So I was minding my own business, typing away on my computer when all of a sudden things got really, really slow… and hot. The mouse started moving slowly and jumping across the screen and the system was blowing out enough hot air to heat a cold room – which is not something that you want as things edge closer to summer.
My desktop has been with me since 2007. That probably makes it an octogenarian in computer years – it is desperately in need of replacement but I’m not ready to let it go just yet. So when it started getting insanely hot, I did what I always do: I popped the case open and cleaned the CPU heatsink. As usual it was dusty, but it was not packed with the amount of dust that one would normally associate with that amount of heat. The official method for cleaning an dusty heatsink involves lots of care and compressed air. I’m prepared to exercise less caution with a desktop that will soon be turning five. I used my vacuum cleaner with the dust attachment as I have done many times in the past. When I was done, I removed the dust attachment and applied the vacuum hose (with no fittings) directly to the fan blades, using my finger and thumb as a barrier to prevent contact. This causes the blades to rotate and sucks out a lot more dust.
After vacuuming, I was concerned that there were deeper problems – there wasn’t enough dust in the vents of the heatsink. Sure enough the problem continued. I almost convinced myself to pull the plug and survive on my laptop for the next seven months. A week later it suddenly occurred to me that it might not be the CPU that was getting hot. I popped the case again and had a good look at the underside of the 8800GTX. Sure enough, after being cleaned once three years ago, it was caked with dust – and I was all out of compressed air. I removed the card, vacuumed the fan and all of the air vents and vacuumed off the circuitry on the top side of the card using the duster attachment – problem solved.
Moral of the story: don’t be lazy when it comes to cleaning out dust. Cleaning the video card is more work, but it isn’t that much more work.