How To Keep Your PC Cool

Lordy, it’s hot. Well, hot if you’re British. Call it seasonable by sticky Manhattan standards or a bracing Spring cold snap for Aussies. But it’s over 90 in old money and the nation’s infrastructure is melting. Well, my kitchen PC has just fallen over again with a CPU thermal trip. So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s chaos out there. Which reminds me. We’ve never really discussed how to keep your PC cool. Given gaming is probably the only thing most of us do that loads up both CPU and graphics, this is an oversight. So here are my top eight tips for keeping your PC cool. Most of them won’t cost you a a penny and they could well help your games run faster.

Before we start, keeping our PC cool isn’t just about stopping it from falling over. The performance of modern processors and GPUs with their various ‘Turbo’ modes can vary substantially according to temperature. So a cool PC will often be a fast PC. In other words, more frames for your games.

I’d also emphasise that this isn’t just a guide to spending lots of money on fancy cooling kit. Most of the tips below will cost you nothing. What’s more, even relatively high end cooling kit is low cost compared to most PC components…

1. Keep it clean

Before you worry about upgrades or tweaks, just keeping the poor thing moderately clean will make a huge difference. The great enemy, of course, is dust. It builds up astonishingly quickly and will absolutely knacker the ability of components like fans and heat sinks to keep things cool.

Thus, your first step is to de-dust. Things to do include unplugging and shutting down your PC before you begin cleaning. I’d go for a little dismantling, too, to get at tricky to reach places. Make sure all fans and heat sinks have been dusted carefully, including the various vents and ports.

Ermegerd…

As for don’ts, they include trying to do this with the PC running and fans whirling, using water or sprays. Actually, there is an exception to using water and sprays. They can be used on the passive part of a CPU cooler once it’s been entirely extracted from the PC and separated from any electronics like fans or fan controllers. And it is incidentally a very good idea to remove the cooler entirely to give it a proper clean.

Vacuum cleaners can also be a huge help, but don’t just ram a high-suction nossle blindly into your PC. It won’t end well. So do take great care.

2. Reseat your critical coolers

If you’ve de-dusted properly, you’ll have removed your CPU cooler to give the fins a proper going over. This is also your chance to ensure that the cooler is properly seated with decent quality thermal paste when it goes back in.

A small tube of paste from an online PC shop is a very small investment but will pay dividends long term. As for how much paste, I favour multiple small dots place strategically around the CPU lid / heat spreader rather than a big dollop in the middle. If you have paste oozing from the sides once the heat sink is seated, you’ve overdone it.

3. Go with the flow

Adequate air flow is absolutely critical. The reason my kitchen PC is prone to thermal borkery is down to inadequate airflow in a hot environment. It’s squeezed into a tight corner with the main vents pretty well blocked. If it was a gaming rig, it would be a disaster.

Achieving good airflow requires attention both inside and outside your rig. First, make sure there’s enough space between your box and any external barriers to allow air to flow properly. In other words, do not ram it right up against the wall.

More fans is usually a good idea, but they do need to be pointing in the right direction…

Inside, do your best to give each component decent breathing space. You’ll often have, for instance, more than one slot that your video card can plug into. Don’t stack PCI and PCI Express cards closely together unless you absolutely have to. Some strategically-placed ties can help with the rats’ nest of cabling, too.

Also, in an ideal world you’ll have case fans at the front sucking in cool air and fans at the rear blowing out hot air for optimal flow across all your key components. Try not to have the fans fighting each other.

4. Use everything you got!

I’d be willing to bet an awful lot of you have case fans that aren’t plugged in. Well, plug them in and use them! Your motherboard will almost definitely have plenty of spare fan ports.

If you’re worried about noise, 120mm-plus case fans do not generate a great deal of din and will help hugely when it comes to getting hot air actually out of your PC. Otherwise, your CPU and graphics coolers will simply be pumping hot air round in circles. Hopeless.

On the subject of noise…

5. Have a proper play with your BIOS settings

Your options will vary pretty wildly depending on your motherboard and cooling hardware. But you will have options, that’s the critical thing. So jump into your BIOS and find out what they are. Very likely you’ll find all manner of controls for fan speeds and thermal triggers. Put a little gumption into it and you’ll soon find a decent compromise between cool and quiet.

Even the crappy Intel mobo in my kitchen PC has a tolerable range of fan controls.

Most motherboards these days also offer Windows apps giving you instant access to settings – check the manufacturer’s website for a download. That can be handy, for instance, if you want to run your rig super-silent most of the time and quick-jump into max cooling mode whenever you fire up a game.

6. Buy a better CPU cooler

If you’re running some kind of skanky OEM cooler that came with your CPU or a cheap PC several upgrade cycles past, do yourself a favour and buy a decent cooler. Roughly £30 / $40 buys you a really decent heatsink and fan combo with multi-socket compatibility that will last you several upgrade cycles. It’s a tiny investment given the long-term upsides. If you want examples, there are literally zillions to choose from. But a safe bet would be something like Cooler Master Hyper 612v2. Just make sure to do your due diligence in terms of space around your CPU socket and indeed your case. Make sure it’ll fit, in other words.

As for upgrading your graphics cooling, it’s a little more complicated, though hardly beyond the wit of most RPSers. If your card has the reference cooler, odds are it can be improved upon greatly. If it’s already some kind of custom design by the card maker (and many now are), I’d probably leave it alone.

7. Consider water cooling

I’m a big fan of water cooling. Today’s closed loop kits are affordable, easy to fit, zero maintenance and just bloody effective. Not much more than £50 / $60 will get you a decent single-fan water cooler with a 120mm radiator. You will need to check compatibility with your case, in terms of both fittings and space. But once you’ve gone water, you won’t want to go back.

