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Effective Air Cooling Guide (Part I) - Cleanliness Is Next To Coolness

By Marnomancer · 10 replies
Apr 21, 2012
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  1. Index
    I. First Things First!
    1. Disclaimer
    2. Precautions
    II. Into The Belly Of The Beast
    1. Dusting Dust, Debris And Pet Hair
    1.1. Power Supply Unit (PSU)
    1.2. CD Drives/Hard Disks
    1.3. Heatsinks
    1.4. Capacitors, Diodes, and anything smaller than an eraser
    1.5. CPU, GPU and case fans
    1.6. I/O Panel, Front Panel, and other ports
    1.7. The case itself
    2. Filters
    3. The Case Pressure Factor
    III. Conclusion
    First Things First!

    The content of this guide/article is based on observation, research, and repeated self-experiments, and is subjected to change without notice. By reading this guide you hereby also agree to comply with TechSpot's Terms of Service. Feel free to thank, congratulate, applaud or challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I'm completely nuts in your replies, but bear in mind that I reserve the right to report any post to the moderators, for any reason whatsoever, so keep it polite if you will. While effort has been taken to make this guide's content accurate and unbiased, please use your discretion while using the information hereon. Its applicability and compatibility to your system is not guaranteed. Neither TechSpot nor the author can be held responsible for any damages, material or otherwise, to any entity, living, dead, or undead, by errors, human or otherwise. The validity of the content and external links is subjected to the relevant external site's administrator's control. The author has written this guide out of kindness of his heart and will to share knowledge, and has no commercial interest in it. Information provided is for personal and non-commercial use only. You may not, without express permission from the author, redistribute, transmit, or store it to any other website or other form of electronic retrieval system. All digital content, brand, product, and company names, licensed or otherwise, are properties of their respective owners.
    © 2012
    Hello there! This guide was originally written as an air-cooling mod, but as usual is with me, ended up as something far larger.Of course there are better-performing cooling system options out there. But they have some drawbacks. For example, water-cooling cools much better than air-cooling, but:
    1) It reduces savings. Too expensive.
    2) Is too risky for newbies and those who aren't careful enough.
    So the purpose of this guide is to provide something that is:
    1) Cheap
    2) Safe
    3) Quiet
    4) Easy for newbies
    This is Part-I of the guide, 'Cleanliness Is Next To Coolness' which delves into understanding how cleaning as a whole is a dependency for air cooling, and how it is affected by little factors summing up to huge things. The second part 'Myths, Old Rituals and Analysis' can be found here. Call these a warm-up prep. The real (originally planned) deal is Part III.
    You may leave your feedback in your replies.
    Hope you enjoy it and find it useful!


    1) High electrical voltages are hazardous to humans. Before opening a PC, shut it down, wait for all the components to power down (the LCD’s power indicator is usually the last thing to power down), and disconnect it from the AC mains. Simple enough, eh?

    2) Some capacitors retain a lethal static charge for some time after powering down. So wait for about 5~10 seconds before touching anything.

    3) Computers consist of sensitive electronic components. Any static body charge can permanently damage them. So as not to blow them, ground yourself first by touching a metal object touching the ground, or wear an anti-static wrist-band.
    A decal on the side panel of my case makes this quite clear.

    4) Be careful not to bend any pins when cleaning/connecting/disconnecting/inserting or removing things from sockets. As to “why”, refer to your CPU’s installation manual. Things have a specific orientation, and are supposed to stay that way. Forcing in anything else than the intended orientation will cause permanent physical damage to your hardware.

    5) If you need to uninstall/dismantle any components for more thorough cleaning, place them on the anti-static bag they come packaged in. That helps in preventing static-related damage.

    6) Connector pins such as those on a DIMM or GPU are better cleaned with a hard rubber or plastic non-dust eraser than a cotton bud. Steer clear of the diodes above though. They may be soldered, but they’re still delicate.

    7) If you disconnect any headers without orientation notches, make sure you reconnect them properly when done. They are usually labeled or colour-coded, so it shouldn’t be a problem. If you are still unsure, refer to your motherboard’s installation manual. Needless to say, incorrect connections can harm your hardware.

