Can a dead AC kill your PC?

June 11th, 2008

I feel for Dwight Silverman:

Since Sunday night, the compressor for the central air conditioning system at my swankienda has been out. You don't want to be without AC in Houston in June, particularly in a three-story townhouse with inadequate cross-ventilation.

Since the compressor died, it's been hotter in my house than it is outside, even with all the windows open. How bad is it? Well, when I went to sleep here on Monday night, it was in the mid-80s outside and 92 in my third-story bedroom, and very humid, of course.

But it's not just the carbon-based inhabitants of the swankienda that Dwight is worried about:

While I, my family and my cats are uncomfortable, I was really worried about my computers. Electronics can be damaged by heat, which is why server rooms are kept icy cold. I've never really investigated just how long consumer desktops and notebooks can handle Houston-style heat and humidity before they're damaged, so I called up the folks at The Computer Hospital and asked some questions.

Senior technician Brandon Dickerson told me that, basically, I didn't have much to worry about.

In my experience you can happily run a PC in temperatures of +100 Fahrenheit (38°C) as long as the PC has ample airflow going through it to prevent hotspots forming and vital components aren't coated in liberal layers of dust. As a rule, PCs handle high temperatures very well ...

But to use a phrase coined by Scott Adams - BOCTAOE - But Of Course There Are Obvious Exceptions. Specifically, I've seen hard drives that were worked hard during hot summer days in hot rooms start to fail randomly and cause errors (sometimes the drives come back to normal, other times not ...). I've also seen several cases of capacitors failing on motherboards and graphics cards. Again, these issues come down ultimately to not enough air flowing through the system, but it can be darn hard to detect a hotspot building up inside a PC without the use of thermometers (an IR thermometer, or a thermocouple, not mercury one!!!).

Think cool thoughts Dwight!

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 11th, 2008 at 18:40 and is filed under PC Doctor's Thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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