The Norman Transcript

October 7, 2012

A few tips will help prolong the life of your new laptop computer

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Laptop (AKA, “notebook”) computers are great. The small size and portability of laptop computers has turned them into the machine of choice for many people, me included. However, laptops have special needs that must be tended to if they are to remain trouble free. Here's a list of things to do that can extend the life of your laptop computer.

1.) Do not block the cooling ports. Like all computers, laptops need a free flow of air in order to cool their internal components. Clever Apple laptop designers often locate the cooling port as a long slot at the back of the case, under the screen, making it very difficult to block. Most other laptops, however, do not enjoy this design advantage. In some cases, the best location for a laptop may be somewhere other than in your lap.

Look at the bottom of the machine for slots or holes (known as “ports”) that are used by the internal cooling fans to circulate air. Make sure that, when the laptop is turned on, these ports are never blocked by clothing, pillows, etc. I use my laptop computer in my lap, but it is placed on a flat plastic tray, and the back of the machine is elevated on a long, thin strip of wood so that air can circulate freely underneath. An overheating laptop is a real bummer.

2.) Realize that your laptop computer is not indestructible. “Young” people seem to be especially ignorant of this fact. Unless you are using a Panasonic ToughBook or other “hardened” device built to military specifications, your laptop is likely made of cheap, flimsy plastic and extremely thin sheet metal. Don't pick it up by the screen, or in any way that will flex the main case area. Do not slam the lid shut. Close the lid gently from the middle, instead of one corner. Do not push down on the optical drive when inserting or removing CDs or DVDs. Do not pick up your laptop and start walking away with the power supply or any other wire connected. Do not subject the laptop to abnormal vibration or jostling around. Do not stack books, boxes or other items on top of your laptop. Do not toss your laptop onto the couch from three feet away. Finally, this should go without saying, but do not drop your laptop, or, worse, sit on it.

3.) Keep liquids and food away from your laptop. Liquid spills can easily kill a laptop. If food crumbs and other crud fall into the keyboard, carefully support and turn the laptop upside down (while it's turned off) and blow the keyboard out with gentle blasts of compressed air. Be careful, though; compressed air from a shop compressor or local truck stop can be powerful enough to blow the keys right off of the keyboard. Stores like Radio Shack sell cans of compressed air (they call it, "Dust Remover") that are fine for this purpose. Be sure it's air only, though, without any added lubricants or cleaners.

4.) Do not use detergents, cleansers or other solvents to clean the screen, keyboard or other parts. All you need is a soft, slightly water-moistened cloth, preferably cotton. Do not press too hard on the screen, especially if it is turned on. Gently wipe down, rather than scrub dirty parts and you'll be in good shape.

5.) If you travel with your laptop and it is subjected to fluctuating temperatures, always allow it to come to normal room temperature before turning it on. Doing so can prevent condensation from forming inside and damaging internal components. Don't leave your laptop in your car during hot or cold weather.

6.) Take care of your laptop battery. When you first get your new laptop, and the battery becomes fully charged, run it all the way down to zero and then recharge it; do this two or three times in a row. After that, use the laptop solely on battery power, running down the battery at least once a week, rather than leaving it perpetually connected to the charger. These methods can make the battery last longer, and, I am told that they should also be used on newer, more modern lithium-ion batteries. Even so, be advised that laptop batteries usually only last about two or three years before giving out completely.

7.) Be careful moving your laptop while it is turned on. Your laptop's hard drive has round disks called “platters” inside that spin at over 5000 revolutions per minute. One accidental bump or drop can cause the platters to make contact with other internal components, ruining the hard drive.

Take care of your laptop and you will both have a happy life together.

Based in Norman, OK, Dave Moore has been an independent computer service technician since 1984. He also teaches computer security workshops to public and private organizations. He can be reached at (405)919-9901 or

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