Jesus 'n Jim

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how to clean the cpu cooler

 

list of tools

  • canned air
  • screwdriver
  • dry terry washcloth for fan blades
  • very tightly wrung-out terry cloth washcloth for outside of case
  • pair of tweezers for dust bunnies is your best bet

list of rules of thumb

  • do this OUTSIDE UNDER COVER (unless it's really cold as in 50°F(10°C), then do it inside and vaccuum the house after dust settles). WARNING: rule of thumb: hard disks don't like refrigerator-like-environments (for one thing, it can cause condensation inside the drive and it's supposed to be dry except for platter lubricant). if it's freezing, you could lose your hard drive. I don';t really know what the cutoff point is, and it may actually vary, see below about ACCLIMATE.
  • (avoid getting the 2 washcloths confused
  • keep water away from the electronics! no drips! drips are bad! make sure you let case completely dry, especially if you are acclimating the case from the differing temperature outside.
  • ACCLIMATE COMPUTER WHEN BRINGING COMPUTER IN FROM OUTSIDE COLD OR DEW! make sure you let the computer dry inside the house and acclimate for 24 hours if you are bringing it in from the cold outside, or it's dewy outside, or acclimating the case from the differing temperature outside. I don't know about going to a hotter temperature, I didn't think this should be a problem. what you are trying to avoid is condensation building up on and around components due to climate change outside vs. inside.

how often?

this should be done once every 6 months to 1 year (I recommend 6 months or less). use canned air and if necessary, tweezers for the dust bunnies - OUTSIDE on the porch under cover. read this article on air compressors and vaccuums and this article.

Make sure to acclimate the PC when you are finished by letting it sit inside for 24 hours unpowered.

If you intend to remove the whole cpu cooler or take apart the video card, I suggest you use arctic silver 5 and not use the cheap stuff or the stuff that comes with the cooler, with arctic silver 5 your cpu or VGA card will run cooler.

cleaning video card coolers

Clean your video card cooler at the same time as well. each one is different - there may be a cleaning video available on your video card manufacturer's web site. If you take it apart, you will need to re-apply thermal grease. I suggest you use arctic silver 5 and not the cheap stuff, your card will run cooler.

cleaning the cpu fan & cpu cooling fins

if you intend to remove the whole cpu cooler, I suggest you use arctic silver 5 and not the cheap stuff or the stuff that comes with the cooler, with arctic silver 5 your cpu will run cooler.

These methods only apply to air-cooled CPUs.

  1. unplug the computer.
  2. remove the plastic hood/air guide over the CPU to get at the metal fins, if you have one.
  3. make a note of the orientation of the cpu fan (which side has the label out, if it has one). If it doesn't, make note of which direction the arrows point and write it down in a way you can remember later so you can put it back the same way.
  4. unscrewing the cpu fan is only necessary if it is the kind of cpu fan that are over a bunch of cpu heatsink fins/grille.
  5. unscrew the cpu fan from the fins (4 screws usually). write down the orientation of the airflow arrows and which side has the label, if it has one - draw a diagram if you have to. the label is the easiest indicator of which side is up. you can set that aside.
  6. wipe the fan with a plain old terry cloth or dust rag. don't use detergents, a dry dust rag will do, maybe very squeezed out slightly damp rag.
  7. with tweezers if you have some, pick out the dirt clods that you can without pushing them into the fins.
  8. get an old toothbrush and scoop out of the fins the rest of the dirt clods and gunk in the cpu fins. you might not be able to get it all, but a perfect job is not absolutely necessary. just get what you can without pushing more junk into the fins.
  9. if you can, use a crevice tool on your vaccuum to vaccuum out the cpu fins. A ESD Data Vac is best for the job, but fingers, tweezers, and canned air (don't use as freeze spray) are the cheapest and safest. try not to breathe the gas, it's heavier than air and may stay in your lungs (I have not had a problem yet).
  10. put the cpu fan back on the way you wrote it down.
  11. screw the cpu fan back in, preferably in the same holes and in the same threads. use the same screw thread grooves that are already made. don't use a lot of force - it's bad for the cpu. it is possible with too much force to crack the cpu because it's already under a lot of force - tipping the assembly can do the same thing (pushes too much force on a corner). be as gentle as possible.
  12. put back the plastic hood/air guide over the CPU (if you have one).

Here is one method:

but don't let it get this dirty! (this is probably about 3 years worth of dirt)

you can use canned "air" (actually a heavier-than-air gas, so don't breathe it) where you are sure it wouldn't cause the dirt to get more lodged into the cpu cooler fins. at least until yo ucan get either someone with an ESD-safe vaccuum or buy one of those expensive things yourself.

cleaning the video card fan & cooling fins

with air-cooled models, some need to be taken apart to do a complete cleaning. there are screws in the back to do this (some of them have different size screws, so a screw tray is a good idea, especially if you have someone around who likes to clean and organize).

for the ones that don't need to be taken apart, canned air will do the job. try not to breathe the gas, it's heavier than air and may stay in your lungs.

