Don’t let dust bunnies slow you down

An interesting thing happened when I was looking for a topic for this month’s column. Two friends of mine had an issue with their personal computers randomly turning off in the middle of doing various things. I took that as a sign that maybe others were having the same problem, and that this month’s topic should cover what to do in that situation.

As usual, let me start by saying just because your situation seems similar to this one doesn’t mean that the steps listed will be just what you need. You may have a completely different problem, so you should always be careful when performing work on your computer. I advise speaking to someone who knows your system, and your particular circumstances. That said, the information below did help out at least two individuals. So, perhaps you will find it useful as well.

Lori asks, “I have a Dell™ computer that keeps going into power save mode and then it won’t wake up. I call Dell™ for suggestions and it is $50.00 for him to tell me what to do. NOT! I have turned off the power and unplugged and re-plugged and it still won’t come on. Any suggestions?”

The first thing to figure out is when the issue is happening. Is it going into power save mode in the middle of working, or just going into power save mode when you leave it for a while? Although they seem the same, these are actually two different problems.

If the computer is shutting down after leaving it for some time, and then not waking up then most likely you need to adjust your power settings. In Windows 7 you can find the power settings in Start -> Control Panel -> System and Security -> Power Options. When you look at the power options, you can click “Change Plan Settings.” In the window that opens, you can then change how long it takes for your computer to go to sleep.

If it’s a computer that you leave plugged in, I recommend changing that to “Never.” It is a little less energy efficient, but if you’re turning your computer off when you’re not using it for more than a few hours, then you won’t see a noticeable difference in your electric usage.

Of course, the case we are talking about is one in which the computer shuts down unexpectedly in the middle of working. That is another matter altogether. There are many things that can cause that type of behavior, and some of the most common ones are hardware issues. Unfortunately, to correct these problems, you will need to open the case and get inside the machine. At this point you should evaluate whether or not you’re comfortable working inside your computer’s open case. If not, then please contact someone locally who can help you.

When computers are shipped, many times the parts inside them come slightly unseated. Even though your computer may function, you might notice strange issues like slowness, or random rebooting. It’s an easy fix to gently push the memory back into place. If you hear a “click” then you know that was a problem. Remember though, push gently.

Next, check the CPU fan. If you give it a little flick with your finger, does it turn easily? If not, it likely has become caked with dust and needs to be cleaned. Either that, or it may need completely replaced. When the fan doesn’t turn properly, the CPU will overheat and cause it to shut down to protect itself from burning out. Do not use a computer that has this issue, it will likely cause permanent damage.

Some computers also have a fan on their graphics cards. You can try the same steps as for the CPU fan to check and resolve the problem.

Computers need regular general maintenance. You can take care of this with a simple can of air available at most retail stores. Simply blow out all the dust that accumulates in the computer. It doesn’t matter how clean you keep your house, you’re going to be amazed at the amount of dust that accumulates in there.

It turns out that Lori’s problem was with dust. Blowing all that dust out of the computer resolved the issue, and saved her quite a bit of money. Hopefully, you will have similar results.

For more information on how to safely work inside your computer, visit and look for Powered Up.

Ed VanHoose is the Digital Communications Administrator/IT Manager for the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives in Springfield.