Friday, May 02, 2008

Why Won't My Dell Computer Work?

I'm going to share something with the computing world at large that might shock you. Nine times out of ten, you (yes you, the owner of your computer) can prevent common computer problems by simply cleaning your computer! People clean everything else in their lives; car, house, clothes, desk, furniture, upholstery, our bodies, etc. Why do we not feel it necessary to keep our computers clean?  I had a customer today (who shall remain nameless to protect the identity of the embarrassed) who called me to evaluate the problem with her computer. I drove 20 miles, charged her a trip charge, and now will have to charge her the repair cost, to fix an issue that could simply have been prevented by utilizing common skills we all employ on a daily basis.

I arrive on-site to examine the following problem, artfully depicted for you in this dramatic re-enactment of the actual events:

Customer: "It's been working fine right there for 6 years. One day it just quit working and now it won't boot up."

Me: " Yes Ma'am. Do you mind if I have a look at it?"

(while saying this, the actor motions as if to crawl under the desk to inspect the hardware)

Customer: "Oh, yeah. Sure."

(Actor crawls under desk and begins to visually inspect the computer. Moments later, the actor crawls back out with an aghast expression on his face.)

Me: "I think I know what your problem is Ma'am. Your computer's power supply is fried."

Customer: "Are you sure? What would cause that?"

Me: (while carefully maintaining a concerned expression of professionalism and trying not to gag on the dust I just inhaled from peering behind that PC) "Ma'am, I'm pretty sure it's related to the large amount of dust clogging every possible air-flow entry into your PC. How about I take it back to the shop and clean it up a little bit? Then I'll call you with the estimate for repair."

Customer "Ok. That'll be fine. Thanks" (Customer now disappears into a black-hole, back into a world where dust and dirt are invisible to humans and never cause any problems.)

Seriously folks, this is an issue that doesn't require rocket science.

Take a moment to look at the PC below. Keep in mind this is AFTER driving back 20 miles with a 60 mph wind blowing through the cab of the truck to clean some of this mess out. I only got the picture when I put it on the bench to work on it, at which time it's less than 50% as dirty as it was when I picked it up. (Which reminds me that now I have to clean my truck.. grr)


Now, THIS is not what a computer should look like. Let's go over the basic instructions for cleaning your PC.

  1. Unplug all the cables in the back of your PC. (Relax.. most every really important cable in your PC will only fit back into one slot, so it's not like you're going to get confused putting it back together.)
  2. Take the computer outside, to your garage, wherever you can that you won't blow dust all over your house.
  3. If you are looking at the Front of your computer, then simply unscrew the screws on the BACK right side. Some computers will have push-buttons that make this easier.
  4. Slide the left panel back with your hand. Your computer may vary, but it's either back, down, up, whatever. It's the ONLY direction the panel will slide in... push it that way until it pops off in your hand.
  5. Holding a can of compressed air UPRIGHT, blow all the crap off your computer...  if you have air left in the can, you're not done! It's a $3.00 can of air so don't be frugal ok?
    (If you turn the can upside down and get that cool white looking frosty stuff, stop. It means you're blowing compressed nitrogen gas on your computer parts and you're literally cryo-freezing your computer. Stop doing that. No, really. Stop it. Ok... go play with the can for a few minutes.. you know you want to freeze something. I can never resist the urge to turn it upside down and play with something either... go get it out of your system before you continue cleaning the computer. Be careful. These new cans of air have an agent called Bittergent, designed to make your kids stop huffing air. Yes, your kids WILL do this at one time or another. This stuff makes it taste so nasty that they won't ever do it again but it leaves a nasty residue of boric acid on your hands and surfaces so be sure to wash your hands before you eat or play with your food... Although, really, if you can clean all this crap out of your computer and then not wash your hands before eating, then cleaning your computer is the least of your problems.)
  6. Pay special attention to any fans you have and clean them well. These fans have very weak motors since they're only designed to move air inside your case. The actual weight of the dust on the blades can be enough to make the fan balance get messed up, kind of like when your ceiling fan rattles when it's off balance. That extra strain on the fan motor can wear out the fan. No fan = no cooling for your pc = pc overheats = you wind up paying guys like me a lot of money to clean it and then repair it, which this article exists to avoid in the first place.
  7. Reverse steps 4-1. Put the panel back on, put screws back in (if you have them), and plug it back in.
  8. Enjoy your clean pc for another month or three.
  9. Three months later, come back to this page and follow all these instructions once again. (By the way, if you're already here for the second time... Hi! Thanks for returning!)


Cost Benefit Analysis:

Let's compare apples to apples here:

ist2_82094_compressed_airOption 1: Be a Lazy Slob

Computer Guy's Travel Charge to Get to you (minimum $25.00)
Hourly rate for fixing your PC: $65.00
Replacement Power Supply for your Computer: $35.00
Lost time (about 3 days): Variable, depending on the value of your aggravation and wasted time.
Total Price: $125.00+

Option 2: Be Proactive
Compressed Air: $3.00
Not having anyone ever ever ever see the horrible shape your computer was in = Priceless!




  1. But where was the 50 lb cat that should have contributed to all that dust?

  2. You'd think so right? However, this was in an Office.... no pets. (Unless the computer ate it)

  3. Sweet Jeebus, I sneezed just looking at that thing.

  4. The best part is that most of dust is dead skin cells. Or, what I like to call, Man-dander.

  5. I quite agree with the article but its informative too.


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