Cleaning House At The Office

When most users purchase a computer, they tend to set it up, plug it in, and promptly forget about the physical case tucked away under the desk. Software might be installed, updated, removed, and fixed for years to come without anyone actually touching the case.

In one sense this is not a problem. One would hope that the hardware would last for several years without any failures. However, think for a moment about the last time you cleaned around, behind, and even inside your PC. If you are like most people, you cannot remember, and it probably has been quite a while.

The problem? Your computer has at least one fan inside the case to pull air through and cool down the components, protecting them from heat buildup (see a related article in last issue's Q&A section). Usually these fans do a fine job. However, they also suck in dust and dirt in addition to cooler air. These dust particles can accumulate inside your PC, blocking vents, gumming up floppy drives and tape drives, and restricting air flow. Dust can even act as a blanket, insulating components that should instead be kept cool.

In our experience, this problem in especially pronounced in warehouses, or after new carpet or cubicles have been installed. The reason for the latter is that as the new fabric is touched or scuffed, any loose fibers become airborne. These fibers are easily sucked inside a PC, especially if it is on the floor.

Therefore, we recommend that our clients have their PCs cleaned out at least once per year. This will help protect against dust buildup, which can lead to component failure. However, we do not generally recommend that users try to clean their computers themselves. While vacuuming is technically not a difficult thing to do, it is quite easy to bump cards or loosen cables while poking around inside the case. In addition, static electricity may damage the computer's electronics.

With a technician on site cleaning the computer, this also becomes a great time to have him or her inspect the fans and other items inside the PC, as well as performing disk maintenance. This entails verifying the logical and physical hard disk structure using various utility programs. These programs will clean up a wide range of problems, from the common but minor "lost cluster" problem to more serious file allocation and partition errors. In addition the technician can check each PC for boot, executable, and macro viruses and delete any temporary files that may have accumulated, as well as defragment the hard drive.

The technician can also perform a "tune-up" on the PC to optimize memory usage and verify the overall PC setup and Windows configuration. This is useful to avoid the clutter and potential problems that come from installing one or more programs which might modify the system files or settings. He or she can also verify that all the network settings are correct, as well as clean and inspect the fans, disk drives, tape drives, and other hardware in the computer.

Having your PCs cleaned and inspected at least once per year is a good insurance policy. Not only will it prevent dust buildup from damaging your hardware, but it is also a great time to perform other preventive maintenance activities.

May 1998

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