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During the last few days, my screen froze a couple of times. After opening the chassis I discovered plenty of dust beneath my mother board. I wonder if that can cause short circuits.

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up vote 18 down vote accepted

Dust is a problem from the standpoint of blocking fan vents, or, if deep enough, actually insulating parts, causing overheating, but unless it contains substantial amounts of corrosive or conductive material (in which case you shouldn't be breathing it), it won't damage the electrical components (beyond any overheating damage).

What could happen, in some circumstances, is condensation inside the box, mixing with dust and creating a conductive sludge. This would generally only occur if you bring the box in from an extremely cold environment (below 0C, roughly) into a humid indoor environment. The protection from this is to wrap the box tightly in plastic before bringing it indoors, and leave it wrapped for a couple of hours, while it has time to warm up.

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Thanks. Glad to know. –  Holy Sheet Sep 27 '12 at 21:38
    
You wouldn't quite need a frozen case to cause condensation, all that's necessary is that it's colder than the dew point of the environment it's in. Still not likely to happen though, unless you have a habit of storing your computer in the refrigerator. –  Joren Sep 28 '12 at 11:54
    
@Joren -- Yeah, for typical winter indoor conditions you'd need to have the equipment near 0C coming in for serious condensation to occur, but it could occur, eg, taking a computer out of an 18C computer center into a tropical environment. None of these scenarios are particularly common, but it's good to be aware of them. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 28 '12 at 21:54
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It hardly will cause short circuits, but it definitely leads to overheating. Your screen frozes are the consequences of this. You should clean everything with dry soft brush. Also check that all coolers are rotating. The speed of CPU fan you can see in BIOS/Power Management. Optionally you can see there the speed of other fans if they do support the feature.

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Thanks for the prompt answer. Would have checked it, if it were possible to do so. –  Holy Sheet Sep 27 '12 at 21:40
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No way. Unless it over heats. Trust me, I have cleaned server motherboards deployed in Afghanistan for months with inches of dust caked on, still running fine. And as long as you keep them cool, they will survive.

Now, optical drives. That's a different story.

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Thanks for the prompt answer. Would have checked it, if it were possible to do so for multiple answers. You've worked as a technician for the army? –  Holy Sheet Sep 27 '12 at 21:41
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that reads exactly like something I would say: You've worked as a technician for the army? Holy Shit –  Sean Cheshire Sep 28 '12 at 3:09
    
You need to be careful how you clean, though. A domestic vacuum cleaner, for example, typically causes a significant amount of static electricity, which is perfectly capable of frying the motherboard... –  Bill Michell Sep 28 '12 at 11:57
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Despite my computer case usually not containing a lot of dust, I've had a problem not very long ago with my CPU overheating. The reason was a small fluff of dust between the CPU fan and the CPU cooling block/fins. After removing it, things were a lot cooler and quiter. As for actual damage, the built-in fail-safes like temperature limits will easily prevent that.

I guess dust can be a problem or not depending on where it crawls exactly.

I am more interested though in how to properly make hardware dust-free in a safe way. There's a lot of discussion if a hoover is bad for this, because of the static, but I find that a hoover is the quickest tool for the job. I like how it makes the fans spin when you get close to them, immediately sucking the dust from underneath them, something which seems like a rather tedious chore when it has to be done with nothing but a cloth.

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