PC Dusting (& help saving the planet)

Sun, Sep 13, 2020
7 min read

Yesternight, my normally dead-silent desktop noisily me reminded me it was overdue for its more-or-less annual dusting. Its fans were roaring and whirling.

So, early this morning I dusted the PC. Frankly, I have no excuse for not doing it more often. But I just don’t care very much about hardware, I just want it to work in silence and as long as it is silent…

Unplug power cable and every other cable. Remove both side panels (4 thumbscrews). Open my office’s window, to get some fresh air in. Blow some canned air in the PC, to get the dust out. Cough, while wondering how that much dust managed to find its way inside a closed box. Gently wipe the fan’s blades, to remove the remaining dust. Clean the case’s air filters. Put both side panels back. Plug everything back at the rear. Done.

But not this time. There was an irking noise, a low pulsing winning that wasn’t there previously. I opened the PC again, to see what was wrong. I thought it might the GPU’s fans. I built the PC in 2015, with a GTX 970 Strix that is still more than powerful enough for my daily needs and occasional gaming, but that is slowly getting old. I really had no desire to replace it (I like its silence), and no reason to spend money on a newer and more powerfull model that I had no need for.

The good news was that it wasn’t the GPU’s. The bad news was that it was one of the CPU’s fans.

Replacing the CPU’s fans is easy (and cheap). Plus, I had one spare, lying around. But it was very, very bad news nonetheless since in order to replace these fans, I had to remove the whole motherboard from the case: there was not enough room to do it inside the case. Putting everything in the case five years ago was already a painful experience, and I was confident removing it would be even worse.

I was right.

It’s hard to realize how poorly thought this case is (like many other cases), and so are almost all the components I installed in it. In fact, it’s not hard to realize, it’s simply unbelievable. It almost feels like it’s the designers and engineers sole purpose in life to make their piece of equipment as painful to manipulate as possible. ‘Hey! someone could easily upgrade ram here, why not move the slots just under the heatsink and force the user to remove it first?’ ‘Look, Bob there is way too much room between the panel and this port! Anyone could easily slip one’s hand to reach it. You know it must be too small or there would be no fun. And also, remember to make this impossible to reach cable more fragile, don’t be nice on the customers, you know how they like it when it’s painful, don’t you?’ Ok, maybe I’m pushing it a little bit here. But not that much ;)

Sure, the case itself is as silent as advertised, and I like a lot for that reason. But outside of that, it’s not that good.

Despite the case being huge (it’s a Fractal Design ‘Define R5’, if you want to check its specs) there is no room at all to put your fingers, unless you have six years old hands, and tiny ones with that. Some screws and too many connectors are barely accessible, unless you’ve tentacles instead of fingers. Some connectors are so fragile that just thinking of unplugging them will break them (looking at you, USB-3 internal port). And almost everything that is not plastic or fabric has sharp metal corners, you know, just to help you remember that skin never wins against metal and that skin, unlike metal, can bleeds. Icing on the cake, everything inside the box is painted black. Black case, black panels, black screws, black cables, black connectors, black components. Black fans… Oops no. On the four fans, two are white, my bad. But you get the idea: it was so dark in it I needed to hold not less than two light sources, in my brightly lit office, to see what I was doing with my two hands already busy trying to reach for screws and cables and miserably failing at avoiding scratching themeselves on every sharp corner of every single piece of equipment.

The fix to such a problem is obvious: as a manufacturer, refuse to pay your case-designer if he/she has not used the case at least once (with video footage as a proof) to build a fully working computer and then to get everything out of it, without breaking anything or losing a hand or even a finger. Bam! the whole case and components industry instantly will have make (made?) a giant step forward in usability.

Whatever, I managed to remove the motherboard from the case without bruising my hands that much. Putting the new fan in the fan cooler was a breeze (thx, ‘BeQuiet’ for sucking less). And then, barely scratching my hands more, I put everything back in the case, plugged everything, and booted the PC. It worked. In silence. Yeah.

Collateral hand-damage and poor PC-case design aside, this was an easy fix. And it was quick. And I think it’s how things should work.

It took me maybe 40 minutes (with my really poor eyesight: I can’t see a screw’s head or read a label without using a magnifier). All I needed was single Philips screwdriver. And had I not a spare ‘BeQuiet’ fan lying around, I could have ordered one on Amazon and have it delivered tomorrow, if not in the afternoon. Like I could have done for any other of my PC components and cables because — brace yourself for some shocking revelation — they’re standard and they’re readily available.

I’m now writing this blog post on my fully working and silent PC, looking at my bruised fingers hammering the keyboard. But it’s about my Mac, I’m thinking. My brand-new-but-broken-again Mac that sits in its box, waiting for me to drop it to the Store, again.

I don’t mind hardware failing, even new hardware. It happens. That’s why there is a warranty.

What I mind is the manufacturer deciding to make it harder, when not impossible, for the user to try to maintain or fix the hardware he or she purchased. To be clear: there is absolutely nothing I can fix in my new Mac. Everything is soldered on the motherboard. Even the storage. So, if/when one thing fails, the whole computer has to be replaced: mtotherboard, disk, ram, cpu. Everything, save the case.

That’s such a waste. and that’s not how it should be.

This (new) computer was already sent for repair once to Apple, and it will be send again soon. But what happen after that? How many time will Apple simply decide to throwaway a fully working motherboard to replace a single failing component on it? Three, five, ten times?

And what happen after the warranty is over? Am I supposed to pay whatever price Apple will decide for a new motherboard, with all the components soldered on, every single time any component fails on mine? Or maybe I am supposed to throw the computer away and purchase a new one, without bothering much?

Is this really what it means for Apple to have a ‘Planet-size plan’ for the environment?

“To protect the planet, we must show others that impossible can be business as usual.” (Apple)

That is so true, Apple. It’s up to you to show what can be done, and everyone else will follow, as they always do. Alas, it seems to me you’re doing it wrong for the moment, Apple. And everyone else is following, I’m afraid.

Using renewable energy, reducing packaging, and aiming at 100% recycling, to quote your page, is obviously good. But wouldn’t using less energy and using less resources to begin with be even better? You know, stop designing thrownaway devices and components in the name of thinness. Make them repairable and upgradable, like they were (and even more). Repairable and upgradable, means less stuff thrown away, means less stuff to built, means less stuff to ship, means less stuff to package and, as a (huge) side bonus, it means less stuff to recyle, too — yep, in case you’re not aware, recycling cost energy, a lot.

After more than thirty years using Apple hardware and software, there is not a day I don’t miss using certain apps, and I miss macOS integration a lot. But the lack of repairability Apple has recently adopted, I have not missed it once.