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Spring has sprung and new life abounds. Unfortunately, not all of this new life is cute and cuddly. While the bunnies hopping along the bayou are harmless enough, the dust bunnies that grow inside your desktop computer can insulate electrical components and disrupt airflow within the case, significantly increasing the operating temperature of your system.

(I guess that would rank dust bunnies somewhere between actual bunnies and those of the Monty Python persuasion, which await you all with nasty, big, pointy teeth. The thing to remember is this: Keep clear of any cave entrances guarding sacred treasures, and the killer bunnies will keep clear of you.)

So, leaving the cave for the computer: electronic circuitry works most reliably at low temperatures. Higher temperatures can degrade and wear out any heat sensitive materials used in the electronic components, and fluctuations in temperature will stress many more components, causing them to expand and contract, wreaking havoc on the myriad of interconnects found on every circuit board in your PC.

Even more nefarious is something known as ‘metal migration’. This is especially prevalent in areas where high temperatures are combined with high humidity. I personally don’t know any place like that, do you, Houston?

Metal migration occurs when metal whiskers or dendrites grow from the conducting lines of a circuit board. With lines being spaced closer together in today’s devices, shorts between lines can occur, causing component failure and the untimely demise of your PC.

While there’s no immediate cure for metal migration, you can combat dust bunnies with some carefully aimed bursts from a can of compressed air. Don’t make the mistake of blowing any visible dust on external fans inside the case; you’ll need to muster up the courage to open your computer’s case for this job.

Before you crack your desktop’s case, you’ll first want to unplug everything, paying close attention to what went where. Opening your computer case can require anything from the simple press a tab to performing a certain series of knocks and bumps that would just as soon grant you passage to Diagon Alley as it would open your case. When in doubt, get online and search for the instructions on opening the case to your particular model of PC. Trust me: three minutes of Googling is roughly equivalent to ten minutes spent super-gluing broken bezels and tabs back into place…

Be careful not to unseat anything or tug on any wires that would loosen something. Actually, this is a good time to take a look inside your computer and try to identify all the major parts. Again, a quick search for ‘schematic’ and the model of your PC should turn up what you’re looking for. Of course, you don’t want to do this from the computer you’ve got opened up. If you don’t have a second computer around, print them out for handy reference before open the PC.

If you have pets or smokers in close proximity to the PC, you may even want to take the PC outside for this, as smoke and pet hair act like dust bunny steroids. Who knows, you may have a bunny who can bat .400 in there…

Aside from removing any obvious animal life from the PC, you’ll want to make sure that both the fan over your PC’s processor and it’s power supply are clean. If the situation is really bad, you can brush debris off the fan blades, away from the processor or power supply. After that, you’ll want to blow them out with your can of compressed air. Since it’s possible to damage your fan by spinning the blades too quickly as you apply the compressed air, keep them in place with the end of a plastic disposable pen, cotton swab, or something similarly non-conductive.

Blow off any exposed circuit boards, taking care not to get too close to the boards with the air, as pressurized air has been known to dislodge shoddily affixed chips and components. If there are any coffee or soda stains in the base of your PC, first, count yourself very lucky that you still have a running PC, and second, get a slightly damp cloth to scrub them away.

You can also inspect components to make sure that everything is properly seated, or plugged in securely where its supposed to be plugged in. The schematic for your PC will help out with this. If you do need to physically touch any components inside the PC, make sure to touch something metal on the case first, to discharge any static electricity that may have built up on your person. Once everything has been dusted and it looks like a new PC on the inside again, its time to put everything back together and power it up.

If something came loose during your dusting, an error message will generally display on the BIOS screen or you may hear a series of beeps before its even able to get that far. Opening your case again and checking to make sure that everything is properly seated will generally fix the issue.

And if that doesn’t do it, you can just call it quits and head to Austin this weekend for Texas Linux Fest 2010. Happening this Saturday, April 10th, at the Marchesa Hall and Theater, the Texas Linux Fest is a one day event bringing Linux visionaries and gurus together with Linux enthusiasts from across the state of Texas and beyond. Jon “maddog” Hall will be on hand throughout the con, as will a number of notable guests, speaking on things like monitoring large scale Linux systems with OpenNMS, the Drizzle Database, Security Enhanced Linux for Mere Mortals, Ubuntu on the Arm processor and even a talk on Unicode. If you’re on Mac or Linux and you’ve ever noticed the
diamond-question-marks in place of oddly accented characters, this talk is for you.

I’ll be in attendance, so be sure to say ‘Hi’ if you head that way. Hit
for a schedule of panels, directions to the venue and details on registration (which they have made extremely reasonable for those who may be on an open source software style budget).

That’s it for this dust-bunny death-match and that’s that for BarretTime.

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