A Guide to Cleaning Your System for Better Performance and Thermals

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Whether you're buying a new laptop or building a desktop, it's always the same. You enjoy blistering performance for the first few months, even a year at times, and slowly, performance deteriorates. Games start stuttering, opening a few browser tabs seems to throw off your system.
 
No, it may not be time to upgrade your PC or laptop yet! Dust and other foreign particles can enter your components and clog them – increasing heat. The thermal paste on your CPU might have started to wear off, and your fans and heatsinks aren’t as efficient as they used to be; airflow issues might also be compounded by careless or non-existent cable management.
 
All of the above comes at a significant performance hit in some cases. Take a look at some of our testing below:

1: Cinebench Score Before Cleaning
 

2: Cinebench Score After Cleaning
 

1: Temperatures and Clock Speeds Before Cleaning
 

2: Temperatures and Clock Speeds After Cleaning
 
Even if you ARE upgrading, you should clean out your system to make sure that you're not limiting your hardware's performance in any way.
 
Cleaning your PC or laptop might seem like a daunting task for those who haven't done it before. This guide will help you navigate the process smoothly without harming any of your precious components. A clean PC will offer relatively better stability, better performance, and better thermals while looking gorgeous!
 

What You'll Need

Get the following things together before you begin:
a) A powerful blower device (some vacuum cleaners that work in reverse will also do) or a can of compressed air. Either way, the objective is to blow pressurized air into the small fins to get the dust out.
b) A dust mask. Trust me, if your system hasn’t been cleaned out in a while, prepare to be engulfed in gigantic dust clouds as soon as you get started.
c) A soft, lint-free, micro-fiber cloth. Sometimes, even compressed air won’t be enough. You have to rely on good old wiping in those cases. Keep this cloth ready; you'll need it.
 
 
d) An open space that's going to get VERY dusty in a bit.
e) Zip ties or cable ties. These nifty little lifesavers are brilliant for cable management and a clean-looking system. Keep a few of them on hand (10-12).
f) Patience. Managing cables can be frustrating at times. Be patient and be ready for some scratched/slightly bruised fingers once you're done.
g) Thermal Paste. You’ll need to re-apply thermal paste once you remove your CPU cooler.
h) 99% Iso-Propyl Alcohol (IPA) Solution. If you can't find this, you can even use 75% IPA rubbing alcohol.
 
Now, let's start cleaning!
 

Fans, Filters, and CPU Heatsink Dust Cleaning

Dust is a part of our lives wherever we live. It tends to accumulate over time, reaching catastrophic levels in a PC at times. The accumulation of dust clogs the heatsink, filters, and case fans, affecting the thermal performance of your PC.
 
 
 
Less-than-efficient airflow causes your entire system to run at higher temperatures than it needs to – wasting valuable power.
 

Cleaning Process

a) Unscrew the case fans as well as the CPU cooler and heatsink. Consult your CPU cooler manual for detailed instructions.
 
 
b) If you're using liquid cooling, please read on, otherwise move on to the next step. The liquid cooling heatsink will be mounted away from the CPU, usually towards the front or the top of the cabinet. Carefully remove the fan as well as the heatsink from the case before unscrewing the cooler fixed atop your CPU.
c) Remove your processor from its socket and keep it aside. Somewhere away from the dust preferably.
d) Hold up the blower or the can of compressed air and aim it at the heatsink and CPU fan first. If you see dust pouring out the opposite side, it’s working.
e) Once you’re done, repeat this process with the case fans as well.
f) Now, all the loose dust should be out. However, in most cases, your fan leaves will often retain a lot of dust.
g) Use a cloth to wipe each leaf individually, reaching as far down as you can. If you have large hands, this might be hard. Use the back of an old toothbrush or something alike to guide the cloth in between the gaps.
h) Your clean fans and CPU heatsink should now look something like this.
 
 
 

Cable Management

Clogged, haphazard cables can affect airflow in a big way. What’s more, if you have a transparent side window in your case, you don’t want people looking in at a mess of cables inside.
 
 
Once your CPU cooler and fans are clean, you need to get those power supply cables clean as well. If you’ve already managed your cables effectively, go ahead, and aim your blower at them. This should take care of most of the dust lodged between the wires. You can proceed to the next component after this step.
 
If you need to improve your cabling before cleaning your PC's interior, read on!
 

Managing Cables

a) In most cases, you can find a hole right next to your motherboard’s 24-pin power cable. Similarly, you can find such spaces for every single power port on your motherboard.
b) If your power cables aren't coming in from behind those gaps, we’ll need to re-do the cabling. If your wires are already using those gaps, you're good to jump to the next step.
c) Remove the back panel from your cabinet (it should open from both sides)
 
 
d) Unplug the cables going from the PSU (power supply) to the motherboard and other components like fans and storage devices.
 
 
e) Pull the cables towards the back of your case and route them through the gaps nearest to where they're needed. Avoid overlaps as much as possible.
f) Make sure you've plugged in all the cables.
g) Now, use the zip ties to group cables in bunches and press them flat against the backplate of your cabinet.
 
 
h) You could also go a step further and organize the I/O and power cables at the back of your case, as shown above.
 

Overall System Cleaning

If you've already managed your cables well, it should give you more than enough room to clean out the rest of your system.
 

Cleaning Process

a) Blow air into your system top to bottom.
b) Once you're done with one side, remove the backplate of your cabinet and clean that side as well.
c) You might encounter more stubborn grime while cleaning out your system. Use the soft cloth to wipe them clean.
d) Please avoid using any liquid cleaning agents during this process.
 

CPU Thermal Paste Replacement

Now that you've cleaned your CPU cooler and other cabinet internals, you'll need to re-apply thermal paste on your processor before use.
 

Process of Re-applying Thermal Paste

a) Wet the soft cloth with a little 99% IPA solution. Do NOT use water for this. It won't work, and you'll risk the safety of your motherboard and other parts.
b) Place the CPU back into the motherboard socket before proceeding. It'll make things much easier!
 
 
c) Quickly dab the top of the processor with the wet portion of the cloth and gently rub off the dried thermal paste. Keep wetting the fabric as needed. You shouldn't need to apply much force if using enough of the 99% IPA solution.
 
 
d) Once the top of the processor is clean, repeat the above with the copper contact of the CPU cooler (located at the bottom of the heatsink for air coolers).
e) Once both your processor and CPU cooler contact plate are clean and shiny, grab your thermal paste.
f) Apply a blob of paste, right at the center of the processor. It shouldn’t be too big or too small. Just enough to spread out evenly over the processor when affixing the CPU cooler atop it.
 
 
g) Re-install the CPU cooler on the processor without shifting its position too much.
 
 
h) That's it. Your CPU is ready to go again.
 

Wrap-Up

Your system should run cooler and faster now that you’ve unclogged all the dust and dirt from it. It should offer better performance as well as better stability after this thorough cleaning. For an even more stable experience, make sure you update all your software and drivers to the latest version as soon as you can.
In case you’re upgrading to AMD’s latest 3rd Generation Ryzen processors, you can find the newest version of BIOS for all MSI motherboards here.
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