Technology Explained

8 PC Maintenance Mistakes That Kill Your Hardware Lifespan

Andy Betts 12-01-2016

All computers have a limited lifespan, and they’ll remind you of this fact on a regular basis: they start getting noisier, they start slowing down, and they start showing error messages for no obvious reasons.


Yet many of these problems can be avoided entirely with a little forethought and preparation. By taking care of your PC — and by being aware of the factors that can damage it — you can make it run smoother and last longer, thus saving you headaches and money in the long run.

Whether your machine is brand new or several years old, it’s never too late to get started.

1. Poor Ventilation

Heat is one of the biggest factors that can adversely affect a PC. It can cause a computer to run slower, damage components, and in the case of laptops, drastically shorten battery life.


All computers are designed to efficiently dissipate the heat they generate via fans and air vents. However, these vents are easily obstructed. Placing your PC tower under a desk and against a wall can restrict airflow, preventing warm air from escaping and cool air from getting in.


On a laptop, the air vents are normally found on the bottom MacBook Air Overheating? 6 Tips and Tricks to Cool It Down Is your MacBook Air overheating? Here's how to find out what's making your MacBook so hot and how to cool it down again. Read More . You will block them if you use the laptop on a soft surface, such as your lap, bed, or pillow. On the other hand, if you use a case, it should allow proper ventilation.

To prevent overheating you should also try not to place your PC too close to a heater, or where it will be in the full glare of the sun in summer.

2. Dust Buildup

Another thing that causes heat buildup? Dust. Position your brand new PC on the floor, for example, and it won’t be long before it has sucked up a whole load of dust, sand, and cat hair. Laptops are even more susceptible to dust.



This buildup can block the air vents and create an insulating layer on top of heat-generating parts, putting them at risk of overheating. It can also obstruct moving parts: a heavily caked fan will have to work harder, and will become noticeably louder in the process.

At the very least, you should check from time to time that the rear air vents aren’t blocked. Better still, it’s worth occasionally opening up the case and giving your PC a full spring clean A Spring Cleaning Checklist For Your PC Part 1: Hardware Cleaning With the arrival of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, houses across the globe get a nice cleaning to rid them of dirt and clutter that has accumulated over the past year. Dust and junk also... Read More . Using a can of compressed air is the safest and most recommended way of dislodging crud from the components.

3. Loose Cables

Along with “turn it off and turn it on again”, checking for loose cables is one of the simplest ways to fix many common PC problems.



External cables can work loose very easily, especially the power cable attached to both your PC and the power brick, for example.

It can be an issue inside the case, too. If you experience hardware problems it’s worth checking that all the internal cables are properly attached to the motherboard 6 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your PC Motherboard Not sure if you should upgrade your motherboard? Here are a few tips to explain when and why to buy a new motherboard. Read More . Some parts, like hard drives, use both data and power cables, so check them all.

4. Power Surges

Power surges are caused by many things, from lightning strikes to large appliances in the home (such as washing machines and refrigerators), and they’re dangerous because they can cause great damage to a PC Are Surge Protectors Necessary? Here's What They Really Do A surge protector is not the same thing as a power strip! Here's how they're different and why you need a reliable surge protector. Read More .

At best, that damage may amount to minor data loss or the need to replace your computer’s power supply unit. At worst, it can be terminal, resulting in a fried motherboard.



A device such as the Belkin BE112230-08 12-Outlet Surge Protector gives you 3940 joules of protection, plus a $300,000 Connected Equipment Warranty in case your gear doesn’t survive.

Remember that all cables can carry power surges, including phone and Ethernet cables. Some surge protectors include support for these items as well, but not all of them do. It’s your responsibility to make sure all of your important devices are properly protected.

5. Power Cuts

Along with power surges, power cuts also need to be protected against. In most instances, a sudden power outage will cause data loss How Power Outages Can Damage Your Computer (And How to Protect It) Unplugging your computer during severe storms? You may want to start. Here's how power outages can damage your PC. Read More , but hard drives and solid state drives could also suffer permanent hardware damage.