Corsair’s H55 is a viable Water cooling is a perfectly viable £50 / $60 water cooler.

8. Don’t go passive

This may split opinion. But I’ve tried using huge passive (i.e. fanless) heat sinks for my CPU and never been entirely happy. In any case, a good water cooler is so very quiet, the advantage in terms of noise of a passive CPU cooler is marginal. So, don’t bother.

So that’s it, my top eight tips for a cooler, faster PC. Shout out your own tips, tricks and favourite cooling clobber below.

P.S. Anyone for tennis?

103 Comments

  1. sharkh20 says:

    Give it a slick black leather jacket. It will be cool forever.

  2. Xan says:

    > I’d be willing to bet an awful lot of you have case fans that aren’t plugged in.
    What kind of.. slander is that?

    • Stevostin says:

      Actually I am probably a bit stupid here but… I plug an extra fan. Then what ? Where do I fix it ? How ?

      • Premium User Badge

        Schmouddle says:

        Fix it wherever you like. Nevermind screws. Use duct tape. That is cool.
        And if you are a fan of flight simulators, you might be using 500mph tape. That is considered sub-zero attitude within the flightsim nut crowd.

        • dangrak says:

          Truly awful advice. If you are a flight sim buff, you want to aim the extra fan at your face, so you can feel like you are blowing through the sky at all times. and you will look like Beyonce

          • Premium User Badge

            Schmouddle says:

            Well I did not want to venture into these murky waters, but you asked for it!

            The setup you are describing only applies when flying WWI planes. Ask your spouse to mix well used kitchen oil with some laxative and put it into the fan drop by drop so fluid lands on your face. Superb simulation of castor oil effects on pilots.

            In case of WWII, skip the face-facing fan, first go to your local Linde or AirProduct shop a and buy two flasks – one with welding oxygen and second with carbon monoxide. Then drop by your local crystal meth dealer and buy a couple of grams. Have some of the meth your preffered way before flight and while flying, inhale pure oxygen and carbon monoxide in 2:1 ratio. Excellet simulation of everyday life of fighter pilot in their normal atmosphere and also being high on benzedrine (Allies) or pervitine (Axis).

            And in case of Korea and further on, you need to be sitting on very powerful (and noisy) industrial vacuum cleaner.

  3. GameCat says:

    As for number one – use small, soft and clean paintbrush to dust places that are hard to reach and use a can of pressurized air. The latter is good for cleaning laptop fans without opening the whole case.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      Rather than a can of pressurised air, I now use one of these.
      It’s only about 90% as good as canned air, but it never runs out which makes it much better value in the long run.

  4. steves says:

    I’m a fan of water cooling too, but, for an overclocked CPU I wouldn’t go for a single-fan thing like is pictured – get at least a 240mm one with 2 fans, otherwise pump & fan noise gets a bit much. 2 slower spinning fans are way quieter than one going flat out.

    For graphics cards, a single-fan closed loop cooler is fine, plus something like this.

    link to nzxt.com

    which as well as looking snazzy will make quite a difference, and let you overclock even more.

    Also, don’t smoke anywhere near your PC (or, you know, not at all!). I used to, and those images in the article…that’s pretty clean compared to a smokers PC.

    • SuicideKing says:

      What about leaks? Never tried liquid cooling, but someone always mentions leaks for non-custom loops, and I can’t help but think that a high-end air cooler (e.g. Noctua made) would just be more hassle free.

      • steves says:

        I have never had a leak. Not to say it’s impossible, but I’d imagine it’s way more likely with a custom loop ’cause you can spectacularly fuck that up yourself!

        For the GPU cooler, there’s no risk in my setup ’cause nothing that could leak wouldn’t do so anywhere bad (radiator is on front of case, and nothing is above PSU)

        If the CPU loop that vents out the top started spewing liquid anywhere though…that would be very bad. I am going to have to check if the warranty on a £90 cooler covers £600 worth of dead graphics card. I expect it might not.

        But, you know, it’s way less ugly than one of those (admittedly very effective) Noctua blocks, and don’t even start me on the brown fans. This stuff matters!

        • SuicideKing says:

          Aren’t the joints (like on the water blocks as well) most susceptible to leaks? Though yes, I’ve always thought custom loops would be riskier but I guess most enthusiasts on forums have more confidence in themselves than companies! Lol. Probably why they don’t talk about it. :D

          I don’t mind the heatsinks (I’m using a Hyper 212 variant from cooler master) but yeah those brown fans…and of course, CLLCs are just way neater.

          • kael13 says:

            Well, just like any plumbing job, do it properly and you’ll be fine. I dabbled for the first time in custom loops about 9 months ago and my rig is still going swimmingly (see what I did there).

            You should run your loop outside the case first to check everything works, it also helps with flushing out the last vestiges of flux from your radiators (which I hope you have already flushed!) Besides, it also just looks cool having tubing draped over the carpet and seeing your reservoir go all vortex-swirly.

            So yeah, make sure you buy decent fittings and fit them properly, screwing nice and tight, and test it for 24 hours without the motherboard receiving power. (you short two pins on the 12pin power cable so the PSU will run) The tubing will loosen up a bit during this time so tighten again and then you’re set!

            My current fear is what happens when it comes to draining my loop as I’ll be wanting to add a graphics card upgrade in the not to distant future. I do have a drain port set up with a fancy pants connector that you just plug the opposite into and hey presto the water flows out, but we’ll see how that works in practice when the time comes. For now it’s just theory!

