This is not intended to be a lecture on smoking. It’s simply an observation of the effects of smoking on one computer our refurbishing project built. Many people smoke without seeing these effects on their system. If you keep your computer in a well ventilated place with lots of space around the computer, or just don’t smoke inside, you’re less likely to have the problems the following system had.
Here’s the scenario: the person called us up saying their computer was rebooting after about 10-12 minutes of use. Normally when we hear about systems that don’t turn off right away we usually suspect overheating. A quick check of the BIOS didn’t reveal a hot CPU but did reveal that the CPU fan was spinning extremely slowly (so slowly that it was in red letters, between 100-600RPMs).
This was a very quick check, we didn’t want to let the CPU Temperature climb to a point where we’d further damage the CPU. The system in question had a see through side panel. We could clearly see that the CPU fan was clogged with dirt, not to mention the system smelled of smoke despite being in our closet for a full day.
Often systems that are a bit dirty can be cleaned out fairly quickly with our compressed air data vacuum. It’s a different story when it comes to systems that have been in confined spaces where there’s smoking inside. What seems to happen is that tar from smoking coats various parts of the system, including the fans and aluminum heat sync and dirt attached itself to the tar, making it more difficult to simply blow off. Typically we have to use a brush on components covered in tar and dirt because even at the highest setting (which is pretty strong) our data vacuum simply can’t remove a lot of the dust (and we don’t want this stuff airborne). Here’s a picture of what the CPU fan and heat sync looked like when we removed the fan:
Note: this is after we ran a brush very quickly over the other side of the CPU fan, you can still see the amount that’s accumulated on the bottom. This is from around 7 months of use.
We removed the heat sync completely to better clean the everything. Unfortunately in this case a good cleaning didn’t help the fan, we had to replace both the fan and heat sync. We also noticed the bottom of the Socket 462 had a slight scorch mark, indicating it’s very likely damaged.
Normally when a system like this comes in we can smell the smoke on the computer before anything else. The Power Supply is usually the second indicator of ominous things to come and the power supply unit in this machine was replaced only 1 month before – here’s what it looks like 1 month later:
This PSU isn’t particularly dirty, but you can see the bits of dirt starting to accumulate on the fan blades already. Power supplies are normally the item we see dying first on system units and smoking indoors doesn’t help.
What can you do to prolong the life of the PC?
- Keep it in a well ventilated area that isn’t enclosed or under a desk. Those desks where the computer barely fits inside the rectangular spot for a system unit are terrible because they don’t give much space for a computer to “breathe.”
- Don’t smoke in the room where the computer is. Better yet don’t smoke inside. Of course best advice is don’t smoke (the middle picture is partly cleaned after only 7 months) both for your own health and the PCs.
- Clean your PC regularly using compressed air and a brush. Be careful NOT to touch any electronics with the brush and ground yourself before opening the PC. (Don’t clean inside the PSU, there’s enough of a charge in some of the capacitors to very seriously injure and possibly kill someone) I’d suggest at least every 3 months, particularly if the advice in steps 1 and 2 are ignored.
- Use some kind of smoke filtration device. Not sure how well these things work but we have one for our apartment since we occasionally get food smells and smoking coming through the apartment complex vents. I’m not convinced they work all that great (and you’d probably have to clean it regularly too).
- Check your CPU temperature regularly in the BIOS and through your operating system. Keep a log. If you start to see it rising it might be time for another cleaning or a fan and heat sync replacement.
Okay no more lecture… it wasn’t really a lecture. The same thing can happen whether you smoke or not. Suggestion #1 is pretty important regardless of your status as a smoker. If a computer is in a confined space without proper ventilation, expect parts to die earlier.