Aside from impact damage and electrical spikes, there are sources of hardware failure that can arise from lack of maintenance or through improper maintenance. Different sources rank these threats differently, at some point touting each of them as the number-one threat or cause of hardware failure. I haven’t ranked them in any particular order, preferring that you consider each and protect yourself from all of them.
Electrostatic discharge (ESD) can destroy components within your computer.
A common way for ESD damage to occur is when you open your computer case to install new hardware (drives, RAM, and so on). If you don’t properly ground yourself, any electrical charge that your body carries will jump from your fingers to conductors in the computer, such as chips. The same thing happens when you rub your feet on a carpet, generating an electrostatic charge. When you reach out to touch another person or a metal object, sparks fly.
Unfortunately, when the sparks fly from your fingers to a computer component, you may destroy the component. You may not think there’s enough power to do any damage, but there is. A static discharge from your hand can be quite powerful at times – maybe even in the kilowatt range!
The best way to prevent ESD from occurring is to use a grounding wrist strap or stand on a grounding mat if you have to open the computer’s case. You can also make sure that you are at “zero potential” by constantly touching a bare metal surface. Damage from ESD only occurs if you are working inside a computer or handling a component like a RAM chip or video board, not when you are touching the case.
Accumulation of dust can damage some components and cause your computer to overheat. It doesn’t take a thick layer; even a thin layer that you can barely see can raise the temperature in your computer a few percent. That small raise in temperature is enough to shorten the life of your components. Heavy dust buildup can also short out components and damage hard drives.
Overheating damages many computers.
Excessive heat increases resistance in semiconductor materials, which in turn produces more heat. This heat buildup and increase in resistance causes logic circuits to behave erratically and ultimately fail to function. Heat can also destroy data on hard drives by causing the metallic layer to expand, potentially putting data tracks out of alignment. Repeated heating and cooling can compound the problem until the drive fails completely. It doesn’t take a lot of heat to do this, either.
The CPU of your computer is especially susceptible to heat damage. Because of the number of circuits on the CPU, it generates a lot of heat. CPUs have a heat sink that helps radiate heat away from the CPU, and most computers have one or more fans that cool the CPU and other components.
Bad Hard Disk Sectors
Occasionally, sectors on a hard disk fail due to physical problems on the disk.
These problems can result from dust infiltration, heat, or degradation over time. Your computer cannot write or read data from a sector that has failed, and any data already written to that sector is lost. Through proper maintenance, however, you can prevent hard disk damage and detect failing sectors before they fail completely.