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Dusty computer shutting off because of over-heating
How to fix?

 1:12 am on Oct 31, 2008 (gmt 0)

I've had it happen before with another computer (and the motherboard and processor ended up getting fried), so now that this computer is turning itself off periodically I assume it's because the processor is over-heating because of the fan and interior being laden with accumulated dust.

How do I get the inside of the computer case dusted and cleaned to prevent damage and keep it running?


Receptional Andy

 1:24 am on Oct 31, 2008 (gmt 0)

I'd clean off any obvious dust with a cloth, and then use a well-aimed air duster to get as much as possible out of the case itself. If any of the fans are struggling I would replace them. Incidentally, if you're running windows, it's often possible to get a read out of most of the temperatures via software.

Periodic shut-off might be over-heating, and I would imagine a hardware problem. It's the kind of problem where a good backup is nice to have :)


 2:06 am on Oct 31, 2008 (gmt 0)

Andy, what I'm referring to is doing dusting and cleaning inside the case; I'm sure that's where the problem is.


 2:25 am on Oct 31, 2008 (gmt 0)

If blowing out dust doesn't work then try replacing the processor fan.

If that doesn't help then remove the heatsink and apply fresh thermal grease.

Both of these options are straightforward and cheap.



 2:26 am on Oct 31, 2008 (gmt 0)

I'll tell you how I do it, but as RA says, "a good backup is nice to have." :)

  • Shut down the machine.
  • Unplug the power cord.
  • Unplug everything else -- Mouse, keyboard, USB, and LAN cables, etc.
  • Take the machine to the garage, and let it reach "room temperature."
  • Open the case.
  • Make sure there aren't any cables or other objects in there that are loose enough to swing around and damage anything. If there are, duct tape or rubber-band them in place.
  • Stick pencils, soda straws, or similar appropriately-sized objects into or through the fans (carefully) so they cannot spin. Duct tape in place.
  • Blast that sucker out with my air compressor, set to not above 40 PSI.

    I've produced dust clouds rivaling the biggest windstorms using this method -- It's incredible how much dust floats around in the air and gets stuck inside electronic equipment. Therefore, "take it to the garage" is a required step.

    I don't wait for the machine to start shutting down due to overheating. Instead, I do this to all my machines about once a year, as a "Spring cleaning." No harm done, but the bit about letting the machine reach room temperature is fairly critical: You don't want to 'thermally shock' any of the components. Pinning the fans in place prevents bearing damage -- You don't want them spinning up too fast because of the 40 PSI airstream!

    This is a brute-force method, befitting my status as an American male who used to watch "Tool Time" on the Tim Allen show. ;)


  • Marcia

     4:09 am on Oct 31, 2008 (gmt 0)

    This is a brute-force method, befitting my status as an American male

    Ahhh...love it!

    Jim, I've got a sweet, pretty little daughter who's befitting of the status and title of an American female geek (diva/techie). However, unfortunately she lives across the country. I have to admit that making a long distance move, from sunny SoCal to snow country, has entered into the criteria for consideration. My computer woes would be over. ;)

    Advice duly noted and printed out, thank you! I have noticed that the shut-down time in the evening, when outside temperatures are way cooler, is considerably different than in the heat of the afternoon (90 degrees is HOT!).

    Stick pencils, soda straws, or similar appropriately-sized objects into or through the fans (carefully) so they cannot spin. Duct tape in place.

    I assume fans that can have objects inserted to keep them from moving will have openings that go through to the outside of the computer so they're identifiable, right?

    Disclosure: The last computer was so gummed up (dust + cooking & smoking) that they couldn't even see the parts, and the tech had to wear a face mask when using compressed air to even see the components inside.

    [edited by: Marcia at 5:03 am (utc) on Oct. 31, 2008]


     5:43 am on Oct 31, 2008 (gmt 0)

    I don't own a tire compressor so I take the machine down to the Asian computer guy who by now knows me by name/face. Having someone like this who you can trust is such a timesaver. And while the machine is down there I usually have him upgrade a few parts.


     9:51 pm on Nov 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

    you don't need a compressor - there are cans of compressed air or gas (airosols) availabel at every electronices or photoequipement store.
    Maybe have a vacuum cleaner ready when doing this in your living room.


     12:25 am on Nov 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

    > doing this in your living room

    If I tried that, you'd find me missing from the Apache forum, and listed in the obituaries... :o

    She who must be obeyed will not tolerate such infractions.


    Marcia, if it looks like a fan of any kind, just use *any* method to prevent it from spinning at high speed when you're blowing air on it. Spinning fans too fast can wreck their bearings -- as I found out the hard way...



     11:42 am on Nov 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

    It's also worth bearing in mind that fans die and/or fail to start reliably, so it's worth running with the case off to make sure the fan actually works. In a tower case with a heatsink mounted so that the fins are vertical, the CPU might easily run for five minutes or more (from cold) without a fan at all.

