How to care for your laptop or netbook

Laptop and netbook Care

Laptop (notebook or netbook) computers differ quite a bit from desktop computers because being smaller requires a different type of construction and a different build-quality of hardware. In most cases, this means the components are less durable which requires the laptop to need special care. Look over the bullet points below.

  • Power Button

With most factory configurations, this is the power-on button and NOT the power-off button (unless you have gone into the options to change its function). With most laptops, pressing and quickly releasing only puts it to sleep. To safely power-down a laptop set at its defaults, you should go to Start>Shutdown and do a “software shutdown”. Unless your laptop is locked up, you should never hold the power button in until it shuts off. This is a no-no and will eventually cause major problems.

  • Heat

The cooling systems engineered into laptops are usually adequate but minimal and you don’t want to do anything to impede their operation. Typically, there is a system fan that is controlled by a thermostat. Heat is dissipated away from the CPU and video chip to something that looks like a small radiator. The fan blows fresh air across the radiator’s fins, thus removing heat. The fresh air intake is on the bottom of the computer close to one of the far corners and the exhaust opening is on the side or back edge adjacent to the intake. It is important that the intake opening on the bottom and the exhaust on the side are never blocked. This means that it should never be operated on soft, conforming surfaces like beds or pillows and if used on the lap while sitting, your leg should not block the opening. A flat surface is best.

  • Movement

People usually think “portable” when thinking about their laptop. Yes – portable when it’s OFF. Extreme caution in regard to movement should be taken when the laptop is powered on. Inside the laptop is a device called a hard drive that contains the operating system and the user’s data. Inside the hard drive is a metal disk which is constantly spinning at high speeds and is being read by a metal needle similar to a record player stylus. A jolt or sudden movement while the laptop is on WILL damage the drive and WILL result in failure. Failure here means loss of data and a non-functional operating system. I tell my customers that if they have to move their notebook computer while it is running, treat it as if it were a tray of antique china. I also tell them to always have their irreplaceable data backed up to a 2nd drive separate from the computer – because of their nature (durability and treatment), laptop internal drives are prone to failure.

  • Hard Drive Failure. Continuing from the above paragraph…

Because hard drives used in laptops are typically less robust than the drives used in desktops, they are more susceptible to failure. There are often telltale signs that a drive is getting ready to fail and acting on these signs can allow you to save your data and even your current setup/installation. Visual signs to look for include blue screens at startup or during operation and also freeze-ups during operation. Audible clues can be any noises coming from the drive. Laptop drives are usually located in one of the two corners close to you and are normally quiet. Actually, most laptop drives do make a low-level “chatter” as the heads read the disks but the noise is rarely loud enough to be easily heard through the palm rest. Listen for occasional clicks, loud reading chatter, or a medium-pitched steady alarm tone.

These last signs (especially the occasional click/tick or tone) mean that drive failure is imminent and if your computer is on, you should back up your irreplaceable data immediately. I mean right now because the Titanic may be sinking. Because time may be running out, save items in order of importance. It will take more time to copy larger files and given that your media might already be synced to an iPod or mp3 player, you might want to wait and copy your Music and Videos (My Music, My Videos) until last. If you have them in your Documents (My Documents) folder, don’t forget folders like TurboTax, QuickBooks, or MS Money. Your data files/backups are in these folders and if saved, these programs can be restored like you last left them. After the important contents of your Documents folder have been copied, power down your computer and call a tech. A failing drive that is not completely toast can be accessed, copied to new drive, and everything will be good again. If you are not comfortable copying these files or are unsure of their location, please call me.

  • Power Adapter/Charger

This is one of the weakest points of a laptop and also probably the most important because this is the energy source. The juice. Crunching the charging jack will ruin your computer or necessitate expensive repair so extreme care should be taken to make sure the plug that goes into the computer is never pulled sideways while plugged in. The cord that comes out of the computer should always be straight (never kinked) and never exposed to stress. The points where the wires go into the adapter “brick” should be monitored so they are never kinked – either in operation or when in storage. Don’t tightly wind and wrap the cables – instead, secure and store them loosely with no sharp kinks in critical areas like shown below. If your power jack has been damaged, I do this type of system board repair.

  • Dirt/Food/Contamination

Avoid having food or liquids in proximity to your laptop. If used in a dusty environment, use a keyboard protector. Crumbs and dirt accumulating in the keyboard tray will not stay loose and dry and over the course of changing humidity levels, debris under the keys can turn into a sticky mess that usually cannot be easily cleaned. Having liquids in spilling range is an invitation for disaster. Canned air meant for computers should be kept on hand for periodic cleaning (see images below). Power-off the laptop and blow the keyboard out while it’s turned on its side. Also blow air into both fan openings (intake and exhaust alternatively) to remove dust that has accumulated on the fan blades and the internal radiator’s cooling fins.

  • Stickers

I have a personal distaste for those little manufacturer’s emblems (Windows, Intel, AMD, NVidia, Energy Compliant) that adorn the palm rests of new laptops and I recommend removing them as soon as you are satisfied that you are going to keep the laptop. The labels on the bottom are important so LEAVE THOSE ALONE, but the ones on top can be peeled off with a fingernail (nothing sharp). The remaining glue can be removed with an old cloth sprayed with WD-40. Don’t use a commercial adhesive solvent like GooGone because it might melt your laptop.

  • Display

Besides being icky, dirt on the display and keys can cause scratches to the display’s surface when the laptop is closed and it is subject to vibrations like being transported in a vehicle. My preferred cleaning solution is 50% isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol combined with 50% distilled water. I keep this in a labeled spray bottle and to clean a display, I spray a clean, soft cloth and gently wipe (don’t squirt directly on the display or keys. When wiping the keys with this damp cloth, make sure none are pulled off by being caught by the cleaning cloth. Laptops being transported should be in a padded case or wrapped in bubble-wrap to protect against shock and ideally, it should be held vertical unless a soft thin pad is inserted between the closed lid and body to keep the keys from contacting the display.
Take care of your laptop and protect it from abuse and damage. The precautions above may seem obvious but following them strictly will allow your laptop to last a long time and stay in new, pristine condition.

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