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Air-cooled Machine Maintenance

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Posted · Original PosterOP

Maintaining your air cooled PC

Disclaimer: This is from my point of view, as a computer technician. Each and every day I work on machines that are either brand new or 6 years old and dusty as hell. Don't take this as a how to, it's just my opinion. Apply it to your situation whichever way you want.


We all know dust will go anywhere and the fans in our computer move air and therefore also move dust particles. Over time, particles become clouds of dust and before you know it, it starts sticking to fan blades or clogs your heatsinks. Over the course of a couple years, as you can imagine, this can provide you with a lovely gray coating on everything inside your PC. Fans will not be as efficient, heatsinks will not dissipate the heat as quick as they would normally and before you know it, you'll see a rise in CPU and GPU temperatures. At idle or while browsing the web this is not a big deal, but if you regularly use your machine for gaming, the impact can be much bigger. Higher temperatures also means thermal compound degrades quicker. Degraded thermal compound doesn't do it's job of filling the microscopic gaps between the chip and the heatsink. That in turn also leads to higher temperatures. It's a vicious circle, I'm sure you get the point.



No matter how clean your house is, dust WILL get into your machine.


How do we avoid all this?

You can never avoid getting some dust inside your case. All cases have some uncovered parts or vent holes through which dust can sneak in when your machine is off. The picture below shows my regularly used rig, which hadn't been cleaned since early 2013 (over 3 years), but does have air filters on all case fans. You may notice there's a grayish hue on the motherboard and CPU fan. Do note there are no dust clouds or large amounts of accumulated dust anywhere.



Dust gets in, no matter what.


What can we do to reduce dust?

Fan filters are an easy way to avoid getting large amounts of dust in your machine. More expensive cases have built in filters nowadays, but if yours doesn't, you can buy them and attach them to your fan quite easily.

Just do a search on Amazon for fan filters. 120mm ones are between 5 and 10$US and come in a variety of designs and colors.



Before and after pictures of fan filters after more than 3 years of use.


Another way to prevent dust buildup inside of your rig is creating positive air pressure inside your case. All fans can move a certain amount of air per minute at a certain speed, usually specified in 'CFM' or cubic feet per minute. All you need to do is make sure you're pushing more air into the case than you're sucking out with your exhaust fan(s). A little bit of math, but it will prevent dust and air from entering your case through vent holes and creating big clouds of dust inside your case.


We're past that stage, the damage has been done. What do I do to clean it up?


Okay, so your machine looks like a vacuum cleaner's dust bag. You're gonna have to remove the dust. Take your computer apart to the point where you have decent access to most components and dusty spots and I'd advise to take your machine outside on a nice day when you do clean it. You don't want to get all that dust back into your house! Here's my step-by-step when it comes to internal cleaning and removing dust. Again, by no means the best and only way to do it, always use your common sense. I am not responsible for damages.

  1. Go outside, you don't want that dust in your house/room.
  2. ESD strap! Make sure you don't kill your components with electrostatic discharge.
  3. Remove components if necessary.
  4. Get a nice hairy brush. 1 or even 2 inch wide painters brush from animal hair will do fine. Get compressed air if you must. I have never used them.
  5. Get rid of the dust. Do not ever put a vacuum cleaner nozzle against your components, for static discharge reasons as stated before.
  6. Take off your CPU heatsink. Too many different kinds to tell you how to do that. Google it if you are unsure.
  7. Remove thermal paste (or thermal cake after a while) and clean the two touching surfaces of the CPU and heatsink with a IPA (isopropyl alcohol) wipe. I usually gently buff the surfaces with a soft microfiber cloth until shiny.
  8. Reapply thermal paste. Many ways to do this. I use the pea in the middle method. Everyone has their own preference, I'm not gonna start a war here. ;) Put your heatsink on, make sure the thermal paste is spread nicely.
  9. Reassemble machine and turn it on to see if you assembled it correctly.



I hope this was of any help. If so, thumbs up, agree, like and all that are much appreciated. Enjoy your dust free machine!

Folding@Home ~75k points per day | My Simple Air-cooled Machine Maintenance Guide | Dutch Talk | Building a Wooden Popsicle Stick House

Main rig: i7-3770 stock - ASUS P8Z77-M - 8GB DDR3 1600MHz - 2x Radeon HD6970 2GB - SilverStone GD05-B - Corsair RM650x

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