Will raising my computer up off the floor really help?
January 11, 2007 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Some tech guy once told my wife that leaving your computer tower on the floor will destroy it. His solution was to raise the tower up an inch or two off the floor. That's the part I doubt. I know computers suck in a lot of dust. Does raising them up that little bit really help much?

I found these ask.mefi references, [1] [2] but they were fairly oblique.
posted by Sean Meade to Computers & Internet (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I suppose potentially there's more dust sitting on the floor than there is floating in the air.

However, I've had towers where the air intake is right at floor level and towers where the air intake is slightly higher. I've never noticed any difference in the huge amounts of dust they suck in. So, unless raising the entire case has some effect other than just raising the position of the air intakes, I can't imagine how it would make a substantial difference.
posted by chrismear at 10:07 AM on January 11, 2007

I built a computer three years ago, and it's still running. It's been on, and sitting on the floor, the entire time since I built it except maybe about 21 days' worth of moving it around.
posted by oaf at 10:09 AM on January 11, 2007

So, yes, I don't believe that that guy knows what he's talking about.
posted by oaf at 10:09 AM on January 11, 2007

I can't remember where I heard it, and it may be purely unsubstantiated, but I heard something about cat litter being a problem if it's nearby on the floor near the computer.

Also carpet vs. hardwood would probably make a huge difference... I didn't see from your post what it's sitting on.
posted by rolypolyman at 10:12 AM on January 11, 2007

Leaving a computer tower on the floor is not going to destroy it. And raising it one inch off the floor is not going to make any difference.

Depending on the conditions in your house/office, the computer may suck in and retain a lot of dust. It certainly would not hurt to open it up once a year or so and blow out the dust, vacuum it up, whatever. But, as a computer person, I don't do this, and I have computers running that are not only years old, but also have uptimes in the 1 year plus range. All my computers sit on the floor.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:15 AM on January 11, 2007

You're better off just vacuuming the assorted vents once in a while. The dust is still going to get to it whether it's on the floor or three inches up.

That being said, I practically never vacuum my tower PC, and it is practically fur-bearing from all the cat hair, but that's never caused any problems. YMMV, of course.
posted by briank at 10:16 AM on January 11, 2007

Unless the computer is in the laundry room or bathroom, where there's a possibility of a couple of inches of water due to accidental overflow, I can't think of any reason why raising it off the floor by 2 inches would provide any benefit.
posted by Dave Faris at 10:18 AM on January 11, 2007

Dust gets into the computer because the cooling fans draw in air. Slight altitude changes wouldn't have any affect on that.
posted by Dave Faris at 10:20 AM on January 11, 2007

I doubt it makes much difference. If it did, cases would be designed to have the intakes at the top.
posted by chairface at 10:26 AM on January 11, 2007

The only reason I can think of to care about dust is that large amounts might impede airflow, and thus affect cooling. But for most users, this won't be a problem; for users that run high-temp machines, carefully pulling the lint off the intakes and maybe using a can of compressed air on the inside every year or every few years shouldn't be a big deal.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 10:28 AM on January 11, 2007

Listen to your fans. If they start getting louder or sound like they're working harder, it's time to open up the tower and do some cleaning. Barring that or any performance degradation, I think you're just fine.
posted by NationalKato at 10:32 AM on January 11, 2007

I prefer not to leave CPUs on the floor due to cooling and static. Some people will shove a pc along a carpeted floor, which raises static, and I figure a little extra airflow is good. However, leaving it on the floor is is not catastrophic.
posted by theora55 at 10:36 AM on January 11, 2007

Agreed with everyone else. I built my computer maybe... two and a half years ago now, and it's been sitting on my floor ever since. I vacuum it out every once in a while, and it's never caused an explosion that could be seen from space yet.
posted by Verdandi at 10:41 AM on January 11, 2007

I have a tower rig I use solely for audio production, and seeing as though it needs to be as quiet as possible for its application I'm fairly paranoid about the fans getting louder, in which case I bust the vaccuum cleaner out right away. It gets lugged around a lot and sits in quite a few dusty, smoke-filled spaces, so I clean it fairly regularly.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:52 AM on January 11, 2007

To be fair, I don't see any compelling reason why desktop models would get any less filthy than towers, though.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:53 AM on January 11, 2007

Dust falls from above. Its dirt from the air. Its your own dead skin in the air. Its pollen in the air. Its everywhere. Where the computer is shouldnt matter much and certainly will not 'destroy it.'

