HEAT WAVE! Hot weather can stress your older PC or laptop: Avoid expensive damage with a simple cooling system tuneup!

There’s nothing like a few days in the high 80’s or 90’s to put your computer or laptop’s cooling system to the test.  Of course if you have good air conditioning, this all may go unnoticed, but for those who don’t, or if you use your laptop on the road, outdoors, or in public places like classrooms, buses, or subways, rising temperatures outside means rising temperatures inside your computer that could become so critical your system shuts itself down to prevent damage.

How does cooling work in the PC?

Stickynote computer service can help with overheating computers or laptops

Some companies have developed laptop cooling devices that are like a tray that goes under your laptop and has fans that blow up into the laptop chassis. If you are having heat problems this can help but don't skip on blowing out or vacuuming the system's cooling vents!

Your computer’s processor (CPU) generates enough heat in a tiny space, that left uncooled, it would cook itself to death in a matter of minutes,  To counteract this, system designers have come up with a variety of schemes to draw heat away from the CPU thus ensuring that it is sufficiently cooled to operate reliably.  Most CPUs are air-cooled by the combination of a heat-sink (a heat-conductive metal structure designed to draw heat away from the surface of the cpu chip) and a fan that pushes air through the heat sink structure and exhausts the air along with excess heat out through vents in the computer chassis. You can usually locate these exhaust vents on a laptop just by moving your hand around the back and sides of the unit until you feel a gentle rush of warm air exiting the case.  In most cases, there are sensors that measure the temperature of the CPU and cause the cooling fan to run faster when the chip gets hotter, and slower when the chip gets cooler.  The purpose of this fan speed regulation is to balance the cooling needs of the CPU with the aesthetic need for the computer to run quietly and not be a noisy intrusion in the room.

A COMMON SYMPTOM: NOISY FAN

Understanding how cooling works, it’s easy to see how the first sign of a cooling problem is usually that the cooling fan suddenly becomes very loud, and remains on and running at high speed for prolonged periods of time.  This is a dead giveaway that your computer is fighting to stay cool, and in most cases, is losing the battle!

I once had a customer who told me her computer sounded like an airplane trying to take off.  While we had a good laugh over her description, it was no joke when I opened the tower and found the cooling system so clogged up with pet hair and dust that it was a wonder any air was passing through it at all!

In this case, the cause of cooling failure is usually blockage of the air vents or the “fins” on the heat sink where the fan is trying to push air through.  This is remedied by using a vacuum or compressed air (or both!) to clean out the vents, the area around the heat sink and fan, as well as any cowling that may be in place to direct airflow.  This can get very messy and is generally recommended to be performed outdoors so you don’t end up blowing all that accumulated dust and stuff into your indoor breathing space.

What if your PC abruptly shuts down before it even finishes booting up?

If your computer abruptly shuts down without warning during or just after startup, there's a good possibility your cooling system has failed and your CPU is overheating.

I have observed, particularly in older desktop PCs (windows xp vintage), that sometimes plastic clips used to join the heat sink to the CPU surface can become brittle and break causing the heat sink to “pop” off of the CPU.  In this case you may get the high-speed fan sound, but more importantly, the PC may freeze up and become completely unresponsive or more commonly, it may abruptly shut down within 30 seconds to a minute of being started. If this happens, don’t keep trying to start it!  More than a few times starting without the heat sink attached and the CPU will cook itself leaving you with little choice except to go shopping for a new computer.

What if your fan isn’t noisy but you get a warning message indicating an overheat situation, or your pc shuts down abruptly without warning?

It’s not always the case that cooling problems are indicated by a noisy fan.  In fact, a cooling problem could also be indicated by a suddenly quiet fan that used to be noisy or an least noticeably running.  In this case, your fan may have failed and is either barely turning, or has stopped altogether.  In this case, the computer may issue an error messsage, but is more likely to just abruptly shut down without warning after a few minutes of operation.  In this case, the fan usually needs to be replaced.

