back to article Dirty, dirty PCs: The X-rated picture guide

Our shock picture last Friday of a Quatermass-style lifeform lurking inside a PC prompted a flurry of snaps forwarded by readers who had similarly confronted unspeakable horrors. We gather that many of our correspondents are responding well to therapy, and could be back working in PC maintenance in five years or so. Others, …

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WTF?

Hmmm... that's brownish dirt. I'm used to dark grey.

Most of the dust in the pictures are brownish in color. Where I live (Santiago, Chile), the dust is grey (much like the one in the first picture in page 4, altough a bit darker).

I once had to service an OLD 286 server that had been left running for at least 6 years undisturbed. That little computer proved its incredible toughness when I cleaned it: the main vent had ben clogged by what could be only described as a "dust curtain", 2mm thick. I actually took it off by the tips and moved it *in one piece* without it breaking.

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Stu
Badgers

@Eddie Edwards - coughing PCs

In all seriousnesses, thats not all that bad an idea - you know the PlayStation 3 has a mode whereby it'll blast the system fan at full whack for a few seconds when you press a combination of buttons at switch-on. Theres a ridiculously big fan mounted across about three large processor chips and it sounds like hell when you do it.

My Lenovo ThinkStation D10 workstation machine does something similar every time it boots - sounds like a jet engine, not really cough-like, but a close enough approximation.

Perhaps all PCs should come with something similar - good for dust buildup I'd presume, not so good for mice, spiders, tropical poisonous ants. etc. Might make em last a bit longer.

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Happy

Fluffy!

I may be wrong but aren't a lot of those Dell, so does that mean Dell really suck?

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Happy

Those were the days...

...When I used to work on old Wang kit, crawling around secretaries legs cleaning out the Wang office kit with a brush and hoover. Actually managed to bed two of them (secretaries that is...)

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Joke

what?

Over 50 comments so far and not one "I wish my wife/girlfriend was as dirty as these PCs"!

Do Reg readers not have girlfriends or don't they have a puerile sense of humour?

And there was me ready with the obligatory reply "she is mate!"

Standards are slipping. Or rising.

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@ Alasdair S

"Do Reg readers not have girlfriends..."

Of course we do! Who do you think keeps our machines dust-free as part of their housework?

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Alert

Dirty

When I was going to college, the digital imaging department replace their bondi blue imacs with g4 powermacs and we had the pleasure of cleaning out the old ones. They were completely filled with dust. A solid mass of dust. I was wondering how they were still working.

Also, a friend wanted his computer fix and upon opening it up, I noticed a cockroach or two inside the case. I don't know why I decided to check the power supply, but it was infested with them. I had to use a hair dryer outside to get rid of them all.

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Anonymous Coward

@ WingCo

So did you "Wang kit" or did she?

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Black Helicopters

And another one

Missed this request before, otherwise I would have added this beauty. http://www.flickr.com/photos/gumby_roffo/2767022580/in/set-72157604046476938/

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Anonymous Coward

Computer Infestation

Once went to a server based at a museum to upgrade the hard drives. On opening found several inches deep of dead insects in it. The helpful biology guy at the museum identified them a clothes moths. Appears several weeks earlier the museum staff had found that the dressing up clothes for kiddies had been infested with human fleas... they had washed said clothes then had hung them up to dry on the mezzanine floor above the server location - then promptly forgot about them for several weeks. The clothes had then become infected with clothes moths... so they eventually threw the clothes out but they continued to have a on-going problem with moths.... appears they had set up nest or breeding colony somewhere warm - in said server....

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Who are these amateurs who have broken PCs by cleaning them?

I regularly SHOWER heatsinks, fan still attached, then put them back in the PC after minimal drying. (outside completely dry, but some small water droplets still trapped between the blades)

It really is the fastest and most comprehensive way to get the dust out. Might not be so good for the fan's bearings but I'll be damned if I can give a crap.

Oh and BTW, if you break your PC, I never told you it was a good idea. Okay?

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Solution?

Fanless.

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Not a bug, but a frog

I wish I had taken a picture, but regrettably I didn't. The strangest thing I found in one of my servers was a dead frog. My cat tended to bring frogs into the house, and I would find their dried out bodies under the sofa months later.

Then one day, I was adding a new video card to the server, and inside I found a dessicated frog corpse. As to how it got in, I can only imagine it jumped in through the one missing card slot cover. The alternative is that the cat posted it inside, which is too weird to contemplate.

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Pint

A year in Afghanistan...