        • Nathan says:

          I’ve never been of the mind myself that my PC needs to look f’n awesome. In my mind, performance>style. That said, I do
          1. build custom PCs for others (as a business) and people do expect a snappy looking rig, and
          2. plan on my next build being a custom closed loop liquid cooled machine.

          I still won’t be too stressed on color coordination or coloring the liquid. I’ll be too busy overclocking and then enjoying the results of said OC-ing.

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        Are you sure that’s not the other way around and you’re maybe just misremembering?

        By all means though, if there’s something “dangerous” about sealed loops is that the pump might fail and, unless you have some serious DIY skills, the whole thing would have to be thrown away. If you can repair that, however, you’re probably better off trying your hands at custom loops.

        Never had a problem with the sealed thingies, i sold two of my previous ones to friends and they didn’t fail them either, and the older is starting to get 4 years or so. Definitely don’t think it will last for much more though. Then again if you are in the market for enthusiast toys you probably won’t ever let your stuff age that much, so it’s all good.

        • SuicideKing says:

          Misremembering? Nah, I guess enthusiasts think they can’t fail. :D

          Oh yeah – the pumps. I forgot about them. Yes, them failing is an issue.

          I’d…haha I sorta follow “if it isn’t broken/breaking, don’t fix it”! So I’d [i]ideally[/i] want a fix-and-forget solution, or one with min maintenance, which is why air coolers are attractive – if the fan stops working, just replace it! As you note, with CLLCs, I’ll probably have to change the whole unit.

          And I keep wondering how someone like my parents would handle a CLLC failure (assuming I’ll move out in a year) – and that makes me shudder.

          But yeah – I’m definitely going to try liquid cooling out someday, been quite tempted for a long time.

      • jon_hill987 says:

        They use distilled water, at 12V it is an insulator. Not that I recommend getting your Motherboard wet, just that it should not really have any detrimental effects unless it gets into the PSU.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    Any tips for laptops?

    • GameCat says:

      Can of pressurized air is useful for quick cleaning. Just close your laptop, remove battery and use the air to blow out dust from keyboard and fan.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      For those you’ll have to make some deal with Satan or something, then hope for the best.

    • 69stabcat says:

      Oooo here’s something I have a lot of experience with. You want to take it apart. Find a video on how to do it. Its worth it. Clean the fan and heat sink out with compressed air. If you’re feeling confident you can reset the heat sinks with thermal paste. I think the heat sinks get loose with the case bending all the time when you move it. Its really not too bad just watch a damn vid.

    • Mallow says:

      Always use a laptop cooler and keep your laptop elevated from the surface its sitting on to allow for some airflow underneath (this goes hand-in-hand with using a laptop cooler most of the time.) Clean the laptop cooler with canned air regularly, and honestly, when it’s really, really hot? Don’t game at the hottest point of the day. I’ve actually never had a gaming laptop die on me and I’ve used one exclusively for the past 10 years. Space issues. Remember that laptops are meant to get hotter than desktops, but give it a break now and then if it seems like it’s getting too hot.

      • bill says:

        Basically this… though I’m never 100 percent sure if the laptop cooler is having much effect.

        You could also probably underclock your cpu cores from the control panel or the power management function. If you don’t need them to be at full power.

        I killed my laptop about 8 years ago by trying to play modded Morrowind on it in the heat of midday. (38 degrees)

        PS/ 35 degrees isn’t hot – you are all big wusses! Stiff upper lips!

    • DizzyCriminal says:

      Use an elevated stand, most laptop heat sinks send a good amount of heat down. Laptop coolers are fine if they are externally powered, if you draw power from the USB port, you’re just generating more heat on the board.
      Compressed air on the heatsink every so often helps, more so if you can expose it by taking the case off.

    • Insidious Mental Pollution says:

      This advice should work for most high performance laptops – keep the fans and vents clean and pay attention to the ambient temperature. I regularly keep the environment 25 C or less, so my machines can effectively cool under load without cooling pads or raising the backends. For reference, I currently use a Sager/Clevo W110ER and P170EM (both around 3 years old now) and they both do great and operate well within tolerance under load. Even my older gaming laptops, such as a G50vt, are plugging along after 6 years.

    • carewolf says:

      Buy a ThinkPad, than do the same as the instructions in this article. Disassemble, clean, apply new cooling paste, reassemble. It is quite easy.

  6. vorador says:

    Take my advice. Water cooling works great but needs maintenance and is a pain in the ass. If you’re interested in overclocking and willing to take the time to check every six months that everything is working properly, go ahead. Otherwise don’t bother, air cooling is as good and much more reliable.

    If you have available an air compressor, use it. Otherwise, use gas duster cans. Personally i prefer not using a vacuum, they don’t clean as good.

    • gunny1993 says:

      That’s full loop water cooling, having a closed loop can give great results for a reasonable price with less noise than air with almost no hassle.

      • BlueTemplar says:

        Wait, there are watercooling solutions involving your house’ water system? Or what do you mean by “full loop” and why isn’t it “closed”?

        • kael13 says:

          Closed means it arrives from the manufacturer as a sealed system, no fiddling about with liquids involved. A full loop is something you create yourself with radiators, tubing, a pump, a reservoir, blocks, fittings and coolant (or distilled water and anti corrosives) that you fill up.

