Monday, March 28, 2011

How to Clean a Laptop?

Cleaning out a laptop computer is just as important if not more important then a desktop.  Laptops are small and often dissipating heat quickly and properly can be a problem.  As such even a small amount of dust can cause a laptop to overheat!  Unfortunately cleaning a laptop can be more difficult due to their small size and depending on how the laptop was designed (in other words how hard the manufacture made it to be taken apart).  The laptop I will be using as an example for this post is an Asus N90S.
Similar to cleaning a desktop, you will need the following supplies:
  • Laptop’s manual!
  • Damp Rag
  • Screw Driver (most likely small!)
  • Vacuum (make sure you use a non-metal end!)
  • Compressed Air
Before starting, make sure you power down the laptop and remove the battery.  Once power down, start by cleaning the outside of the laptop, including the keyboard, trackpad and screen, a vacuum and some compressed air work good for the keyboard.  Be sure to vacuum off any vents on the bottom or side of the laptop.
Once the outside is clean, consult the manual to determine how to access the cooling fans and cooling fins.  If your lucky you may be able to access them from the bottom without having to remove anything; however, more than likely you will have to remove at the minimum a cover or two.  With my laptop, there is a single cover that covers the majority of the components as well as the cooling fan.  There are six screws which require a small screw driver to remove.
bottom of laptop indicating srew locations
Once I have removed the screws, I can lift the cover up.  Be sure to place the cover and screws in a safe place!  Once the cover is off, I can use the vacuum to vacuum of the fan and as much dust as possible.  Next I will remove the fan to move to access the cooling fins, there is a screw on each side that needs to be removed.  Also make sure to remove any power cables to the fan.
bottom of laptop with cover removed indicating fan screw locations
Once the fan is removed, I can use the compressed air to blow out the fins, make sure to blow from the inside of the laptop out!  With my laptop, there are two sets of fins back to back; one for CPU and one for the video card.
laptop with cooling fan removed
Once done, simply reverse the steps, screw the fan back in, plug the fan power cable back in, and screw on bottom cover.  If the laptop had a lot of dust in it; you should notice an immediate difference once you power on the laptop!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cleaning a Desktop Computer

To start with you will need a few items:

  • Screwdriver – depends on your case.
  • Damp cloth
  • Compressed Air
  • Vacuum (make sure you have plastic end!)

Before getting started make sure the computer is off and unplug the power to the computer.  You can leave the rest of the cables plugged in.

front of desktop with dustOnce you have everything you need, start by vacuuming off all visible dust on the outside of the case as well as around any vents.  If desired you can also use the damp cloth to wipe down the outside of the computer.  A couple of places dust loves to collect are between optical drives and floppy drives.  Compressed air can be used to blow out any dust between drives that cannot be vacuumed out.  All cases vary but with the picture on right of a Dell, dust loves to collect around the bottom vents which are covered and around the floppy drive.  Vacuuming and cleaning around the outside of the case will help to minimize the amount of dust that enters the computer.

back of desktopsOnce the outside of the computer has been cleaned, it is time to clean the inside of the computer.  To do this you will need to open the case, if you are not sure how to open the case, refer to manual (unless of course threw it away, its most likely in Chinese anyway!).  Regular cases usually have two to three screws that hold the side panel on, which is what the computer in the picture on the left has.  Simply remove the screws and depending the panel either hinge it open or slide the panel to the rear of the computer and pull off.  OEM computer cases such as Dell often have special cases which are arguably easier to open.  In the picture, the Dell computer has a button on the top and bottom which you simply press and the entire computer hinges open.

inside desktop

Dust in CPU Cooling FinsOnce open (be sure to check out all the cool gizmos inside!) use the vacuum to gently suck up as much dust as possible, make sure to get in all the corners, between wires, cooling fins and around fans.  Just to note with the vacuum, make sure you use a vacuum that has a plastic or at least non-metal end; also a brush attachment comes in handy.  You may have to remove covers or wires to get to all locations.  For example with the Dell computer, the CPU has a green shroud that hinges up; or can be removed completely.  You can use the damp cloth to wipe dust off any of the case’s surfaces, just make sure you do not drip any water or get any electronics wet!  Once the majority of the dust has been removed use the compressed air to remove any remaining dust that cannot be reached.  One major area to note is the CPU cooler, CPU coolers generally contain a large number of fins packed closely together, which as you may be able to guess collect dust (pictured to the right above, the other CPU cooler pictured above does not have fins that are quite as close together)!  Use the compressed air to blow any dust out from between the fins; by placing the vacuum on the opposite side you can vacuum up most of the dust that is blown out.

