Dirty fans can cause PC racket


January 01, 2001|By David Einstein | David Einstein,SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

My Pentium III has always made a low, humming noise, but lately it's gotten a lot louder. In fact, it's so loud we have to turn the computer off at night to get sleep (it's in our bedroom). The funny thing is that the computer continues to work just fine. Any ideas of what the problem could be and how serious it is?

The culprit probably is a fan that helps keep the Pentium chip cool. If you open up the computer case, you'll see the chip is attached to a heat sink - a chunk of metal whose purpose is to draw heat away from the chip itself. Attached to the heat sink should be one or two small fans.

Over time, the fans collect dust and other debris, which can cause them to become unbalanced. Then they make noise.

Try cleaning the fan (or fans) with a cotton swab or by spraying them with air from an aerosol container like the ones used to clean camera lenses.

If the noise is still too loud, replace the heat sink-fan combination. A new one costs less than $20.

I installed Windows Millennium Edition, and now I can't boot the PC into DOS. Windows 98's Shut Down window lets you restart the computer in DOS mode, but that option is missing in Windows ME. It's created a big problem for me because I rely on some old DOS programs. Is there anything I can do to get my DOS back?

You're a member of a vanishing breed. Microsoft figured so few people still use DOS programs, it wasn't worth incorporating the DOS startup option into Windows ME.

Another reason for getting rid of what's called Real Mode DOS is that it lets Windows start and shut down faster.

You can still access a DOS prompt - it's in the Programs/Accessories folder in the Windows Start menu. If you want pure, un-Windowed DOS, however, you'll have to start your PC using a Windows Startup Disk. If you don't have one, you can create one using the Add/Remove Programs option in the Windows Control Panel. Tab over to Startup Disk in the Add/Remove Programs Properties box and follow the instructions.

I recently upgraded my PC with a 56K modem, but the fastest speed I seem to be able to achieve is about 44,000 bits per second. Is there any way to monkey with the modem's settings and boost the connection speed to 56K?

Nope, there isn't. In the first place, the Federal Communications Commission has set a 53K limit on modem downloads. The reason is that anything faster supposedly would interfere with telephone calls.

Then there's the problem of phone line conditions. Older lines, or those too far from phone company switching facilities, can produce "noise" that hampers data transmissions, even though they're fine for voice calls.

I am contemplating buying a computer so I can play adult games. Would a laptop do as well as a desktop?

A laptop PC will perform just as well as a desktop, providing it has a comparable graphics chip. I assume that by "adult games," you mean adventure, role-playing games or casino-type games, as opposed to shoot-em-ups and racing games often favored by the younger set. If the games you have in mind are 3-D, make sure the computer you get, whether a laptop or desktop, comes with 3-D video.

One caveat: A desktop is a lot easier to upgrade than a laptop. So if you think you might want to add even more powerful video in the future, go for the desktop.

While James Coates on vacation, David Einstein is our guest columnist.

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