If there's one thing that can cause havoc for anyone with a computer, it would have to be dust, dust bunnies, and dust monsters. Chances are if you've had your computer for more than six months there is some level of dust building up inside. While dust under the couch may be bad to look at dust in the computer can cause problems.
As is the nature of this airborne creature, dust always settles on the regions which have the most air flowing over them. That means expensive heatsinks and power supplies are the foremost target. What can dust do to you processors heatsink? Well, over time the dust builds up and acts like an insulating layer, blocking air from directly contacting the heatsink's surface. In extreme instances the dust can build up to such a high level that it fills up the spaces in a heatsink and prevents it from doing its job.
The effects of a dust build up are not always easy to recognize. But you may find your computer starts to run a bit hotter than it did previously, and may indeed be less stable if you overclock it. Dust can have an adversarial effect on fans if it manages to find it's way to their bearings. Dead fans in power supplies are rare by they are common. While a bad fan in a power supply is not going to immediately kill you computer, you may smell the flux as it starts to flow around the components not being cooled. A dead fan on top of a processor can mean system hangs and in the worst case scenario, a fried chip.
If you have a case with an intake fan, try to lessen the amount of dust being brought into your computer by putting a filters of some kind over top of it. Standard air filter material, the same kind you may find in an air conditioner or furnace, porous spongy foam, or even pantyhose have been used successfully to limit the amount of dust a computer inhales with out reducing the amount of air being circulated.
Finally, if you run that computer 24x7, be sure to crack it open every couple of months and clean it out. Guaranteed it will run a bit cooler. It may even be a bit more reliable. When you do, remove the dust building up on heatsinks and fan blades with a vengeance, dust on the mother board will have less of an impact overall.
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