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Performing Regular System Checkups

Author: Steve Burke, GamersNexus

Performing regular system checkups is important to sustaining a healthy PC. This isn’t true just for system builders, but for all PCs in general – component performance is affected by temperature, drivers, malware, and age. Regular checkups are easy and may alert you to impending failures soon enough that they’re preventable. In the very least, such a discovery would limit system down-time.

Let’s start with a baseline benchmark for the system.

Baseline Benchmark

After completing component and driver installation, a baseline benchmark provides a means to certify that (1) the drivers are functioning, and (2) the system is performing as expected given its component outfit.

Downloading software like Unigine will provide a free means to evaluate component performance with an assigned “score.” Benchmarks can fluctuate from test-to-test, but the scores should generally be within a few percentage points of each other.

We’d recommend running one of these utilities to evaluate system performance, then make a note of the score for future recall. It’s good practice to run the benchmarking utility every now and then – maybe once per year or once per major driver revision – just to make sure the system is equal to or exceeding previous benchmark scoring.

If the benchmark metric has significantly fallen, there’s a possibility that something’s wrong with the physical hardware (like dust causing a thermal build-up and subsequent throttling of the cores) or with the software (drivers, malware).

Temperature Checking

Temperature management and logging is fairly easy (and normally free for personal use). Tools like CAM, HW Monitor+, AIDA64, and SpeedFan can report component temperatures.

Check the idle temperature of your CPU and GPU after first build. Take a note of these somewhere for future recall – maybe with your benchmark score. Also take a note of loaded temperatures. A load can be generated by running 3DMark for CPU and GPU intensive tasks. Alternatively, playing a game that you’ll use again later (for the same test) serves as a real-world test.

Check the temperatures after a few minutes (we find that components tend to stabilize their max thermals after about 10-20 minutes). Log these numbers.

Software can be left running and monitored from time-to-time, or just executed at will. Check regularly to ensure that everything looks healthy. If there’s been a sudden spike in temperatures, it’s time to open up the system and inspect for dust or other issues (like a dead fan).

Hard Drive SMART Stats

SSDs and HDDs output a list of “SMART attributes” to the system, reporting device health and longevity. Tools like HD Tune can read storage device health, and will report how many failed reads and writes have occurred. More importantly, they’ll also predict if a failure is impending, making the suggestion to clone and replace a hard disk or SSD prior to its death.

If you begin hearing “clunking” or experiencing slow performance for normal tasks (or storage tasks), we’d recommend checking SMART attributes for errors. Most utilities will report the stats in a fashion which is user-friendly.

Fun fact: Enterprise drives that use helium will sometimes report their remaining helium levels through SMART attributes.

Malware Sweep

A final, semi-regular occurrence should be malware sweeping. Determining if a system is infected isn’t always trivial, but checking for basic and common issues will help prevent ongoing, long-term issues. Malware can impact a system in many ways, not the least of which includes potential for identity theft, account hacking, or just malicious performance reductions.

We’d recommend using a tool like Avast to regularly sweep for malware. Note that some files may be read as “false-positives,” or threats that aren’t actually a threat – keep an eye out for those.

Quarantine any infected files rather than deleting them. If it turns out the file was needed and the warning was a false-positive, the file can be restored from the quarantined ‘chest.’ – GamersNexus


Cleaning PC Hardware

Author: Patrick Lathan, GamersNexus

It can be difficult to keep hardware clean, but it’s far less expensive than buying new parts to replace poorly-maintained ones. There are many techniques for cleaning, but a few basic tips apply to most situations.

First off, it’s worth spending some time preventing dust buildup. PCs should be kept off the carpet and away from dust if possible (especially the intake fans). Most modern gaming computer cases come with filters, which should be cleaned regularly. House air filters should also be replaced monthly—there’s no point in cleaning anything if the air is full of dust!

Cases which don’t come with filters should generally be avoided. At this point, there are plenty of inexpensive cases with filters, and there’s no real reason to do without. Cases and peripherals with glossy finishes should be treated with caution—anything that needs a plastic film to protect it during shipping will be a magnet for fingerprints. Seams in mice, crannies in keyboards, and fancy shapes on cases are all potential places for nasty substances to collect.

The most important tool for cleaning a PC is compressed air. Compressed air is sold practically everywhere, but it can cost up to $10 a can, and that adds up—it quickly becomes more cost-effective to buy an air compressor, which can be found for under $100. Air compressors are a useful tool in general, but they’re also very noisy, and they’re not the best idea for anyone with thin walls.

Fans can be cleaned with compressed air just like everything else, but it’s important not to let the blades spin freely and damage the bearings. It may help to wipe down the fan blades with a tissue beforehand, especially to get rid of the dust that cakes onto the leading edge of the blades.

Vacuuming ESD-sensitive components isn’t advised, hence the compressed air. As many internet commenters will testify, it’s possible to vacuum computers for years without damaging anything, but it still isn’t worth the risk—it’s much safer to take a PC outside and hose it down with compressed air, or to just vacuum the room once cleaning is finished. ESD-free vacuums do exist, but they’re far too expensive to be practical for the average gamer.

Keyboards don’t usually need any special tools to clean, and they’re refreshingly difficult to break. Most keycaps can be simply popped off (easier with mechanical keyboards), and the bare keyboard can be safely vacuumed. The keycaps themselves can be washed with normal soap and water, as long as they’re just plastic. Unless it’s had something spilled in it, there’s almost never any need to disassemble the keyboard further.

For thermal paste and general grime, rubbing alcohol is the best solution (higher alcohol concentrations are better). It dissolves dirt easily, but more importantly, it evaporates without leaving a residue, making it perfect for cleaning metal contacts or the bottom of a heatsink. On mice and other devices with small cracks, a toothpick can help clean what can’t be wiped off, without scratching plastic surfaces.

With some caution, cleaning a PC inside and out is absolutely safe—and a small investment of time and money to keep a PC clean means not having to spend money replacing melted components later on. – GamersNexus

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