Other-people-proofing a PC tower?
October 7, 2022 8:20 AM   Subscribe

My desktop PC stopped working, coincidentally during the time the house cleaner my wife and I hire was here. I do not believe it's our house cleaner's fault, because a PC should not stop working due to any level of nearby cleaning. That said, I'd like suggestions about how to change my setup after I rebuild/repair to prevent this from happening again in the future!

I wasn't home and my wife was working in another room, so I don't know exactly what happened. I obviously don't even know if it's something the cleaner accidentally did, or a coincidence. I just know I came home from work and the PC wouldn't boot. I'm testing and troubleshooting now, and will fix it or rebuild it one way or another. My first thought is that maybe the power supply is no longer outputting its rated current, since the mainboard reports an error with the GPU, but I've tried several different GPUs so it's clearly not the GPU. In any case, after I get it working, I want to protect against this kind of thing happening again!

I'm not accustomed to having a cleaner in, so I'm probably used to leaving things in a moderately sketch state and then working around that, because I am the subject-matter expert for "how to move things around my electronics setup without blowing anything up," and I can't expect anyone else to have that knowledge.

I have a full ATX tower. It was sitting on carpet next to my desk, with the cables hanging off the back. The case was closed up. It should have been grounded, but I don't take any particular precautions beyond having things installed correctly. I have minimal cable management. My theory is either that the vacuum bumped against the case and transferred static (which should've been grounded out, but maybe I screwed up), or that the power cable wiggled enough to generate some arcs or some other condition that failed the PSU.

My first thought is to elevate the tower off the floor, to keep the vacuum from banging into the case (and potentially transferring static shock, etc). My second thought is to manage the cables better, to provide strain relief, so moving the cables to vacuum under them can't, for instance, tug on the power cable repeatedly.

Is it reasonable to say "hey, please don't try to vacuum around/behind the PC, I'll get that myself?" I've already asked that of my electronics bench, so I guess so, but "leave a buffer around the cable ratsnest" is a bit of a more subjective ask.

I realize this is like, 100% the height of privilege and I acknowledge that. Just annoyed at myself for leaving things in a state where this could happen, and trying to make sure I do better next time.
posted by Alterscape to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
Best answer: Is it reasonable to say "hey, please don't try to vacuum around/behind the PC, I'll get that myself?"

Yes, this is totally reasonable - you’re making the cleaner’s job easier, not harder, by asking them to skip cleaning that area.
posted by maleficent at 8:39 AM on October 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Sure, asking someone not to clean the cable nest behind the TV seems similar and that feels reasonable to me.

I think you're looking at either "bumped it / unplugged a cable" or "random chance", maybe you get static from the cleaner trying to dust it with microfiber, but I would find that very surprising to fry a computer from the outside. Unplugging it at a bad moment, though, that's plausible.
posted by Lady Li at 8:50 AM on October 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've seen computers emit magic smoke when a particularly power-hungry appliance plugged into the same multisocket was turned on.

Could you just ask the cleaner to skip the whole office?
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:02 AM on October 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: 1. Yep, you can request them to skip specific areas.

2. However, if you do appreciate the effect of a nice regular cleaning for your workspaces, my general tip is to treat it like how you'd leave your hotel room to the housekeeping.

- have a couple of empty baskets or boxes for you to dump the loose change type things around your desk and put it away in the cupboard or drawer so you can reorganize it later when they're done, if you're a messy organizer like me where the piles is the filing system.

- raise the big items as much as possible off of the floor. I.e. that CPU has its own roller bench, that kind of thing.

- related to that, unplug the wires and raise them up and away. If you don't want to decide yet on the cable management, just enough to keep them off of the floor.

Basically keep stuff off of the floor, the way you'd be doing to prep for a nice proper vacuuming session yourself. You can minimize the amount of regular sorting/pre-cleaning as much as you want, as long as the floor is relatively clear and easy to move (things) around
posted by cendawanita at 9:16 AM on October 7, 2022

Best answer: Definitely get your PC off the carpet, that hurt to read.
posted by GoblinHoney at 10:43 AM on October 7, 2022 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Follow-on question: how far off the carpet is off-the-carpet? Assuming I want to keep my current case, my choices are to install the tiny casters it came with (1.5” I think, they’re tiny); get a stand with casters (looks like most have larger casters and maybe 1” of frame on top of the casters, for 3”-ish floor clearance), or DIY my own shelf (in my head, I was looking for 6” of clearance). Looks like most cases these days don’t include casters, so if I upgrade my case, that leaves the latter two options.
posted by Alterscape at 11:49 AM on October 7, 2022

Best answer: Another option is to get a PC mount that suspends your PC from your desk. There are various versions of this. I only mention it because it makes cable management a bit easier (and less susceptible to disastrous snags from cleaners, pets, children, etc.) because it puts your computer closer to the display and peripherals without having the case on your desk surface.
posted by MagnificentVacuum at 12:35 PM on October 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My general rule of thumb (if you wanna elevate per follow up) is high enough for a typical vacuum head to go under, at least the outer edges. So, partially. That gives enough clearance for the suction to work on the actual exposed parts of the floor. Same with the wires but you should go higher if you're not being neat with the wires because those annoyingly get in the way. So for the CPU, I'd definitely go for a small/low stand. And if it can take the abuse I stack the power outlet block/the main mass of the wires on top of it on cleaning day.
posted by cendawanita at 12:35 PM on October 7, 2022

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