Keep Your Cool

This week in Portland began with one of the hottest days of the year. The soccer field down the street was oddly silent Sunday, the hardy fellow who was to help me roof my greenhouse cancelled and my chickens spent the entire day with tongues out and wings slightly akimbo, alternating between cool drinks and cooler dustbaths. Two ferns collapsed and are probably brown until November, and this week I expect a few calls from people who fear their computers are overheating.

Like anything physical, electrical or mechanical, your computer can get too hot. Designed to operate within a fairly wide range of temperature and humidity, even the smallest computers can generate enough heat to fail or (hopefully) just shut down. Most computers have air vents (like the radiator on a car) and often fans which can kick in and get quite loud. Monitors use electricity and give off heat, but there are several things you can do to your computer to help it stay cool during even the hottest months.

Check its circulation

Make sure that things such as stacks of paper and books are not pressed against your computer, and that your computer is not pressed against them. Even a little bit of paper can hold in an amazing amount of heat, and anything which obstructs the computer’s air vents will prevent it from cooling itself normally. On some of the old iMacs the air vents are simply holes in the plastic above the monitor (making them air-cooled, and some of the quietest Macs ever). On the new MacMini computers, the air vents are on the back down near the base of the machine. For laptops the vents are often on the back or sides, although propping the computer off of the table with a pencil or chopstick can also do quite a bit to improve circulation underneath and help it to cool faster. If you have a laptop and the fans kick in unexpectedly, the noise you hear may be normal, and should shut off, running in bursts only as needed

Dust It Off

Most people only look behind or under their computer when it is time to get a new one, when they move it or something is wrong. As long as you are checking your computer for obstructions, it might also be a good idea to check and see how dusty it is. Dust in the vent holes prevents circulation, and dust inside the monitor or on the internal boards can act like a heat-retaining blanket and accelerate thermal damage to components. If you have a G3 or G4 tower and are adventurous, you may wish to get a can of compressed air at an office supply store and (holding it ten or so inches away from the computer) blow out any dust you see in the case or on boards, especially on the inside of the case near the vent holes.

Get Shady

Those who know me appreciate that I am not a huge fan of Windows on a computer, but next to a computer a window is great, if you can avoid glare on the screen. It’s wonderful to be able to look out on the clouds or the garden or the street, to get some natural light and avoid claustrophobia, but in summer the direct sunlight from a window can heat your computer up considerably. Even the newer white computers can stay cooler and move air more efficiently if they are not in direct sunlight.

Drink Responsibly

Hydrating during warm weather is very important, as is occassionally getting up from your computer and taking a short walk (such as for a snack or to the bathroom to unhydrate). If you decide to enjoy a cool and refreshing beverage next to your computer, please be careful. The new Mac Minis are not very tall, and anything spilled next to one is likely to fry out the motherboard. (I have already seen it happen to two Minis). If you have a tower and spill something on the keyboard you will probably only damage the keyboard, but if you spill into the keyboard of your laptop, that might have become a $2000 glass of ice tea you just wasted. If you choose to drink near your computer, please be sure to keep the beverages away from the machine so that they don’t spill onto the electronics. Shelves above printers are also a very bad place to put your favorite potable.

And during these brief few weeks of hot summer, don’t forget to take time to get outside, enjoy some of the bright mornings or walks in the cool evening. Summer comes but once a year, and if you need some time to chill out or help someone cool down your computer problems, please consider phoning Mac Rory at (360) 695-6929.

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