    • killmachine says:

      vacuum can potentially very bad if you use it on fans and they start to rotate. this creates a small amount of electricity and may damage your system. it’s called dynamo principle. like the things on your bike. they sit on one wheel, rotate and create the electricity for your lamp.

      if you use a vacuum, always fixate the fans. i personally use a combination of brushes and vacuum. there are also very tiny and long brushes that you can use to clean big tower coolers.

      and i actually got an idea for an alternative air can. a enema syringe. just don’t use it before. ;)

  7. thekelvingreen says:

    Years ago I had a PC setup that was not a million miles away from the picture at the top of the article.

    • Shakes999 says:

      You should have seen mine back when I smoked 2 packs a day and only opened it to change out broken components. And for the longest time I was like “Why is all this dust brown and sticky in clumps”. Good times……

      • Apocalypse says:

        Discouraging smoking: The gamers approach.
        And it for sure is working.

  8. richard says:

    If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen. But seriously, what kind of task does your kitchen PC handle, JL? (don’t anyone dare make a joke about bytes — fair warning)

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      It tends to fall over when the tab count in Chrome approaches circa 50. It’s because the poor thing sits abused, scrunched up with a subwoofer blocking the main exhaust grille for the CPU and under a metric tonne of dust. Until I finally cleaned it last night. Now it’s fine.

      I’m kinder to my main rig in my study.

      • BlueTemplar says:

        I guess the question is why do you even have a air fan cooled computer in your kitchen, considering it’s a heat, water (and smoke) – prone environment hazardous for electronics?

        • Jeremy Laird says:

          Oh, I know the answer to that one!

          Because I want a 30-inch panel in my kitchen because I like reading the internet on a nice big screen!

  9. TheSkiGeek says:

    I just wanted to say that it’s usually NOT beneficial to leave your case open (like in the photo at the top of this article). You’ll almost always get better cooling with the case closed and proper intake and exhaust fans running.

    Also, if you use pressurized air to clean fans (as the last commenter recommended), hold them in place while doing so. Some fans can be damaged if they get spun backwards at high speed.

    Personally I find SpeedFan indispensable for automatically adjusting fan speeds based on temperature. If your MB has enough controls it can even spin up/down the case fans.

  10. Hobbes says:

    Tiger’s top tips:

    Use proper thermal goop

    Zinc oxide is not proper thermal goop, that crappy white stuff you can get for £2.50 in a nozzle is not proper thermal goop either. Go Silver-by-weight or poly-synthetic compound (or if you’re feeling really, really flush, get a liquid metal pad) or go home. AS5 is a good place to start, though there are plenty others around that will do the job quite nicely. Just don’t layer the stuff on with a trowel, remember, it’s designed to act as a thermal mating surface between the CPU heat spreader and the heat sink contact plate, it’s not cement, nor does it magically move heat all by itself.

    If you’re using an air heatsink, get one with copper cooling pipes or a pure copper sink

    Copper sinks dispose of heat faster than aluminium, however, these days rather than make the whole sink out of the stuff, manufacturers prefer to make hollow pipes that then convey the heat efficiently to the rest of the sink where it can be exhausted by your fan arrangement. This is perfectly acceptable, and a thing you should look out for, also make sure the sink has a copper contact pad, virtually all of them do, but some of the really crappy cheap ones use copper -plated- pads. This is bad.

    Observe good cable management practice

    Nothing ruins good airflow like having your cables all over the shop, there’s a space between the backplate and the back panel of most tower PC setups for cable routing. Use it. It’s there to move all the cabling out of sight and out of airflow, the result is a tidy, nicely organised PC with optimised airflow.

    Invest in a good case with good airflow

    The case will last you quite likely several upgrade cycles, so get a good one, anything from Antec and the Nanoxia Deep Silence 1 are good places to start. Avoid anything with neon lights and meshes in the front, whatever you buy should have -removable- fan covers that can be cleaned quickly, and easily, this makes life a hell of a lot easier and will extend the life of the case fans dramatically, as well as reduce the dust that makes it into the computer by an order of magnitude.

    Never trust the goop on the graphics card

    Even if you get a card with a modified cooler, the betting is the lazy sods decided to use some horrible pink bubblegum crap that isn’t ideal at the job of shunting heat, once again, strip the cooler from the GPU, replace the thermal gunk the manufacturer supplies, replace it with -good- thermal compound, that’ll knock five degrees off of the GPU before you even get started.

    • SuicideKing says:

      AS5 = Arctic Silver 5, for the uninitiated.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Noctua’s paste also, it’s non conductive, high performance, easy to apply ( at least with the “center bean” way ) and with more or less zero curing time.

    • KDR_11k says:

      Also of note: Thermal paste is only there to make up for small variations in the contact surface, it does not conduct heat as well as direct contact. So an ideal application should have very little visible paste on the contact surfaces once the cooler has been pressed on. If you have a film equally covering the whole surface you’re actually hurting your cooling ability.

    • Apocalypse says:

      I am a fan of silver thermal grease in theory. At the same time I would not bother to use it again. It is messy to remove once used, it might not wear, but in the end it is completely secondary to cable management, air flow and used coolers. So I rather simply buy a good case and cooler and build my system properly and don’t waste any time on a conductive thermal grease. It not that important anyway.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      I would imagine that a full-blown whole-computer copper passive heat sink would be pretty effective, even though heavier and more expensive than all the other parts of the computer combined. (Although it might be an interesting investment – unlike all the other computer parts, copper is something that is likely to only get more expensive in the future and should be much easier to sell.) Do you have any examples?

    • Xeshor says:

      I always put a nudge of thermal paste on my CPU, then apply it uniformly on the whole surface using a plastic credit-card type card. Is that a bad idea? I would assume so, judging by your comment about the trowel practice. However I’ve learned about it some time ago by watching Linus videos, and I must say that I haven’t had any trouble with it. Runs just fine.