Hard drives in particular are susceptible to head crashes Hard Drives, SSDs, Flash Drives: How Long Will Your Storage Media Last? How long will hard drives, SSDs, flash drives continue to work, and how long will they store your data if you use them for archiving? Read More , where the read and write head physically scratches the disk. SSDs don’t have moving parts so they aren’t affected in this way, yet they remain vulnerable to power failure in another way: they can become corrupted, or even die entirely.


The solution is to use an uninterruptible power supply 5 Things You Need To Know In Order To Buy The Right UPS Power is unpredictable. A car crashing into a pole can cause a blackout or a surge strong enough to destroy most electronics in your home. That's why you need an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Read More . This is an external device that provides a few minutes of emergency backup power, enough for you to shut your computer down safely. Prices for these start at around $40, but we have a few tips on saving money when buying a UPS 4 Ways to Save Money When Buying a UPS In order to save money on your UPS purchase, figure out what you need and find a place to buy it at a discount. Read More .

6. Battery Drain

With a number of manufacturers moving increasingly towards sealed batteries, caring for your laptop battery How To Care For Your Non-Removable Laptop Battery What precautions should you take to ensure your non-removable laptop battery last for as long as possible? Read More is more important than ever. There are many things to know about this, but they can be summarized into three key points.


First, heat is the quickest way to degrade a battery, so try to keep your laptop within the recommended operating temperatures of your battery. Second, don’t keep your laptop plugged in — and charged to 100% — all the time. Even if it is permanently sat on your desk, it’s worth using it on battery power every now and again.

And third, don’t fully discharge the battery. Contrary to popular belief, this causes stress and actually reduces the battery’s lifespan. More frequent, but shorter, charges are preferred.

7. Physical Damage

It should go without saying that physical damage is bad news. Laptops get tossed around, peripherals get removed before they’ve finished their jobs, and bumps, knocks, and spills are more common than anticipated.


Hard drives are especially prone. Ideally, you shouldn’t move your computer while it is turned on How to Care for Your Hard Drives and Make Them Last Longer Sometimes an early death is the fault of the manufacturer, but more often than not, hard drives fail earlier than they should because we don't take care of them. Read More  if it has a hard disk inside. Hard knocks can also damage sensitive internal parts or cause cables and connections to come loose.

And even if spilling a drink on your laptop does not kill it instantly, the moisture can cause rusting and have a corrosive effect over time.

8. Software Updates

Software problems aren’t going to physically reduce your PC’s lifespan, but they will make it run slower, throw up errors, and produce other symptoms that will have you eyeing up a whole new machine.

In fact, spending a couple of hours tidying up your software will get your computer running almost as well as the day you bought it.


First, take care of security by installing all available updates to your OS and programs. Make sure you’re running an up-to-date web browser, and get rid of buggy and insecure plugins like Flash Why Flash Needs to Die (And How You Can Get Rid of It) The Internet's relationship with Flash has been rocky for a while. Once, it was a universal standard on the web. Now, it looks like it may be headed to the chopping block. What changed? Read More . Install all necessary security tools, but don’t go overboard on this: you only want to be running one anti-virus package at a time.

Then, deal with performance. Get rid of unused programs, and avoid excessive use of beta applications. Check which programs set themselves to run at boot, and remove the ones you don’t need. You should also clear out any obsolete files How To Uninstall Applications Efficiently And Remove Obsolete Files Read More .

What Is Your PC Maintenance Routine?

All PCs fail eventually. That’s the reason why you should have a good backup plan in place. But with just a few basic changes, like where you keep it and how you use it, you should be able to enjoy it problem-free. And when the time comes, you’ll upgrade because you want to, not because you have to.

For more, check out some behaviors that will destroy your laptop How to Destroy Your Laptop: 5 Mistakes to Avoid Destruction Wondering how to destroy a laptop? These common mistakes will damage your computer over time, so you must beware of them. Read More .

Image Credits: Fan via p.Gordon, Dust via Brian Cantoni, Cables via Makia Minich, Lightning via Carolina Odman, UPS via Paradox Wolf, Battery via Intel Free Press, Broken via Zach Copley

Related topics: Battery Life, Computer Maintenance, Hard Drive.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. mike
    January 19, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    1. Save box, save paperwork, save disks etc. to a file cabinet.
    2. Setup PC (safe, clean, stable well lighted space).
    3. Start PC and make a whole system backup to DVD/s
    4. Customize PC add/delete software, make custom changes etc.
    5. Save custom image to DVDs.

