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How to prolong the life of your equipment

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  2. There is no rule 2.

Hopefully the above makes it plain, the object of this game is to reduce the amount of heat your machines suffer over time. Heat is what kills electronics; even a poorly-made device will last a long time, if it is left alone and does not run hot. Over time, heat causes expansion and contraction of the circuits and deterioration of the surrounding plastic, this causes misalignment of the connections, and eventually one breaks. That's when your device will stop working.

So, the key is to minimise expansion and contraction, and for that you want to keep the temperature of your devices as stable as possible. In addition to the heat-control mechanisms provided by the manufacturer, the following steps can be taken to regulate device temperature:

  1. Ensure the device has adequate ventilation. This means, wherever there is a hole in the casing, leave empty space beside it. DO NOT allow exhaust or intake vents to become obstructed. Routinely check that ventilation remains unobstructed.
  2. Ensure the device is correctly positioned. Follow the manufacturer's installation instructions, paying particular attention to the correct orientation of the device. DO NOT position two devices so that the exhaust from one device blows into the intake vent, or onto the casing, of another. Routinely check that positioning remains correct.
  3. Ensure dust does not build up in any fans, vents or heatsinks. Once a year, or less, use a vacuum cleaner to remove dust that has accumulated. Dust WILL accumulate in these areas. Routinely check that it has not.
  4. Avoid hammering the device. This means, try to avoid heavy, demanding use of the device, especially if any of the following are true:

    • it's the middle of a hot day (this is when the device is at its most vulnerable, when the ambient room temperature is high, as it has reduced ability to radiate its heat into the room)
    • other things are also occuring on the device (it will already be heat-stressed, in this case)
    • the device is old (there's already heat damage, this might be the final nail in the coffin!)
    • the device is hot already (this reduces the amount of extra heat it can cope with)
    • ventilation is sub-optimal (the more air movement, the better heat is radiated)
    • the process is noisy (a noisy process is a good indicator of a heavy workload)

    Try and save up heavy usage for off-peak periods, preferably at night. If this is not possible, try and break up the job into smaller chunks. Do a chunk, then let the device cool. Routinely check the temperature of the device after a job, get to know how hot it can get, so that if it is running hotter than normal, you'll know.

  5. Ensure to investigate any strange noises the device makes, especially if its usual hum turns to some kind of unsteady drone, or it emits a continual beeping noise. An unsteady droning sound is usually caused by a fan that is having trouble turning. This may be due to dust, or to pending internal failure. A continuous beeping noise is usually some kind of alarm indicating hardware failure. In both cases, you should power off the device and attempt some of the remediation strategies below. If the noise persists, you need to call a technician. DO NOT simply ignore the noise. If your £5 fan fails and the subsequent lack of cooling toasts a £300 device, you won't be happy, as you could have simply spent £5 on a new fan and solved the problem before it escalated. If your dead fan causes a fire, your losses could be much larger still.

If a device runs hot (eg. if, during normal operation, it is constantly hot):

  1. Clean the device thoroughly, inside and out, ensuring to remove all dust and grime.
  2. Consider improving ventilation. Remove or partly-remove the case or components. Clear extra space around vents.
  3. Consider improving cooling. Add fans, heatsinks or other cooling mechanisms. Open a window or door.
  4. Consider relocating or reorienting the device. Would it run cooler if it stood on its end? Would it run cooler if it was on the floor? Would it run cooler if it was not next to another device? Don't forget that wiring is metal, and can transmit heat as well as electricity. You can use wiring to lead heat away from your device; however if another device is already heating the wiring, heat from this device may be absorbed by your other devices. So you need to ensure that devices that heat their wiring are not close to one another; ideally their wires don't touch each other.
  5. Consider reconfiguring your system, such that the device has less work. This usually involves obtaining a second similar device, and sharing the load between them. It may also be possible to improve the efficiency of existing processes; if your device is working hard, but only because another device is outputting unprocessed data, have the other device process the data first. This will reduce the load on your device, and distribute the heat generated by the process between the two devices.
  6. Consider replacing devices that emit lots of heat. Try and combine functions provided by separate devices into a single device. The less heat sources, the better. Devices that run hot no matter what you do are likely to fail soon, in any case.

Remember, electronics hate heat. If you can keep your devices cool, they will run longer, quieter, and with less glitches. This in turn means more uptime for you and thus more work done, less time wasted, and some money saved.