Caring for your Laptop

Generally, laptops are more expensive than their desktop counterparts, more susceptible to damage, and are significantly more expensive to repair. In order to ensure that your investment in a laptop remains viable, you must use an appropriate operating system (Windows, Linux, etc.), have adequate power protection, and handle and maintain your laptop properly.

Most new laptops come preloaded with Windows Vista which is very memory intensive. I therefore recommend a minimum of 1GB of memory (RAM) and 2GB for best performance. If you are running Microsoft Windows XP with Office 2007 and Norton Antivirus 2007, I recommend at least a 2.0GHz processor (Intel or AMD), 512MB RAM and a 40GB hard drive. XP could however run on lower specifications if you use a less memory intensive antivirus (e.g. NOD 32), and older software (e.g. MS Office 2000) or open-source software (e.g. Open Office). The lowest hardware specifications I recommend for XP are a 500MHz processor, 256MB RAM and a 10GB hard drive – any lower could result in hardware damage at worst, and poor system performance at best. You should also bear in mind that most laptops come with integrated graphic adapters that share system memory (as do low-end desktops) and running graphic intensive software such as the latest games (Doom, Need for Speed, etc.) or the newest versions of design software (AutoCAD, Adobe Photoshop, etc.) may damage or greatly slow down your computer system.

If your laptop’s power adapter has an input range of 100 to 240 volts, as most do these days, then it could function as a stabiliser, so you may not really need one. Critically, however, you will still need surge protection, and while there are small surge protectors available for laptops, it is advised that you buy a larger one since it will usually offer you a lot more protection. As a rule you should not plug your laptop in any and every electrical outlet. Always ensure that your battery is fully charged, so when you are on the move you wouldn’t have to use utility power. For extended use away from the office you may consider travelling with a small UPS (battery backup), and if your laptop has an optional bay for a second battery, then you should buy that battery also. If you must use utility power outside of your office, use a surge protector at least, carefully ensuring that the indicator lights on the surge suppressor show that the outlet is safe to use. Please take care not to remove the ground pin on your adapter (if it has one) since grounding is not only provided for your safety, but also for protecting your laptop from electrical faults.

The electrical point or outlet that you are primarily using must be properly wired, particularly in terms of grounding. For effective surge protection, the protector should have a let through voltage of no more than forty volts (40v). The only ones to this specification that I know of in Guyana are the APC Net7 and PF11 (or PF8 220v) models, and they cost between eight and twelve thousand Guyana dollars. The PF8/11 is the surge protector of choice since it also provides surge protection for telephone, network and TV cables. Surges along these lines, particularly through telephone lines that already have almost fifty volts (and ninety volts when ringing) coursing through them, can be fatal to a laptop since many of the components are integrated. A strong surge through the phone line could, therefore, not only knock out your modem, but your motherboard as well, and unfortunately many replacement motherboards cost more than half of a new laptop.

Since a stabiliser would regulate electricity more efficiently than your adapter, I would recommend going the extra mile and use one along with the surge protector, thereby significantly easing electrical stresses on your hardware and ensuring a longer lifespan. You should only use stabilisers of a good brand such as APC or Tripplite, as opposed to Nippon-America which are notorious for polarity and grounding problems. Having made sure that your operating system and power protection are in order, you would need to do minor maintenance from time to time. You should buy compressed air to clean your keyboard and inside your optical (CD/DVD) and floppy drives (if you have) from time to time. Make sure you do not shake the can, and keep it upright during use, otherwise you will get liquid instead of air coming out. You should also buy floppy drive and optical drive cleaners, as they only cost a few hundred Guyana dollars and will help to extend the life of your drives.

Your laptop’s screen can be cleaned by gently and carefully using a damp (not wet), soft, lint-free cloth or good quality paper towel. Since many laptops tend to be somewhat flexible, you should be very careful about the things you store in the laptop bag. Forcing books into the bag may not only leave the impressions of the keys on the screen, but could render your screen useless as well.

Simple software maintenance consists mainly of disk clean-up and de-fragmentation. Take care when you use disk clean-up not to delete cached installer files. Special care must also be taken when using third party (non-Microsoft) maintenance software such as Norton SystemWorks and Iolo’s System Mechanic, since they could render your computer unbootable. If you are not an expert, you should read up very carefully before using those tools. Norton SystemWorks also tends to be very resource hogging and if your laptop is an older machine, instead of speeding it up, it could significantly slow it down. You should also ensure that your protective software (antivirus, firewall, etc.) are always kept up to date and that you use the latest versions, ensuring of course that you have the appropriate hardware to run them.

Most modern laptops have no provision for floppy drives and manufacturers expect you to use USB flash drives instead. While they are a lot more durable and can store what would normally take hundreds of floppy disks, they are still not to be relied upon to the extent of storing your only file copies since they can be stolen, lost, or destroyed by a faulty USB port. As such, if you have a CD/DVD burner/writer or external hard drive, you should make additional data backups and store them in a safe place. Data backup is critical since the shock from a fall or any other similar accident could render your hard drive unusable, and there is of course also the danger of having your laptop stolen or lost.