I love summers in Phoenix, I truly do. When the thermometer starts to rise, the roads are less crowded, greens fees are back to "normal", shorter lines almost everywhere you go. I love it! There are some negative aspects to be sure; tires seem to wear out on your car a little faster, batteries take a beating and if you pick up something that has been in the sun for more than 30 seconds, you will have a souvenir for a few weeks of your ill-advised encounter with the heat. One thing that really takes a beating in summer is your computer.
Heat is the natural killer of all electronic components including the computer. Heat is created by the processor and circuit boards in your computer and is dissipated by fans located inside the chassis or tower for PCs and inside the case for laptops. Under normal working conditions, the airflow created by these fans flows over the heat producing components and cools then sufficiently but in Arizona, we have a very dusty climate. Fans get clogged with dust, grit and if you have a dog or cat, pet hair. This greatly reduces the efficiency of the cooling system and can lead to system failures and costly or terminal conditions for the computer and related components.
Although cleaning the chassis for a PC is simple, the prep work can be a bit involved. First and foremost, turn off your computer. I would recommend you draw a little sketch of the back of your computer where the connections are made and indicate where certain things plug in. It doesn't matter the depth of your art skills just so long as you can make sense of it. I would make the notations on your sketch as you unplug each component. If they are USB, they will plug into any USB port so no need to draw these unless you want to. Make special note of your Internet connection wire especially on dial up modems since one side is for an extension phone and the other is for your Internet connection. Also note where your monitor plug goes and if you have a round plug for the keyboard and mouse make a special note of these locations since these are interchangeable. I have seen people put tape on the wires and labels on the computer so whatever works best for you to identify what goes where.
Once everything is unplugged, take the computer outside because it will be dusty. Now open the chassis of your computer. If it is not easily seen how to do this you may want to go to the manufacturer website and check it out but usually there are a couple of screws on the back holding in a panel so remove the screws and slide the panel toward the back. Some Dell computers have a large button or slider near the back of the chassis and/or on top and bottom so check this out if you cannot figure out how to open the chassis. You will need a can of compressed air that is sold almost anywhere for a few dollars. DO NOT USE A VACUUM CLEANER! This can potentially create static electricity and destroy your computer. With the compressed air, blow out the insides of the chassis taking special care to blow out the fans and around the cooling fins of anything you see.
Reassemble the chassis and reconnect the wires according to your sketch and you are good until this time next year. If your mouse and keyboard have round plugs, take special care when plugging them in. They only go one way and you may need to rotate the plug in order to get the proper alignment. Once you feel it align, press the plug in and it will seat. Squeaking noises coming from the computer are almost always a fan so get this taken care of immediately.
Laptops have a much easier process. Turn the computer off and locate all of the vents on the sides and bottom of the computer. With your compressed air, blow out all of these vents very well. Keep shooting the compressed air in the vents until there is no dust coming out. While a laptop is much easier to clean, it also is much more vulnerable to heat related issues so this process should be done every two months or so.
If this seems too much for you, we do offer a cleaning with our regular service calls so please ask for that.
Mike Smothers is president of Smothers Computer Services and lives in the Ahwatukee Foothills. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (480) 753-7667