I was sent by my National Guard unit to the Middle east some months back, my job was computer systems maintenance. You can't imagine how much dust and sand can get into a server rack sitting inside of a tent during a sandstorm (The building the data center was supposed to be in was mortared the day before so everything was moved outside into tents until the CB's could fix the building).

I dumped enough sand from one rack out to fill 1 .5 oil drums, ruining about 40 HDDs, 20-something power supplies and dozens of other parts, I now believe that accidental damage warranties are worth the money, at least in a war zone...

Too bad the closest alcohol was 100s of miles away, i really could have gone for something stong then...

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I have a pic somewhere ...

My friend found a small half decomposed dead bird in the wiring "nest" behind his PC. He lives alone and has no pets so it wasn't something a cat dragged in.

His best guess was when they did some cabinet work 3 years earlier they let the bird in which then injured itself flying into a wall, crawled into the nest of wires and died.

He send me the pic. As for his cleaning habits ... the vacuum cleaner he bought four years earlier was still spotless :)

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Silver badge
Coffee/keyboard

Design mystery

Since the earliest days of PCs, I've wondered why the most enduring design feature is locating the most dust-sensitive component (formerly floppy drive, now DVD drive) precisely where the fan is going to suck dust into it.

The dust I get in computers here is black.

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Flame

My favorite power supply failures are...

...these:

http://www.insectimage.com/Gallery%2017/snakecomp2.html

and

http://www.insectimage.com/Gallery%2017/snakecomp3.html

Many years ago, when the IBM PC/XT was an infant, I had occasion to service a MultiBus-based tower system. These had a card cage in the lower part of a tower, holding PCBs about the size of a sheet of paper, with two 5.25" (~133mm) full-height hard drives (think two DVD drives stacked) in the top.

This system had at least 2" (50mm) of lint in the bottom of the case on either side of the card cage, each of the PCBs had a layer top and bottom, and the hard drives were coated above and below the PCBs on them. Suprisingly, the drives had failed... And this thing had been at a law office, which is usually a well-kept environment.

After that, I got to take care of systems from the manufacturing line. Worse. Especially when maintenance crossed up the power, but then the issue was smoke coming out of a server rack, not simply dust.

netgeek

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Coffee/keyboard

Fwomp!

Was the sound of the worst PC I have ever seen. It was still working, located in a vehicle workshop, and it only had dust in it, probably from umpteen brake services etc.

The dust in the bottom was about 10mm thick, seriously. When I turned it flat to open up the box and look inside it made a loud fwomp sound... That was about 15 years ago now, and I have only serviced computers for a living. Sure you get your weed filled,... err tobacco filled yellow machines that stink out the workshop for days after you've got rid of them, but they're really nothing like the workshop machine...

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Good stuff

Shame I didn't take a photo of the PC I brought back from the crematorium that is in the area I support. That was really dusty in a very grim way.

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Paris Hilton

Exposing my dear father (not like that, pervs)

Breaking my vow of Interweb silence about mentioning those who are not me, I am compelled to wonder how many others can relate.

Of course, I am IT support for my family. My father, in particular. He is a curious soul, Bless him, but has plenty of distractions. He called me up one day to tell me that he believed his hard drive had crashed. Never, EVER, believing the assumptions of the end user -- which probably makes me Dell-like -- I ask him what drew him to that conclusion. It just would not boot, and he got a blank screen.

Fine. I had him send it to me. As an aside, UPS mangled the damned thing, and it was packed pretty well.

Opening the case (what remained of it, see previous sentence) I did not see anything really obvious at first glance, but a few seconds in I noticed the CPU fan on his AMD Athlon XP 1600+ was caked with so much dust and cat hair that it looked like a layer of paper-mâché between the fan and the heat sink. Obviously this was a problem. I figured it had suffered a massive thermal break-down and I would replace the CPU to see if that revived the system.

That was until I noticed that several surface-mounted components on the motherboard had slid out of position as the solder had heated up enough to allow gravity to work its magic on various inductors and voltage regulators. Then I noticed that the socket had also moved ever so slightly.

The CPU had nice brown crispy spots, and I decided to take photos for posterity. It is a good laugh now, and its replacement was the last computer I ever had to build for me dear-ol' pop.

Paris, nice brown crispy spots. Photos ONLY for posterity.

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Not just PC's

The company i work for is a Vendor within the Theme Park industry. As such i have PC's and servers all over the world, within Theme Parks.

