Vacuum your CPU: When cooling suddenly doesn’t work anymore

This post was written by eli on March 25, 2014
Posted Under: miscellaneous

So I compiled a Linux kernel with 8 threads in parallel on my Linux desktop machine, as I always do. The CPU worked extra hard as usual, but lately its temperature began to rise, ending up at 88°C. It looks like a clock gating mechanism kicked in to save the CPU.

But hey, this never happened in the past! Asking a round a bit, I was advised to check if the fan is OK. Maybe the thermal paste went dry.

Opening the case and looking, I noticed that the heatsink was full with dust. More precisely, a lot of dust was stuck between the heatsink’s grill blades, obstructing the air flow. No air flow, no cooling. So I unsnapped the fan off the heatsink, took a vacuum cleaner, and removed all dust.

And my PC is like new now! The temperature goes from 30.0°C to no more than 44.0°C when I run that kernel compilation test (watching the temperature with “watch sensors” at shell prompt).

It was that simple.

Note to self: Vacuum the CPU’s heatsink every now and then.

And here’s what it looks like after two years, during which the computer has been on continuously (click on images to enlarge):

Heat sink and fan, before cleaning up dust

And this is with the fan taken off. One can clearly see that the layer of dust disrupts the air flow.

Heat sink,  fan taken off, before cleaning up dustA minute with the vacuum cleaner, and we have

Heat sink,  fan taken off, after cleaning up dustSnap the fan back in place, and the computer is ready to go!

Heat sink + fan taken, after cleaning up dust, ready to go


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