When it comes to pc gaming, there is often a lot of talk about keeping your drivers up to date, overclocking, cooling performance, having the latests components, frame rates and a whole lot more, but an often overlooked bit of common sense in this area, comes down to when was the last time you looked inside your chassis?
Now I know a lot of people will be on the ball with this one, their computers a shiny temple of dust free bliss, but this guide isn't for those people, my goal is to hopefully save the lives of the few who never dare peek inside their system, for fear they may break it, or discover some horrible truth that the whole thing is about to set of fire! so lets get started as I try to keep this all as simple as possible.
TURN OFF YOUR PC AND REMOVE IT FROM THE MAINS SOCKET BEFORE OPENING THE CHASSIS TO PERFORM ANY TASK INSIDE IT.
Does your system have dust filters?
This is a simple one, a lot of PC cases these days come fitted with dust filters, some are behind the front panel, some in the bottom of the case, regardless of where they are, these need to be cleaned every week, especially if you keep your PC on a carpeted surface like I do, even more important if you have a pet in the house.
Open your side panel on your chassis, find the release clips for the front panel of your system, you'll likely find there is a filter there (in most cases). usually the filter is fully removable thanks to a clip-in system, take it over to the bin and give it a good brush down with a hand brush, personally I keep soft paint brush under the sink specially for this purpose.
Some systems have slide out dust covers on the underside of the chassis, this is often the worst offender, especially if you have you power supply downwards facing or any fans in the base of your system, slide these out and give them a good dusting too.
Dust filters are not the be-all-end-all of keeping your system clean.
When the dust filters are removed, you'll likely find a layer of dust on your chassis between where the filter goes and the outside of the case, take a microfiber cloth, or simple yellow duster and lay it flat on the floor, give it a very light spray with furniture polish then screw it up in your hand before cleaning your case, this stops excess residue on the cloth and provides just enough damn for good dust removal, once this is done give the inside of your chassis a quick wipe around with the cloth, avoiding any major components, were just focusing on the chassis for now. Then of course, remember to put the filters all back when you're done.
Fans need love and attention too.
Even with dust filters, there will be gaps and areas in your chassis that dust gets through, this tends to gather on the fins of your systems fan blades, but its something that is easily resolved. If you can remove your case fans without too much trouble, I would suggest doing this as it makes cleaning them a whole lot easier, but if you have decent access to them within the chassis it's upto you if you leave them in or not. I use a medium sized paint brush and a simple yellow duster or microfiber cloth to wipe both sides of the fan blades and get into any difficult areas of the fans.
One of the big advantages of cleaning your fans, and this goes for your CPU cooler and graphics card fans, is that as dust or dirt gathers on them, the blades get heavier, which means they have to work harder to spin, making them noisier and less efficient, cleaning them will help them cool more efficiently and 99% of the time make them quieter.
Graphics cards are nightmare for absorbing dust.
Removing your graphics card is an easy task, again using the simple paintbrush and microfiber cloth technique remove any dust from the fan blades, but the best thing you can do overall is to blow through the card, be warned though not only must you make sure you don't spit while doing this, for obvious reasons, but watch your eyes as in most attempts this will cause a huge cloud of dust to flow from your card, which is of course what you're trying to get rid of, but it can be quite unpleasant to get all this dust in your eyes. Think of trying to play a Harmonica and blow as hard as you can through the heatsink fins on the card until the dust clears, then re-insert your card and remember to secure it again with the proper screws and connect its power cables.
CPU cooler is starting to feel left out.
Again this one is simple, at least to start with, if you have access to the fans on the cpu cooler, repeat the same process as the graphics card, clearing the fans with a small brush and cloth and blowing any excess dust from the fins, dependant on your CPU cooler, this might be easy or a nightmare to do, but nonetheless if it is full of dust it needs to be done.
Should you be required to remove your CPU cooler, it may also be a great time to replace your thermal compound on your CPU, unless of course it has recently been done.
I wouldn't suggest you hoover a PC, but you can hoover your room!
Its at this point where you likely have your PC pulled out from its usual spot on the carpet, floor or wherever you keep it, in most rooms you will find your PC has left a nice clean spot on the floor and a nice line of dirt outlining where it was, this is due to the fans and air intakes sucking dust towards the computer and it getting trapped under the case. Perfect time then to whip the hoover out and clean under your desk, would be a shame to clean out your chassis, put it back and watch all the dirt fly straight back in by your now clean and more efficient fans.
See, I said this would be simple didn't I? it only takes about half an hour to give the system a quick whip around, but the life you can add you your system is worth it, depending on how bad your system was to start with you should see some drops in temperature from your system, your fans should now be quieter and the system as a whole will generally run that bit smoother.
But how often should I do this?
Weekly - Dust filters
Monthly - Fans and hoover under chassis
1-3 months - CPU and GPU fans and heatsinks
If like me you're a smoker and you smoke at your desk, eat at your desk, have your PC on a carpeted floor or have pets, then these tasks are even more important than ever, as these only compound the issues of dirt gathering in your PC.
Remember to take extra care when handling computer components, beware of static electricity and try to discharge by touching a metal surface like a radiator before handing things like graphics cards, don't forget to unplug your system from the mains.