blog posts, this one was prompted by a recent experience with a customer.  This customer called complaining of a computer that was nearly unusable.  Among other things, it had fallen victim to a virus.  Upon receiving the computer it was obvious that there was a lot of dust inside the computer tower.  Since my stock of compressed air had run out I decided to wait to open the beast until my stock was replenished.  After doing all the software work necessary to get this computer back on it’s feet I decided to go after the dust monster lurking inside.

To say that this was the dirtiest computer I’ve seen would be a slight overstatement, although it was definitely in the top five.  The CPU heatsink was covered with a quarter inch thick patch of brown dust, which I estimate was blocking 75% of the airflow through the heatsink fins.

After blowing out the majority of the dust.

After blowing out the majority of the dust.

I know that there may be a large number of you who have no idea what a heatsink is, so I’ll explain.  If you’ve ever held a notebook computer in your lap for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with how hot they can get.  The CPU (Central Processing Unit, or “processor”) is responsible for the majority of this heat.  A heatsink is a block of metal fins, typically copper or aluminum, which dissipates the heat produced by the CPU with the help of a fan.  Imagine the heatsink is like the radiator in your car, what would happen if it was blocked or broken?  I’m reminded of the classic Tom’s Hardware video where they show you exactly what happens when you remove the fan from a CPU(linked below).  Without proper cooling some CPU’s can reach temperatures of over 600°F, thereby destroying itself in a puff of smoke.

Some of the dust removed from the heatsink.

Some of the dust removed from the heatsink.

Although having dust caked on your heatsink is not quite as drastic as removing the heatsink altogether, it still isn’t good for your computer.  Computer’s that cannot properly cool themselves will inevitably fail much sooner than they otherwise would.  Heat is the enemy of any electronic device, and dust is heat’s nasty little sidekick.

We all know smoking is bad…

It’s not news that smoking is bad for you, but did you know it’s bad for your computer as well?  If you hadn’t already noticed the color of the dust removed from the heatsink… IT”S BROWN.  Brown dust is not normal.  Dust inside of a computer is typically a shade of grey.  Brown dust is a direct result of cigarette smoke being pulled through the computer as it attempts to cool itself.

As cigarette smoke is drawn through a computer the nicotine and tar form a sticky film on nearly every surface in the computer, especially the hot heatsinks.  This causes dust that may have flown by to become trapped.  Then more nicotine and tar layers on top of the fresh dust.  It’s a never ending cycle.  The reason that the dust shown above was able to hold together in a nearly perfect little square patch is because of the nicotine and tar holding it together like glue.

It’s also noteworthy that smoking near your Apple computer actually voids it’s warranty…

Enough with the finger wagging…

So what can you do about the dust?  Well you can actually take care of this problem yourself, if you feel comfortable opening up your computer tower.  In the links below there is a detailed set of instructions for taking care of this problem.  You can also find instructional videos on youtube.
The main points to remember are:

  1. Do not use a standard vacuum cleaner;  The static charge created by normal household vacuum’s is very bad for your computer.
  2. Use no liquid other than Isopropyl Alcohol on internal computer components.

If you’re in the greater Knoxville area of East Tennessee Install Heroes will come out and perform a system tune up, virus scan, and dust removal on your desktop computer for as little as $50.

What about my laptop?

Desktop computer have much larger openings for air and dust to enter through, and they have much larger empty spaces inside them as well.  Because of this, laptop computer rarely have dust inside them.  While you may not have to worry about dust inside a laptop, there are a lot of products geared toward keeping the outside of your laptop clean.  I recommend Monster Screen Cleaner ($19.99) for laptop screens, or screens of any kind really.

So, if you think your desktop computer may have been attacked by a pack of wild dust bunnies;  Call and we’ll come to the rescue!