Dust and other airborne debris can cause major headaches for computer users. The previous statement could be interpreted several different ways. To some, it may sound like a warning to those individuals who suffer from allergies. To others, it could be taken to mean that prolonged exposure to dust and airborne debris while working at the computer can bring on an actual, physiological headache to the computer user. For the purpose of this article, it’s meaning is intended to serve as a forewarning as to the potential harm dust and its associated build-up can cause to the computer itself.
There are many sources of dust and other airborne particles, but this article will not concern itself with where the debris comes from. Instead, the focus will be on where most of it winds up, which is on and in the computer. Dust settling on the outside of your computer case may appear to be just a minor cosmetic issue which can be easily addressed with a cleaning cloth. However, the fact that there was dust on the outside is a good indication that there will be dust and other debris within the computer case itself. Filtering air going into the computer is the best method for minimizing dust and debris from entering the computer case. Readers are invited to join in the discussion “Computer Filters- do I need them and where can I get them?” and share their thoughts or questions.
There are several ways in which dust and debris accumulation can impact your computers operation and overall performance. Built-up dust can cause two things to occur:
- It can restrict airflow by accumulating on and in ventilation holes, slots, and fans.
- It can accumulate and act as a thermal insulator like the insulation in your home’s attic and walls.
Both of these conditions will cause your computer and its internal parts to operate at higher than normal temperatures, which can cause them to fail sooner than they should.
The severity of the problems can range from just making your computer look bad to actually causing some parts of the system to stop working or the computer itself to suffer a premature end-of-life failure. The following are examples of what problems may arise due to dust and debris.
- As mentioned earlier, dust will accumulate on the computer case. At the very least, this residual build-up will detract from the computers appearance.
- If left unchecked, dust and debris can become thick enough to restrict airflow through the case ventilation holes and/or slots. Left alone for long enough, the vents and slots will eventually become clogged thereby not allowing any airflow at all. Limited or no airflow within the case is a recipe for disaster. This causes parts and devices within the case to run hotter than normal which can cause unexpected shutdowns and will shorten their lifespan.
- And while the case ventilation was accumulating build-up, the same dust and debris causing the eventual blockage was also passing through to the interior of the case as well. Once inside the computer case, dust and debris will deposit itself everywhere. And by everywhere, we are talking about everything within the case, every part, every device, every heatsink and fan, well you get the general idea.
- Build-up on cooling fans will cause the fan’s motor to work harder and the fan itself will produce less airflow. Another possibility is that dust can get into the bearing area. Either of these conditions can cause undue wear on the fan’s bearings. All of this can lead to the fan needing to be replaced sooner than it should, either due to the fan starting to produce excessive noise due to bearing issues or by the fan’s ultimate demise.
- Build-up on heatsinks will severely limit their effectiveness, causing the parts under them to run hotter. This in turn can cause unexpected system shutdowns or premature failure of the parts due to having to operate at higher temperatures.
- Build-up on internal drives can cause their motors to experience the same issues as with the cooling fans. Additionally, it is possible for the debris to get into the data sensing area of an optical drive and cause data to be written/read incorrectly or in extreme cases, not allowing any data to be transferred at all. Finally, build-up on the drives casing will cause the internal circuitry to operate at a much higher temperature than it should, which can cause erratic behavior or drive failure.
- Build-up on the motherboard and its exposed parts causes them to run hotter. This can cause unexpected shutdowns and shortened component life. In extreme situations, electrical shorts can occur as a result of the build-up and cause damage or fire.
Part 2 of this article will look at some steps that can be taken in order to minimize the effects of dust and its build-up.