One time, I was called in to a local dry cleaner to investigate why their computer kept shutting itself down.  When I got there, I found a portable tabletop fan pointing straight into the back of the computer and running at full speed.  The manager said this was the only way he could get it to run without shutting down.  Not surprisingly, when I opened the unit up I found it so packed with lint, there was no airflow at all from the built in fans.  That customer is now on a regular regimen of quarterly cleaning to avoid the inevitable lint buildup.

 

Other signs that a cooling problem may be looming on the horizon…

Groaning – If your computer is making what is described by many customers as a “Groaning” sound, this usually indicates the bearings are wearing out on the cpu or graphics cooling fan.  Replace the fan now because if you just ignore it, rest assured, when the groaning stops, so will your computer!

Pets – If you have pets (including birds), particularly breeds that shed a lot, expect your cooling vents to get plugged up quickly.  Plan on a vacuuming/blowout at least annually, more often if you notice a marked increase in fan speed/noise.

Dusty House – If you’re like me and live in an older or antique house, you know that it’s a constant battle to stay ahead of the pervasive dust that seems to be shed endlessly by horsehair plaster.  Thanks to its constant airflow, your computer’s cooling system is like a magnet to plaster dust and should be blown out at least annually, more often if you notice increased fan activity or are undergoing home renovations that generate inordinate amounts of dust.

In conclusion…

I’ve given you a few different computer overheating scenarios, some that are easy to remedy, and some that may require professional help.  The most common failure, the clogging of vents and heat sink with dust, lint, or pet hair, is forunately also the easiest to tackle on your own if you’re a do-it-yourselfer.  Go to Staples and buy a couple cans of compressed air and use it to blow dust, hair, and other obstructions from your computer’s vents and fans. But don’t forget, do it outdoors unless you relish the thought of breathing in a dust cloud!!!

Computer Repair vs. Computer Replace: What makes sense for you?

computer repair picture of up-to-date windows 7 home computer

Is it time for Windows 7 in your house?

Well, it’s finally happened – what computer repair pros have dreaded for years. The cost of buying a new computer has finally dropped to the point where the computer itself has become  disposable, and any decision to repair a computer, even if repairing it simply means paying for a professional virus removal, has to be weighed against the  cost to replace the computer instead.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating stuffing the earth’s dwindling waste and recycling resources with junked computers, nor am I suggesting that arbitrarily buying a new computer is the cure-all for when things go wrong and the old computer needs repair work.  Rather, I’m pointing out to folks who may not have noticed, that the price of an entry-level desktop computer tower with (humor me and let me get my geek on for a sec here) Windows 7 Home Premium, 4 gigabytes of RAM, and a Terabyte or more of Hard Drive space, is currently retailing for as little as $399- and that’s just off-the-shelf pricing!  With a little shopper’s diligence you may be able to shave another $50-100 off that price. Netbook computers (“mini” laptops if you’re not familiar with the term) have been available in the $249-399 range since introduced a few years back.  Even full-blown laptop computers with normal-sized keyboards and screens (for those of us who’s fingers and eyes are not aging so gracefully), are hovering in the $500-700 range and can regularly be found on sale for as little as $399!

So, armed with this knowledge, let’s explore a couple scenarios, one in which replacement is the best option and another where doing a repair of the existing computer is still the more sensible approach. And then we’ll wrap up with what it means to you, and highlight some of the questions to ask and values to consider when making your own computer repair vs. replace decision:

Scenario 1

Laptop video / motherboard failure:  Let’s take the computer repair call I got last week from a woman in Sharon, MA. She told me the screen on her laptop computer had failed some time ago and that she had been using an external monitor with it, but now, even the external monitor wasn’t working.

Decision: Replace

Instead of signing myself up to repair her computer at a cost of $300-400 to replace the motherboard (which, in this case, would have been necessary because the video card is built into the motherboard), I suggested instead that she buy a new laptop and have me over to set it up, connect to her wireless network, transfer her data from the old computer to the new computer, set up email or other online accounts, and make sure she’s got adequate data backup and virus protection going forward.