    Same goes for screws. Don’t mix up screws of different devices. If you try to force in screws not intended for that device, your device is screwed. No pun intended.

    8) Vacuum cleaners create a static charge due to its natural mechanism. Do not use it directly on the components in any case. I've only included it for dust that'll settle at the floor of the case.

    That being said, it’s cleaning time!

    Into The Belly of The Beast

    As with software-level tuning, cleaning is of utmost importance at the hardware-level too. There’s no real “set-and-forget” solution at this time. Thick dust’n’debris build-ups, while decreasing cooling efficiency in the short term, can render a computer unusable over a period of time, due to thermal throttling kicking in for overheat protection, if the heat can’t be dissipated fast enough. Not to mention it affects all components, from HDDs/SSDs to fans, reducing their lifespans. Of course it muffles reverberation a bit, but the cons outweigh the pros; and quite lopsidedly so.
    Quite a bit of factors affect the rate at which dust accumulates, viz. environmental dust, case pressure, fan placements, air filtration, case location, etc. This dust, whichever way it comes in, settles on the HDD(s), CPU/GPU heatsinks, fan mountings and blades, capacitors, empty slots, the floor of the case, etc. How to get rid of it? Read on.

    Dusting Dust, Debris, and Pet Hair
    These can be of various shapes, sizes, and colors. But as a general rule, electronics aren’t very fond of them. Dust build-up reduces the surface area in contact with air, the key factor on which air cooling depends for convention, radiation, and other heat dissipation methods. Thus, making a computer dust-free is the first line of defense.

    A can of compressed air, preferably with a nozzle, serves a good purpose for even tight spaces such as between heatsink fins. You can also use the little horn-like pump that comes with those laptop cleaning kits. I personally prefer the latter. Here’s a cleanup of the common components in any case:

    Power Supply Unit (PSU): Often ignored when cleaning, quite a bit of dust also enters the PSU. Its components are thermally robust, so they can tolerate a lot more than the other parts of a computer. But they too, have limits. If you are brave enough to void your warranty, or it’s already over, you can open it up, and blow off all the dust. If you can’t open it for any reason, blow air in through the side/top vents, or any way that’ll blow air out, along with dust. If blowing from/out the fan’s opening, remember to hold in a pencil or the like to prevent the blades from spinning rapidly.

    CD Drives/Hard Disks: Not much is needed to clean these. Neat, single wipes of a soft cloth are usually enough, with the grooves cleaned likewise. Little pumps of air for inaccessible places. That should so it.

    Heatsinks: Again, this doesn’t require much. If you don’t want to detach it, just blow off all dust with air. Just make sure it doesn’t spread all around the case and settle on other components. Put the case on its feet while blowing so that most if not all of the dust settles at the floor of the case. Any dust that remains can be wiped off.

    Capacitors, Diodes, and anything smaller than an eraser: Blow downwards with the case on its feet. Wiping here can be a bit tricky for those with large hands, but that usually won’t be necessary if using air, compressed or otherwise.

    RAM, DIMM and expansion cards/slots: A bit of care is need for these, as they are somewhat less sturdy, both thermally and electronically. For those who don’t know, some of the most common causes of BSODs (Blue Screen Of Death) and an unstable system is a faulty RAM, or improper/malfunctioning connections or configurations. To clean them, remove them from their slots, (refer to your motherboard’s manual for safe removal procedures), and blow off all dust that you can with air (obviously not from your mouth). If any dust remains on the ICs, wipe it off. Remember, wipe it; don’t rub it. A single pass is enough. If you are one of those with RAM heat spreaders which can’t be removed, try blowing off all visible dust from the fins and the heat spreader.
    For DIMM slots, just blow out/off all the dust by blowing air in. Just make sure the connector is clean enough to allow full contact of the pins with the slots.
    For the DIMM and card connector pins (the flat golden ones that go into the slot), use a non-dust plastic eraser -- trust me, it’s better than using a cotton bud -- to gently rub the gold. Once the gold is shining bright again, blow off any dust, and replace it back to its slot. In the correct orientation.
    Follow the same guidelines for an expansion card.