  1. UNPLUG the computer or turn off the power switch on the back of the power supply.
  2. if the video card has a cover and you need to remove it, remove it.
  3. make a note of the orientation of the cpu fan(s) (which side has the label out, if it has one). If it doesn't, make note of which direction the arrows point and write it down in a way you can remember later so you can put it back the same way.
  4. unscrewing the cpu fan is only necessary if it is the kind of cpu fan that are over a bunch of heatsink fins/grille.
  5. unscrew the cpu fan from the fins (4 screws usually). write down the orientation of the airflow arrows and which side has the label, if it has one - draw a diagram if you have to. the label is the easiest indicator of which side is up. you can set that aside.
  6. wipe the fan with a plain old terry cloth or dust rag. don't use detergents, a dry dust rag will do, maybe very squeezed out slightly damp rag.
  7. with tweezers if you have some, pick out the dirt clods that you can without pushing them into the fins.
  8. get an old toothbrush and scoop out of the fins the rest of the dirt clods and gunk in the cpu fins. you might not be able to get it all, but a perfect job is not absolutely necessary. just get what you can without pushing more junk into the fins.
  9. A ESD Data Vac is best for the job, but fingers, tweezers, and canned air (don't use as freeze spray) are the cheapest and safest.
  10. remove any old thermal grease from the gpus using this stuff
  11. reapply new thermal compound. arctic silver 5 or your choice of good stuff. smiley face method seems to have better spread.
  12. put the fan unit back on the way you wrote it down (if in fact it is removable). some newer ASUS DCII cards are good for cleaning.
  13. screw the fan back in, but not with one screw in all the way at a time (this damages the GPU). do it evenly across all 4 screws a little bit each. preferably in the same holes and in the same threads. use the same screw thread grooves that are already made. don't use a lot of force - it's bad for the gpu. it is possible with too much force to crack the gpu because it's already under a lot of force - tipping the assembly can do the same thing (pushes too much force on a corner). be somewhat gentle.
  14. put the cover back on, if there is one.

Here is one method:

but don't let it get this dirty! (this is probably about 3 years worth of dirt)

you can use canned "air" (actually a heavier-than-air gas, so don't breathe it) where you are sure it wouldn't cause the dirt to get more lodged into the cpu cooler fins.

cleaning the Power Supply (PSU)

the holes around the PSU need to be cleaned out. find a way to do it.

you should use canned "air" (actually a heavier-than-air gas, so don't breathe it) here. make sure you get inside the power supply with the nozzle all over if it's really dusty inside... try not to freeze things.

cleaning the air grilles

the air grilles need to be cleaned. find a way to do it.

clogged laptop fan

take it to an authorized repair shop.

with 40+ DIFFERENT screws to keep track of (HP laptop), placement is critical, and sometimes you can end up with extra screws if you are doing it yourself. plus the fact that the case is very hard to take apart and the parts are hard to remove to get at the cpu. it took me and someone else to get the job done, and we ended up with "extra" screws. tell them if you have a pet hair around the house, because this usually clogs and stops the cpu fan.

Computer Vaccuums, Vaccuums
I used to reccommend using a vaccum with that needle-nose nozzle (whatever it's called), until one person told me they did this and their computer didn't boot afterwards (short circuit?) - it worked for me with no problems on my very old computer, but with these newer computers, they are more sensitive to static... and apparently the high velocity plain air generates static (and also one of the reasons why there's canned "air" (actually a heavier-than-air gas, so don't breathe it). these vaccuums below are ESD-safe and targeted for computers (and expensive). if you are going to use one, the DataVac ESD model is the one to use. but it's expensive. fingers and tweezers (with power plug pulled) are by far cheaper and safer.
Datavac/3ESD, available from newark.com $445.92
6/25/2010. ESD-safe vaccuum for computers.

How not to clean and how not to maintain your computer

Air Compressor causes very fine water droplets I am told or a Vaccuum Cleaner causes static electricity (I am not sure this is accurate), which can cause circuit damage apparently.

Vaccuum Cleaners electrical system: some vaccuum cleaner's electrical systems extend through the hose. in this case, it would not be wise to use it to clean your computer. buy canned air instead. IF the metal top of the hose is grounded or connected to Neutral, this could cause a ground loop and induce current to whatever the metal comes in contact with. maybe. alternative is to use the pointy-tipped plastic nozzle which shouldn't be conductive (but may have an issue with static). IF you still want to uise your vaccuum cleaner, to save money, it's your own decision, you may lose your computer. AT LEAST UNPLUG the computer before starting, and I don't mean turning the power off, even in the back. you don't want that ground connected. Vaccuum cleaners that have a switch at the end of the hose are not the kind of vaccuum cleaners you want to use on a computer.

the cause/problem

I was repairing a laptop with someone I knew. it would shutdown by itself right quick, in under 1 minute or two. that's what it was in for. in the cpu cooler fan we found cat hair and dust, which was stopping the fan and causing the cpu cooler to overheat. you probably won't find cat hair in the cpu cooler of a desktop, but basically this cpu shut down due to overheating. any cpu will shut down due to overheating. lots of people know that a hot cpu will shutdown by itself.

HOW IT WORKS: inside the CPU is an thermal sensor with a bit labeleled PROCHOT, accessible by software. it's either on or off if I am not mistaken, and it trips at a certain temperature. it also runs to a connection on the outside of the processor in case, say, a motherboard manufacturer wants to cool the cpu - or shut off power to the motherboard to save the processor (the latter could be more likely).

Which leads me to my next question:
When was the last time you cleaned your cpu cooler? should have been within 6 months or so depending on how dusty the environment is.
reality folks. read farther up the page to find out how.