As a vendor we have to put our servers within the "Shops" that we operate, not an ideal environment. Hence i use good ol Tough as Bricks HP Proliants. Typcially ML370 G3's, and now G5's.

Anyway, yearly we run a cleaning programme where by an engineer visits each Theme Park and strips each machine, armed with cans of compressed air.

Last year i visited a theme park in New England USA. To clean our equipment.

I opened the server cabinet to clean our server and the front of the ML370 was not even visible.

There was a 1in carpet of "Stuff" attached to the whole front of the server, completely covering every sq mm.

It was Gross. Any yet the server was still running happily with no temp related issues.

It took 3 cans to clean that bad boy !.

Wish i had some pics, but unfortunately i do not.

As with another poster above, we also have Rat urine issues. They pee over everything, and poop on everything. We now wrap the keyboard within our Server cabinets in a clear plastic bag. So it can be removed when the engineer visits. Nothing worse than typing on a keyboard covered in Rats pee. Trust me....

And for some reason, they love to chew Fibre optics too. I normally have to re-terminate at least 20 fibre strands a yr.

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Anonymous Coward

One find to RULE them all...

I always remember when I had to go check on a PC which had a Slimline CD drive that wouldn't open. Turned out there was the best part of a 30cm ruler inside. Got to love schoolchildren...

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Coffee/keyboard

That keyboard reminds me...

...why I got myself an IBM Model M keyboard...

To clean this behemoth up, you simply pop the keycaps off and give 'em a good rinsing off :-)

Which reminds me, I need to arrange a birthday party for it - it was "born" on the 19th November 1989 and still works as nicely as the day it thudded (it weighs more that most laptops) off the production line.

Anyone else got 20 year old computer hardware that's genuinely still in daily use ?

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FAIL

These are nothing!

None of those go close to the things we get on a monthly basis in our shop. The spider webs shown here are a tiny display compared to what we have seen.

If you want really disturbing (and I think I've got a photo somewhere) then look no further than a gecko killed by 240V. The eyes explode out of the sockets.

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Anonymous Coward

Ah, factory machines...

Placement year from uni, at a factory that made vitamin pills.

There was this one, aging, powered on 24x7, PC in the factory area - and I needed to do something with it. I forget what. Anyway, lid off - and it was SOLID with vitamin powder... That was a two-can-air-duster job...

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Thumb Up

Model M keyboards RULE!

@Colin: "Anyone else got 20 year old computer hardware that's genuinely still in daily use ?"

Yes, indeed. I have several Model M keyboards - one on my home PC, another one in my work PC, and five more stored away in case either ever fails or doesn't outlast me (ha ha ha).

I've been asked to give away a couple of those, but I've refused.

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Unhappy

Shop soiled

I used to look after the terminals used to record record sales in the UK - when this was still done independently by Gallup.

If a shop reported a problem we sent them a replacement by courier, and asked them to place the 'faulty' one back in the box, for the courier who would wait for it.

I should have been a little curious when one customer broke off from drumming with the barcode wand long enough to ask if he should place the computer in a bag first.

When it got to us it didn't take long to work out that the shop had been flooded when a sewer broke. Although the computer still worked, there was no way we were going to clean that up and send it out again. Urgh!

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Spider vs 240V

This wee guy crawled onto the power board. What followed didn't smell very nice.

http://mobypicture.com/?4ltelh

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Alert

Dust bunnies are not all bad....

I upgraded from hand-vacuum to a full hoover in 2004 after opening an old third-hand IBM box that had been through two house fires and five years of garage duty. The machine (barely) worked before the cleanup and not afterwards. I think the desert spoon required to dig ash out around the RAM boards did some damage. In retrospect I think the prior buildup of dustbunnies died as unsung heroes in the fires, protecting the PC from meltdown.

@reg: no I don't quite believe the last two.

* Fitting packets through small gaps is a student pasttime, but fitting a dell mouse in there as well is a bit beyond them.

* Have seen real mice-kebabs coming out of power supplies and those two were suspiciously missing a whole lot of exterior charcoal.

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Silver badge
Happy

Just look at the bright side

Apparently electronics are fairly "dust proof".

And to my experience the only proper way is to blow it a way.

Cleaning the rests of womiting is harder. And I leave it at that.

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This post has been deleted by its author

@amos

Actually it's quite plausible. It's a Dell machine GX1 ~ GX110 and the cover comes off the chassis with the press of two little plastic buttons (gotta love Dell cases!). There's a CD drive there so it's not like they had a blanking plate to prise out and shove stuff through. The only way they could have gotten anything in there is to take the whole lid off so there's no reason they couldn't have dropped a mouse in before popping it back on, would take <10 seconds.

