Why Cleanliness is Next to Godliness for Your Laptop

Laptop, server, much maligned aging desktop.  All computers can suffer when the dust builds up inside the case.

Electronic equipment doesn’t deal well with extremes of temperature, tiny components expand and contract or their innards react.  Capacitors are like little batteries that take on an electrical charge and release it to sensitive modules and processors at a controlled rate, but they have the same issues with extremes of temperature that their bigger cousins have.

The symptoms are likely to include:

  • Increased fan noise
  • Reduced performance as the computer slows down the processor to try and reduce the heat build up
  • In laptops you may feel hotspots on the keyboard and surrounding plastic
  • In extreme cases the computer may shut down suddenly to prevent damage to the internal workings
  • If the failsafes aren’t enough, irreversible damage can be caused to the hard drive or the processor, resulting in expensive repair bills and possible loss of data

What can be done about it?  Well, there’s no way of avoiding a dust build up.  Bizarrely, the cleanest houses and offices turn out some of the fluffiest computers (I am personally convinced that’s because the inhabitants keep cleaning, disturbing the dust in the process).  Tumble driers put out a quantity of fibres, which are easily pulled into a computer case and cigarette smoke will coat any particles with a sticky tar-like residue which will cause them to adhere to each other and accumulate even faster.

Computers almost seemed designed to catch dust.  The cases are engineered to draw air in through small gaps and pass it over nooks, crannies and ledges.  The surface area inside your average computer must be immense.

So as long as a cleanroom is beyond our budgets, we’ve ruled out prevention; so what’s the cure?  I’ll tell you what I do and then you can decide whether you are confident (and competent) enough to try it for yourself.  And if not, drop me a line and I’ll book you in for an annual service and make the problem disappear for a while.

Desktops and servers.

Remove the mains power cable and hold down the power button for a minimum of 10 seconds.  This discharges the capacitors and although most are no risk to you, causing a short while there is still power inside the computer could cause damage.

Open the case and using a vacuum cleaner and a bristle brush – not nylon – carefully dislodge all the built up dust and suction it off.  Watch out for knocking delicate parts with the nozzle of the cleaner, whether it’s plastic or metal, although obviously metal has it’s own complications.  You may want to invest in a can of compressed air to make life easier, but clean out the loose stuff first; it can fly for metres!

Remove the front bezel as this is usually the in-flow for the air, and dust will build up in and around the holes behind the plastic panel.

Press the vacuum nozzle up against the vent in the rear of the power supply.  You will only remove some of the build up but I would never advocate taking it apart.  The coils inside carry dangerous voltages and should only ever be inspected by trained personnel.  You can use your compressed air through any vent holes here and then vacuum again.

While you’re in the case, inspect any cables to make sure they’re secure and not dangling near a fan.

Look at the capacitors.  If any of them appear to be swelling or leaking, now is a good time to get professional advice.  They are easily replaced and could save an expensive repair in the near future.

Laptops.

More difficult.  There are an awful lot of screws holding a laptop together and it’s not always clear as to what the order of play should be.  If you’re determined to have a go, YouTube is an excellent resource.

For a quick DIY attempt, I would suggest the compressed air here.  Turn off your laptop, unplug the mains cable and remove the battery, then press and hold the power button for 10 seconds to discharge the capacitors.

Along the edge of the laptop will be an exhaust vent.  This is often on the left towards the back and if you blow compressed air through it you will usually send the dust into the fan area where you can pick it out through the tiny grille with a pair of tweezers.  The dust collects just inside the exhaust vent, often in a thick layer of felt, so it’s quite easy to work with and you’ll get good results.

Another problem that can crop up with any type of computer is the failure of the thermal paste between the processor and the heat sink and for this you should consult a professional.  Although the processor has a highly polished pad for transferring heat away, and the heat sink has a similarly smooth contact pad, a metal paste is used between the two to eradicate any air pockets which could slow the flow of heat.  Over time this paste becomes dry and shrinks and should be cleaned off and replaced with fresh.

Prices for an annual service are from £50 for a clean out, or £80 to include a health check of the operating system.  Everything is looked over for out of date files, from drivers to Java, Adobe, Skype and antivirus to name a few.  Advice will be given on future upgrade paths and current specification.

We are pleased to offer SSD (solid state drive) upgrades for £60 plus parts.  Solid state drives represent the single biggest performance boost that you can give your computer (desktop or laptop).  Please get in touch via the Contact form for more information.