Does dust really hurt your computer?

We had a customer in our New Jersey computer repair store today who was asking about how dust and dirt affects a computer. It was something that has come up more than a few times so I thought it prime time to write a post about it.

One of the services we offer here at Dave’s Computers is a thorough clean of your computer internals. Even the cleanest house has dust and it will build up over time within your computer. But does it do any harm?

Yes it does.

Dust and computers

Any device that uses fans to push air will attract dust as dust is also in the air. As that dust builds up it can have a number of negative effects on that device. That can include a buildup of heat and even a short circuit in the very worst cases.

Heat is a byproduct of energy conversion from electricity into action. Every electronic device converts the potential energy in electricity or a battery into action. That action could be processing a command, spinning a hard drive, running fans or any action that device takes. As a byproduct of that conversion, heat is generated. That’s why your computer has fans and why phones and tablets warm up when you use them.

A PC uses two main methods to keep itself cool. It uses heatsinks and fans. There is also water cooling but if you know how to install water cooling, you already know to control dust!

A heatsink is a piece of metal, usually aluminum, placed over a component. It offers a lot of surface area to let heat dissipate. A heatsink on its own can cope with a modest amount of heat. If more heat is generated, a fan is added. The fan will blow cool air over the heatsink to accelerate heat dissipation. This is what keeps your processor and graphics card cool.

When dust clogs up a PC, the cooling effect of the heatsink and fan is compromised. Dust is an insulator so the heatsink becomes less efficient. It also stops the cool air from the fan from reaching the heatsink. Both of these things can compromise the cooling of your PC.

When it cannot cool properly, computers have a tendency to overheat. Fortunately, hardware has thermal throttling which detect this overheating and reduces the component speed to lower heat output.

So the effect of a dusty computer is either a PC that throttles itself to lower heat generation and therefore runs slow, or a PC that overheats and shuts itself down to protect itself. That’s why it is so important to keep your PC clean.

You don’t have to clean your computer often, just once every few months. Power it off and gently blow the dust off components or use Q-tips or soft cloth to clean dust. Make sure all fans and their shrouds and all surfaces are free from dust. You can buy cans of compressed air to blow dust off if the cloth or Q-tip doesn’t work. Get the inside of your PC as clean as possible and you will keep it running for longer.

Or you could bring your computer to us and we can take care of it for you!