Tips to a Happy Laptop

While we are performing our on-site computer repair services to the Decorah area, we get asked a lot “What’s the best way to make my laptop last longer.” Here is some tips to ensuring you get years of life out of your laptop.

Owning a laptop is common practice these days for end-users and businesses alike.  They help get the job or tasks done, while being portable.  Students can study at the local coffee shop with them, or employees take them with them on travel.  They are the ultimate component when being mobile and still being able to keep up on their email, social media, work, etc.  Some consideration has to be taken when it comes to having a laptop computer and making sure that it will last and continue to chug along happily all the way through.

Many of us own our laptops for more than the actual designed life of 2 years.  We say 2 years because laptops are mobile, which means they are exposed to conditions that a desktop computer would normally not be exposed to.  Yet after a year or two of owning a laptop, we find them to be slow, or crashing on a regular basis, and there are many things that will contribute to this.  Making sure your laptop is taken care of, and is happy, will ensure your laptop can last for several years, more than just two.

Temperature

Hot and cold climates can kill your laptops battery, or even components.  Laptops by design handle temperature, specifically heat, very poorly.  Especially on battery where they rely more on passive cooling.  Passive cooling means the fans don’t spin and move air about to help keep things like the processor cool.  Passive cooling only works when the ambient, or Hot Laptopsurrounding temperature, is below 85 degrees.  Forced air cooling, or active cooling, is when the fans in your computer are pulling cool air in and pushing hot air out.  This works really well to keep the computer cool, but has a few drawbacks.  On battery, your laptops fan(s) will consume a lot of battery, giving you only a couple of hours of work time.  These fans are moving air through a space that is less than half an inch wide, which allows very little air to flow through your computer, and the vents can be easily blocked, which prevents forced air from being able to cool the computer.  But enough about fans.

Heat is the #1 killer to any laptop computer.  The battery will naturally get hot when the computer is in use, or if it is being charged.  Batteries just do this naturally.  At the same time, that heat is killing the life of your battery.  If you allow the laptop to “run hot”, you can notice that your battery life gets shorter and shorter over time.  This is especially common when you are using your laptop to perform things that drain the battery quickly, such as games.  Just leaving your computer out in the sun can damage your laptops battery as well, because even if you remove the battery from the hot sun, the battery may feel cool, but in reality, it’s still very hot inside of it.  So when you turn it on, it’ll only get hotter from there.  Your battery is not the only thing that can be damaged from the heat.  The processor, the screen, the motherboard, your hard drive, all these things can be damaged to an extent where repairs get costly if the laptop gets too hot.

The cold also has an effect on your computer, but not as quick as heat can.  Taking a computer that has been in a cold temperature, say your car overnight in the winter, and then taking it indoors where it is warm(er) and quickly turning it on, can create condensation within the computer.  This is where the cold can cause factors that cause damage.  Condensation can create a sticky layer of dust to form on the motherboard or vents, which is more dense than the normal accumulation of dust.  This sticky dust layer acts like a super warm blanket, which helps insulate the components and cause them to get even hotter.  Condensation and electricity, if you remember from your science classes in high school, can create corrosion to occur.  Corrosion can effect your computer in two ways.  One is poor performance, the other is a slow and painful death with noticeable signs of instability.

If you take your computer regularly from one extreme temperature to the other quickly, what can occur is over time, your laptops components will quickly degrade, and you will end up with a laptop that is slow, and has many issues with powering on, powering off, or just staying on and working.

Another way temperature can greatly affect your laptop is by placing it on a cushioned surface, such as your bed or a pillow.  This blocks the vents, and prevents your laptop from being able to breathe or cool effectively.  And never place the laptop directly on your legs when in use, burn injuries have resulted from using laptops in this manner, and your legs can block the vents as well.

Storage and Transport

Storing your laptop means a lot to it.  Duration, location, environmental factors, etc.; all these play a very important role to how long your laptop will last.  The first thing to consider is where are you going to store it and for how long.  If it is overnight, or for a few hours, choose a location where it will be safe from being knocked over.  A lot of laptops we see in the shop for repairs are because the laptop was dropped.  Make sure you don’t leave your laptop plugged in where the charging cable can be easily yanked out, or tripped over.  This is for your safety as well as the laptops.  Even with the Apple laptops, and their magnetic charging cables that just stick on rather than plugging in.  The cable itself can still damaged.  Good places are on a desk, with a few inches of extra desk space all around, a kitchen table unplugged, or in a drawer.