      Also, the AS5 is a great thermal paste (I currently use it) but I’d rather have Noctua’s thermal paste if it was available outside of buying a new cooling system from them. I bought a NH-U12P SE2 quite a few years ago, it’s still going strong after 3 CPU/MB changes, but the Noctua tp felt way better. On the other hand, I was not going as heavy-handed on the OC when I still had it, so that could be the cause of the augmented heat.

      Finally, I wanted to say that even though you recommand Antec’s cases, I wouldn’t recommand mine, which is the old-ass Six Hundred, because of the crappy cable management options. There is basically none, and I have cables all over the place. No backplate access, and the case cables (front panel ones) are stretched to the maximum to reach their designated place on my mobos. I just wish I could find a good case which is as lightweight as this one though, because I move my computer a lot and I’m no Schwarzenegger.

      • jrodman says:

        So long as your credit-card technique involves removing a good portion of the materiel after it’s spread out, you’re probably doing it right.

      • Hobbes says:

        By trowel I mean the kind of people who dollop the thermal goop on in the same manner as you might layer a BLT sandwich with mayonnaise. If by the end of the process you’ve not only coated the processor in goop, but the socket cover, half the mobo, the case, your hands, your trousers, shirt, and face in thermal paste – you may have used too much.

        As for a suggested alternate case, my weapon of choice is the Nanoxia Deep Silence 1. I’m using it right now, it’s very Germanic (to the point that the manual is black and white save for an incredibly discreet and restrained colour german flag on the front cover all of about half a centimetre high by a centimetre wide) and instead of “Please follow the manual” it’s “FOLLOW THE MANUAL TO USE THIS CASE PROPERLY”, but as cases go it’s a work of art, great cable management (if a bit tight in the backpane), and fantastic airflow and heat management. Plus, hot-removable dust covers on press out fan hinges.

        30 seconds to remove the filters, clean them, and slot them back in, all without needing to power down the PC at all. Effort needed – none. Smug value – through the roof.

        • lolwutfordawin says:

          I use the Zalman Z11 Neo and love it, if purely for the fancy window and my custom blue LED lighting. Had to modify some of the built in fans to get reasonable airflow though. XD

      • Premium User Badge

        Phasma Felis says:

        My understanding is that the best way to apply thermal goo is to put a single dollop right in the middle of the processor, then press the heat sink down slowly and evenly and let the pressure squeeze it outward. Trying to spread it manually, or using multiple small dollops as Jeremy suggests, is likely to get you air bubbles.

  11. James says:

    My ASUS GTX 970 is just about the coolest thing in the house (apart from the fridge/freezer), I need a constant supply of ice lollies to keep myself cool – the damn thing is mocking me!

    • Lovely Alexander says:

      That’s gone wrong.

      First link is to a PC Gamer article about why you shouldn’t hoover your computer. Second is to the Amazon page for something called a Datavac.

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        To be honest, the trusty old air compressor will get the job done, all that pressure always helps.

        Oh, you can use it for your car’s tyres too!

      • J. Cosmo Cohen says:

        I fried my mobo vacuuming it. Never again.

        • Hard_Celery says:

          It’s not a vacuum it blows air, and is well worth it IMO considering the price of compressed air.

      • Dr_Barnowl says:

        Datavac has a conductive nozzle – static charges don’t build up.

        If you want a convincing demonstration of why you shouldn’t use a “real” hoover, vacuum up a toner spill with a Dyson and watch as the internal surfaces are coated with black dust – it sticks to static charge.

  12. Sam says:

    I’ve found a basic mesh dust filter over intake fans on the case works very well for preventing dust building up in the first place. My case has one built-in over the front intake fans, but I’m sure you can get them individually. Wipe that clean occasionally and almost no dust gets in to the fiddly parts.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Easily removable and washable filters should be in the top list for everyone shopping for a new case, that or the DIY way as you put it.

      A good wash every now and again and off you go!

    • Apocalypse says:

      Filters on the intacs and positive pressure in the case. No dust anymore in your case and no cleaning required anymore. And you get this kind of comfort with sock cases these days. Add the ability to mount a 360mm radiator, get yourself an fractal s36 and ignore any summer heat the best you can, but be assured that your PC can ignore the heat better than you no matter how fit you are.

  13. Premium User Badge

    Neurotic says:

    Go Aga!

  14. JamesTheNumberless says:

    Dust is the #1 thing for me. I used to just vacuum inside my PC unitl I had a problem earlier this year recently with games stuttering and general slowdowns and random crashes that I thought couldn’t be attributed to overheating since it was winter and I’d recently cleaned inside my case. Having tried to diagnose every component without any obvious sign of failure I eventually took the fan off of the top of my CPU just to see what reseating stuff might do and found tons of caked in dust clogging up the gaps between the folds of the heat-sink and similar dust around the intakes (out takes?… exhaust ports??) of my graphics card. The hoover wasn’t getting these bits but a quick blast with the compressed air turned the inside of my PC into something resembling the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. After hoovering that all away and restarting, everything was running like a dream again!

  15. instantcoffe says:

    I had my first shutdown because of heat. It’s my first home-built pc and I kept the stock cooler because I wasn’t going to overclock. Lesson learned. I installed the 212 EVO and was really impressed by its size, but I could squeeze it inside my Bitfenix Prodigy M, albeit with a bit of a struggle (so many sex metaphors). I noticed the airflow seems better with the extra fan. But the heat is so intense right now in my under-the-roof-office that I had to move in the kitchen. In short, you should really install an after-market cooler for your CPU, and it’s easier to do it while your motherboard is outside your case.

