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How to Kill a PC!

By Joseph Kexel - Posted on 04 March 2012

Power Supply Clogged
CPU Heatsink Clogged
Chassis Starting to Get Covered

Seems that computers have gotten so cheap that they are practically disposable. Well, it appears that way when people never do any regular maintenance on their systems. Sure you can get a basic system for around $500 that will blow away any system that was shipped with Windows XP, but taking care of a system allows you to have a PC that lasts. That lets you upgrade on YOUR schedule and not need to rush out to buy a new system and deal with all that entails.

What does system replacement entail? Mostly, it is getting your software back to the state you had it with all the data you love in place on a new PC. That is much harder when your system dies. First, you will often rush to buy a replacement which can make getting a good deal more difficult. Sometimes you skimp on things like RAM and the upgrade is mediocre at best. Having the time to shop properly really helps. Looking for a new PC when your current PC is suffering from old age is much better than when it is DOA!

If your old system is dead, the hard disk must be pulled and data recovery will need to be done. That is much more expensive compared to using Windows system transfer to move all your files across from an existing functional system.

If your hard disk is part of the problem, seriously expensive data recovery techniques may be in your future. Unless you have done one of the regular maintenance routines of backing up your data. Data backups are a very important part of disaster recovery by safeguarding your data. A tech like myself can do many a miracle with hardware and software, but once your data is lost there is nothing I can do to recreate it. You must figure out your backup plan BEFORE you need it. I can help you with that.

One more wrinkle to worry about is software upgrades will likely be required for all XP machines and many Vista machines were shipped 32-bit. The new Windows 7 PCs are generally 64-bit. That means that much of your software may have issues. The older the PC the more likely you have compatibility problems. Sometimes the software will not work, but other times it is the installation program that will not run. Keep in mind that 16-bit applications, including many installation routines, will not run on a 64-bit system natively. If you have important programs you cannot live without, making sure you have a migration plan in place is a good idea. Trying to manage that on the fly due to an emergency replacement of a PC is far from ideal.

I have mentioned some of the nasty effects of emergency system replacement and how a good backup can ease the pain, but how can you dramatically reduce the chance of you being in that situation? It is very simple, keep your system as clean as possible and provide your system with a clean source of power.

As for cleaning, it should be done regularly. Every six months is a likely a good place to start until you understand your needs. Each environment is different. I had a client roast their CPU on a really good system in about a year. They had many pets and the CPU heatsink/fan was completely covered in pet hair, dander and dust. Without proper cooling from a clean heatsink, their system's CPU overheated and died.

The CPU is the most critical component for routine cleaning. It has a heatsink/fan (laptops,too) and it gets hot by its very nature of have billions transistors in a very small area. The real pain of a CPU failure is that CPUs require specific mainboards and RAM modules. You need to consider them a matching set which were most easily paired up when all those components were new. Often any CPU or motherboard failure will end up in a long search on-line for compatible parts. It usually ends up being very expensive and you quickly approach the $500 of a new PC. At best, you might be able to find some refurbished parts on the Internet, but I find those to be of questionable quality. The repair processes are never as good as the factory processes, so you will likely have an inferior product.

Other areas where dust can be problematic is the power supply and the ventilation holes in the chassis. The power supply is vulnerable due to the fact it has a fan of its own which draws many cubic feet of air each minute of operation. Dust gets trapped on components within the power supply and makes those parts overheat shortening the life of the power supply. As long as your PC has a standard power supply replacement is not that expensive, but that $100 bucks or so is better spent on your next PC or on a RAM upgrade. With the chassis you get reduced air flow and every component in the system can get a bit warmer than usual.

A can of compressed air can be used to clear off the CPU for that is both easy to find and fairly safe to do. However, I recommend at least an annual cleaning by a professional to get your system as clean it can be. Think of your cleaning of the CPU as your daily brushing of your teeth, but you still need a good cleaning from the dental hygienist on a regular basis.

To finish up, let's talk about clean electrical power. I recommend an UPS for every system including laptops. A power supply should last the life of the PC under most circumstances. Bad power, especially brownouts, will overheat the power supply and kill it prematurely. A good UPS can correct the power and prevent that. This is very important on systems with propriety power supplies. Without the benefit of a standard power supply, your failing power supply will need an expensive replacement. Using a quality UPS is just common sense.

Call me today, if you need assistance in maintaining your PC.

Note about photos: You can see how the power supply vents and CPU heatsink were completely covered in gunk. Both the power supply and the CPU had failed on this system.