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Monthly Broadcast: May 2007
Ken Bowell has been using computers since 1979. He started out with Apple systems, followed by various Macs before moving into Windows in 1993. His first home computer was an IBM PCJr.
Spring Cleaning: Computer style.

Anyone who is unofficially responsible for the care and upbringing of someone else’s computer has seen the same thing. We’ve all encountered that thick carpet of fluff covering every interior surface and vent hole of a computer case.

Case cooling is a double-edged sword. At the same time it circulates air past all those hot electronics, it also draws all kinds of dirt, hair and lint into the case. Once there, all that stuff becomes a thick blanket that reduces the ability of the fans to keep things cool.

Pollutants aren’t limited to the items listed above, either. Cigarette smoke, spray paint, aerosol hair care products and saw dust from workshops can leave their mark, too. If it floats through the air, those fans in your case will pull it in. 

Some airborne items are more harmful than others. Tobacco smoke is particularly problematic because it’s so hard to remove. You might as well coat the computer innards with maple syrup because that’s how hard tobacco smoke residue is to remove. Various sprayed chemicals can be tough to combat, as well.

A huge issue to consider is most people never clean out their computer cases. Ever. Many people have never even opened the case, much less do any care and maintenance.

The question is, what can we do about this problem? There are several options:

1) Unplug the power supply, open that case and do some cleaning. Don’t use any chemical cleaners, though. Instead, carefully use the hose attachment on your vacuum cleaner to get the worst of the fluff and other solid crud. Be careful not to knock any boards or chips loose. Be sure to reseat any boards and memory chips to ensure they didn’t get jarred loose by your work.

2) Take the case out to the back deck and blast out the inside with some compressed air. Be sure to hit all the vent holes and fans. You’ll want to do this outside or you’ll have a cloud of crud floating around inside your house.

3) Don’t smoke in the same room where you keep your computer. I’m sorry, but if you want to keep your computer running well, that’s how it has to be. Likewise, don’t use spray paint or other aerosol products in the same room.

4) If you don’t need to keep your computer in a dirty environment, move it out of there.

5) Keep the cat off the case. It’s warm, and cats love to lie on it, but teach them not to. This will also prevent the possibility of a furry tail contacting a running fan. If you can. Keep the pets out of the room completely.

6) Cover inlet fan hole with a small piece of nylon pantyhose. This will act as a removable filter to catch some of the bigger airborne materials. Be sure to check it often, or you’ll simply end up with a clogged fan hole.

If you keep your case clean, it will go a long way toward long-term computer health. Many problems are the result of too much heat. By keeping things clean, you’ll eliminate a lot of computer hassles.

Ken Bowell is currently a video editor for ESPN. Since 1997, he has performed various production tasks for shows like Sportscenter, Baseball Tonight, NFL Live and ESPNews. He has been working in television for nearly 15 years at both the local and network level.

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