If you can’t stand the heat…

We’ve just been through another long, hot Summer here in Arizona. It’s easy to overheat your car, yourself, and even your computer.

Computers, like cars, produce a lot of waste heat, that needs to be gotten rid of somehow, before something burns up. Your car (unless it’s an old Volkswagen or Corvair!) does this with a radiator. A pump circulates water through the engine and then runs the hot water through the radiator where it is transferred to the air.

Volkswagen engine

Volkswagen engine

Computers cut out the middleman, and transfer the heat directly into the air, with the aid of a fan, in exactly the same way the aforementioned Volkswagen does. If you look inside a computer, you’ll see one or more objects with many fins on them, resembling the fins on the Volkswagen. The fins are there to expose more surface area to the air, improving heat transfer. Fans blow over the fins for the same reason a fan makes you cooler – they blow the hot air away and replace it with cooler air.

Heatsink

Heatsink

If the fan stops turning, the computer will rapidly overheat. A car has a dashboard light to tell you when it’s overheating, but computers don’t have an equivalent. What they will usually do instead, is either misbehave in some strange fashion, restart (rarely), or simply shut down without warning. If your computer runs for a few minutes then abruptly shuts down, and only runs for a few seconds when you restart it, there’s a good possibility a fan has failed. If you feel comfortable taking the cover off your desktop computer, you’ll see at least one fan on the main board, also one on the back of the computer close to where the power cord enters. Make sure all those fans are turning. Don’t touch anything inside the computer while the power is on.

There is an equivalent of the dashboard light for computers. A free program called Speedfan will give you a real-time temperature of the various components of your computer, and warn you if they’re getting too hot.

Fortunately, fans for desktop computers are cheap and easily replaced. Unfortunately, fans for laptop computers are still cheap, but difficult and labor-intensive to replace. Sometimes, you can get more life out of a fan by giving it a good cleaning with canned air, but you’ll only be delaying the inevitable.

Keeping your computer clean will certainly extend it’s life. I’ll have another article about physical cleaning soon.

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