Strange smell coming from my PC?

It’s a smell I don’t notice much when my gaming PC is idle, but after playing a VR game, it is way more pronounced. I always ignored it thinking it was a normal heat smell. The glass side panel would feel warm to the touch. But it is a smell I can’t quite put my finger on, maybe its closer to a burning plastic/dust smell than a chemical smell. My mom has noticed it too. She said it smells like electronics in my room.

Anyway here’s some backstory:

I bought the PC off a high feedback ebay seller back in August 2019. He claimed to have built the PC around Jan 2019 and only used for Xplane 11 simulator. It arrived in a box with a website logo from a company that sells custom made PCs, so it probably was made from them originally. It had the following:

  • Thermaltake Smart RGB Pro 750W PSU
  • i7 8700 with stock cooler
  • 1080 Ti

In October, I replaced my 1080 Ti with a brand new 2080 Ti.

My CPU was very noisy and had temperatures reaching up to 100 degrees under max load, so I replaced the stock cooler in late November, with the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO. During installation, I couldn’t fully tighten one of the screws from the cooler onto the motherboard, it’s about 90 to 95% tightened and that’s because the bottom bolt cap keeps twisting along with the bolt. So I left it as is, since the cooler was on pretty tight already. When it came time to attach the fan onto the cooler grill, the 4 ram sticks were blocking part of it, so I attached the fan to cover about 80% of the grill. The plastic edge of the fan is touching one of the ram sticks. Anyways, after that my CPU never goes above 62C under heavy load and is much quieter. My GPU almost never goes above 75C. Here are the performance stats:

Forward to about a few weeks ago. I was playing a VR game as usual and suddenly my Index headset shut down. Then moments later I heard a grinding metal noise that lasted for a few seconds coming from my PC. I thought oh no! That sounds bad. There was also a critical SteamVR failure message. I took a quick look at my PC components and didn’t see anything amiss. I’ve never had this issue come up again since then.

I don’t know when the smell began as I’ve gotten used to it for quite a while. I decided maybe my PC needs a cleaning, so I open the cover and notice quite a bit of dust on the PSU and the hard drive area. I used an old toothbrush to scrub it off and the dust floated in the air. It seems pretty powdery and I’m not sure if it was really dust. After brushing off my CPU fan, I put my brush thistles inside the cooler grill and was surprised at how much dust/powder vaporized into the air while brushing it. I’m worried there is either a lot of dust or some strange powder inside my PC that has been spread around. My PC has 3 fans in the front, one in the back, and dust filter covers with plenty of openings for air circulation so I don’t think there is any cooling issue. The smell could just be burnt dust.

I don’t want to take all of my PC components out to individually inspect them because it’s a lot of work and there’s just so many cables I’d have to unplug and things to unscrew.

I can see from the sounds of it you’re not a huge pc builder having bought it pre-made.

I get coil whine in high powered components (I bet your 1080ti whines a bit as well under load), but a smell is a bit interesting. It’s not always bad, I have the quest, and when I use the included charging brick there’s an ‘electronics’ plasticy heat smell emitted. My phone, switch lite and quest are fine from using that charger and I’m confident it’s no issue.

The dust issue, well, you should really maintain the pc. Regularly use a can of dust off, once every month or two and you’ll have no issue. Dust can even mean tiny pieces of conductive material, and it can get bad enough to break components. It doesn’t sound like anything’s broken honestly - PC power supplies are very high quality. You can short their outputs for minutes straight with no failures, and that’s like fire-hazard levels of malfunctioning that would never normally happen.

Download HWmonitor. See if you can replicate the issue. Look at the 12V rail voltage, does it dip? does your PC ever restart when gaming? I’d be mainly concerned that your PSU is stressing/filled with dust given the other temps listed.

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Well I replaced my 1080 Ti with a 2080 Ti and I don’t really hear any coil whine. The one time grinding noise was quite loud and short lasting. I’ll buy a compressed air can to clean off some of the dust and I’ll try out HWMonitor.

I’ve never stress tested my PC so maybe I’ll try that to diagnose the problem. But I hope that won’t break/overheat any components.

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That’s all I’d recommend. Just give it a good cleaning, really get the compressed air into the psu and gpu chassis, as well as the cpu cooler.

