I have a tendency to fear hardware problems. That might sound odd since I regularly strip, clean and reassemble machines without a second thought. However, one or two of my possessions are true antiques, which means the chances of finding spare parts is almost nil, and one or two were bought in other parts of the world. And that suggests an added layer of logistics, in getting replacement parts … if an issue warrants replacement parts.
I thought perhaps I was going to be stuck doing that today, when the Inspiron went through a series of arbitrary shutdowns, some within seconds of powering up, and causing some minor data glitches in the process. When I did get to a full desktop, I noticed a severe lag in moving the mouse, slow window redraws, and a constant whir of the fans.
The bad part was, it began to do the same things regardless of the distro. I began to think something was injured on the inside of the machine, and I would have to do some serious analysis — the kind that makes you wonder if a computer is worth keeping or not.
But instead of panicking and throwing the entire business out the window, I decided to step away for a few minutes, and take a sidelong look at the issue. I like to do that sometimes: Occupy myself with a completely unrelated matter, and let a problem roll around the back of my mind for a while.
And so while I was cleaning the house and sorting out some papers, I thought about the issue and the information I had. In my experience, when a part fails, it fails completely, so suffering performance like that was unlikely to be anything totally busted. On the other hand, when environmental conditions become subpar, the machine tends to work against itself, which can make things move slowly.
And that seemed closer to what I was experiencing. And that got me to thinking perhaps the fans were the biggest clue, alongside the arbitrary power cuts. Both of those suggest overheating, and perhaps that there was something keeping the center of the machine from cooling properly.
And then I got to thinking, “When was the last time I opened the case on that laptop fully?” I occasionally shoot compressed air at the vents, but I realized I hadn’t pulled it apart in at least two years. Maybe more.
So, armed with the belief that the software was not to blame, but that it was just poor hardware maintenance, I flipped the machine, pulled the four screws that held the keyboard down, and lifted off the heat plate.
It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, but the fins on the heat sink were definitely dusty. I blew compressed air throughout the center chamber, the fans and under the cards. I cleared out the PCMCIA bays and drive tray, and even lifted off the palmrests and cleared out a few crumbs.
Nothing terrible, nothing worth taking pictures of. But definitely a little unsavory.
And after reassembling, things seem to be better. Boot times improved, there is no more lag or redraw problems. I don’t know if a proper cleaning made it happy or not, but the effort was not in vain. I’ll keep messing with it over the next few days, and see if the demons are gone.