Random Compu-Maintenance: Dusty PC & Stuck Power Button

Computers and their peripherals around my place are generally reliable, but occasionally some things do happen. As a result, I’ve grouped these two recent happenings into one posting.

PC: “… help me!”

Just last weekend, my brother barged into my room convinced his machine was acting strangely because it was “infected”. The catch-all term, used by non technically inclined, to say something just isn’t working. Begrudgingly, I went over to check it out, to find it locked up when playing around in the BIOS with an idle CPU temperature of 70 degrees C.

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The problem was obvious, it is the dust bunnies. I didn’t quite expect it to be this bad when I opened up the case – if you take a closer look at the CPU cooler, there isn’t any space for airflow at all. The fan’s done a great job of making a nice even mat of dust.

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The GPU also was growing “furry” fan blades …

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… and the power supply was growing a hairy moustache.

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As summer approaches in Australia, I suppose it’s a timely reminder that computers do need maintenance and cleaning to ensure they stay working well. The easiest way to clean this involved disassembling the computer – removing the heatsinks from the CPU and GPU and washing them under water, then drying them out and re-mounting with fresh thermal compound. The power supply unit was disassembled and the top cover removed and washed under water too, dried well, and then reassembled. The rest of the unit was blown out using a blower bulb, revealing a shocking amount of dust. I suppose this is life, especially for a carpeted house.

In the end, the machine exhibited no further issues after cleaning. The key point is to avoid getting water onto the PCB especially in the power supply, and dry thoroughly if washing fans and heatsinks under water which makes a much quicker process of cleaning up.

Monitor: “I’ll leave you powerless!”

The second thing to happen actually happened to me that same night. The power button on my BenQ G2000W monitor decided to “sink” into the case permanently. Regardless of screwdriver levering, it just refused to go back into place, leaving me powerless to turn the monitor on or off.

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A quick look at the back shows the unit is a good seven years old already, and being a 20″ 1680×1050 16:10 unit with a TN panel, it probably wouldn’t deserve any love from most people anyway. It’s lived a “full life” and nobody really likes 16:10 anymore …

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… but of course, I’m not giving up on it so easily. I like to use most of my equipment right up to the point of failure and sometimes even uneconomic repair. The first step is to get the unit open, and like most monitors, it seemed to be a screwless design. The hint was the two slots at the bottom – they’re there to help you pry the casing apart.

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But wait, it still won’t come apart! Well, that’s because of this sneaky bastard hiding behind the stand itself. So it’s not screw-less after all. Removing the screws for the stand arm allows you to get in and remove this offender …

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… which then lets you get right to the root of the problem – as long as you remove the rear and leave the front intact. In the process, I made an unexpected discovery:

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Exception: ‘cockroach’ was not expected at this time.

After a few minutes of dealing with it, I got back to the job in hand. The button PCB can be seen to be bowed inwards by the misplaced power button. Removing the PCB allows us to see the button itself:

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The button itself is a translucent plastic with black printing which has somewhat worn. It is designed to be clear to show the illumination from the LED from behind, while levering and pushing an offset PCB-mounted push-button that performs the function. In order for this to happen, its opposing side was glued/heat melted into the casing, but that joint has since fatigued.

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I tried some super-glue but the surface wasn’t good enough to get a solid grip, which resulted in the button falling back into the monitor barely a few pushes later. Sick of this game, I decided to take more drastic action …

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Yes. I drilled a hole in the case where the power button was. This means …

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… I can push the power button with a screwdriver. Good enough, and simple enough. As a result, the G2000W will continue to serve for a few more years at this rate.

About lui_gough

I’m a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!

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4 Responses to Random Compu-Maintenance: Dusty PC & Stuck Power Button

  1. Mark B. says:

    Love your articles for the humor!
    “Unexpected Cockroach Exceptionl”

  2. shasheene says:

    Keep PC on a desk well away from the ground/carpet to reduce dust build up on CPU heatsink.

    I’d recommend removing only the CPU fan and using a vacuum cleaner suck between heat sink fins (being mindful of electrostatic discharge). A lot quicker/easier and doesn’t require buying thermal paste.

    It’s very satisfying using a vacuum cleaner, and especially knowing the CPU now the thermal range to be at maximum performance.

    • lui_gough says:

      One reason to avoid having just regular vacuum cleaners near PCs is that the spinning motor in them and the plastic tubing generally produces a decent amount of static which can discharge inappropriately inside the chassis and cause damage to components.

      Besides, that being said, if you don’t have at least a few tubes of thermal paste, you’re not building enough computers ;). For me, sadly, we are carpeted, and computers being on the ground is the only practical choice in a small-ish house, so cleaning them more often is the key. I suppose cooler machines and running variable/slow fan speeds or using cases with proper removable dust filters is also another option, although, in a path of cost minimization, we just kept using the dodgey generic case.

      – Gough

  3. sparcie says:

    Wow that is one dusty machine! I used to see a number of machines like that every summer/spring as the weather warmed up. The heat usually also causes a number of power supplies and the like to fail as well. I usually find old tooth brushes and paint brushes a good way to remove dust. I wouldn’t like to wash a fan in water for fear of ruining the lubrication (unless you apply some more), but other parts like the heat-sink would be ok.

    I have done similar case mods to PC’s with dodgy power switches, the plastic eventually wears and sticks. Not had any screens do it yet.

    Sparcie

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