If you plan on leaving your laptop stored somewhere for a long period of time (more than a day or two), choose a cool (70 to 80 degrees), dry, and away from sunlight location.  One more consideration for long periods of storage is the battery.  We’d give advice for this one, but it is best to consult your manufacturers instruction manual as every battery needs to be stored differently.

When transporting your laptop, don’t leave anything plugged in.  This is how you damage ports, cables, USB drives, etc.  And turn off your laptop or place it in sleep more.  If you leave your laptop running while it is on, you run the risk of damaging your hard drive beyond repair, as well as other things that can damage your laptop.  Choose a laptop bag that provides some form of padding.  It doesn’t have to be thick or space age.  Wrapping it in a towel can even provide effective padding when storing your laptop in a bag.  This is another thing that brings so many laptops in to our shop.  Because when we transport our laptops, we think they are safe in the bag.  We don’t consciously consider how we carry it around, or set it down.  “Oh it has padding, it’ll be fine.”  This statement is not true.  No matter how much padding it has around it, any impact to your laptop can cause serious damage.  The padding isn’t there to prevent damage caused by bumping or banging your laptop.  It’s there to protect your laptop from whats in the bag, such as pens and books.  Choose a laptop bag that is also light in color, avoid dark colors, especially the color black, as these colors invite heat to surround your laptop.  And before placing your laptop in a bag, make sure it is off, and give it five minutes or so too cool down, especially if the bag has been sitting in the sun or next to a heater.

Taking your laptop with you in the car is another thing to watch out for.  Place your laptop, in it’s bag, on the floor of the car and in a manner where nothing heavy will be on top of it, and it can lay as flat as possible.  Placing it on the seat is like placing anything on the seat that isn’t secured.  If you turn or stop too suddenly, the laptop can fly off the seat and hit the floor.  Make sure that if you leave your laptop in the car to place it under a seat.  Never just under a towel or spare sweater.  We say this for a couple of reasons.  The first one is heat and the immense power of the sun.  The second is theft.  We strongly recommend never leaving your laptop in the car anyways, but if you do, always remember to put it under the seat.  Placing towels or sweaters over it look like candy to a thief, and increases the risk of theft.

Other Considerations

Have you ever loaned your car to a friend, only to get it back with new scratches and an empty gas tank?  Same can go for your laptop.  We are more likely to let our friends borrow our laptop computer than a desktop computer, because they can take it with them.  One of the other big reasons we see a lot of laptops come in to the shop is because the owners let their friends borrow them.  The friends then installed and downloaded various malicious software, or played with the settings that have now caused the laptop to become a complete wreck and need repairs.  We are not saying don’t let your friends borrow your laptop, just do the following:

  • Enable the guest account for them to use.  Don’t let them use any other user account.  This will prevent your friends from making any serious changes to the computer, and things wont be permanently saved either.  So tell them to bring a USB drive to save their documents.
  • Change your user account password, even if you didn’t give it to them, after getting it back.  Just in case they figured out your password.
  • Tell them to bring your car back with a full tank of gas…ermm…we mean the laptop with a fully charged battery.  It’s the considerate thing to do.

Watch what you install on your laptop as well.  You could end up getting more than you originally thought you would.  There are so many quick and easy downloadable software out there, that we think is amazing looking, just to find out later that it was a virus.  It’s not that laptops are more susceptible to it, this is just a core consideration to be mindful of.

Watch whose WiFi you connect to, and what you select it as.  If you are at home, then it is your “Home” network.  If you areNetwork Locationat work, then it is your “Work” network.  Anywhere else and it is considered a “Public” network.  This is important, because these different settings mean different things.

  • Home Network:  Your computer will be visible on the network, meaning you can see other computers, and others can see you.  This means if your computer is sharing anything, such as printers, folders, etc., then they can access them.
  • Work Network:  This is only important if your computer needs to access a domain.  Consult your IT department for more information before connecting your personal laptop to a work network.  This network is treated like a Home Network.
  • Public Network:  If you are at a coffee shop, the airport, or any other public location, and accessing the WiFi there, this is the option to choose.  It hides your computer from the others, and wont allow your computer to share anything to any other computer.  This is important for protecting your computer from cyber stalkers and thieves.

Make sure your Anti-Virus software is up to date.  Even when using a Public Network, things can happen, such as the coffee shops WiFi isn’t as protected as it should be and their network is infected.  This can cause your computer to become infected as well.  Also, having an up to date anti-virus program protects your computer in general.

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