    Now no matter what have a full back in minutes.

  2. Jon
    August 13, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Still using my homemade PC from 2001, had many versions of Windows installed on it but now have Kubuntu and still working like the day I built it. I do have Win 10 pm another HDD but rarely ever boot up to it.

  3. ha14
    June 20, 2016 at 10:03 am

    Buy A new PC:Laptop every year :)

  4. Brent
    June 20, 2016 at 2:43 am

    Personally, I reformat and reconfigurdreconfigure my PC yearly, just to get rid of all the junk I've amassed throughout the year. I only reinstall something if I need it.

  5. Anonymous
    April 9, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    The effect of dust on PC can not be over emphasized, a client brought in a windows 7 laptop for me to fix. I observed the PC was terrible slow to perform background operations. I checked all necessary hardware min requirements. the PC was OK hardware wise but low i heard the noisy sound of the Fan and check it out. you can imagine the pile up of dust particulars in found inside. after cleaning up the fan and the PC came back to life.

  6. LinkageAX
    March 8, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    My routine:

    Wait for it to die
    Perform necromancy
    Let it run without issue for the next year

  7. Anonymous
    February 7, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    My one 'tip' for using a laptop (given that their air vents are underneath, and they don't have much in the way of clearance for air-flow, due to low-rise 'feet') is to replace the feet with self-adhesive cupboard door 'bump' stops (available from any DIY store). These will make your laptop sit higher, it's true.....but it will have far greater ability to pull cool air through.

    And if you're using it on your lap, sit it on a tray instead.....again, this maintains the ability to pull cool air through. Works on my 14 yr-old Dell Inspiron; those old P4's were devils for generating large amounts of heat!

    And +1 to regular 'spring-cleaning'. Most important.

  8. Matt
    January 26, 2016 at 10:23 am

    After a few times of discovering my fan filters full of dust, I put cleaning the intake filter on my calendar for every three weeks. When I get the reminder, I pull a small paint brush out of the drawer, dust off the front cover of the computer, and then dust the filter. It takes less than 30 seconds.

    It takes probably 2 or 3 times as long now for dust to build up inside the case, as it can easily pull most of the air through the filter and less through the other smaller, unfiltered openings.

    Though my computer sits on the floor board of my desk, with the wheels an the 3/4 inch board being the only thing keeping it from actually being at floor level, I'm sure that I could go to 5-week intervals with no problem, judging by the minimal dust after 3 weeks.

  9. George Fish
    January 19, 2016 at 12:21 am

    When my desktop PCs start to do weird things like spontaneously rebooting, I now know that there are probably bloated electrolytic capacitors on the motherboard causing trouble. I have recapped about 3 or 4 motherboards so far, and even though the cost of new caps has to be factored in, I get a few more years of very reliable service from the box. Most of the suspect capacitors are with radial leads that go all the way through the board, so they can be removed and replaced with traditional soldering equipment. Newer boards will have Surface Mount Devices (SMD) that are more difficult to replace, but can be done without special equipment if you are very careful in removing them. It is easy to destroy pads and traces by stressing them during device removal.

    Also, the ROHS standard has caused the industry to use lead-free solder. This means there is more zinc, and that means that there will be more zinc "whiskers" growing on the circuit boards. ROHS has reduced the typical lifespan of electronic gear to 2 years, if remedial action is not taken. I pull the motherboard and use a brush with stiff nylon bristles to knock off all the whiskers on both sides of the board. This slows down the inevitable death of your computer.

  10. Bob
    January 18, 2016 at 10:34 pm

    The first thing I do when I get a new computer is update the operating system, then hardware drivers, run disk cleanup with all but the Windows ESD files selected, defrag, then install my apps. I check for updates both OS and drivers once a month along with manually running cleanup tasks.

    I run a few hardware monitoring tools hwinfo for example and make sure my system is nice and chilly. I run task manager and process explorer to make sure my processes aren't running wild after updates or installing new hardware.

    For my Mac, I just turn it on, set automatic updates, and run CleanMyMac once a month.

    I turn my PC off every night because it uses a 1300w PSU but my Mac stays on because it has a really low power sleep that works great with my electric bill.