  16. monkeymcnugget says:

    Is a water cooler really worth the investment over a fan? I have an I5 overclocked from 3.6 to 4.1 with a fairly cheap aftermarket air cooler. If I upgrade to a water cooler (with out spending silly money) will there even be much of a boost?

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      i’m at 4.6 ghz and i get 65 degrees on the worst case scenario of the most CPU hungry game during the worst day of summer, with a Corsair H110.

      For overclock stability you might want all the cooling you can get, but i also like the idea of having my stuff as cool as possible.

    • Apocalypse says:

      Imho it not worth in the price segment mentioned. And don´t except custom water-cooling performance from those closed loop all-in-one coolers. Still, air cooling is usually outperforming the cheap aio water cooling systems. Stuff like the Noctua NH-D14 is for sure an expensive air cooler, beats water-cooling mostly without trouble. And last for several system generations without trouble.

      But if we are talking about the $100+ price segment … yeah we start so see some real nice closed loop coolers in the price segment. All Copper and 360mm would be my favorite two specs to look for. Which naturally means that my case needs to support that too.

  17. fish99 says:

    Best way to keep your GPU and CPU heatsinks dust free is to get a case with good washable dust filters, and clean them at least once per month. If you don’t want to invest in a new case though you can buy filters to fit onto your existing intake fans, but it’s probably going to be more effort to clean them.

  18. proppaganda says:

    I’m in Arizona…. with a swamp cooler….. 90 degrees is child play son.

    • J. Cosmo Cohen says:

      Try Florida with the humidity. I gained 20 pounds just from water living there. I could never get enough water, either. Horrid.

  19. int says:

    Innumerable bunnies inside my computer,
    Who do seem to beget like there be no future;
    But I have not the heart to halt their subsistence,
    So I just need to live with, and respect their persistence.

    • Ejia says:

      Dirt in my PC
      Marks the passage of the years
      As does a tree’s rings

  20. aircool says:

    My PC is right next to an open window. I’ve also got a desk fan blowing cool air from the window over my PC and my face… aaaaah :)

  21. thedosbox says:


    I’m a big fan of water cooling. Today’s closed loop kits are affordable, easy to fit, zero maintenance and just bloody effective.

    I’m not, because they introduce complexity and pump noise. As the recent stories about the Radeon Fury X liquid cooler show.

    However, I would definitely recommend choosing a case with well designed airflow, as that is key to ensuring the fans on the CPU and graphics card don’t have to work as hard.

    Similarly, choosing components that are power efficient, and enabling features like speedstep is important – i.e. you have less of a problem if the components aren’t pumping out as much heat in the first place.

    Finally, used dryer sheets make good, cheap filters to reduce dust intrusion.

  22. Premium User Badge

    Hammer says:

    Good airflow is a must. Kudos to Fractal Design who somehow manage to design compact ITX cases with excellent thermals. Quiet as a mouse as well (i5-4670k with stock cooler, MSI GTX 760).

    • Premium User Badge

      Hammer says:

      Oh, and dust filters are a great help. Make cleaning much, much easier.

  23. Baranor says:

    Dont put your pc onto the carpet.. elevate it at least 5, but preferabky 15 inches. Carpet= dust.

    Dustfilters. The amount of crap they keep out is amazing.

    Invest in a proper case. If you spend 700 quid on the internals dish out 100 more for a case and extra fans. Me and the missus bought Antec 300’s… PSU at the bottom, cpu at the top. These come with two fans.. good placement and room for a sidefan and two front fans. Washable dust filters. And no flasy lights.

    Get a GPU with two fans. Thank me later.

    Scythe cooler block with a fan… only overclock if you have to.

    Combine the above and I never went 15 degrees celcius above ambient temperature.

    • Laurentius says:

      Yey, another Antec 300 user here. Since i’ve bought it years ago I have no longer any problems with temperature of my PC. Sure, when at the hot evening I start playing GTA 5 or Witcher 3 I can feel pretty hot air blowing out of it but inside it’a a-ok.

  24. celticdr says:

    Wrong Jeremy – never remove the dust – it’s the only thing keeping some PCs together (especially every PC I’ve ever owned).

    That said I do agree wholeheartedly with closed-loop water coolers. They rock – during one particularly hot Queensland summer (in Brisbane which is in the sub-tropics) Black Beauty (yes I named my PC) was shutting down mysteriously, I checked the BIOS and sure enough the CPU temp gauge was over 100 celcius, yep it was time for a water cooler – got it down to an average 50 degrees and it had a cool blue Intel light on the top: COOL BLUE INTEL LIGHT! Brilliant.

  25. Apocalypse says:

    7. Consider water cooling
    Yeah for $60 you get a shitty 120mm thing that is loud as hell, not as good as Noctua NH-D14 in cooling performance that has the potential to last a few years because it slowing corroding the aluminum of its passive cooling components. IIRC even something like a NH-U14s will give the corsair h55 a run for its money.

    Imho for closed loop coolers copper is that you want. And imho the 360mm is what you really want, because it silent, most powerful and has only one downside: You need a case that fits. Personally I like the fractal kelvin s36 most, and it still is reasonable cheap.

  26. Jokerme says:

    I’m from Antarctica and I find this offensive.

  27. frightlever says:

    I use compressed air cans to shake the dust out of my PC and never had a problem. Hell, I’ve used the compressed air system in work, though at a distance. The cans can leave a sprinkling of liquid but AFAIK it isn’t water and quickly evaporates off. These cans usually say on them that they’re for removing dust from keyboards etc, so I don’t see a huge difference. You’re more likely to nuke your PC with static from a vacuum cleaner.

