Back to Home Page

Back to Computer tips

 Technical Articles

 "If you can't fix it, maybe it shouldn't be on your boat"

So you’ve heard that quote before eh? Not surprising as it comes from famous cruisers, The Pardey’s. But how many of you have a computer on board? I would guess about 3/4 of you by now. This article is about picking the low fruit, that is, addressing the problem you are most likely to have that you probably can fix with this information.

One of the most common hardware failures, is one you can probably fix!

So, your puter is OK for a while and then it starts behaving erratically. It may have a ‘hot smell’ as well. The it finally shuts down. If you take it to “the shop” you may be told just about anything out of ignorance or avarice but the result is the same, you fork out large sums of cash when it may have been something you could do aboard in 30 minutes for the cost of having a small screw driver and a pair of tweezers.

To explain; your computer has a processor, the heart of the beast, and it creates heat. So much heat that a heat exchanger and fan is built in. Any environment, but particularly a boat, has dust in the air. The dust eventually clogs the fine grill on the heat exchanger, the processor overheats and runs poorly and may even die but most likely just shuts down. Especially if you catch the problem soon enough, you can save your computer without putting yourself into the smiling hands of a person I call a techno-snot. A twenty something with a cheap degree from a cut-rate uni that knows little more than you, but little is enough to cash in on baby boomers, renown for their/our Luddite tendencies.

The photo captions give step by step instructions on how to do this simple housekeeping chore that may save you hundreds or thousands, on either laptop or PC. Pc’s are standardised enough that the pics will cover almost all around however, laptops can vary widely. The example used here is an ACER Aspire series. This may be one of the most popular models of all time so the example may be useful to a lot of puterheads.

So now please scroll down this page for the complete illustrated tutorial on how to save your computer from the dust.

Do I really need to remind readers that you must disconnect the power lead before getting your hands in the thing?!? Good, I didn't think so....

 The dust ‘worm’ in the tweezer was the first time the author braved the guts of a laptop. This older computer was more difficult to ‘operate on’ but at the time it was believed there was nothing to loose so why not try. It worked! Over the years since then, many TCP puters have been saved by this important little scrap of information.

 OK... First We will do the PC then the LapTop.

The internal layout of these things was worked out back in the eighties and hasn't changed a lot since. That is good for us users. Besides the maintenance issues being streamlined, parts replacement is way to easy.

First step, undo the two fasteners on the back of the left cover (as seen from the front). Notice that all cords have been removed!

Notice the fan mounted on the back panel. That is to cool the power supply. It is important but less critical than your processor cooler and is assessable to a vacuum cleaner without disasembly.

 After removing the two screws, pry backwards on the cover and it will pop free. There are metal tabs facing forward to lock the cover in place.

 On this older model the fan has a duct that is mounted to the frame. It is removed by placing a finger in a tab at bottom and prying upwards. It will then lift out.

 Looking from above; this newer model has the fan duct simply attached to the cover. You can see the forward facing metal tabs that lock the cover in place when shoved forward.

 And behind that ducting is the target. This computer was due for this cleaning but the dust on the fan isn't where it really needs the clean. See the four screws in the corners of the fan? Remove those and....

 Now you see the heat exchanger grill that is about 50% covered in dust. A vacuum cleaner works good to clean the dust off the grill. Avoid doing anything that forces the dust in deeper on the metal cooling fins. Whilst you are inside, a general clean up is a good idea. Whatever is in there today will likely wind up in your heat exchanger some day. The rest of the components inside are not terribly sensitive to the dust. Notice the long dark pieces fastened into the yellow bars? That is the memory, or RAM (random access memory) To increase memory in this computer, you would purchase more powerful 'chips' and simply pull out the ones in place and push the new ones in. Shamefully simple.

 So now you see that the heat exchanger has been vacuumed clean and the screw driver is pointing at a big component. That is the Hard Drive, or permanent memory. The RAM memory mentioned above, is active only when the power is on. The hard drive stores data like your operating system, all programs and all your saved documents and files. I point this out because changing the hard drive is another very easy task and powerful new hard drives are available cheap, but that doesn't do you any good if you don't know how easy it is to replace it. Two screws on either side of the frame (you will also have to remove the other side cover) and pull out the two plugs stuck into the back of it. Get you new hard drive and reverse the process. Done. But... now you will have to re-install your operating system on the new hard drive and that is another article to come.

 Lap Tops!

 Make sure the laptop is turned off and the charging cord removed!

A laptop has an advantage over the PC in that if it is running exceptionally hot due to dust, you may be able to actually feel it by placing your hand on the underside of the computer.

The fan exhaust is easy to identify when the computer is running, just feel for the warm air being blown out the side. Under that is the panel to access the heat exchanger on this model. Three screws is all.

 Besides the screws, this panel has tabs that must be considered. Laptops just love using these things, always be careful before forcing anything.

 Here is the working end of the laptop. Sometimes the fan is located right on top of the processor but on this one the processor is where the red arrow is indicating. The copper thing diagonally across the unit is a duct for warm air to flow to the heat exchanger. The fan casing is obvious (I hope!).

 Now remove the screws holding the upper fan casing in place. Four of them.

 And there you are. Lift the cover and inspect. This computer has no dirt to show. If it did it would be piled up against the fine grill where the red arrow is pointing. The photo at the top of this page showing the 'dust worm' was taken off a grill just like this one.

Clean your grill carefully, don't bash anything around and then reverse the process.