How Does Dust Affect Your Computer’s Performance?

The build-up of dust can (and surely does) impact your computer’s performance for two main reasons: it causes the components of your computer to retain heat and it makes it more difficult for the internal fans to dissipate heat from the system, thereby decreasing the efficiency of the entire system.

A few months ago, I noticed that my computer had become unusually slow. It took longer than usual to boot up, execute basic operations, and crashed more frequently than before. While computers getting slow with the passage of time is a real thing and happens with every computer, that process is quite gradual and occurs as a result of numerous years of wear and tear. In my case, however, my computer had become exceptionally slow all of a sudden (relatively speaking). I did everything I could on the software front, but when I didn’t see any improvement, I figured that it was time to open up the computer cabinet and take a look inside.

Upon opening the “computer cabinet” (some people also refer to this as the “computer tower” or simply the “CPU”), I beheld a rather ‘dusty’ sight.

dusty cpu

The ‘dusty’ insides of a computer tower.

I also instantly understood why my computer had gotten so slow.

If you’re one of those people who take really good care of their computers, then you surely know of the “dust hazard” in computer systems all too well. As a general rule of thumb, the build-up of dust is rarely considered a good thing in any context. However, in the case of computers and their internal components, dust can severely hamper the system’s performance, thereby making it inefficient.

Computers generate heat while working

Even if you’re not that into computers and don’t really understand how their internal systems work, you might know that computers, as with any machine that consists of electrical circuits, constantly produce heat. Now, this heat output is a rather undesirable byproduct of the functioning of electric circuits, but if controlled, it’s actually a sign that your system is working as designed. In a nutshell, every computer produces heat when it works.

In fact, a computer produces heat even when it’s left idle (this heat comes from the ‘steady state’ power usage of the computer system).

Now, a small output of heat in a computer is nothing to fret about, but problems arise when the computer produces more heat than it can dissipate. The build-up of dust is one of the biggest contributors to such unregulated heating of a computer system.

Dust buildup hampers airflow inside the computer cabinet

As mentioned earlier, the more a computer works, the hotter it gets. For instance, when you play a ‘high-graphics’ game on your computer, you force it to work harder than usual. Consequently, it produces more and more heat.

Like most things in the world, too much of anything often does more harm than good. This old adage applies to computers too. Too much heat adversely impacts the working capacity of various components of your computer.

motherboard

Parts of a motherboard (Photo Credit: Nicholas Greenaway/Shutterstock)

Processor throttling

Also referred to as frequency scaling, processor throttling slows down a computer (more specifically, its processor) in a bid to use less power and avoid overheating. Therefore, due to dust building up inside the cabinet (and over and around the processor), the airflow within the cabinet is hampered and the parts become hotter than usual. If throttling doesn’t help drop the temperature, various components shut themselves down to avoid getting fried due to excessive heat.

Dust in computer CPU box

Dust buildup on the processor of a computer. (Photo Credit : Flickr)

When excessive dust builds up, vents get clogged and, consequently, the cooling fans have to work extra hard to maintain a safe temperature within the cabinet.

Not only does dust restrict the airflow inside the cabinet, but it also directly insulates the cooling surfaces, which worsens the problem of heating inside the cabinet.

Frequent cleaning helps fix the problem

In order to make sure that all of your computer’s systems run efficiently, it’s recommended to open your computer cabinet (you can get a professional to do it, or even do it yourself, as it’s fairly simple) at least once every few months and clean its internal components, especially those parts on the motherboard.

Not only will this take care of the “my computer has become suspiciously slow” problem, but will even speed it up by boosting the clock rate of the CPU.

References

  1. Northwestern University
  2. Lehigh University
  3. Stanford University
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About the Author:

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spends a lot of time watching movies, and an awful lot more time discussing them. He likes Harry Potter and the Avengers, and obsesses over how thoroughly Science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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