  11. vferg
    January 15, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    Working in a company as the computer guy for the last 10 years and I have seen my fair share of weird and crazy things were to this day I still have no idea what happened. Here are the things I have seen fail in order of most to least within a computer:

    1. PSU's - they are by far the worst failing part of any PC, not that that is terrible though since they are easily replaced and fairly cheap.

    2. RAM - This is already a considerable drop over the PSU as I don't see this that much but occasionally they will go bad and you will get the long beep sound when you push the power button on most model PC's

    3. Motherboard - I honestly wouldn't have thought this would happen as much as it does but although the percentage is low I have seen about 1 a year go bad, the problem with that is they take a little more time to diagnose since your generally testing or looking at other parts first before arriving at the mobo.

    4. Hard Drives - basically ive only seen a handful of hard drives fail that were for basic use. This excludes NAS or RAID array setups. I wont count them since generally they are hit way harder with I/O's non stop. For normal computer setups with just the hard drive powering the PC though ive seen about 3-5 in the 10 years of working on thousands of PC's. As for SSD's our company is only just starting to get these for people and still only employees who require higher end PC's so I don't have many stats on these but I have had 2 friends who had 1 die on them throughout the last 5 years. Personally mine that I put in back in 2010 is still going strong.

    So that's basically it for parts. 1 story I have about cleaning out PC's is this, sometimes when they have been in production for 5 or more years and undisturbed it actually seems that the 2 inch caked on dust is sometimes the sole reason that PC is still running! We have had several cases were we found PC's like that and ended up cleaning them out and within a week or 2 suddenly die. It was almost like the parts became so sensitive to the constant heat that was being held in by all the dust that when they were cleaned out it was like shock to the parts and sometimes it actually caused the failure. Not that it happened often at all but it was just funny to see that sometimes in rare cases it could be best to just leave it be!

  12. paul
    January 14, 2016 at 5:30 am

    I dont think if its linux that windows CPU will run hotter that under Linux - appreciate your experience Yochannon, ive only 10 years in builds - but I was programming in the 80's on VIC-20 then Spectrum 48k+ , nothing like today but I'm not entirely convinced by that as they would be running on the same exact hardware, yes you can run code efficiently etc but I dont think its drastic

  13. paul
    January 14, 2016 at 5:10 am

    Sleeping your PC instead of shutting it down (especially modern low power PC's where sleeping uses almost no power) is better because there is voltage spikes each time you turn on your computer from scratch at POST stage which over time will damage parts

  14. Ken Mitchell
    January 14, 2016 at 12:56 am

    One caution about using canned air to blow the dust out of your PC; Put your finger or a pencil or something to stop the fan from turning when you're blowing it out. Normally, electricity from the power supply drives the fan motor to spin the blades. If you're spinning the fan blades with the canned air, then the "fan motor" becomes a GENERATOR, and you could be sending voltage spikes into your PC.

    Blast away with the canned air, but don't let the fan blades spin while you're doing it.

  15. Anonymous
    January 13, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    Talking About Dust...

    ...If You Have A Tower PC, Never Ever Ever, Use It When It Is On The Floor - Never Ever Ever.

    Put It On Your Desk, Or On A Side Table Enough Away From The Floor.


  16. Anonymous
    January 13, 2016 at 5:21 am

    I 100% disagree with number 8.

    It's recommended that you always update your software. Software are never perfect.

    • Valentine
      January 13, 2016 at 8:49 am

      One of my early PC's got it's motherboard fried when installing Windows 98, so ...
      Not to mention countless times when the upgrades to various software, especially OSs were pure crap until a years worth of patches and service packs were available.

  17. Jad
    January 13, 2016 at 1:02 am

    Only two of these have anything to do with maintanance... Make use of really has poor quality articles compared to many others online.

    • Tom
      January 13, 2016 at 2:58 am

      Instead of complaining about the article, you COULD try giving your own tips. Or, better still, try to become a writer on the site and give it the vast improvement it deserves.

      Don't just talk about it, so something to make it better.

      I give the same advice to my 3 year old... but he doesn't listen. I'm hoping you will.

      I, on the other hand, liked the article. While the title might be a little off compared to the content... they are all still valid tips to prevent, or causes of, computer issues.

