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A Near Miss

May 29th, 2010 08:09 am | by Ed |

I just had a near miss with my primary desktop computer. It had begun acting strange in the last two days. It would be running fine and then suddenly programs that had NEVER had any problems would start crashing for no discernible reason.

I did the usual things and ran all of the normal diagnostics. I looked for registry errors, ran scandisk, checked for malware, all to no avail. Every test I ran came back with clean results.

Meanwhile, as I did all this the computer became less and less stable. Things eventually got so bad that when starting it up it would crash before I could even log on.

I didn't think that it was a thermal problem but I checked anyway to be sure and yes, all of the fans were running. The one built into the power supply, the cpu fan and the two additional 4inch fans that I'd gotten on sale a few years ago. Simply put, there's a lot of air moving in there. Not only was there a lot of air moving around, the vent slots in the case weren't blocked.

Frankly, I was stumped. It was acting like a temperature problem but I couldn't find anything out of place or not working. I even took the sides off of the tower and put a 20inch box fan against it set on high speed!

This morning I tackled the problem again. This time I started pulling things from the motherboard to make sure that they were clean and getting good electrical connection when re-installed.

When I got to the CPU I pulled the heatsink / fan combination and after I cleaned the dust off of the fan blades, I removed the fan from the heat sink and shined a flashlight on it. There was the problem. The heatsink was so unbelievably clogged with dust that air could not possibly move through it at all!

I spent five minutes cleaning the heat sink inside and out, applied some fresh thermal grease to the CPU and started putting things back together. When I restarted the system the errors seemed to be gone for the most part. (one program still crashes the machine on startup but it may have some files damaged from all those crashes)

As I write this, the machine has been up and running for half an hour without crashing again. That's the longest stable run time it's had in nearly three days now.

I'm thinking that one of these days I REALLY need to invest in a liquid cooled CPU chiller for the desktop. Dust is a problem in my house, always has been and aside from keeping a new filter in the furnace / air conditioner intake there's not much I can do about it.

The nice thing about liquid cooled CPU chillers is that they provide better cooling ability than air cooling and they don't have to be concerned with airborne dust clogging up the works either!

Technorati Tags: clogged, heat sink, fan, cpu cooling, overheating, dust

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