Monthly Archives: November 2009

How to take care of your laptop.

I have been in the computer business for a very long time and one of the most common questions I have ever received was from people asking about how to take care of their laptops better.  Here is a list of some of the things I tell them.  With this list you should get many more years of life from your laptop.

I have mostly gathered this list from trying to fix many broken laptops and looking at why they are broken, and how it was caused.  Yes you do need to baby them a bit, but not too much.

The screen.

The screen is a very high tech, very thin and fragile thing.  Of course we have all seen the guy who drops his laptop and cracks the screen, that can not always be avoided but there are many other things that cause damage to the screen.

The first one is the keyboard, when you close the screen on most laptops made before 2008 the screen touches the keyboard.  This was not a problem years and years ago because the screens were matte but with the shiny polish that most modern screens have the oil from your skin is transferred from your hand to your keyboard and then to the screen, and it burns little holes in the polish, causing damage forever.  In 2008 it seems that laptop designers noticed this and most laptops moved the screen farther from the keyboard, so they don’t touch.  To fix this many other makers would give you a cloth to put between the screen and the keyboard.  If you don’t have one you can make one yourself out of any semi rigid cloth.

The next common problem is the fact that the screen is not too strong and that pressure can hurt it if it is applied in enough force in one place.  Many people hold their laptops when closed by putting their thumb on the screen and then holding it like a book.  This causes a lot of pressure in a very small area.  I have had at least 5 clients crack their screen this way, and countless others cause damage to the backlight causing a region of their screen to be much darker than the rest.  Please avoid this, try to always hold the laptop with two hands, and when you can’t then please remember to always put your thumb on the bottom side of the laptop so that your firngers will be on the screen side and spread out the force.

The next common problem of long term use is a weak hinge.  This is very annoying because the screen does not stay in place and moves around when you don’t want it to.  This is often caused by people twisting their screen, usually they have a bad habit of opening and closing their screen with one hand, and they do it on one side of the screen.  Just like putting on and off glasses, over time this makes them twisted and loose.  The solution is simple, just open and close it from the middle, or use two hands.  Over a few years this habit will make a huge difference.  The other main reason that a hinge gets loose or broken is when people close their laptop when something is inside.  People create the bad habit of putting ink pens at the bottom of the screen, or they may put it in their bag and a wire gets in the wrong place.

The last screen problem I will talk about is the problem of too much weight.  Be sure to keep your laptop in a nice protected bag, and then don’t stack too much weight on this bag, it is best to always stand your laptop bag up on edge when moving it, and be sure to not pack things in the bag that could focus the pressure on the screen.  One major cause of this problem is the power adapter, it has this large brick like AC/DC converter that you lug around.  You put the laptop in the bag, then the converter on top of it and bam, enough pressure and it damages your screen.  The solution is to always put your laptop in the bag in such a way that the bottom of the laptop is towards the converter.

The Battery and power system

The largest failure of laptops seems to be the battery and power system.  Some simple good habits can really extend the life of your laptop.

First the battery.  Laptop batteries (And cell phone batteries) are Lithium Ion and this battery type does not form a “Memory” like the older NiMH batteries of the past.  You do not need to drain them completly to keep them working at full power, in fact this damages them.  In fact is it best to never let them get under 10% full.  Try to keep them plugged in as much as you can.  Of course laptop makers don’t want you to know this, they make a large amount of money off of selling new batteries, so they program the laptop to try to totally discharge the battery.  This is done with “Stand By” (Aka “Sleep”) mode in windows.  What stand by does is to turn off most everything in the computer and just use a little power to run the RAM.  The allows you to “boot” up in a matter of a second and start using your laptop.  It is a great idea in concept, allowing you to hit a button and be up and running.  You will know your computer is in stand by when the power light is flashing.  The problem is that the default configuration for every laptop I have seen, and the way that windows itself installs the operating system is to have your computer go to stand by for everything, even when you hit the power switch.  This makes you think that you turned off your laptop and you put it away.  Then when you open it up the next day to use it you find out that your battery is totally dead, your battery totally discharged.  Do this a dozen or so times and you just killed your battery.  The solution is to go to windows power options and make it turn off your computer when you hit the power button.  There is another great feature in windows called hibernate.  This feature takes your current info that is in RAM, saves it to the hard drive, and then turns off the computer.  When you turn it on it simply reloads this saved data.  It takes about 10 seconds to load.  I love it and make it the default setting on every computer I work on or own.  Here are the power settings that I use.power options

You will also notice that I have it do nothing when I close the screen.  I do this because when I move from one location to another in my house I just close the screen and don’t want it to do anything to mess up what I am working on.  I have a good habit of always hitting the power button before I turn it off.

I live in Arizona and another problem that I have seen is when people leave their laptop in their car during the day.  It it hot enough outside, but air trapped in the car can climb to over 170 degrees, baking your laptop.  Most of your laptop is ok with this, except for the chemicals in your battery.  It does not do major damage just once but over time it can really add up to a dead battery.  I have no experience with cold, but I doubt it would be very good for the LCD screen.

The next huge problem is the jack where the power plug goes into.  They are just a small plastic thing, usually just soldered on to the motherboard, or, if you are lucky, ran to the motherboard with a wire.  The problem is that you have this wire sticking out of them, bump the wire, pull on the wire, or just use it a lot and it breaks inside the laptop.  It is a difficult and costly repair job.  Some laptops have a much better design than others, but most will still fail with a huge pull to the wire.  My solution to this is that I never move the laptop when the plug is plugged in.  I just unplug it, move the laptop, then plug it in again after I moved it.  I do this almost every time I get up.  If the kids enter the room I unplug it, just in case.  And I now only like to use laptops that plug in on the side.  When you plug into the back it is just too hard to use it on your lap in bed without pushing against the back.  The best laptops have NOTHING that plugs into the back of the laptop.  My last two have been like that, and I totally love it.

Of course you also gotta keep the wire itself safe.  Doing the above things will help in that, also don’t wrap the wire too tight when you put it away.  I usually don’t wrap it at all, it makes too much of a bulge in the bag, I just stuff it in.

If you always leave your laptop plugged in, on a desk, then remove the battery.  On some laptops it always tries to charge the battery and could cause damage from over charging.  On most modern laptops this is not a problem because the battery reports to the computer when it is full and the computer stops trying to charge it.

Other Problems

Another problem is with the Fan on the bottom of many laptop.  People set their laptop on something plush and the fabric stuffs up the fan.  If it is furry then often the fur may even go inside of the laptop and clog up the cooling system.  Most laptops use very unique fans, making a replacement costly and hard.  Dust and dirt is also a common fan clogging problem.  If you are unlucky enough to have a laptop with a fan on the bottom then keep it in mind when you are working.

Of course, as with any electronic device, be careful with food and liquid.  They can really fry the laptop.  If you do spill something on the laptop, please unplug it and take out the battery as fast as you can.  It can’t really damage circuits too bad if no electricity is flowing though them.  Then you can let it dry, maybe a week or more, and it may work.  Take it to a professional first. Here is an old but correct video.

I clean my laptop about once a month with a soft cloth and rubbing alcohol.  It works really week, and keeps it looking and feeling great.  You can clean the screen directly with light pressure, and it works awesome on the keyboard.  On some screens you need avoid alcohol, and just use distilled water.  I like alcohol because it evaporates quickly.

You, or someone paid a lot for your laptop, respect it and treat it nicely and it will last much much longer for you.