Ask the Hatchet Geek: Cool computers

Senior Kunal Johar, the Hatchet Geek, is a computer science major and co-founder of Twice a month, he will solve typical computer problems students face. E-mail the Hatchet Geek your computer queries at

Heat affects just about all performance aspects of a computer. Without proper care, a processor can reach damaging temperatures of 150-plus degrees Fahrenheit.

Some readers have asked why their computers randomly shut off and others have asked why they get a “Thermal Failure” message. More likely than not, a cooling fan has been jammed by dirt or has burned out. Fans have a lifetime of about 30,000 to 100,000 hours, so a replacement should be considered regular maintenance.

If you have a laptop, flip the computer over and see if any fans are easily accessible without opening the entire case. Many Dell models exhibit this feature, and replacing their fans is as easy as unscrewing it, unplugging it and inserting the new fan.

Readers experiencing problems with desktops can open their machine up to find a large metal cage with a fan on top of it. If the fan can be unscrewed, the replacement is as easy as it is for a laptop. If the metal cage is attached to the fan, the entire heat sink will need to be replaced. Even if you know what a heat sink is (it’s a device that absorbs heat from another object), you should seek out a professional to do this replacement.

In all cases, look at the fan to see the model number, and use Google or eBay to find a replacement part. Quieter fans cost $20 to $30, while louder fans ring up somewhere between $5 and $10. As far as heat dissipation goes, both are equally effective.

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