• Op-Ed: My Cool Computer

    My Cool Computer

    By Bill Stack

    My computer was overheating terribly, raising the temperature in my office, and causing my air conditioner to run continually. The three-speed exhaust fan was spinning feverously at its highest speed. I put a floor fan at the office door to blow warm air out of the room.

    This overheating originally occurred only while I was using my flight simulator simultaneously with word processing and graphics programs for my writing projects. Then it started overheating while I was using only the flight simulator. Eventually, it was hot most of the time, even when I wasn't using the simulator.

    Overheating can cause major problems for computers such as slow operations, frequent error messages, and full circuitry failures. It's ironic that excessive heat can cause a computer to freeze. The resulting physical damage can force costly replacements of the computer's main components - motherboard, processor, and/or video cards.

    I found copious advice on the Internet for using downloadable programs to monitor the computer's temperature, running virus checkers, tweaking the computer's settings, and installing water-cooling systems.

    I certainly didn't need software to tell me my computer was running hot because it was already heating my office. The latest virus checkers found nothing amiss. The computer's configuration settings were already consistent with manufacturers' advice. A water-cooling system seemed exorbitant.

    Some of the internet advice recommended checking air vents for blockage and keeping the computer away from direct sunlight. Standing on the floor next to my desk, my computer is not blocked by anything, and it is never in direct sunshine. The exterior vents had a little dust around the edges, which I swept away with an old paint brush, but the problem persisted.

    Finally, I removed the box cover and examined the inside. I found lots of abandoned spider webs (no spiders thankfully), and a little dirt accumulation on the exhaust-fan blades, which I easily cleaned off.

    Then I found the real problem after peering behind the central processing unit's cooling fan with a flashlight: The CPU's cooling blades had a layer of fine dust like a felt hat that completely blocked air flow over them. I carefully removed the cooling fan and cleared the dust by blowing canned air over the cooling blades with my right hand while holding the household vacuum cleaner nozzle with my left hand to catch the dust.

    Thereafter, my computer ran properly with no performance problems and no heat being expelled into the office.

    Having checked the easy solutions and common recommendations, I found the true solution with a little more effort, but it surely fixed my overheating computer.

    If your computer is overheating, even while you are using high-demand programs like a flight simulator, don't assume it's normal. Check it out. Clean the inside of your computer box before buying expensive software that you might not need after all.

    Bill Stack

    Bill Stack is a flight-sim expert and author of books, articles, and tutorial videos about home flight simulation. His products can be found here.

    The FlightSim.Com "Op-Ed" section is available to anyone who wishes to share something with the flightsim community, whether an opinion on some flightsim matter, a brief idea on some flightsim technique, or pretty much anything flightsim related that does not file into another category. If you wish to submit an op-ed, please email it to [email protected].

    Tags: overheating

    1. RatRace's Avatar
      RatRace -
      Abandoned spider webs ? Guess it got too hot for them
    1. mqytn's Avatar
      mqytn -
      Excellent find! I open and use a vacuum cleaner to blow the dust out of both my FS computers, and yes it is a must to clean the dust off the CPU heatsink. I reverse the vacuum cleaner to have it blow the dust off the fans and off all other computer parts 2 to 3 times a year. Keeps them healthy and works wonders for those of us that run FS for whats seems like 24/7. For kicks, youtube videos of pc users using leaf blowers to clean their computers. Happy Flying.
    1. RatRace's Avatar
      RatRace -
      Quote Originally Posted by mqytn View Post
      Excellent find! I open and use a vacuum cleaner to blow the dust out of both my FS computers, and yes it is a must to clean the dust off the CPU heatsink. I reverse the vacuum cleaner to have it blow the dust off the fans and off all other computer parts 2 to 3 times a year. Keeps them healthy and works wonders for those of us that run FS for whats seems like 24/7. For kicks, youtube videos of pc users using leaf blowers to clean their computers. Happy Flying.
      Bad idea

      It’s bad to clean the inside of your computer with a vacuum cleaner because vacuuming creates a large static build up that could (and most likely will) discharge into the sensitive electronics inside your computer case.
      Use a can of compressed air instead