    Also, don’t neglect your desk and pedestal fans for human cooling. This time of year I strip mine down, dust them off and apply Mister Sheen to the blades – seriously. Once I’ve cleared all the accumulated gunk out, it doubles the airflow and the Mister Sheen discourages dust from building up for a while at least.

    Liquid cooling definitely goes wrong, even the self-contained units. A near invisible leak can eventually leave the reservoir running dry and end up baking your system over time. Catastrophic failure, ie a pissing leak, can take out everything up to and including the PSU and GPU. When a CPU fan fails the heat builds up rapidly and the PC will shut down almost at once. Something to consider.

  28. bobbobob says:

    I’ve always though it’s much safer to leave your PC plugged in (but the rocker switch OFF), before going into the PC guts. That way the PC itself will still be earthed and, as a result, so will you be as soon as you are touching the case, and before you touch anything zappable with your horrid, sticky, staticy fingers. Is this wrong?

  29. Kerr Avon says:

    >> P.S. Anyone for tennis?

    YES, but not on that screen, thanks! We can’t stand watching ONE screen of the new “Top Gear style” BBC Tennis coverage, let alone six in multiview. Rather, we watched an old video of the 1981 Borg-McEnroe final (with the late Dan Maskell masterfully commentating) and ate some strabs&cream with that instead. Now, how on earth anyone can actually watch Clare “Roger Mellie” Balding “OBE” surrounded by grinning sycophants and pensioners for more than 10 seconds is beyond me… while half of the seats at Wimbledon are empty and the other half of the spectators are all overpaid BBC employees “working” on a freebie jaunt, just like Glastonbury… it’s sickening. The sooner the horrible and unwanted BBC of today finally shuts down for good, the better!

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      Feel your pain. The Beeb’s tennis team is at an all time low. But it’s basically been rubbish since Dan Maskell retired.

      And yeah, the way the seats are sold / controlled at Wimbledon is pretty grim, too – it’s nearly all cronyism and corporate junkets. By far the worst of the slams, as far as I can tell. Fewer pukka tennis fans at Wimbledon than any of the other slams.

      With cheap flights these days, US Open is a good shout. I had no problem getting tickets a few years ago. Went to the French for the first time this year, really enjoyed. Think I’d rather drive to Paris than battle for a ticket at WImbledon these days!

  30. Heliocentric says:

    Turn on V-Sync, if your PC is rendering at over your monitors frequency is working harder than it needs to, V-sync can tell your GPU to calm itself down.

  31. jrodman says:

    if you’re hot and British, feel free to come visit my flat in San Francisco. Plenty cool here this week, though it doesn’t have to be if you know what i mean…

  32. bad guy says:

    Blue LEDs !
    They make ur PC run cooler.
    Red makes it faster, Green more energy efficinet.
    I don’t know what Yellow does though.

    • Jediben says:

      Yellow takes the piss!

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      I have a keyboard with a blue back light. It’s like Murder She Wrote in Siberia all up in my fingertips.

  33. jrodman says:

    Water cooling is not a serious choice if you care about quietness at all.

    Passive is achievable, but not for typical gaming goals. However, a mix of large heatsinks and large slow-rotating fans can definitely achieve near-silence at even moderate gaming loads with well chosen hardware.

    Even higher powered rigs can be much quieter than water pumps when all the fans are chosen to be of larger size.

  34. Chorltonwheelie says:

    Airflow?
    I’ve paid a bleedin’ fortune for this rig so I want to see it.
    I want the LED glow winking at me when I power it up.
    I want the fans to whisper “you did the right thing Wheelie, you were wise with your money. Well done!”
    I want Corsair to caress me, I want my Asus tickling.

    It is hot in here though isn’t it?

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      I tried figuring out what this was a reference to. I found this instead. I’m done.

  35. Muppet1856 says:

    I find that most poor cooling systems fail to add air to the system and the exhaust fans only move air out through the vent and draw the same air back in through the nearby openings. The solution? Inlet fans and positive pressure folks.

    Think of it like the this – your case contains so many cubic feet of air. Fans are measured in CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute). ex: Your case measures 10″ x 27″ x 25″ (Corsair Obsidian 900D, which comes with 4 fans 3×120 and 1×140) contains ~ 3.9 cu-ft.

    At 37.85 CFM ea. on 120mm fans, you would turn the air over 29.1 times a minute once every 2.1 seconds. (3.9 cu-ft / 3×37.85 cu-ft/min = 2.1 sec)
    Of course, that air isn’t going anywhere if you don’t exhaust it. A single 140 only produces 67.8 CFM. That means you are only exhausting 17 times a minute or once every 3.5 seconds.

    Why are they pushing more air than they are pulling out? By pushing air in, you are controlling where the air comes from. If you put a bunch of exhaust fans on a case without inlet fans, you are sucking air from every crack and crevice of the case. That draws in dust, dirt, pet hair – everything. If you control where the air enters the case and ensure that the inlet fans are providing more CFM than the exhaust fans, you are creating positive pressure. The case is unbalanced against the outside environment and all the excess air leaks OUT the cracks and crevices – preventing the hair, dust, and dirt!

    Remember that your airflow through the filter media will restrict the airflow on the inlet fans, so doubling the CFM from inlet to outlet is a good idea.

