The Norman Transcript

January 19, 2014

Stop bashing, overtaxing your computer’s hard drive


The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — First off, please let me apologize for the incorrect class date that was in last Sunday’s column. I was not able to contact The Transcript in time to correct what turned out to be a second change of date for you to be involved in the free, one-night-only class I teach called “Fight the Internet Bad Guys and Win.”

Here’s the final scoop, engraved in stone: at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 12, come to the Norman Public Library, downtown location, and I will teach you how to stay out of trouble on the Internet.

Everyone who uses a computer, tablet or smart phone should take this class. The Internet is like a bonfire, which can either warm and enrich your life or burn you badly. In my class, you will learn all about hackers, viruses, email safety, passwords, updates, security questions, browsers, online shopping, wireless networking, how to detect fake websites and scammers and much more.

Call the library at 701-2697 to reserve your place.

After you have learned how to stay safe on the Internet, you will still need to tend to more mundane, computer-related chores, like caring for your computer’s hard drive.

All computers — from iPhones to desktop PC towers — have storage drives. The solid-state storage memory in portable devices like phones is different from that used by full-on computers. The reasons are related to storage capacity, reliability and price.

Storage memory in portable devices is cheap and can endure more physical abuse, but there is not a tremendous amount of room for storing millions of songs, videos and spreadsheets.

In contrast, storage memory on larger computing devices is usually in the form of hard drives, which can store huge amounts of information but are more expensive and do not like being physically bashed around.

One major way that people bash around their hard drives is with heat. Hard drives do not like prolonged, high temperatures. As with automobiles, computers have cooling fans designed to remove hot air and provide cool air to protect sensitive components, like the computer’s processor and hard drive.

If the flow of air becomes restricted, your computer’s hard drive can overheat and fail prematurely.

This is why I cringe when I see computer towers that have been stuffed away inside a cabinet with a closed door. That computer is destined to overheat and die before its time. I also cringe when I see computers that are kept on the floor, rather than elevated on a shelf or desktop.

The fans inside those floor-bound computers act just like vacuum cleaners, sucking all kinds of dirt, dust, pet hair and other crud inside the machine. Over time, that computer’s cooling system will become clogged up with all that nastiness, causing the computer to overheat and fail.

The same goes for those slots you see on the bottom and sides of laptop computers. Those are cooling ports, designed to let the laptop’s tiny internal fans pull cool air into the machine. Block those ports by setting the laptop in your lap, on a cushion or pillow, or constantly use the laptop in a dirty environment and it, too, will overheat and its hard drive will fail.

Another reason for hard drive failure, especially with laptop computers, is that we actually, physically bash them around. We jostle them, we drop them, sit on them, slam the lids shut, let them bounce around in our cars and throw them around like beanbags.

The reality is that hard drives are fragile, sensitive devices built to extremely close tolerances. Many of the internal hard drive parts called “platters” used in laptops are actually made of glass. One good crunch, and there goes all your stuff, forever.

Power surges and failures like brownouts and brief blackouts also are very hard on our computers and can kill hard drives in mere milliseconds. Electrical power service to our homes and businesses, as awesome as it may be, is still far from perfect.

Recent studies show that at least 500,000 people are affected every day by power failures in the United States, with the average home being hit daily with 20 power spikes and surges. This is why it is important to use high-quality surge protectors, preferably with battery backup features, to power all sensitive electronic devices, including desktop and laptop computers. Starting at around $60, they are cheap insurance.

Dave Moore has been performing computer consulting, repairs, security and networking in Oklahoma since 1984. He also teaches computer safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 919-9901 or davemoorecomputers.com.

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