Why the decision to replace?

  • Cost of repair close to cost of entry-level replacement computer
  • Casual use of computer (email, facebook, surf the web, and occasional word processing) means low-cost entry-level system would be adequate for her needs
  • New computer would have greater power, speed, and storage capacity
  • New computer would have Windows 7 vs. old computer Windows Vista meaning better compatibility with hardware, peripherals, and software going forward
  • New computer would have 12-month warranty vs. 30-day warranty on repair

In short, had we gone with a repair, she would have spent almost as much as getting a new computer just to get back to being whole. By replacing, although more expensive when you take into account the cost of the new computer plus set-up and data transfer services, has the advantage of moving her forward into the future with greater speed and capacity, a more modern operating system, and a more comprehensive warranty that makes the extra couple hundred dollars well worth it.

Scenario 2

Desktop Motherboard / Hard Drive Failure:  Here’s a case where I was called out to a small business in Seekonk, MA. They were using a “middle-aged” Windows Vista computer as the central computer for the business, running some proprietary business automation functions, and also doing the business accounting via Quickbooks.  When I arrived onsite, the system had no video signal and would not start up.  I performed some diagnostics and recovery and was able to get the system to start up but would not  trust it to run the business at that point as both the motherboard and the hard disk drive were suspect.

Decision: Repair

I explained the repair vs. replace options to the business owner, leaning heavily towards replace until we started talking about the proprietary software that controls specific devices and functions of his business.  As it turns out, the software was also middle-aged, and the original installation CDs were long lost never to be found again.  With the cost of replacing that software running into the thousands of dollars, the decision to repair became obvious.

Why the decision to repair?

  • Cost of replacing proprietary software and/or related devices would cost thousands of dollars
  • Uncertain compatibility of proprietary software with Windows 7.

In conclusion, it was decided to repair the system, ultimately not by replacing the motherboard, but by tracking down and purchasing a compatible used computer online, and migrating the hard drive image from the old computer to the “new” one.

Your Scenario…

Now of course, every situation is different, and you too may be facing a repair vs. replace decision, if not today, certainly in the future.  Here are some important things to consider if you are faced with that decision:

  • What is the total cost of repair, including parts and labor?
  • What is the total cost of replacement, including computer, applications, and services?
  • Would you need set-up & data transfer services or can you handle that yourself?
  • How old is the computer being repaired? For example, does it make sense to stay with the older Windows XP system, or is it time to move to a Windows 7 computer?
  • Do you have original CDs or installation media and activation keys for software that you want to bring forward to a new computer?
  • Is the software you want to bring forward compatible with the newer hardware and/or Windows version?
  • Are you okay with change?  Realistically, a lot of older folks have become comfortable with their existing computers and how they use their computers, and frankly, the thought of change can be disconcerting.  Don’t fret, you’re not alone! This is one of the big reasons for the continued popularity of Windows XP, and is completely understandable.
computer repair or replacement, that is the question

When I saw this log-in failure, I suggested replacing the computer instead of repairing it.

In conclusion, what I’ve found from helping hundreds of customers with this decision is that although costs can play an overriding role, the decision doesn’t always come down to dollars and cents.  I recently fixed an old MS-DOS computer (a mid 1980’s vintage computer… think pre-mouse!) for a gentleman in Stoneham, MA, who used it to do his accounting.  When I suggested the old machine could fail again and he should think about modernizing, he simply responded, “if it fails again I’ll call you again. I’m 76 years old and don’t feel like learning a new computer!”

 

 

LAPTOP COOLER – Not What I Meant: Stickynote! Gallery of Technowisdom

laptop coolers are popular with high-powered laptop computers that generate a lot of heat.

Techno-wisdom photo courtesy of Stickynote! Tech Services, Stickypc.com.

Feel free to borrow, share, copy, distribute, lol at, or even roflmao!