    CPU, GPU, and case fans: When cleaning fans with compressed air, hold in a pencil to prevent the blades from spinning rapidly. It’s better for the fan, because they aren’t supposed to be spinning when powered down. So wipe off dust wherever possible.

    I/O Panel, Front Panel, and other ports: More than often ignored, unoccupied ports and other I/O panel elements can get clogged with dust over time, and this can be a problem when you attach a device to such a port, usually in the form of malfunctions like unrecognized devices. That’s personal experience.
    The brave ones can desolder the front panel and clean the connections with an eraser (like me). Those less keen on voiding warranty can clean them by blowing some strong air in, or sucking it out using a vacuum cleaner with a nozzle. As always, don’t bend any pins. And don’t go wiping it with your hand. Some of the parts here can cut. I learnt this the hard way.

    The case itself: This couldn’t have been simpler. Dust mostly settles on the floor of the case, which can be cleaned off with a cloth or a vacuum cleaner. The side, back and front panels could do well with a cloth.

    In any case, care must be taken for delicate parts when cleaning. How often you clean your case depends on your environment. Once every 2-3 months is usually enough.


    These too, come in many sizes, colors, and materials, from sophisticated pantyhose to the ingenious Scotch Brite ones. While immensely effective in keeping out dust, they also immensely restrict airflow. And over a period of time, they get clogged with dust and debris, bringing airflow to a near standstill, making regular cleaning or replacement imperative. For this purpose, I find very thinly sliced Scotch Brite pads very useful and washable.
    This will be explained in more detail in the last part of this guide.

    If you aren’t a DIY person, take a look at DemciFlex filters - they are about as good as it gets in filtration. The added advantages here is that they are magnetic, so don't require any hack'n'slash case modding, and they make custom filters for chassis that don't comply with standard sizes. Also, they provide installation guides.

    Above is my own case's side-panel intake covered by a homemade filter made of Scotch Brite I had lying around in my house, almost fully clogged by dust. It was easily cleaned off though (just a few pumps of air). And the inside of the case was near-sterile, so it's worth the extra trouble.
    P.s.: Please forgive the poor image quality. :D
    The Case Pressure Factor

    There is much debate about which case pressure is best for keeping out dust. Majority argue that positive case pressure is better in terms of cleanliness than negative case pressure, as the latter tends to suck in air and dust through all available gaps.
    Not to be the devil’s advocate, but negative case pressure isn’t as “bad” as some make it seem. With positive case pressure, you have more air blowing in than out; and along with it dust. To that positive case pressure lovers counter with using filters. But using filters impedes airflow, reducing the volume of air going in, compared to the volume of air going out, thus creating negative case pressure. My test setup for this, 2x 80 mm filtered intake and 1x 80 mm exhaust, proved this beyond doubt. However, this greatly depends on fan magnitude.
    So those with negative case pressure don’t have to switch to positive case pressure. To counter the accelerated dust accumulation, filter the gaps and openings (expansions slots, unused fan mounts, etc.) with DIY filters made of Scotch Brite pads, cut to suit your case, instead of just taping them shut. That serves a dual purpose: filters allow in air and keep dust out, and Scotch Brite acts as a sound dampening material, reducing noise caused by internal “reverberation”. I’m currently on negative case pressure, with all gaps filtered, and my case is sterile for over a month. We’ll take a closer look at the pros and cons of both kinds of pressures in terms of cooling in the second part of this guide.

    Does It Really Make A Difference?
    As to how far this is effective, it depends on individual systems. How many degrees you drop your temps depends on how much dust had caked on your components (yes, there are people with such cases), and how much dust you clean out.
    To compare how much of a difference it makes, here are some temperature monitors that are commonly used:
    1. Speedfan (Download here)
    2. HWMonitor (Download here)
    These report temps of all key components in your system, allowing you to monitor all hardware, like CPU (package and core), Northbridge and onboard graphics (motherboard as a whole), hard disk drives, etc. Run it before cleaning (not just after startup, but after an hour into computing, to emulate average everyday conditions), and after cleaning (same conditions as before). Note down the temps, and see for yourself.

