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[ The PC Guide | System Care Guide | System Care: Protecting Your PC | General System Care Factors | Environmental Care Factors ]

Ambient Temperature and Acclimation

A critical factor in prolonging the life of your PC hardware is the temperature of the components. Components that run hot die young; those that stay cool last a much longer time. One aspect of keeping components cool is using cooling equipment and specific cooling procedures. Another is providing a room environment that is appropriate for the hardware.

The general rule of thumb for room temperature is that PCs like the temperatures that (average, normal :^) ) people like. Generally speaking, good operating temperature for a PC is about 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 24 or so Celsius). Cooler than this is of course, better than warmer. Operating a PC in a hot room that is over 80 degrees Fahrenheit can make it very difficult to cool. Remember that some businesses have thermostats on a timer that will make air conditioning shut off at night; in this situation you might want to make sure a PC is not left running overnight, or that a special computer room is designated with independent controls.

Most PC hardware can tolerate being at much lower temperatures (or moderately higher temperatures) when they are not running. If you are transporting equipment or storing it, the temperature concerns are much less than if the equipment is actually in use. However, if you have equipment that has been exposed to very low temperatures and is then immediately turned on, you risk permanently damaging the equipment. It is essential that very cold equipment be brought up to room temperature slowly before use. This is called acclimation.

I live in the greater Boston area, and one of the "scary" things I sometimes see is people who order whole systems mail order, in February. The system is delivered, they open the box and of course are excited and want to use their new toy right away (wouldn't we all? :^) ) So they rip the boxes open, set it up and hit the power switch. Sometimes this stuff has spent hours or days sitting in barely-heated warehouses or trucks--or even outside on a front doorstep, not a good plan anyway--and it is very cold. Turning this equipment when still this cold risks permanently damaging it. Of particular concern are monitors, hard disks, motherboards, and chips of all kinds (processor, memory, etc.) This covers most of the PC of course.

If you take a PC that is at freezing temperature and plug it in, it will warm up very quickly, much more quickly than it would if you left it on a table to warm up in its own time. In some cases, you can raise the temperature of equipment from 0 degrees to 150 in only a matter of minutes. As discussed here, thermal stress is a leading cause of premature failure of electronics components. This is bad enough when the components are raised from 70 degrees to 150; when they are raised from 0 to 150 it is much worse.

Even more dangerous than this is the possibility of condensation. If you wear glasses or know someone who does, you've seen what happens when you/they are outside in the cold for a period of time and then come inside--the glasses "fog up". It is quite possible for this to happen with electronic equipment as well. This does not cause any problem as long as you give the condensation enough time to evaporate. If your hard disk platters are "moist" when you spin them up, you risk destroying the drive.

The colder the equipment is, the longer it needs to sit to ensure that it comes up to a reasonable temperature before turning it on. I personally wait 12 hours if the device has been in a reasonably cold environment, 35 to 55 degrees. If the device has been allowed to go to below-freezing temperatures, I prefer to wait 24 hours for the device to acclimate before plugging in the power.

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