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Vacuum your computer

My Computer got a fever!

I recently noticed that my computer was noisy. Normally my computer is very quiet. One of the most common reasons for excess noise from a computer is that the cooling fan is spinning very fast trying to keep the computer cool. Fast fans make noise. I checked my computer's temperature, and wow, it had a fever. My computer's CPU was running at 160 degrees (71 C)! Normally it runs about 100-110, so it was running 50-60 degrees hotter than normal.

Outside of water, heat is one of the worst things for a computer. Raise the temperature and you reduce the life expectancy of your computer. So, why do computers get hot? Dust is a common reason. Dust covers the inside and acts as an insulator holding in heat. A dead cooling fan is another reason it might overheat.

I turned off my computer and pulled it out. Then I vacuumed the inside. I pull off the front panel as well as the side panel. Front panels collect dust as it gets sucked in there. I use both a vacuum cleaner (with a plastic tool), and very short bursts of clean compressed air. I am very careful with the vacuum to not short anything out. I never let any metal inside the computer. When I use the compressed air on a fan, I hold the fan to make sure it doesn't spin too fast. Compressed air is done with very short bursts, not long ones.

I plugged it back in with the case open, so I could see if the fans were all spinning freely. When I was satisfied, I closed it up again and put it back. The computer is now running about 60 degrees cooler than before.

How hot is too hot?

The precise temperature for particular CPUs and motherboards and graphics cards varies, however, here are some general rules. Remember, that cooler is better. If you could run your computer 20 degrees cooler, then it would probably last longer.
  • If your cpu is running below 125 F (52 c) then you are doing excellently.
  • If your cpu is running below 140 F (60 c) then you are ok.
  • If you are above 158 F (70c) then figure out how to make it cooler.

How do I check?

I now recommend Cpuid's HwMonitor to check fan speeds and temperature. Speccy does a good job as well along with giving you a much more complete system information, but it doesn't handle fan speeds as well.

Heat checks are now part of my standard monthly maintenance. I recommend doing a monthly maintenance checks. I do it remotely for many clients, but for those who want to do it yourself, here is my monthly checklist. Feel free to copy it and use it for your own checks. You should watch for changes to your computer's normal temperature.

In any case, it is a good idea to clean your computer annually.

Date: August 2012

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