    In my experience, the dust in a heatsink is usually very lightly packed and can be removed by a vacuum cleaner with a crevice tool provided you can get it up close. As for compressed air, a drinking straw or empty pen case combined with a bit of puff should be sufficient (but can lead to condensation if equipment is particularly cold). You might need to close your eyes to avoid wayward dust.



     4:38 pm on Nov 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

    As already stated a can of compressed air is an essential tool - especially for laptops - shove it up the vents without the need to open the laptop.

    For a desktop it is much easier but make sure you get all the dust off the heatsink fins. Either rotate the fan blades to see if there is any dust build up or remove it (some are clipped on with brackets, some screwed on).

    What could happen too is that the thermal past has dried up and thus the cooling system is not effective enough. If you are still having heat problems after the fans are de-dusted then get the heatsink and cpu surface cleaned and re apply a good quality paste. I would not recommend novices doing this though.

    BTW - make sure all fans and inlets / outlets are de-dusted. Check the front and back of the case, the holes in the case panels, the holes in the PSU etc.

    You should be able to check temps in your BIOS. You may also be able to set your alarm and shutdown temps in the BIOS but some branded PCs disable that info.

    A really good lightweight app for checking temps is speedfan.

    [edited by: Frank_Rizzo at 4:42 pm (utc) on Nov. 3, 2008]


     9:36 pm on Nov 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

    Be very careful of ESD (electrostatic discharge) when you are fishing around inside your computer. If you work up a little static by walking across the floor and then accidentally ground out to your motherboard, you're done. Walking across a rug can can build up as much as 12,000 volts. Humans can't even perceive electricity until about 1,500 volts so you might not even feel the discharge. Just 10 volts is all it takes to cause damage to some parts inside your computer. Also, be careful with a vacuum. All the dirt and dust particles flowing through the plastic hose can build up quite a bit of static.

    My workbench has an ESD mat with a wristband. About $100 gets you a decent sized one and it's well worth it when protecting thousands of dollars worth of hardware and data.

    If your machine has been shutting down from heat, I'd put your RAM through the paces with a stout test program. Excessive heat can damage RAM and sometimes the failures aren't enough to cause an error in your boot-up test.

    If using compressed air cans, the can will lose pressure after a few minutes of continued use. It'll feel really cold and if you listen closely it'll sound like it's bubbling inside. Set it down for a while until it warms back up and it'll be back to full pressure. (assuming it's not out)

    Lastly, don't forget to give your powersupply a good blast. It can store a LOT of dust.

    get the heatsink and cpu surface cleaned and re apply a good quality paste. I would not recommend novices doing this though.

    Amen. If the paste is real dry it can be kind of like glue and you may end up pulling the processor out of it's socket. Depending on your motherboard layout, it could be a real pain to get the socked "unlocked" to get the processor back in.

    [edited by: SEOMike at 9:40 pm (utc) on Nov. 4, 2008]


     10:17 pm on Nov 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

    Just went through this over the past few days. Had what used to be my main box sitting around after a heating problem just because I didn't want to face the task. It was almost a year that I put it off; finally decided that if I had to open it to get to the data on the HD I might as well bite the bullet and get it cleaned up.

    In my small place the amount of dust and grime coming out would probably choke me, so I trundled it over to the geek guys and they got it cleaned up in a matter of minutes. And yeah, the amount of grime that came out was amazing, simply amazing. Very glad I didn't try it at home.

    I really didn't know what kind of damage I had done last year so I decided to switch out the processor at the same time. Went well, was just sure to give the heatsink a horizontal twist or two to break the seal before pulling it up. Stuff like Ooops works real well to clean things up, followed up by alcohol to get the Ooops off. I also decided to pull out four HDs used mostly to store slide scans, figured that would cut power requirements and open up more space for air movement. The front fan was gone and the only thing readily available within a few blocks was a cheapie that sounds like a 747; have to pick up a better one before I put the box back in its cubbyhole.

    Besides a few BIOS and Windows quirks that just took time to take care of (restart upon restart), everything went fairly well.


     2:42 am on Nov 5, 2008 (gmt 0)

    Also, be careful with a vacuum. All the dirt and dust particles flowing through the plastic hose can build up quite a bit of static.

    Assuming the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner is plastic (i.e. a good insulator) the chances of it discharging static electricity are zero.

    Assuming the hose/handle is plastic, the chances of it passing a static charge to the user are also zero.

    Provided you touch the computer case before touching any internal components, the chances of static discharge causing damage to a fully assembled computer are extremely remote. For the most part, static is hazardous to components that are not installed.

    Before installing components...
    To discharge any static on the body, touch a metal pipe or tap/faucet etc.
    To ensure no static builds from rubber-soled shoes rubbing against nylon carpet, etc. you can simply work barefoot (pure cotton socks should be ok too).


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