    1. kalizzi's Avatar
      kalizzi -
      Brilliant Op-Ed. I'm an IT hardware guy, with 20+ years of full time computer work experience and would like to contribute my two cents' worth of remark. You unplug and take the computer case outside to the patio or garden and clean it. I've always used an electric dust blower for starters (I own a Makita, which is invaluabe for dusting off heaps of different gear at home), then go on to work with an old toothbrush (for fan blades and heatsink vanes), a screw driver (for opening fans to clean underneath), a 2" natural bristle paint brush, and plenty of kitchen towels. I finish off with another round of blower air. You're done. Make sure to target areas where fans do work, e.g. cpu(thats the processor), psu (power supply) and graphic card(s), for thats where the dust would accumlate most. Henceafter a periodical simple dust off with a blower every three months would do nicely, but that cycle can vary depending on the environment in which you operate. Compressed air cans can do the job, sure, but are expensive and inadequate in both volume and pressure (after a few blows they start to freeze outside and gather condensation on the surface) and it is a waste of highly purified air, I use the cans for cleaning camera equipment and lenses (minding very much not have any propellant sprayed onto the equipment, by holding it level).
    1. zswobbie1's Avatar
      zswobbie1 -
      My CPU's fan started to make a noise, so..... I got myself a new fan, as per the CPU specs, so I thought, as well as some of that white paste. Gingerly, I took off the old fan, put some of the paste onto the CPU, mouted the fan & switched on!! The PC booted into the BIOS, with everything lit up in red.

      In those days, many years ago, I was using an AMD CPU, & the new fan did not seat correctly. A new fan for an older chip.

      Well, it blew the motherboard, & I thought.. "Yup, time to replace.. It cost me a motherboard, CPU & RAM.
      After looking at the old fan, it was just a bit dustly, & if I had just cleaned it, all would have been good, but no.. I did not look at the cause, the simple cause!
      A good lesson learnt!
    1. Crazyclown's Avatar
      Crazyclown -
      I take my computer and actually put it out on the work bench in the shop and fire up the Air Compressor, and turn down the Air Pressure a tad bit, and blow all the dust out of the puter, away from the heat sink, all the fans, air inlets, everything.
      I even take my Video Graphics card apart to clean dirt/dust away from the coils of the graphics card.