Some of you may be wondering why I recommend using a vacuum rather than the compressed air to remove dust.  The reason is quite simple, what happens when you blow out a computer full of dust?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Whens the Last Time You cleaned Your Computer?

Now, I am not talking about uninstalling old programs or defragmenting your hard drive, I am talking about cleaning the physical computer (dust, dirt, and grime).  Most people that own a computer find out that nothing collects dust like a computer; the reason for this is primarily the fact that your computer has fans that pull the air through the components to cool them.
This is an issue that I have come across quite often and is something that affects your computer’s life and performance in a bad way (keep reading for a list of problems that not cleaning your computer can cause!).  Usually it starts out by the customer wondering why is their computer screaming bloody murder; it used to be silent?  My follow up question is usually: “When is the last time you cleaned it out?”  Answers such as “never” or “I vacuum around it” or “I dust the top of it” are common, not that cleaning out around it or dusting it off are bad.  You also need to clean inside the computer!  Now, I should note that it is common for a computer to become louder if the computer is working hard, but once it has cooled off it should return back to normal sound levels.
So what happens when you do not clean your computer?  Well, I have already mentioned one, your computer starts screaming, which is caused by the fact that the fans are running at a higher RPM in an attempt to cool components.  As for a few more:
  • Overheated computer – fans, grills, cooling fins all become covered in dust resulting in poor heat transfer, as a result the computer runs the fans at a higher RPM in order move more air over the components.
  • Lockups, Blue Screens, or Mysterious crashes – generally caused by dust short circuiting components or overheated components
  • Poor performance – usually caused by overheated components, if this continues components may fail and “burn out.”
  • Smoking computer – do I need to say what caused this or what is happening?
When it comes to computers; heat kills!  By the way, this applies to laptops as well as desktops.  I am not going cover how to actually clean the computer, I will save that for a later post.
So, how often should you clean your computer?  That depends greatly on the environment, how often you use your computer, and the type of case.  In general I would say every 6 months for a desktop and about every 3 months for a laptop.  Now if your computer is a dirty environment or is just a natural dust magnet you may need to clean it every 2-3 months.  And, on the other hand, if your computer does not get that dusty you may be able to get away with every year or more.
Now, there are a few things you can do to help keep the computer clean:
  • Location – the floor is a bad place!  If possible place it up on the desk.  And the bed is really bad for a laptop, so is the lap, but oh well!
  • Vacuum and dust – regularly dust and vacuum the outside of the computer, also try to get any vents or “crevices” where dust collects.
  • Use a dust cover – I do not recommend this unless the computer is in a really dirty environment.  Just make sure you clean the cover often as it does block airflow and any dust on the cover will block air flow even more!
  • Computer case – this is quite technical so I am not going to say much, but a positive airflow case (Fan CFM is greater than Fan CFM out) well help keep dust out especially if you can place dust protectors on the fans.  If you would like to know more about this let me know and maybe I can do a post on this as well.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cleaning the Aftermath of a Virus Part 2

