And we’re back for another exciting installment of the column where we learn that things we thought we know are actually wrong. Today, we’ll tackle a…well, not so much a misconception as an incomplete thought, centering on removing the dust and gunk form inside your computer case. And I hope you’re reading this outside on your laptop in a park, because missing this gorgeous day would be a crime worse than my occasional butchering of the English language.
Personally, I love compressed air. I remember as a kid turning the can upside down and pushing the trigger in real slow and watching the rapidly condensing moisture fall and his as the expanding air caused a sharp and rapid drop in temperature. It’s actually another common misconception that the liquid that comes out is whatever chemicals have been stuffed into the can, but it’s actually just the microscopic water particles in the air condensing around the nozzle. The air coming out of the can expands so rapidly that (as we learned in high school chemistry) it causes the air to cool. The reason this isn’t noticeable unless you push the trigger in slowly is that with more force, the cold air moves too fast to cause a noticeable temperature drop since the cold is spread out over a larger area. The more you know! ⌂
Modern computers are very high-precision machines, with each component generally pushed to or close to their breaking point (at least without modifying it significantly, but that’s another subject). As the size of PCs shrinks, so does the size of the components, and so do the tolerance levels for those components. Because even as the pieces get smaller, they don’t consume significantly less power, and as such don’t produce significantly less heat. So like in the story with the canned air, all that temperature difference tends too pool up in a much smaller area than it did a decade or two ago, and causes a much faster rise in temperatures (remember: ⌂T[change in temp]=Q[energy energy]/M[mass]c[specific heat, not the speed of light]; or in simple terms – the smaller the mass, the less energy it takes to heat it) . This is bad for any electronics, but especially so for the low-tolerance, high-precision electronics inside a modern computer. Over time, the cooling system your computer came with (the vents, ducts, and fans that move the air) can get clogged by dust and fail, causing your machine to overheat and die, or in some extreme cases the dust itself could catch fire. As we all know, fire inside your computer is a bad thing. Just make sure your computer is completely powered down and unplugged before you start. Some manufacturers also recommend tapping the power button after unplugging the machine, to disperse of any charge left in the circuits.
Ok, I might be stretching a little with this one. It’s not so much a misconception as number of small misconceptions and common errors.
So what else should you do in there? Tune in tomorrow and we’ll talk about things you should and should not stick inside your very expensive box? Spoiler Alert: Small children and animals top the list.