IT Marie Kondo asks: Does this noisy PC spark joy? Alas, no. So under the desk it goes

Powerful computers need powerful fans, after all

On Call Everybody knows a tidy desk equates to a drawer below rammed full of dusty detritus. Welcome to an On Call in which a Register reader channels his inner Kondo.

"Walt" is the teller of today's tale, which takes us back to the mid-1990s when he was part of a dynamic duo performing the role of "classroom tech support" at an Ivy League University.

In reality, the pair simply acted as a buffer between the network administrator and the users of the university's system. They also had to make sure that the swish new LCD panels on top of the overhead projectors were clearly marked "do not write on".

"One day," he told us, "I was called down to the assistant dean's office for 'a loud noise from the dean's new computer'."

Walt trotted out from the TV and VCR closet where he and his chum were located, and headed to see (or rather hear) the problem.

Walt was met by the administrative assistant, who complained that the dean's new computer "was making a loud 'buzzing noise when you start it up. After it has been on for a few minutes it does not stop'."

The whizzy PC was on the assistant's desk, the dean lacking room in his apartment-sized office for such frippery.

The PC was a thing of wonder for the era. "At the time, NASA was using something half as powerful to fly the Space Shuttle," remarked Walt. We'd contend that the odds are that the Space Shuttle was running computer hardware considerably less powerful than the top-of-the-line Pentium-based tower of the time. It was also likely a good deal more reliable – nobody wants a BSOD at throttle-up.

With its only duties being to allow the assistant to check the dean's email twice a day and tap out the odd letter or two using the massive 24-inch CRT monitor, it was perhaps overkill. However, Very Important People need all those bells and whistles… and fans.

"When she powered it up, the fans came on and in the very quiet office they were loud," recalled Walt.

Indeed, high-powered PCs of the era tended to enjoy some high-powered fans, and there really wasn't an awful lot Walt could do with the hardware other than suggest something a bit weedier, which could potter along with more passive cooling.

Ford truck photo via Shutterstock

There ain't no problem that can't be solved with the help of American horsepower – even yanking on a coax cable


Walt had had the odd run-in or two with the assistant in the past and simply explaining that was just how things were would not go down well "and result in my boss's boss having to kiss up to the dean".

"I asked to sit in her space to give me time to think."

He sat at the desk – also new, because one can't get a new computer without having a new desk to put it on if one is a Very Important Person – and pondered.

The answer was obvious.

"I told her I could fix it and clear off her desk some," he said, "and moved the tower to under the desk."

"This, along with careful placement of some packing foam that came with the new computer, made the 'noise go away'. And made her desk so much nicer!"

There's no word on how toasty the assistant's knees became from the tower PC's new location.

Alas, we all know that no good deed goes unpunished in IT and Walt's reward was to be anointed the only person able to fix the many and varied office technology problems of the dean. "No matter how stupid or impossible," he grumbled.

Dealing with the intractable and never-ending problems of users in the tech world turned out to be too much for Walt, so he eventually turned in his ID badge and became an army combat engineer some years later. When he returned to the civilian world, he became a paramedic.

"Still less stress," he said. "I sleep better these days."

Ever solved a user's aural issues and general desk clutter by a magical hiding of kit? Or channelled your own inner-Kondo when faced with a patch panel of horror? Share your story of the time a call resulted in an unexpected bit of tidying with an email to On Call. ®

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