    As we saw, even the most high end components can't help your system if it isn't taken proper care of. Cleaning is just a primary preparation when it comes to overclocking, and thus power computing. For efficiency of the components to give full results, you have to take care of them. Which is why we are here - to help you do it right.

    That’s for the importance of cleaning in effective air cooling. In the next part we’ll see how case pressure affects cooling, and ideal fan placements.
    Till then, stay tuned!

    A PDF version of the guide is available for download below in the attachments. Hope it helps! :D
    ===========Change Log=============
    Version 1.7 (July 16, 2012)
    Added alternative PDF download link

    Version 1.6 (June 15, 2012)
    Added PDF for download

    Version 1.5
    Added Contents
    Added Foreword
    Added link to Part II

    Version 1.4
    Started adding photographs for demonstration.

    Version 1.3
    Added warning about using vacuum cleaners (Thanks to our member slh28 for pointing it out)
    Added tip for using DemciFlex filters (Thanks to our member dividebyzero for the information)
    Corrected a few typos

    Version 1.2
    Added section Does It Really Make A Difference
    Added links to required monitoring software
    Added Conclusion
    Added Change Log
    Edited Disclaimer

    Version 1.1
    Edited Disclaimer
    Corrected a few typos (Thanks to Matthew, our Community Manager)

    Version 1.0
    First publication

    Attached Files:

    misor, hopgop1, MrBlkfx1 and 5 others like this.
  2. Leeky

    Leeky TS Evangelist Posts: 3,357   +116

    Wow, thanks for sharing dude. :)

    Genuinely thorough and well thought out and an excellent addition to the site. Thank you. :)
    Marnomancer likes this.
  3. Marnomancer

    Marnomancer TS Booster Topic Starter Posts: 709   +52

    Your appreciation is greatly appreciated, Lee. :)
    Did I just make a rhyme? :p
  4. slh28

    slh28 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,703   +171

    Very useful and comprehensive guide!

    I'm intruiged by your use of a vacuum cleaner, I thought they created static electricity and could be bad for components?
  5. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Posts: 4,840   +1,267

    999 times out of a 1000 you probably wouldn't have a problem...just sucks (pun intended) being the 1.
    Heavy dust buildup does produce static electricity -both from the particles moving against themselves and the components. You might be asking for trouble if the particles come from a synthetic carpet or clothing. Pet hair is notorious for producing a static charge also. It's usually a good idea to use a wet cleaner -canned air or contact cleaner.

    I'd suggest that anyone who suffers from excessive dust buildup look at DemciFlex filters- they are about as good as it gets in filtration. The added advantages here is that they are magnetic, so don't require any hack'n'slash case modding, and they make custom filters for chassis that don't naturally come equipped filtered.
    They also have a comprehensive "How to" section
  6. Marnomancer

    Marnomancer TS Booster Topic Starter Posts: 709   +52

    I thought of that, but the vacuum cleaner is only intended for use on the floor of the case, and not the components. I thought I had made it clear. Thanks for your feedback, I'll include it in the precautions section.
    Thanks for the tip, DBZ. I'll add it to the appropriate section.
  7. Marnomancer

    Marnomancer TS Booster Topic Starter Posts: 709   +52

    Photographs added for better newbie understanding. Enjoy :)
  8. Marnomancer

    Marnomancer TS Booster Topic Starter Posts: 709   +52

    PDF versions made available across all guides.
    Thank you! :)
  9. Marnomancer

    Marnomancer TS Booster Topic Starter Posts: 709   +52

    Added alternative PDF download link.
    My, Dropbox is awesome!
  10. treetops

    treetops TS Evangelist Posts: 2,496   +513

    I just cleaned under my cpu fan with qtips and pulled out half a fist worth of dust bunnies now my computer runs like a champ, I noticed cleaning under the cpu fan you just suggest blowing air, the lint on my heat sink was like a blanket no air or vacuum could have got it out, tweezers would probably work the best. I thought my computer was on its last leg, seriously should consider adding checking under the cpu fan with a flash light to your list then removing dust blankets with tweezers.
  11. Marnomancer

    Marnomancer TS Booster Topic Starter Posts: 709   +52

    Apologies for the delay in the reply. Been busy.
    I'll work on your suggestion as soon as possible. :)

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