Heat, power surges, dust Computers: Those are just a few of the things that can damage your valuable machine


There are at least 12 ways to kill your computer.

In the early days of PCs, I spent a lot of time urging people to be experimental and reassuring them that nothing they could do to their PC - short of giving it the 10-foot drop test - could wreck it. Reassurances like that were needed because, in those days, operating a PC was something akin to being the first on your block to have an automobile back in the days of the Model T.

Now that computers are so much a part of the family, we may have gotten too comfortable with them. While PCs are fairly sturdy beasts these days - certainly more so than they were five or six years ago - there is a limit to the abuse a PC can take. So today we'll look at some of the fairly common mistakes that can destroy your PC.

Probably the most common way to ruin a computer is through voltage surges. If you don't have a good voltage surge protector, get one. And if you do have one, please don't rely on it during an electrical storm. Unplug your computer.

Heat can also kill a computer. And there are simple precautions that you can take to avoid overcooking your machine. For one, make sure the covering for the exhaust fan is not clogged with dirt and dust. It is fairly easy to remove the cover and gently vacuum the dust away. I avoid using compressed air to blow it away since you're likely to blow all the dirt onto the motherboard, where it can do even more damage. Also check to make sure there is at least four inches of clearance on all sides of your machine, especially at the rear, where the exhaust fan is located.

While we're talking about heat, let's cover one of your most expensive computer accessories, the monitor. Not too long ago I was sitting in the newsroom, typing happily away when I smelled smoke. I looked down the row of desks and saw a monitor smoking like a cowboy with a hand-rolled cigarette. The reporter at that desk had used the top of the monitor as a shelf - loaded it down with old news papers and magazines. That blocked the air circulation from the vent holes at the top and, over time, generated enough heat to start a fire. Monitors make expensive kindling. Obviously the same rule applies to your computer itself: Don't use it as a place to pile stuff.

The next mistake won't immediately wreck your computer. Instead think of the harm it does as similar to what smoking cigarettes does to humans. It slowly destroys.

I'm talking about turning your computer on and off many times a day. Each time you do that, the components inside the computer get a little jolt of electricity. I couldn't get technical about this if I tried, but several bad things can happen to the components - including your processor chip - as they receive this jolt. Eventually you can destroy them.

Don't take this advice to mean you should never turn your computer off. Instead, it's a good idea to turn it on when you start using it after work and then turn it off before going to bed.

Nowadays most of us are comfortable performing small tasks under the hood of a computer - changing the modem card, adding memory or changing some other plug-in component. You probably know to turn off the power before you do this. But you also need to know that static electricity is a real killer when chips and other delicate components are involved.

Make sure you're not carrying a static charge before you open that package with the new memory chips, or touch any component inside the computer. Touch the metal exterior of the computer case before getting started on your work. And if you are working over a carpeted surface, especially in the winter (not BTC a good idea), discharge any static repeatedly as you work.

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Pub Date: 10/26/98

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