People sometimes become mystics when it comes to computer cooling and longevity. Dont boot it everyday, do boot it everyday, etc etc. Moer fans, less fans, etc. In real life a heat problem becomes pretty obvious and there are tens of millions of PCs on various surfaces that do fine. In other words dont sweat it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:03 AM on January 11, 2007

I think that the guy may have meant that having a computer on the ground might destroy it in case of flood or other water damage to the home...
posted by magikker at 11:08 AM on January 11, 2007

I think it is more of a static electricity issue.
posted by onhazier at 11:26 AM on January 11, 2007

It is okay to put a tower on the floor but if it is on carpet you definitely need to put something between the tower and the floor such as a board or something. I used to place my tower on the floor until I started getting reboots from static electricity. Most towers, unless they are completely plastic, have metal parts that come in contact with the floor and can carry static charges to anywhere in your computer. Before I took my tower off the floor it would sometimes get a static shock from someone touching a light switch across the room and the charge would carry over the floor to the computer. After months of me being ignorant to this effect my computer was finally fried be a slight static charge travelling through my metal chair, which was touching the side of the computer, to the motherboard and processor and through a usb port to the floor. It killed everything in its path and destroyed some of the hard drive data. So now I always store towers very far from any place they can get a shock and I am very careful to ground myself before touching the case. This was actually the second time I lost my computer, the first time being due to a lightning strike that destroyed the whole thing because I did not have a good powerstrip. Research power strips as well if you want your computer safe from accidental death. As far as dust; it will get in your computer regardless of where it is placed. Hope this helps!
posted by occidental at 11:35 AM on January 11, 2007

Destroy your tower? I think not.
From working on PCs that were used in carpeted rooms schools, which were decidedly filthy, I can tell you that most of the PC's went way obsolete long before they were failing, and those that I saw fail were following a fairly consistent failure pattern. For example, I had a set of machines that were purchased at the same time that all lost their power supplies within 6 months. I took apart each dead PS and lo and behold, it was all the same underrated resistor that burned up. From there it was the CD rom drive the died, usually from a little rubberband rotting away inside the drive. From there it was usually hard drive death.

When I maintained machines that were working, I was always shocked by the heinous coating of crap, but they still managed to run somehow.

Basically, what I saw fail was mechanical parts that had worn out or electronic parts that were underrated for the task.
posted by plinth at 11:46 AM on January 11, 2007

Do you keep your floor clean? If you have dust bunnies rolling around then keeping it on the floor would likely pull in some of those, otherwise I doubt it makes much difference. Unless you are a gamer with an overclocked machine running flat out for long periods the reduced cooling efficiency from a dirty computer probablywon't matter. Theoretically it could cost you some money in electricity by requiring the fans to run at a higher speed. I clean out our computers every year or two.
posted by caddis at 11:48 AM on January 11, 2007

My mother's first tower sat on a little wooden platform with two inch legs. The idea was to prevent water from touching it in the event it found its way into the building through the floor. I think this was, historically, a problem in that location. Low lying area, lots of concrete and very little grass/earth to absorb the moisture, poor drainage, etc.
posted by Clay201 at 12:18 PM on January 11, 2007

At work, we bring our computers up an inch or two wherever possible. Not because of dust, but because occasional flooding occurs from a broken water supply.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:33 PM on January 11, 2007

Some computers have intake vents on the bottom in which case if they are on carpet with any kind of pile they should be raised up. I hate putting machines under desks because of the abuse they take from feet. Physical shocks are hard on harddrives.
posted by Mitheral at 2:02 PM on January 11, 2007

My computer sits on a small stand that's about 6" high. The only reason the box is there is so I can vacuum without banging into the case.

When we install PC's in commercial/corporate environments, we put them on a hard surface if possible but that just makes it easy to slide them around if needed.

I can't think of a reason to worry about a PC sitting directly on the floor though.
posted by disclaimer at 2:29 PM on January 11, 2007

That's true of hay bales.

But not of computers.

He may have been confusing the two.
posted by koeselitz at 2:32 PM on January 11, 2007

People, generally speaking, are utter idiots, revelling in their complete and utter ignorance. What's more, they are determined to spread that ignorance. Hence you should ignore everyone.

