FROM READERS: How to clean the inside of your desktop computer

Thursday, October 10, 2013 | 9:07 p.m. CDT; updated 3:52 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 24, 2013

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Josh Crowley is a student studying environmental science online with Columbia College. He recommends getting maintenance done for desktop computers about twice a year.

Many of us use computers on a regular basis. Even though new hardware is being innovated constantly, new and used models are often made to last for at least a couple, and in many cases longer than 5 years, especially when they are properly maintained. The part that is "in charge" of keeping all the internal components of our desktop computers running at the safest temperature is the fan. Some are built into the computer chassis, others are installed onto individual pieces of hardware that control operation.

Fans are crucial in extending the useful life of our computers. During use, these fans draw exterior air into the system itself bringing with it particles of dust, hair, skin and other airborne particulate. Individually, these grains aren’t damaging but over time, build-up occurs on all surfaces that can create thread-like strands that can cause vital parts & circuitry to short out by "bridging" exposed metals. Thankfully, your desktop computer casing is built for the simple removal of screws on the backside for maintenance.

For this project, you will need the following:

  • An open, ventilated area with work space
  • Flathead or Phillips head screwdriver (dependent on case screws)
  • Canned air duster (brand or off-brand) that includes a straw for precision dusting
  • (optional) Anti-static bracelet & 1 vacuum cleaner with hose attachment
  • 10 to 30 minutes

Most models will have at least one panel that slides after removal of securing screw(s). Make sure all devices, cords, and peripherals are disconnected, while taking note of what you are unplugging and from where. If your model stands upright, carefully lay it on its right side (or, the side on the right when you are facing the front screen of the computer); for models that lay flat, place them on a level, secure surface. There will be screws securing the access panel to the chassis, generally located on the backside of the machine; remove these and store them safely. Carefully slide the panel from side to side until it releases from its fitted channel. Lift and set this panel to the side and out of the way for reinstallation later. Because of the damage risk posed by static discharge, always remain in skin contact with the case of the computer. This is called being “grounded” and will prevent any static from killing the computer and/or subsequent parts.

While remaining in physical contact with the computer, use the canned air to blow away dust from any obvious areas first, for example, the rear case fan and large power supply brick. Make sure all dust exits the machine. The CPU is the heart of the whole computer and it should also be free of dust bunnies, so pay special attention to its generally central location on the circuit board. The RAM memory and some video cards are positioned upward and inserted into slots located on and at a right angle to the circuit board. These are also crucial components to keep dust-free, as replacement costs can be high.

Be certain that no liquid from inside the compressed can of air collects on any of the internal “guts” of your computer as you continue scouting and spraying inside for any remaining collections of dust and debris. The best tactic to use is short, controlled bursts of air, with the can positioned in as close to an upright position as possible, to prevent any frigid liquids from escaping and depositing.

When you have blasted away as much of the dust as you can see, it is time to replace the side panel of your desktop computer. It may take a moment to get the panel back into its proper channel but use good judgment and have patience. Reinsert the screws and properly tighten them back to a reasonable but secure tension.

Carefully pivot your computer back to its original, operating position and reconnect all cords, peripherals, and devices accordingly and you are ready to turn your machine back on as you have just completed your scheduled maintenance (twice per year is a good rule of thumb) to insure the useful life of your computer.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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