A couple preventative measures such as a suitable surge protector or using canned air to blow out your computer will go a long way towards prolonging the life of a machine.
Considering how electricity travels through a computer, and how airflow is necessary for proper cooling, two relatively inexpensive countermeasures such as an adequate surge protector or by blowing out lint, hair and dust from a machine can save in the long run.
Some people have the misconception that a power strip is the same as a surge protector but they couldn’t be more wrong. A power strip is simply a way to accommodate multiple electronic connections via a wall outlet. A surge protector, or suppressor, although similar in design, has the capability to protect electrical equipment from power surges.
There are different kinds of surge protectors some even have a battery backup in case of power loss. The box type or uninterruptible power supply (UPS) not only protects against power spikes but allows a computer to stay on during a power failure thus giving you time to save work and turn the computer off safely. The UPS utilizes a battery, which is replaceable if depleted, to store energy in case of an emergency and cost upwards of $150.00.
For general surge protector needs, look for one that can take enough voltage to protect your computer with a green light or some other indication that it is working properly. A good surge protector will start at $20.00 depending upon rating. Keep in mind that even the best surge protectors should be replaced every two years.
While shopping for a surge protector check to see that the UL rating is on the package. This is a standard that identifies all surge protectors. Look for a UL 1449 clamping voltage with the lowest rating possible. The lowest UL rating available with regards to clamping voltage is 330 volts.
The best way is to verify the surge suppressor's energy rating. It will be measured in Joules, the higher the rating the better the surge suppressor can absorb the energy passing through. A rating of at least 1500 joules is sufficient for basic protection but the higher rating the better.
It is recommended that quality of Joule rated protection is of at least 300J per outlet on a device. This is especially needed on devices such as home theater surge proctors or devices used for high-performance equipment. So, if a SPD, or surge protection directive, has 8 outlets, the ideal Joule rating for that protective device would be 2400J.
Another consideration is laptop surge protection when plugging into, for instance, a hotel room outlet. Laptop surge protection is important especially when traveling. It’s questionable what kind of power fluctuations your machine is subjected to in a hotel environment. Travel surge protectors are made to be compact so they measure easily in your laptop bag.
And last but not least, for those of you with desktops, blow them out. Through the years my ventures have uncovered many dust ridden, cobweb embedded computers, one memorable occasion presented a sizeable critter however quite indisposed, and others so inundated with lint that the result was blown capacitors or crashed hard drives. Without proper ventilation to the heat sink the CPU, Central Processing Unit, will overheat and short the motherboard or ruin the hard drive thus rendering a machine costly to repair.
The safest way to clean the inside of a tower is by way of canned air, you can purchase canned air at Radio Shack for around $4.00. It’s not recommended to clean the inside of your computer with a vacuum cleaner as vacuuming creates a large static build up that could (and most likely will) discharge into the sensitive electronics inside. There are specialized vacuum cleaners designed for cleaning out computers and electronic equipment but given the limited amount of use a single user would get from such a purchase it’s not a wise purchase as they start at $300 and up.
To blow out a computer unplug all cords and cables (carefully noting placement for reconnection) and place the computer on a sturdy table either outside or in the garage.
Remove the computer’s case screws, typically at the rear of the machine, with a screwdriver. Hold the top of the computer with one hand and push off or slide back the side panel. Some panels pull straight off the side but most must be pushed backward.
Disconnect any intake fan’s wire if it's attached to the case. Most fan wires have male-female connectors that pull apart. Brush off all vents, intake and exhaust holes.
Don a particle mask. Attach the plastic extension nozzle to the can of compressed air and aim it inside the computer chassis being careful to keep it upright. In spurts of about 3 to 4 seconds each, blow out all dust, lint and hair particles from each of the crevices, seams, wires and cable connectors. Without getting too close to the circuitry, keep the canned air nozzle rotating from the top to the bottom of the computer chassis. Spray the motherboard and between the fins of the CPU. Let the dust settle then blow out the interior again. Sounds like fun doesn’t it?
Brush all of the interior fans to remove dust and buildup from the blades. Do not use the compressed air to clean the fan blades. Wipe off each fan blade with a brush or cloth.
It may be necessary to detach the front panel in order to properly remove any lint, hair or dust. Before doing so touch an unpainted metal surface before working inside the computer to discharge any static electricity. Static electricity can be harmful to the inner workings of a computer.
Locate the front panel tabs clipped inside the front portion of the case that hold the front panel to the computer case. There are usually three to four tabs and appear in sets of two or three. Push on the tabs in unison to disengage them from the computer case. Repeat to dislodge the other tabs. The front panel of the computer case can now be removed. Reassemble as per removal procedure, only reversed.
WikiHow has a nice demonstration with pictures and instruction for dust removal at: http://www.wikihow.com/Clean-the-Inside-of-a-Computer.
Laptops however are a different story. They are compact for portability but a major drawback is the difficulty in opening or disassembling them for proper, manual, lint or hair removal. Some technicians will spray canned air directly into the ventilation shaft on the exterior of the laptop which will blow any obstruction back into the machine and off the vent or heat sink. This only postpones the inevitable as the lint and hair is still inside.
You can tell when a laptop is starving for air when it becomes exceedingly hot, overheating, on the bottom or even top of the casing. Be mindful of using an external fan underneath to help with cooling, unless absolutely necessary until you get the laptop to a technician, as it can aid in lint and dust entering the machine. It’s a difficult task to disassemble a laptop as there are many parts and protocol that must be followed in order to get them back in working order. If overheating is an issue, it would be best to take it to a technician for proper lint and hair removal.
And there you have it. These simple measures can prove invaluable towards the prolonged life of a computer verses purchasing new. The same rings true regarding surge protectors for TV’s, home theaters, phone systems, modems/routers and other household items such as coffee makers or even battery chargers.