Even me? Quite possibly.
posted by oxford blue at 2:40 PM on January 11, 2007

More to do with vibration than dust?
posted by crabintheocean at 3:07 PM on January 11, 2007

At my last job, I performed preventative maintenence on high-uptime computer systems that gov't representatives used when interacting with their clients. These PCs had been shoved under desks for ~4 years, been running probably 99.9% of that time (policy is to never shut down those machines because updates are pushed at night) and never cleaned.

Part of my job was to take the side of the case off and liberally spray with canned air while holding my breath to prevent choking on the literal gallons of dust that emerged. (Part of my job was also to un-stick those cases that'd been waxed to the floor, but.. c'est la vie..)

The systems were all working fine before my dust-sprayings, although they now look a good deal prettier.

Moral of the story: I really doubt it matters.
posted by Alterscape at 4:18 PM on January 11, 2007

Response by poster: thanks for all the great answers! can't pick one 'best'. i think i have my wife convinced now ;-)
posted by Sean Meade at 6:36 PM on January 11, 2007

A bigger risk than having it sit on the floor is smoking... you won't believe what the inside of a computer looks like that someone sits at and smokes at year-round. The cards inside are covered in tar, for one thing. Dust? Dust can be blown out. Tar? Ewww.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:50 PM on January 11, 2007

The guy was obviously exaggerating, but I know our desktop computer was MUCH dustier inside when it sat on the floor than it has been since we placed it about 9 inches above the floor in a computer armoir. Not that it was having any problems before we put it up...but it was a home for dustbunnies!
posted by lhauser at 8:28 PM on January 11, 2007

I'd advise against vacuuming the insides of a dirty computer. Vacuums build up a serious head of static electricity, and just slapping an attachment on the Hoover could kill your computer dead. (Or, you know, discharge only a little bit and take a year off the motherboard's life.)

Take it outside, put on a dust mask and some swimming goggles, and hit it with the canned air.

Now, as to the actual question, computers on the floor do tend to pick up a bit more dust than computers on desks -- schmutz falls to the ground, collects on the floor, and gets sucked in by the fans. Shag carpet, as usual, makes it worse. That said, raising it a couple inches off the ground isn't going to do a damn thing, and dust isn't that big of a deal. It'll be obsolete, riddled with spyware, and covertly emailing spam on behalf of the Russian mafiya long before the dust kills it.
posted by Coda at 11:27 PM on January 11, 2007

There is definitely more dust as you get closer to the floor. In fact, the amount probably goes up exponentially (suspended dust probably has a half life, and etc.). However, as suggested above, the fact that the fan is drawing air means that there is a lot of mixing going on, in the vicinity of the air intake.

Another factor already mentioned is how obstructed the air intake is. Just sitting against a surface will reduce the air flow somewhat, because the air will be subject to friction as it is dragged along that surface. If the surface is carpet, it could significantly reduce air flow. The texture will cause higher friction, but the computer will also sink a little into the carpet pile.

Hmm.. Add to all that the fact that dragging air across a dusty floor will itself disturb the particles, and you have a lot more dust. You are literally vacuming the stuff up! I think if you had your computer off the floor by more than 6", you would significantly reduce the amount of dust taken in.

On the other hand, for practical purposes, I have to agree with the majority.. I never worry about, it certainly doesn't mean imminent doom.
posted by Chuckles at 11:39 PM on January 11, 2007

Reiterating what a few people have said. My computers on the floor definitely acquire dust at a much greater rate than those up off the ground, but I don't think an inch will make a perceptible difference. Opening them up and going to town with the compressed air every six months or so makes it a non-issue.
posted by Manjusri at 11:50 PM on January 11, 2007

I used to place my tower on the floor until I started getting reboots from static electricity.

I'm sorry, but this isn't how static electricity works.. Static charge buildup is caused by two surfaces of different electron affinity rubbing against each other. Unless you are constantly sliding your computer around, there is no possibility of large charge buildup. In addition, computers are in grounded metal boxes, so no static charge can ever develop when they are plugged in. Static charge can develop on you, of course, and touching the grounded computer can cause a shock. The shock might even effect the computer, but it doesn't matter if the computer is on the floor or not!

As Mitheral mentioned, though, computers on the floor are easy to kick.
posted by Chuckles at 11:57 PM on January 11, 2007

Also, I use a vacuum to clean my computers, but Coda is right in principle, and I probably shouldn't :)
posted by Chuckles at 11:59 PM on January 11, 2007

« Older Writer's Market: What's the big hairy deal?   |   Finding Found Footage Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.