  18. Paul in NJ
    January 12, 2016 at 10:42 pm

    Sage advice proffered by the other commenters. You, dear reader, would do well to heed it.

    I have a lovely, expensive desktop that sits under a desk, in a heavily trafficked area, that has known cats and dogs. Dust and hair are its nemeses. I tried using a sheer sheet of furnace-filter material over its intake, but that didn't really seem to help keep the krep out.

    While I don't have a lot of spare time to be pro-active, I'm fortunate that my PC lets me know when it's cleaning time: it runs more slowly and takes forever to perform its cloud backups (plural). That's when I download some MS updates, shut it off, open it up, and blow the krep out of it. It pays to always have cans of compressed air on hand; vacuum cleaners don't suck with the same gale-force and can't reach in as far as a good blast of air.

  19. Jake
    January 12, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    Dust is a huge fire hazard. I've seen a 2 month old computer that caught fire from just a small amount of dust. Thankfully, it only burned the dust off and nothing was damaged, but waiting for your PC to catch the dust on fire is not proper maintenance. I've also seen so many computers (actually every one I've ever seen besides mine) have enough hair/fiber/dust that I thought they should catch fire. If it has a heatsink, it should be cleaned, even on the motherboard, its VRM's caught fire on the before mentioned desktop. It was a very expensive board too, so just clean computers once in a while.

    The maintenance I give my computer (recommended monthly) is taking the fan off the CPU cooler, blowing that out with compressed air (50'ish psi), and wiping the fans off with a damp paper towel (let dry a few hours). If you have a custom built computer like mine and it has liquid cooling, you will want to take out the radiator every 2 months (too often and the threads will get worn, too long and heat will build up), because even though it looks clean, the other side you can't see will be filthy in 2 months. So weekly would be excessive, but unless you strap engine air filters to every entry on your case, don't wait a year, it could very well catch fire.

  20. yochanon
    January 12, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    In my 20+ years of using computers (my first was a store-bought Packard-Bell in 1994 from Sears), the rest over the years have been built by myself so that I knew *exactly* what each and every component was that I wanted in it), I've only had three hard drives dies on me - all of those were older-types back in the mid and late '90's.

    The only other hardware that's ever died on me has been PSU's - power supplies that fit in the computer case. In both instances, I suddenly heard a loud *POP* about the equivalent of a firecracker, saw a little puff of smoke stream up from behind my case and the smell of burnt electrical things.

    After the first few months of having a computer in the area I live - way, way out in the woods where brown and black outs are commonplace ranging in reasons for them happening to mostly storms messing with the ancient phone and power lines, to idiots driving drunk and running into power/phone poles - and at the time running Microsoft (which I despise and hate with a passion) which did extremely poorly at recovering after brown and black outs, I got an UPS and have *never* been without one since.

    Luckily after only using Microsoft for a few years and changing to Linux overnight one night the Reiser FS that I've used since 2000 has not once failed me in having any trouble recovering and letting me continue on as if nothing went wrong. (I had Linux a short while before getting an UPS, so this is how I know Reiser FS has never let me down).

    My advice is to skip the Surge Protector altogether and just get an UPS. I've only owned APC UPS's, so I only know that they offer good software for their UPS's. Set it to shut down your system after 1 minute (two minutes at the most!) so that in case it's just a quick 'brownout' your system won't already be shutting down even though the power is back up in the house/neighborhood/whatever. This give the software a minute or two to see if the power is *still* out after that amount of time and will then shutdown for you properly.

    I also keep two or three cans of compressed air around *just* for blowing out the dust around and on all the components in teh case. It's not so powerful that it can blow something apart that shouldn't be blown apart, but is still powerful enough to get in and get the dust out of the fins of the heatsinks and inside the power supply. Make sure you blow the dust off the hard drives and optical drives too as those get warm enough without the dust on them helping to keep that heat in.

    As for the software aspect of it...I don't have those worries with my Linux, but I can see it being a contributing factor to the hard drive and cpu heating up a little more with those 'other' OS's.

    Extra fans in the case work well to help cool things down *BUT*, they will also make the inside of the case get dustier *faster* because they're drawing in air fast and throwing that air and dust right on the nearest things in the jetstream's path, os it's a reason to have to blow the dust off stuff far more often and regularly.