      I do this about every 3 months regardless, like changing the oil in my Challenger, and riding tractor, keepin er' clean and running cool !!
    1. Trabant Dave's Avatar
      Trabant Dave -
      I'm running FSX on my Alienware 17 laptop through a 24 inch 16:10 monitor, and as the beast cost me the same money as a good used car I am totally OCD about it; I turn it over weekly and blow it through either with an air can or use my airbrush and compressor. Earlier this week I decided to do a repaste of the heatsinks on both the CPU and the GPU using Gelid Extreme - while I was at it, I gave it a good spring clean with air and a small brush to get every speck of detritus out and once it was reassembled my temps were a good 5c lower than before. I am planning on building a dedicated desktop for FSX later this year and the plan is for the system to be liquid cooled - I'm thinking of ways to completely seal the electronics from the outside world to virtually eliminate the dust problem, and have the cooling elements (fans, pump, radiator etc.) in a separate easy-to-access compartment for regular cleaning..... anyone tried anything similar?
    1. cordier's Avatar
      cordier -
      Hello, I am a french IT hardware guy, with several years of computer work experience too, and i agree with all that has been said here, but i want to say that it can be dangerous for electronic cards to blow air over or to use a vacuum cleaner too close to electronic components because of electric discharges. So be careful and do not do it for a too long time.
    1. alaskancrab's Avatar
      alaskancrab -
      I clean mine out once a year or so or usually before an upgrade. A combination of vacuuming and compressed air, can or otherwise, does the trick. What I was most surprised about is how much dust my Air Conditioner accumulated in one year, anytime you got a combination of fans and filters you'll have trouble.
    1. flightman's Avatar
      flightman -
      Dust on the fans is the first thing I'd look for, especially for an heat issue which has been getting progressively worse. If the computer used to keep cool but now no longer does, the cooling system which used to work must be less efficient.
    1. omitchell's Avatar
      omitchell -
      One way to minimize dust inside your machine is to switch to a positive pressure system. Simply put this means more fans pulling cooler air in than you have blowing air out. Note this does not eliminate dust all together, it simply minimizes the amount of dust you will get inside your case and you will still need to occasionally check and give it a blow every so often as part of your maintenance cycle.
    1. davidb's Avatar
      davidb -
      I may have missed it in a quick read of the article and all the comments but one thing that was emphasised to me, and I've always followed, are the dangers of static and the need to wear an earthing strap (or regularly earth oneself by touching the unpainted metal part of the case regularly) whenever working on the computers components. It can be costly if static strikes.
    1. silvergh0st's Avatar
      silvergh0st -
      Er you haven't really got the Physics of this right.
      A computer stays cool by expelling the heat produced during its operation into its surroundings ie the room it is in. It overheats when it can't get rid of that heat as quickly eg because of dust on the fins of its heat sink acting as an insulator and poor air circulation from clogged vents. In either case the total heat produced doesn't really change. So an overheating computer doesn't produce more heat and make the room excessively hot it just can't expel the heat properly so gets too hot itself.
    1. RatRace's Avatar
      RatRace -
      Who would have thought this becoming such a hot topic ?
    1. kd4fzz's Avatar
      kd4fzz -
      Silvergh0st... The temperature inside the computer case is higher than it would be if there was proper ventilation. The layer of dust on the components acts as insulation, causing them to overheat... therefore hotter air is being expelled by the cooling fans into the room.
    1. silvergh0st's Avatar
      silvergh0st -
      kd4fzz - the air will be hotter if there is inadequate ventilation but there will be less of it because the airflow is restricted so the total amount of energy remains basically the same. The heat comes from the electricity consumed by the computer which does not suddenly start using more - it carries on consuming its normal amount which is converted into heat energy. For more total heat to be expelled the computer would have to start using significantly more power than normal which it does not do. In fact an overheating computer will often start throttling the cpu to avoid excessive overheating. The cpu only overheats because the dust stops it losing heat as easily so its temperature rises until the temperature on the outside of the dust reaches the point where the airflow can then extract enough heat to match the rate of input. The rate of heat removal always has to equal the rate of heat input otherwise the computer / cpu will continue to get hotter until it fails.
    1. MikeAdamo's Avatar
      MikeAdamo -
      Something else to check depending on the age of your computer. The thermal paste between your CPU and cooling fan bottom plate can (and does) deteriorate over time and that also becomes a source of "over heating" related issues. I've had this on a few PC's where after cleaning fans and all the internal nooks where dust tends to hide still produced heat related shutdowns. Checking the CPU cooler and seeing there was a little bit of give when I twisted it lead me to removing the CPU cooler and the thermal paste was dried up. A good cleaning of the CPU to get rid of the old thermal paste and a fresh application of Arctic Silver and I was back in business.
    1. IaFarm2's Avatar
      IaFarm2 -
      All good advice, but here's one more from an old-timer.
      GOOD Thermal paste (Arctic silver or whatever ) is essential & whether rebuilding an old machine or a brand-new one it should be remembered that the instructions for applyin it call for a "thin layer" as :
      1) you don't want it being squeezed out all over the CPU edges - which could cause an electrical conductance issue
      2) if "too thick" it will have good "but not the BEST" heat transfer possible
      The BEST heat transfer possible is when the mating surfaces of the CPU and the Heat Sink are most perfectly in direct contact. The "thermal paste" is there to take up the "irregularities in the surfaces".
      The CPU itself will typically be perfectly flat. BUT the mating surface of the Heat Sink may ( and probably is not ) be "perfectly flat - hence the need for "thermal paste".
      SO "hand lapping" of the heat sink mating surface can do a wonder for heat transfer. "Hand lapping" is the term for placing the mating surface of the heat sink on a scrap sheet of window glass with an "appropriate for the metal" type and fine grade of polishing compound and sliding the heat sink back-and-forth- and round-and -round on it till the mating surface of the heat is almost mirror smooth. During that process you will see that the "apparently smooth" original surface of the heat sink soon shows where there are dips ( still dull ) or high spots ( shiny ). When the whole surface is uniformly shiny THEN is is ready to be mated to the CPU.
      In an attempt to get a few more years of life out of an older AMD Socket 939 machine which was capable of being "overclocked" I collected all the data I could on what the components temps actually were before "overclocking", purchased an aftermarket heatsink/fan and assembled, ran it and re-collected the temps data. The CPU was, of course cooler. But then I "hand lapped" the new heat sink ( finding a significant "cupped spot along one quadrant ), re-installed and collected the data again and the subsequent CPU temp was 12C lower. Overclocked as fare as was possible and it's still running reliably and adequately for FSX and x-plane10 7 yrs ( and 3 video cards later. Not optimally compared to newer and faster CPUs and boards but still well enuf to be enjoyable when the newer machine(s) are needed for other things.
      My 2 ( or maybe 10 ) cents.
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