Stickynote! Tech Services provides friendly, expert, in-home service at reasonable rates to families, individuals, and small businesses in southeastern massachusetts. Services include computer and device installation, computer repair, computer troubleshooting, home networking, wireless or “wifi” networking, network and telephone wiring, Internet and Email set up, configuration and troubleshooting. Home entertainment troubleshooting and connections.  In fact, just about anything related to computers and high-tech is fair game, so if you have a high-tech headache try Stickynote! Tech Services for quick relief!

508-369-9077        andy@stickypc.com

 

 

ANTIVIRUS – Not What I Meant: Stickynote! Gallery of Technowisdom

Stickynote technowisdom pouring cold medicine into computer keyboard as antivirus measure

Thanks and a tip of the hat to my friend Eddie Grafton from sunny Port Charlotte, Florida who came up with the idea for this one!

Techno-wisdom photo courtesy of Stickynote! Tech Services, Stickypc.com.

Feel free to borrow, share, copy, distribute, lol at, or even roflmao!

Stickynote! Tech Services provides friendly, expert, in-home service at reasonable rates to families, individuals, and small businesses in southeastern massachusetts. Services include computer and device installation, computer repair, computer troubleshooting, home networking, wireless or “wifi” networking, network and telephone wiring, Internet and Email set up, configuration and troubleshooting. Home entertainment troubleshooting and connections.  In fact, just about anything related to computers and high-tech is fair game, so if you have a high-tech headache try Stickynote! Tech Services for quick relief!

508-369-9077        andy@stickypc.com

 

 

 

 

 

DRIVER – Not What I Meant: Stickynote! Gallery of Technowisdom

video driver golf club installed through screen of computer

 

 

Techno-wisdom photo courtesy of Stickynote! Tech Services, Stickypc.com.

Feel free to borrow, share, copy, distribute, lol at, or even roflmao!

Stickynote! Tech Services provides friendly, expert, in-home service at reasonable rates to families, individuals, and small businesses in southeastern massachusetts. Services include computer and device installation, computer repair, computer troubleshooting, home networking, wireless or “wifi” networking, network and telephone wiring, Internet and Email set up, configuration and troubleshooting. Home entertainment troubleshooting and connections.  In fact, just about anything related to computers and high-tech is fair game, so if you have a high-tech headache try Stickynote! Tech Services for quick relief!

508-369-9077        andy@stickypc.com

 

 

 

SCREEN SAVER – Not What I Meant: Stickynote! Gallery of Technowisdom

laptop computer inside fish tank with koi swimming over keyboard

Techno-wisdom photo courtesy of Stickynote! Tech Services, Stickypc.com.

Feel free to borrow, share, copy, distribute, lol at, or even roflmao!

Stickynote! Tech Services provides friendly, expert, in-home service at reasonable rates to families, individuals, and small businesses in southeastern massachusetts. Services include computer and device installation, computer repair, computer troubleshooting, home networking, wireless or “wifi” networking, network and telephone wiring, Internet and Email set up, configuration and troubleshooting. Home entertainment troubleshooting and connections.  In fact, just about anything related to computers and high-tech is fair game, so if you have a high-tech headache try Stickynote! Tech Services for quick relief!

508-369-9077        andy@stickypc.com

 

REBOOT – Not What I Meant: Stickynote! Gallery of Technowisdom

stickynote reboot computer laptop broken screen with boot smashed into it

 

Techno-wisdom photo courtesy of Stickynote! Tech Services, Stickypc.com.

Feel free to borrow, share, copy, distribute, lol at, or even roflmao!

Stickynote! Tech Services provides friendly, expert, in-home service at reasonable rates to families, individuals, and small businesses in southeastern massachusetts. Services include computer and device installation, computer repair, computer troubleshooting, home networking, wireless or “wifi” networking, network and telephone wiring, Internet and Email set up, configuration and troubleshooting. Home entertainment troubleshooting and connections.  In fact, just about anything related to computers and high-tech is fair game, so if you have a high-tech headache try Stickynote! Tech Services for quick relief!

508-369-9077        andy@stickypc.com

 

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