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Beat The Heat - 10 Tips For Summer-Proofing Your Computer
~ Why You Want Them, And Why More Is Definitely Not Better ~

by Dave Taue

Does your computer act strangely after it's been on for a few hours? Does it lock up unpredictably, or seem to get "slow" - and are the problems worse in the afternoon (or the summer)? Does giving your computer a "rest" improve the situation - for a while, anyway, until the problems surface again?

If so, instead of cursing the fates or your software manufacturer, you might want to look at something much more basic.

The simple fact is that more computers suffer heat-related problems than most users recognize. Your computer's stability and speed can both be affected when heat builds up inside its case, causing crashes in odd circumstances and hampering performance. Even if your computer seems to be running fine, it will probably fail prematurely if it's running hot.

Now, we know many of you want to blame Them for your computer's odd behavior. (You know whom we mean.) But if heat really is the cause, wouldn't you prefer to solve the problem?

Figuring that most of you would answer "yes," Antec's editors have come up with a list of things you can do to help your computer beat the heat.

Environmental - things you can do to your computer's surroundings

1) Pick the right neighborhood. This can be just as important to your computer as it is to your kids, but of course for your computer it means something quite different. What your computer needs is this: a room on the lowest floor possible (heat rises), located on the northern, shady, or at least morning side of the building. Then, within the room put the computer against an inside wall if possible and definitely keep it out of the sun and away from heater outlets or radiators.

2) Room to breathe. If your case is in an enclosed computer desk or cubby hole, move it out of there. Or at least open the space up as much as possible so cool air can move through. And don't block your case's intake vents (typically in the front) by stacking anything against them.

3) Ventilate the computer room. This doesn't just mean running fans somewhere in the room. Fans make you feel cool because the air movement helps evaporate the moisture on your skin - but since your computer doesn't sweat, just pointing a fan at it isn't going to help much. What you want is to open up the windows and use the fans to draw air in from the coolest point (downstairs, north side, etc.) and push the hot air out of the computer room window.

4) Consider air conditioning. Maybe you have noisy - or nosy - neighbors, or too much humidity, or maybe the outside air is simply hot enough to bake a ham. But if proper ventilation is not a good option, set the thermostat on the air conditioner lower. If you have central air conditioning cooling the whole house, you might to consider a separate air conditioner for the computer room (but not a "swamp cooler," which raises the humidity in the room). And if you choose to turn the A/C up, please remember: in today's energy-conscious times, only run the extra cooling when you're actually using the computer. Turn the thermostat back to normal the rest of the time.

5) Light properly. Get rid of your hot Halogen Torchiere lights, which run typically at 300 to 500 watts and put out huge amounts of heat, and consider doing the same for your normal incandescent light bulbs, too. Bottom line: you're best off switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, which are not only more energy efficient and last longer than standard bulbs, but generate a lot less heat as well.

6) Turn the computer off when not in use. For some people, that's just not going to work; they need to be on their computer several times a day. But for most people this is a good idea.

One User's Experience. The author lives in Silicon Valley, where it tends to get warm in the summer. He reports he's tried most of the strategies given in the article, and that his situation was further complicated by attempts to get four computers to live together peaceably in one room.

"In the end (and due mostly to human living space constraints), we had to put the computers upstairs on the western side of the house, where I soon saw my CPU temperatures consistently running over 55°C at idle. Or they were, that is, until we started making some changes around the house and in the systems (but alas, no A/C). Now on warm days and evenings my system idles around a comfortable 45°C, and while we haven't had any really hot days yet this year, I am fully confident that we have successfully summer-proofed the systems.

"Among the actions I took were: cleaning out my system; filling all fan mounts (in an Antec SX830 that makes 2 rear, 2 front, and 1 front HDD); installing rounded cables; changing the room lights to compact fluorescent bulbs; and setting the system up near an inside wall out of the sun.

"Then when it gets warmer, we open the windows and set up and start up the various fans. We have one intake fan set up near the downstairs windows and pointed towards the stairs, another fan set to blow up the stairs, a smaller fan upstairs (desktop rotating type) blowing from across the hall into the computer room (the room behind that fan also has an open window), and finally a big box fan set against the open window in the computer room to exhaust the hot air.

"So far I haven't run into any big problems other than being a bit uncomfortable myself, either too warm with all the systems running before we start up the fans, or too cold from all the air moving through the room after we get everything set up. The systems, however, run rock-solid."

In The Box - things you can do to your computer itself, perhaps even more important than changing its environment

7) Clean your system out. A coating of dust insulates your electronic parts and aggravates whatever heat problems you have; the more dust you have clogging things up, the worse off you are. And remember: once is not enough. You have to keep everything clean with regular maintenance.

8) Add or upgrade fans.

  • Your case may have mounts ready for optional fans, and 80mm fans are pretty affordable. Load them up, especially if it helps with #9.
  • Many motherboards now let you check your CPU temperature. If your CPU is overheating, upgrading your CPU cooler (heatsink with fan) may be important.
  • Another fan location often overlooked, yet one of the most important, is the hard drive fan, an intake fan that draws cooler air in and blows it over the hard drive(s). Some cases provide mounts or clips for this already; in other cases you may be able to install a hard drive fan adapter in an unused 5.25" drive bay that mounts your 3.5" hard drive behind one or more fans.
  • A fourth option is to add slot mounted fans, typically to cool the AGP or video card. These usually mount in the slot right next to the card, but there are also other types that can add directed airflow to parts of the case as desired.

9) Make sure you have proper airflow. Typically speaking, you want air flowing in at the front of the case near the bottom, and exhausting out the rear of the case up at the back. Added fans are a good start. It is also important to make sure you have all the side and top panels installed; leaving panels off disrupts airflow and increases the chances that a dead air space where heat can build up will develop. Next, make sure the airflow is not blocked. Try tying the cables and cords out of the way; if you have to, consider getting rounded or 'split' data cables instead of those wide, flat, solid cables. And remember point #2: if your case's intake vents are blocked, it will be tough to generate proper airflow.

10) Set your screensaver and power-saving settings properly. As long as your system is calculating your screensaver display, it is running near full power (and thus full heat). Allowing the screen to go blank after 15 or 20 minutes saves electricity and gives your system a break. And while you're at it, check your other Power settings in your OS or in the BIOS. Letting your system go into Sleep or Suspend mode can add significantly to its life.

Saving time and money is what this is all really about. Whether it's a case of eliminating those annoying crashes or getting an extra year's life out of your hardware, a small amount of effort now can generate good returns - and that's especially true with summer around the calendrical corner.

And while some of you may be the type just itching for an excuse to pop the side off your computer case, we understand that others view that prospect as only slightly less horrifying than self-dentistry. But take our word for it: regardless of your skill or experience level, most of these suggestions are quick, easy, and painless to achieve.