Roger

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School computers

I work for a school district and we find all sorts of interesting things crammed into computer cases, DVD/CD ROM drives etc.; wrappers, candy, paperclips, pens etc. One time a student hid a container of milk behind a system and no one knew it was there until it burst and rotten milk poured out onto it... luckily it didn't fry anything but it sure didn't smell too good. I think the best one was computer at our alternative High School that some kid was using for his drug stash... his plastic baggie came into contact with the CPU fan and started making a lot of noise...

We also have a control computer fairly close to a CNC mill and it gets pretty full of sawdust that has to be periodically cleaned out. Used to have an old PIII that was running it for 4-5 years that had never been cleaned out and I'm surprised it was still running when we finally upgraded it...

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Buy a good case and go for a silent PC

The upside to buying "silent" PCs (or at least very quiet ones), with good cases and air-filters is that they fill up with far less dust. I believe that a PC should be quiet to the point that you can hear birdsong through a closed window when the PC is running...and that makes a huge difference to how pleasant they are to use, as well as to re-build.

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IT Angle

Makes me wish...

I'd taken a photo of the 400 year old kit with the MFM double-height 5 MB drive in the test equipment; no one else in the IT group even remembered what that was, let alone how to do anything with it. Sadly, it was dead before it hit the ground (several times). One of the guys wondered why the drive needed two ribbon cables... Somebody else wanted to know how expensive a big drive like that would be...

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Alert

Static

All too often someone pretends to know about PC cleaning damage. Plastic nozzels don't matter, nor does spinning a fan. The damage is done by movement of dust particles, that creates static whether it be sucking, blowing, brushing, etc.

While it is seldom done, the safest cleaning method is (believe it or not, some have voodoo superstitions about such things) immersion cleaning. That's liquid kids, even in a mild detergent solution you are posing less risk to the boards providing you take out the battery and fans, but for those who feel the boards are allergic to water, how do you think they clean them of flux residue after manufacture?!

I can understand though, a technician not wanting to bother doing it the right way. It's so much quicker to just grab a can of compressed air and after all it's not your kit is it?

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Anonymous Coward

Suicide attacks

We have had to make pillow cased sized bags out of a fly mesh type material for the Guest Internet PC's at our caravan park. It is up in far North Queensland in Australia and so far I've had 3 PC's power supplies fried by 2 Gekkos and a Wolf spider. Only the spider was kind enough not to fry the rest of the PC in it's suicide attack. That doesn't compare to the cockroach colony brought back by a customer complaining their Panasonic cordless phone base stopped working. There were too many to count, must have had something to do with being warm all the time and being in the kitchen.

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Flame

A cautionary tale... (a true sotry)

Acouple of years back, the guy over the road was beavering away on his PC, and quite a bit of dust had built up inside it. Being a switched on all the time school of computing he left it alone. Shortly after, it burst into flames, almost setting the house on fire. The fire brigade were there for about 3 hours, they managed to put the fire out, but the entire house was smoke damged. It took almost a year and 4 large skips to sort it out, the electrics were fried and all his furniture was condemed by the local council along with the rest of the house. It took ages to get it sorted out and liveavble again. He was in the middle of doing the house up to sell it, but this put the kybosh on that. Now he just wanders round looking miserable all the time.

My box is in a dusty area where spiders, earwigs, various other flying insects, and the odd wasp reside, but they are kind enough not to have taken up residence inside. I make a point of opening it up every 6 months or so, and using a small paint brush and battery vacuum cleaner (yes they do work) to clean it out whether it needs it or not.

Fire, 'cos that's exactly what happened.

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Anonymous Coward

Yet More ME TOO Stories

The worst I ever ran into was a computer that some guy kept in his wood shop...right next door to some big saw. The machine was about 1/2 full of sawdust and featured a family of mice, huddled around the CPU, all dead. They hadn't been dead long enough to dry out and were just not very pleasant.

Then there was the smelly laptop. It wouldn't boot and had a strange, familiar and nasty odour to it. We opened it up to find a lot of corrosion and a hideous, hideous smell. It turned out that some cat had decided that laptops were where all the cool cats pee.

I've also encountered a keyboard that seemed a bit dirty. I turned it over and banged down revealing a massive pile of public hair. It looked as if someone with a sizable bush shaved and then shoved all the shavings between the keys. It was naaaaaaasty.

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