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The Analysis Temperatures for Computer Hardware
Computers these days are so reliable in general that we hardly know whether the surrounding environment is the one in which the computer can or should operate. Especially when we are talking about an office environment we usually assume that if we are okay with being in the room then the computer is probably fine too. It’s not a terrible assumption to begin with, but there are a few exceptions. If you want your equipment to last a long time and perform well, you actually need to take environmental factors into account.
The general rule for desktops or servers: the colder it is, the better it runs. There are exceptions for extreme temperatures; see below. This is because the computer produces a lot of heat and the heat buildup is bad for the components and can actually cause the system to fail. However, this heat buildup is very local – even a poorly designed machine that tends to overheat quickly will stay cool if housed in a cold room. (Anyone who’s ever been in a server knows that the AC is usually turned up for this reason.) Some people like to joke that a computer runs better with “ice dew” on it. The reason this is a joke is that the condensation in any form physically on the computer is obviously bad, because water and electricity don’t mix.
The general rule of thumb for computer monitors (whether flat panel or old fashioned CRT): They perform best at room temperature (72 F / 22.2 C) and out of direct sunlight. Sun.
The general rule of thumb for laptops and tablets is that they are the same as desktops, except that in general you will find at least one spot on a portable device warmer than the rest of the unit after a time. The location differs by model, and the hottest spot is usually where the processor is. Your best defense against overheating the laptop is to make sure the fan is clean, if there is one. Lightly spraying a dust collector spray on the fan when the laptop is off (obviously) is usually the only way to clean it. If the ventilation slots are thick enough, you can also use a cotton swab (the laptop must also be turned off for this). Shelves are almost always designed to emit enough heat so that overheating is not a problem.
How to deal with extreme temperature situations
Cold (computer): If a computer is in a very cold environment and has developed frost on it, wipe what you can on the case, DO NOT turn on the device. Put it in a warmer environment and let it sit for 20-30 minutes to let the case warm to room temperature before turning it on. If there is no frost, the computer should work fine regardless of its temperature. (If you can stand it without winter coat, the machine is fine.)
Cold (laptop): If a laptop is cold enough, the keyboard can start to curl (literally) around corners and the touchpad won’t work at all because the sensor just won’t work at that temperature. You must first allow the device to warm to room temperature in the off state before powering it on, otherwise you may damage the components. Additionally, you may notice that it is difficult to open due to the cold “bending” of the hinges. If when you start to open the laptop cover you hear a cracking / rubbing noise, STOP. Close the lid and wait for the hinges to fold back before opening them again.
Cold (CRT monitor): Unless there is frost on it, a CRT can usually be energized even in the coldest temperatures. The screen will show a very dark image until the tube warms up.
Cold (LCD monitor): LCD monitors are generally very forgiving when it comes to cold weather. However, if there is freezing on it, you should allow it to adjust to the room temperature before turning it on to avoid damage from condensation. You will also notice a dark image on startup as the backlight bulbs have not quite warmed up yet.
Heat (computer): In extreme heat situation, you can open the case to air it out for about 10 minutes, then close the case and start the computer. Some people think that opening a case does not cool it any better because the airflow from the fans does not make sense when the case is open. Others point out that the entire system is exposed to ambient air temperature with the case open. It comes down to the design of the airflow of the fans and the ambient temperature. In a warm space, it is probably best to keep the case closed. If the room is cool or cold, you might be better off leaving the case. However, open cases are prone to a lot more dust (not to mention the potential disaster of a spilled drink).
Heat (laptop): Same situation as a desktop PC. Open the lid, let it sit, and adjust it to room temperature before turning it on. You will know it is ready to turn on if you touch the LCD screen and it is not warm in your hand. Otherwise, wait for it to cool. It will usually cool down quickly.
Heat (CRT monitor): Normally, there is no danger in starting a CRT monitor even if it has been “baked” a bit from extreme heat. However, if the case containing the tube is hot, you must first wait for it to cool down before turning it on.
Heat (LCD display): LCD screens will work even in the most extreme heat because they don’t produce a lot of heat initially. What to watch out for is the distortion of the display case. But this is rare and hardly ever happens unless the environment is so hot that it begins to warp the molded plastic.
I’ll put it to you this way: if you’re in an environment hot enough to warp plastic, you shouldn’t even be there, let alone a computer.
“Warning level” temperatures:
Ambient temperature below 35 F / 1.7 C: Usually it is too cold to operate at this point. You are dangerously close to freezing and this is when the physical properties of computer hardware change, flexing (usually). It is just not a good idea to use a computer under this brand.
Ambient temperature above 90 F / 32.2 C: It would be rare to operate at this temperature because you would sweat profusely just sitting there, but some do. Your monitors and peripherals will work fine, but the computer starts to act like an oven. The air passing through it is also hot (or maybe hot), which doesn’t help cool it much.
There will be those who strongly disagree with me on what is too hot / cold for the operating temperatures of the computer because I did not take into account other factors such as the altitude and humidity. And yes, I know that both matter enormously. If you want to add any comments focused specifically on elevation / humidity, be my guest.
Temperature is very easy to ignore because most of us don’t think about it when it comes to computers. We’re just assuming it doesn’t matter when it does. As long as you know when and when not to use a computer based on the weather, you should be fine.
Also, keep in mind that all computer hardware and laptops have specifications that indicate minimum and maximum operating temperatures – and they are usually 100% accurate.
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