Warm enough for you?

Last week’s blog about defenestration seemed to strike a few chords

(blog about defenestration)

Overheated Computer CartoonOne of the possible causes of wanting to resort to such drastic measures has cropped up more than once amongst my clients in the last few weeks. I think it is well worth bringing it to more people’s attention as it’s particularly exasperating and the cause is not at all obvious.

The problem manifests itself in computers starting to become s..l..o..w..e..r and s…l…o…w…e…r. I don’t mean the slowness that develops over the months and years of a computer’s life as it gets more bogged down with permanent files, temporary files, and larger programs that put more demands on it. I’m talking here about a slowness that seems to happen all of a sudden. The symptoms can range from a slight sluggishness to glacial progress in doing the smallest thing.

I’ve seen this happen several times over the years. It’s very definitely a seasonal thing and it doesn’t necessarily happen at all in the given season. Are you ahead of me on this? Yes, it’s heat. When the ambient temperature stretches higher than the norm for our summer (say, somewhere about 24 degrees C,) then computers can feel the heat and slow down.

Fellowes Air DusterIf you suspect that it’s happening, then the first thing to do is to listen to see if you can hear the fan. If the computer is fairly warm or hotter and you can’t hear the fan, then it’s possible that the fan has stopped working. This is not a happy state in which to run any computer as overheating can fatally damage electronic components. If you can’t hear the fan and the computer is hot I would recommend taking the computer for hardware repair. If you are taking it to one of the small “computer repair shops” that often double up as internet cafes and/or mobile phone repair shops then I strongly recommend asking if the repair can be carried out in front of you on the spot. I would be unwilling to leave any computer of mine in such a place out of my sight and control.

As a computer support consultant, I’m not really geared up to help with replacing internal fans as I couldn’t possibly carry all the stock on the off-chance it would be needed one day, and the alternative of opening the case, ascertaining what’s needed, going off to buy it, and then returning to fit it, would probably be prohibitively expensive.

If you can hear the fan, then the next thing you can try is to get an aerosol can of compressed air from somewhere like Rymans or Maplins and give short sharp bursts of air into the vents in the case of your laptop or desktop computer. Don’t shove the nozzle right into the vents as it’s possible to damage components inside if the blast of air is too close. You’re not doing this to cool it, of course, but to blow away dust that inhibits the free flow of air inside the case.

Next, try and get an ordinary domestic fan and place it within a metre of the overheating computer. It may well take half an hour for it to bring the temperature down, but it can seem miraculous how performance picks up as the temperature falls.

Laptop Tray
This six-fan laptop tray is powered via a USB cable.
Another thing you can try – particularly for laptops – is laptop trays that have one or more inbuilt fans that draw heat away from the bottom of the laptop case. They work better than you might expect and can be bought cheaply.

My guess is that I only see this problem cropping up a couple of times in a summer and only maybe one summer in three. However, having seen it happen twice in the last month, I definitely think it’s worth pointing this one out. It can be a great relief to find out that what looks as if it might be viruses, malware, internet connection problems, memory problems, or hard drive problems, is solved by the simple expedient of cooling things down a bit.

Finally, if your computer is switching itself off for no apparent reason, then this could be a different symptom of the same problem. Most computers have inbuilt thermometers that cause the computer to defend its electronics by shutting down in the event of overheating. It seems, though, as if the hotter days of our summers are enough to affect performance without causing complete shutdown.