As far as stress tests go, I can’t fathom breaking something doing that. I’m not old by any means, only 25, but I’ve been building pcs since I was 13. Benchmarks, prime95, furmark, not one has ever broken anything. I have however had catastrophic shutdowns, overheating, components hitting 100 degrees C causing thermal shutdowns. computers are absolute tanks honestly, they really take a lot to break, or bad luck. Good power supplies, yours included, will not allow huge surge currents or voltages. OCP and OVP will turn the pc off. If temps hit 100, itll also shut off before allowing component damage.

I bet you’ll have no issues now, just keep the thing clean!


If you have pets, Dust Off may not be sufficient. I use a long bamboo skewer (basically a long toothpick) to scrape the dust and hair out of heat sink fins, along with a toothbrush for grills, and canned air to blow out the rest (from differing angles to get it all).

Be sure to wear a face mask and try to wipe up as much dust as you can with damp paper towels. You don’t want to inhale it.

Depending on where you live, the dust may contain a small amount of radioactive particles, which are attracted to charged surfaces. (That’s less of an issue these days, but the dust on the front of a CRT monitor was a major collector of these particles.)

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Any metal grinding noise would indicate that one of your fans (PSU, CPU, GPU, chipset, etc) touched something with its blades or it’s bearing is failing. I would keep my eye on those. See if they all spinning.


I just played a game of Pavlov and all the fans are spinning as expected. I played at 144Hz on a medium map and got an average of 72C on GPU and 62C on CPU with 4ms on both. Ocasionally there’s a frametime spike while waiting between respawns.

The smell is strong when I sit near my computer and I can feel the heat coming from it.

PSU would be the “smelliest” of all…sniff it out


Okay so I left a game running, opened my computer case and smelled around. There’s no smell or heat coming from the CPU cooler. I can feel heat from the GPU (2 fans pointing down) which is in the middle and the PSU (fan pointing up) which is at the bottom. It appears most of the heat is generated from the GPU. I couldn’t really smell anything though. But it did induce a temporary headache. Maybe it’s because when I opened my case, the air circulated better? I think at this point, dust is probably the most likely culprit.

I don’t have any pets, but I have noticed there’s a few pet looking hairs at the bottom of the case that I think were originally there when I received the PC.

I live in the western part of Canada. The air and water quality is pretty good here. I don’t know if there would be radioactive materials or not. I run an air purifier in the room occasionally but that doesn’t get rid of the smell.

Should I be doing this with my PC outside (when it’s not raining) so that when I use the compressed air, the dust doesn’t spread around in my room? Or should I just have a bunch of windows open and wear a mask while doing it indoors?

I’ve never taken it that seriously, I just unplug everything from the back, lay the computer on it’s side and dust it out. BTW, always keep the duster can upright. Upside down it lets the ‘juice’ out and it REEKS. anti huffing deterrent lol, also kinda a liquid. If there are clumps just throw it in the garbage (I don’t let it get that bad these days but I definitely used to). It’s going to get in the air, I just put my face in my shirt if its that bad. Really all that dust would accumulate in the room anyway, the computer just acts as a hotspot. I’m sure there are less ‘barbaric’ methods but eh at worst you sneeze haha, don’t worry about it.

Cooling is a key factor in the operation of a video card. Using the MSI Afterburner utility, you can manually change the fan speed curve to achieve optimal cooling of the device.

With your psu fan facing GPU you might have restricted air flow as both are trying to draw air from the same space. This shouldn’t really cause any real problems. But might be a reason for added heat and smells.

A friend tried mining and you could smell the heat being generated. For smell detection you might be able to smell it on the exhaust of the psu and/or gpu.

Might be a nuisance but if you can have the psu draw air in from bottom of case you might have the smells go away.

My PSU was designed for the fan to face up, apparently it improves efficiency somehow

I can smell from the back of my PC.

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Any psu can face up. Just a suggestion as your psu will be trying to draw air in and out the back. With your GPU fans doing the same.

Some cases even chamber the psu to be seperated from other components.

It largely depends on how well your house is sealed from the ground. Cracked concrete can allow radon to enter. It also depends on the rock underground. Iirc, granite has higher levels.

Here’s a map for Canada:

Here’s one for the US (for those who might be interested):

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If your PC is really dusty, that’s a pretty good idea. I just hold my breath and clean in bursts and wipe up the mess. Then again, at my age I probably won’t be using my lungs for that much longer. :laughing:

I’m in a Zone 2 - Elevated area. I live in the suburbs near the ocean at a lower elevation than most of my city though.

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I ran OCCT stress tests on my PC for a couple of minutes and no errors were detected. Here are the stats from HWMonitor tool. Do you guys notice anything unusual?