Arts & Entertainment

A Little Foresight Can Save A Computer’s Life

There are thousands of ways to kill a computer. I’ve tried most of them.
They’ve gone up in flames in front of my eyes and died quiet and undramatic deaths at my hand. You name it – short circuits from bad repair work, a spilled Mountain Dew and deadly drops off a desk. I’m a mass murderer.

It’s only fair, after all this destruction, that I offer you a few ways to forestall the death of your computer.
Today we are not talking about glitches or problems. We’re talking about stone-cold dead computers and how to avoid them.
Heat kills
If you cram your computer into a tight space, or pile books and software packages tightly around the machine, the ventilation system can’t work effectively. Or, if you let dust build up in the protective grating by the exhaust fan, you’ll stifle the cooling system and the computer will eventually die. So to keep your computer cool, allow at least 6 inches of clearance on all sides and periodically check the mesh covering over the exhaust fan.
While we’re talking about cooling, let me remind you that stacking stuff on top of your computer monitor can block cooling vents and start a fire.
A shocking death
Just last week a newsroom buddy reported that her computer – along with a TV set – were destroyed when lightning hit a tree in her backyard. My guess is that they’d have still been fried if connected to a surge protector. After all, it’s designed to protect against electrical surges, not mega-amps from a lightning bolt. The only sure cure here is to unplug your computer and other high-tech devices during an electrical storm.
Most of us, including me, don’t do this routinely. But we’re playing the odds – betting that lightning won’t strike close to our home. It’s hard to describe the power of a direct hit. When it happened to my brother, pieces of plastic from his clock radio embedded in the Sheetrock. So at the very least keep your computer plugged into a surge protector or UPS.
Now you fixed it
I still remember a day long ago when co-workers gathered around me to watch as I replaced a hard disk at an advertising agency. They marveled at my skill and speed. Then, when we turned on the PC, they marveled again at the big puff of smoke that came from the innards of the computer.
The cause: I used a pair of pliers to turn a balky screw. That caused a bit of metal to fall onto the circuit board, creating a short circuit. I doubt if that particular scenario will play out at your house. But I don’t doubt that amateur "fixing" causes more computers to die than all the lightning bolts in Kansas. Stay within your skill range while working on a computer. And keep in mind that your skill range may be lower than you think.
Pull off the blanket
Over time, in the cleanest of homes, dust begins to gather on the circuit board of your computer. Dust is an excellent insulator. So that blanket of dust insulation holds in the heat produced by your circuit board.
And there is a lot of heat. A processor chip, for instance, literally gets hot enough to fry an egg. OK, it would have to be a small egg, but you get the idea. So, from time to time, I use a can of compressed air – the kind you’ll find in camera shops – to blow the dust away.
By the way, if you keep your computer on the floor it’s more likely to accumulate dust. That’s because of a very technical point of physics – dust is heavier than air.
Don’t give it any static
Static – the same stuff that sometimes gives you a charge when you grab a doorknob after shuffling across the carpet – is a real killer when it comes to solid-state electronics. Keep that in mind when you replace memory chips or install a new accessory card. Before you touch the innards of your computer, or the chip, touch the computer’s chassis to discharge the static. Or, if you want to do what the professionals do, go to RadioShack and buy an anti-static wrist strap.
It’s your turn
I feel better now that I’ve confessed my role in the murder of computers. I’d be glad to hear your confession. Just drop by the TechnoBuddy blog at www.ajc.com/blogs/content/shared-blogs/ajc/technobuddy/ – I’ll be hearing confessions all week.