This is a continuation of part 1 of cleaning up a virus: http://computer-skills-online.blogspot.com/2011/03/cleaning-aftermath-of-virus-part-1.html.
In this part, I’m going to go over how to return your computer to working condition, that is if it is not already.  If you are lucky, removing the virus removed all the problems with the computer.  More than likely though just removing the virus did not fix all the problems and your anti-virus program most likely is not up to the task.  Now, I can’t hope to cover all the problems that the virus may have caused, but I can cover one of the most common problems – no internet access or internet that redirects to, some shall we say, questionable sites.  The second most common problem that viruses cause is shutting down anti-virus programs and Windows applications, such as Task Manager.  Normally, removing the viruses fixes this problem.  If not I would suggest uninstalling and reinstalling your anti-virus program.
Messing up your browsers internet access has to be one of the most common problems that viruses cause.  Combine that with the fact that there are so many ways a virus can mess up internet access; it can take some work to get your browser working again.
There are a couple main ways that a virus blocks access to the internet:
  • Configures the host file with incorrect entries.
  • Change proxy settings
  • Re-configure connection settings
The hosts file is a simple text file that contains web addresses and their respective IP addresses.  By changing the IP address to that of a malicious site, the virus can have the browser redirect from a legitimate site to the malicious site.  The hosts file in general is not used by the Windows Operating system so it is generally easy to determine if this file has been tampered with.  Normally there are either no entries or at most an entry for the localhost (127.0.0.1).  The hosts file can be found under “My Computer >> Local Disk C (assuming Windows is installed to the C drive) Windows >> System 32 >> Drivers >> Etc.”  To open the file right click on the file, click Open, from the list of available programs, use Notepad to open the file.  Below I have pasted the contents of a hosts file, the pound (#) symbol in front of the line indicates that the line is commented out and not active.  With this hosts file there are no active entries.
# Copyright (c) 1993-2009 Microsoft Corp. # # This is a sample HOSTS file used by Microsoft TCP/IP for Windows. # # This file contains the mappings of IP addresses to host names. Each # entry should be kept on an individual line. The IP address should # be placed in the first column followed by the corresponding host name. # The IP address and the host name should be separated by at least one # space. # # Additionally, comments (such as these) may be inserted on individual # lines or following the machine name denoted by a '#' symbol. # # For example: # #      102.54.94.97     rhino.acme.com          # source server #       38.25.63.10     x.acme.com              # x client host
# localhost name resolution is handled within DNS itself. #    127.0.0.1       localhost #    ::1             localhost
If your hosts file contains a number of entries (especially if it contains a large number of anti-virus sites) I would suggest removing all the entries except the commented # lines.
windows host file
The second most common area that causes problems is proxy settings.  This is starting to become the most common.  This situation can be quickly remedied in Internet Explorer by going to Tools (or round gear icon) >> Internet Options >> Connections tab >> LAN Settings (near the bottom) >> Uncheck the option to use a proxy server, or if you do use a proxy server (not very common) make sure configure it with the correct IP address.  The virus usually changes the proxy settings to use an incorrect IP address that either does not exit or leads to a malicious website.
internet proxy settings
The third common area is Network Connection (adapter) settings.  To access the Network settings go to Start >> Control Panel >> Network and Internet >> Network and Sharing Center >> Change Adapter Settings (it is on the left side).  This will bring up a list of network adapters installed on your system.  Select the adapter that you use to connect to the internet with, most likely “Local Area Connection” or if you have Wi-Fi “Wireless Network Connection.”  Right click on the adaptor and click on Properties this will bring up the adaptors properties.  There will be a list of protocols associated with the adapter.  From the list you want to select “Internet Protocol Version 4” and click Properties.  Here you will be able to configure the IP address and DNS addresses for the connection.  With most connections the IP Address and DNS address should be set to obtain automatically.  I would recommend that you write the settings down before you make any changes in the event that the settings are legitimate.
Network Internet Connection Settings

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cleaning the Aftermath of a Virus Part 1

Just because you have the nasty virus out of the system does not mean that computer is clean or that everything necessary works!  I plan on making this a two part post, with the first part on making sure the computer is completely clean!
For the second post on returning your computer to working condition check here: http://computer-skills-online.blogspot.com/2011/03/cleaning-aftermath-of-virus-part-2.html
For the cleaning process there are a couple of utilities that I recommend:
First off, I recommend performing a full system scan of all hard drives on your computer using your anti-virus software, that is assuming it has not be permanently disabled by the virus.  If your anti-virus software is damaged I would recommend uninstalling it (or if available repair install); then reinstall the anti-virus software.  Also if you cannot get your anti-virus program to work, you can use the free Microsoft Security Essentials and perform a full system scan.
Once you have performed a full system scan with your anti-virus software and it comes out clean (you may have to perform more than one scan to accomplish this); I suggest installing Spybot Search & Destroy.  Update the program and perform a system scan.  Most likely Spybot will find a few leftovers that your anti-virus software missed.  Like with the full scan with your anti-virus software you may have to scan more than once until you get a clean system.
Next install Norton’s Power Eraser tools.  This tool is capable of doing a “deep” system scan.  I recommend using the option that requires restarting the computer to scan for Rootkits (hidden nasties of the worse kind!).
Once you are done scanning you can uninstall these programs, though keeping Spybot may be a wise decision!  Once the programs are uninstalled, I recommend running CCleaner to clean up temporary files left over from the uninstalled program as well as other unneeded files.
Now, you may be wondering if my anti-virus software says the computer is clean why all the work of installing these additional programs?  Because, most likely your anti-virus program missed something, which is common even with the best anti-virus program.  Spybot is particularly good at finding everything on a system; however, even Spybot may miss something that your anti-virus program found.
Now as a final step I recommend deleting all System Restore points.  In Windows 7 this easily accomplished by going to the Control Panel (Start >> Control Panel) >> System and Security >> System >> Advanced System Settings (it is on the left side pane).  Click the System Protection Tab >> click Configure >> and click Delete.  This will remove all previous restore points.  The reason for removing system restore points is to ensure that you do not use System Restore to restore back to a point where you had the virus!
System Protection Configuration
In Windows XP you can find the options under Control Panel (Start >> Control Panel) >> Performance and Maintenance >> System >> click the System Restore tab.  Check the box to turn off System Restore, then click Apply.  All previous restore points should be removed.  Once it is done removing system restore points simply uncheck the box to turn off system restore.
System Restore Windows XP