My mother always told me to dust, but I never did, mostly because I was lazy, but also because I couldn’t find any tangible benefit to dusting. I just didn’t see how I’d benefit from my room or my things being less dusty. Well now I’ve gotten a bit older, and I finally found a reason to dust – a cooler running computer. I’m going to give some background on my own system and circumstances first, then run tests before and after dusting, as well as explain how and what I used to dust. Be sure to take a look at this article – with pictures and graphs – plus a whole lot more, at aworldofhelp.com.
I’ve had the computer in question for a little over two years, a dual AMD Athlon MP workstation that while no longer the top of the line, is still plenty fast enough for what I do. The computer is running at standard speeds and specifications, and has always been very stable – but not 100%. When the system was about a year old I had been getting by with the occasional, roughly once weekly lock up. At that point, I finally spent the time to try and diagnose the problem.
To be perfectly clear, I’m talking about a lock up, where everything stops responding, the screen freezes and I have to reboot, not simply an application crash, which I can usually just blame on Microsoft. My initial thought was that the computer was overheating, specifically the CPUs. I was a little hesitant though because I was running AMD retail processors at standard specifications with AMD retail heatsinks and fans, and I figured that should have been a fine setup. But I’ve had CPUs overheat before when I was sure that was the problem and this just felt like it now. I did some research online and it looked like the AMD cooling solutions were somewhat underwhelming performers, so I broke down and bought new heatsinks and fans. These still weren’t top of the line, but they reduced my CPU temperatures immediately by about 20%.
In unscientific testing I’d say my computer was absolutely more stable after the reduction in temperature. I estimate the weekly lockup became a monthly or even every other monthly lockup. This clearly isn’t perfect for a system that really should be 99.99% stable, but it was a big improvement, and I let the problem go for a while. I will note that as many of you many assume, this computer is always on, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Anyway now it’s another year later and my computer is increasingly unstable again. I’m not going to go out and get better heatsinks and fans again, as I’m sure the improvement would be less than before. My next though was about how dusty the whole system is. I know I should have dusted it once in the last two years, but I never got around to it. I’d say I live in an average environment in terms of dustiness, not especially better or worse, and I just never thought it would make a very significant difference in my CPU temperature. As you’ll see, I was completely wrong – which incidentally might make my mother right.
Almost all users should really consider the results of both tests, possibly giving more weight to the one which most closely matches your typical computing. Even if you run predominantly business applications, you’ll almost certainly occasionally do something that falls under this content creation test, editing pictures or an occasional home movie, for example. So consider all the tests, don’t just focus on one graph.
Should you dust your computer? Yes, why not, it can’t hurt. But really, there are tangible benefits of cleaning your computer, even if it seems stable right now.
Computers and electronics in general don’t like heat. Dust blocks fans in your case, which generally cool you CPU, video card and motherboard components. Dust also blocks fans and their airflow into and out of your case. Cool air needs to be brought into a case, and then the host air dispelled. If the airways are blocked, system temperature can rise quickly. If your computer is stable but the CPU is running too hot, you cut down on its lifespan, potentially quickly.
More important to many people though, may be the result of that first heat related computer lock up. Even if it’s never been a problem before, if your computer crashes at the wrong time it can be catastrophic. Usually mine just locks up when I’m away from it, or overnight, and I just turn it back on and restart Firefox and haven’t lost anything important. But last week it locked up with unsaved graphs for my last article and Excel chose no to auto save. I spent the hour it took to redo them considering ways to eliminate these lock ups.
Of course, reducing heat is also always a priority for people who overclock their CPU. For those that don’t know, overclocking is running a CPU at a higher frequency than it was sold to run at. For example, you could take your Intel Pentium 4 that is running at a “clock” rate of 2 GHz, and try to run it at 2.1 GHz, 2.5 GHz, faster speeds, or anywhere in between. I have an old dual CPU system that was supposed to run at 366 MHz. Instead I ran the chips at 500 MHz each, which was a huge performance gain. Overclocking is actually a great way to get more “free” performance out of a system, as long as you can maintain stability. Usually the single biggest factor for success is reducing heat as much as possible.
Another thing to note is that while it is very important to keep CPU heat to a minimum, hard drives, video cards, and other components all need to be kept cool as well. In fact, I don’t really know for sure that my CPUs are the current problem. I think they are, but my next guess (if I’m correct that it’s a heat problem) would be my video card, since I’ve checked, and it runs really hot.
Consider this as well, if my CPU were to actually stop working because it was too hot, it would probably be a gradual process, and I could fix the situation by purchasing a replacement. If my hard drive crashes and ultimately loses data, that could be a much more problematic situation. I could replace the drive, but recovering the data could be far more difficult than just replacing a CPU.