Caring for Your Laptop

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No matter the cost of your laptop, it is an investment, and you can extend its lifespan with some basic common sense and maintenance

When I was dealing with the craptop I mentioned in Choosing a Laptop and Caring for It, a “customer service” rep (I mock that company only because their customer service was another title for Screw the Customer Around Until They Give Up and Go Away) told me that laptops have an “expiration date.” I asked why this was not printed ON THE BOX, but the answer is obvious. The cheaper your laptop, the sooner your “expiration date.”

You may be able to extend the lifespan of even a cheap (under $300) laptop by:

-Not putting it directly on your lap. Laptops have little rubber feet on the bottom, and they’re not just to stabilize the computer while it’s sitting on a desk or table. Those rubber feet raise your laptop slightly so that air can circulate beneath it and help it stay cool. I get so annoyed with people on TV who sit with laptops balanced on their thighs with no lap desk (they range from cheap to expensive real wood) or even a big book. It’s just TV, but it’s a bad example. This also goes for placing your laptop directly on the bed.

-Understanding laptop batteries and power supplies. I used to keep my old laptop plugged in all the time unless I had to use it on battery power because I thought that keeping up charged up all the time made sense. It seems to, but it actually reduces the life of your laptop battery. It’s best to use your laptop on battery power every couple of days until you’re prompted to plug in, because allowing your battery to drain and recharge makes the battery last longer.

Don’t just unplug the cord from your laptop. Unplug the cord from the surge protector. Leaving the cord plugged into the surge protector but not plugged into your laptop eventually damages the power supply and you’ll have to replace that.

Your power supply can also get hot. It has “feet” too, like your laptop, so that air can circulate beneath it. Try to place the power supply on an uncarpeted floor, your desk, your table, or a book.

-Use a surge protector every time you plug in. Keep a spare in your laptop bag. But don’t expect a surge protector to completely protect your laptop. Unplug during electrical storms and power outages. A surge protector is like car insurance. You have to have it, but you’re not going to drive the wrong way down a one-way street just because you have it.

-Buy a real laptop bag. Don’t go for cutesy. Go for sturdy and insulated. My laptop bag is a backpack-style Universal. It’s big enough to carry two full-sized laptops and cords, a surge protector, and chargers for all my other electronics. And my laptop speakers. Once it fell out of the back of my SUV onto a driveway. My laptop powered right up and suffered no ill effects. Get a bag with multiple compartments. Don’t keep your only backup in your laptop bag. Put your external hard drive(s) somewhere safe but separate. Even business professionals have horror stories of leaving their laptops in a taxi with their only backup in the same case.

-NO LIQUID ON THE SAME SURFACE AS THE LAPTOP. Put your coffee on a nightstand. Or an end table. Or a TV tray. Yes, it’s possible to save a laptop if you spill your drink into the keyboard. I’ve done it. Immediately shut down the laptop, unplug the cord from the computer, turn the laptop upside down and drain out all the liquid. Then use a hair dryer ON THE COOL SETTING and dry the keyboard at an angle so that the COOL AIR gets under the keys. Do this for a long, long time. Say a prayer, make a wish, knock on wood, cross your fingers, whatever floats your boat. Restart the laptop on battery power. If it boots up normally, great, but you should still take it in for service. If it doesn’t boot up, take it in for service.

-Dust the damn thing. Don’t even bother trying to pick up fingernail clippings, even with tweezers. Blow them off the keyboard. Take a plastic toothpick and go around each key. If you have pets, you’ll be ASTOUNDED at how much hair is in your keyboard. With the laptop turned off, wipe over the entire thing with large cotton balls. DRY cotton balls. Do this every week to avoid dust buildup. Clean the screen with a cleaner and cloth made just for that purpose. Don’t use your eyeglass cleaner or your camera lens cleaner.

I can’t use that freaking compressed air. I’ve tried. And tried. And I just do not have the knack. If you are hopeless like me, take the laptop to a local computer repair business and ask them to clean the keyboard for you. If you have a sticking key, take it to a computer repair business. Make friends with the people there. They’ll answer your stupid questions without making you feel embarrassed. They answer many stupid questions every day.

-Write down the serial number. Invariably, if you call the company, they’ll ask you for the serial number/work tag and you won’t have the box or you’ll have to shut down the laptop to look at the serial number on the sticker on the bottom. ON THE BOTTOM. Don’t get me started.

-Don’t bang your laptop or the surface it’s on. Don’t bump the screen. Don’t SLAM it shut like the idiots on TV. Don’t stick it under your arm and carry it around unless you’ve shut it down. Yes, seriously.

-Don’t use laptop stands. When a dog chases your cat under your coffee table and gets tangled up in your cord, you’ll understand why.

All of these tips came from bitter experience or being married to the IT guy. Or the bitter experience of being married to an IT guy. And if you’re living with someone who doesn’t respect you and your property:

-Keep your laptop in your private space when not in use. Put it in the bag in your closet. Padlock the damn zippers together if you can’t take it with you when you have to go out.

-USE A PASSCODE. Pick something you can remember but the problem person in your life won’t know.

-If you let someone use your laptop and they leave it on the corner of the kitchen island or hold it by the screen, TELL THEM TO F’ING STOP IT! I DON’T CARE IF THEY GET MAD! ARE THEY GOING TO BUY YOU A NEW ONE IF THEY DROP IT? I DO NOT THINK SO.

-Use a paid antivirus program AND Malwarebytes. Run Malwarebytes every day if you have the free version. Someone I lived with put a keylogger on my laptop. I shit you not. When I moved and they kept emailing me things that they shouldn’t have known, I ran virus scans, found the keylogger, and had to reformat the laptop to get rid of it.

Yes, I have had an unusual amount of nutty things happen with/to my laptops, and I am sharing them with you so that you don’t have to go through the stress that I did. Please feel free to leave a comment about the goofiest/weirdest/scariest thing that every happened involving your laptop.

While I’m recommending brands, let me suggest Western Digital external hard drives. They’re small, hold a ton of data, and last for years. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T RELY ON THUMB DRIVES.

I have to stop now. And you have to move your laptop off your bed, find a surge protector, back up your laptop, order a real bag, and tell your roommate to keep their cat off your laptop keyboard.

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