  36. JS says:

    I’ve heard that using a vacuum in/near your computer is bad, because of static electricity that can damage the electronics. Is that true, or just an urban myth? I have a vacuum that can be set to reverse the airflow, perfect for blowing dust out of the computer. But since this airflow allegedly contains charged particles that can damage electronics, I’m currently using cans with compressed air. But they are expensive and don’t last long, so I’d much rather be using the vacuum, as long as it’s safe.

  37. Premium User Badge

    Wisq says:

    Some quick notes from my own experience and research.

    One: You may hear some people (particularly Silverstone advocates) saying that vertical airflow is best — where the motherboard is rotated, the cards and ports face out the top, and the fans suck air in the bottom and blow out the top. The theory is that hot air rises, so venting out the top is more natural than pushing it horizontally out the back.

    While nice in theory, this typically doesn’t bear out in practice — as demonstrated when various sites took various rear- and top-vented cases and simply rotated them 90º (i.e. swapped them) to demonstrate there was no real change in cooling performance based on orientation. But what did make a difference was the airflow — most top-vented cases have straight airflow from fans up and out the top (see link to wee.sk or link to wee.sk ), whereas with rear-vented cases, the air often has to work its way around the drive bays (coming in near the bottom), around the cards, and up through the exhaust fans (typically near the top), which reduces cooling performance.

    Another benefit is that, without the need to dodge LEDs and other case-front aspects, you can end up with massive fans (e.g. 180mm) that deliver a ton of air very effectively. Remember, the larger the fan, the more air it moves for less noise.

    So, in short: Vertically-vented cases can be more efficient and effective at cooling than horizontally-vented ones, but not for the reasons you might think.

    Two: I can also 100% agree with the advice to keep the computer off the floor. Every one of my machines has dust filters, but my servers down at floor level need them replaced quite regularly, and still let a fair bit of dust in to the machine. By contrast, my gaming computer up on top of my desk has never needed an interior cleaning once in almost four years of operation — I’ve cleaned the filters once or twice, but only that. (I took the video cards out to sell them to a friend, and despite his very high dust-cleaning standards, he took one look at them and said he wouldn’t need to clean them.)

    While elevation is probably largely to credit for this, I also think the fan layout had some effect as well. Dust filters are no good if dust can find other ways into the case. As such, given the choice, I would strongly recommend any case that focuses primarily on intake fans, and has few (if any) exhaust fans. My thinking is, if you’ve got fans deliberately sucking air in through the filters, and positive pressure ensuring that all open panels are for exhaust and not for additional intake (particularly if the filters fill up with dust), then you’ve got some assurances that all air passing through the system will be filtered and nominally dust-free.

    Three: If you can fit it, I recommend one of those heat-pipe tower coolers for your CPU, the ones that look like a highrise building under construction. It lets you put a big 120mm fan on it. It lets air pass straight through rather than diverting it 90º from horizontal (into the sides of the heat sink) to vertical (out through the fan). It’s aimed in the same direction as your computer’s exhaust. It’s resistant to being clogged with dust.

    I can’t speak for sealed liquid-cooled CPU cooler solutions, since I haven’t tried one. I imagine it’s probably a good solution if your case doesn’t have the room for a tower cooler.

    • Premium User Badge

      Wisq says:

      Oh, couple more notes I forgot:

      “Traditional” PC cases would have the power supply up top, in the top-back corner, above the motherboard. The power supply (PSU) has its own fans and would help with cooling, and it didn’t have far to go to reach all the devices that needed independent power.

      More recently, we’ve seen a lot of designs that put the power supply down below, often in its own air channel, independent of the main motherboard one. This is a pretty darn good idea. The thing about power supplies is, they perform worse when they’re hot — and when they’re up top, they’re dealing with air that’s often already passed between the hard drives, across the motherboard, and through the CPU cooler. That air can be hot when the computer is under load, which is also when it needs the most power. And if your power supply dies in bad ways, it can take the rest of your system with it.

      I can speak out of personal experience here: One, I once had a power supply that fried two motherboards and three video cards. And two, more recently, I had a power supply that would spontaneously shut the computer down if the air it was breathing was just one or two degrees higher than ambient room temperature. (How do I know this? It worked fine when the case was open and it could breathe room air, but as soon as I closed it, it was breathing hard drive air and would shut down. I “solved” it temporarily by removing all PCIe cards I no longer needed, reducing the power load.)

      Also, incidentally: One of the cards I removed was the video card. For one, it was a server, so no need for video; but, two, the video card was an old low-end passively-cooled nVidia card. Despite doing absolutely nothing for years, and living in a case with good airflow, that card still managed to fry itself. So, yeah, I can also agree with the “avoid passive cooling” recommendation.

  38. Apocalypse says:

    Good posts. Though the tower cooler design is a little bit outdated. It forms quite well, but the top of the line coolers these days use an just as extensive heat-sink and heat-pipe design,but instead of blowing from the top, sucking and blowing sideways. The big advantage is air flow. You can this way arrange the airflow of the hot cpu out of the case.
    Or alternatively deliver directly from an intact fan fresh air for the cpu cooler. You basically gain a case fan as direct support for your cpu cooler, and if you do not plan to overclock the airflow from your case fans can actually be enough to just fine passive cool your cpu. (I still do not recommend passive cooling for gaming rigs / workstations for obvious reasons)

    Another thing that is these days is a little outdated is keep the PSU breathing air from inside the case. Cases now often use the psu at the bottom, because this has the advantage that the psu fans can function as intact and outtake fans. The intake naturally gets a dust filter as well.

    EDIT: Darn you have mentioned that part already in your second post.

  39. ajosh9078 says:

    desk fain blowing into an open case anyone? no… ok maybe not