Caring for your laptop

Brian Persaud, IT Engineer – itbrian@gmail.ccom
Gerhard Ramsaroop, Manager, GuyanaNet – gerhard.ramsaroop@gmail.ccom

Generally, laptops are more expensive than their desktop counterparts, more susceptible to damage, and are significantly more expensive to repair.  In order to keep them working efficiently and extend their lifespan, care should be taken of them.

One of the first things you should do to protect your investment is to purchase a carrying case.  Unlike regular bags, the ones made specifically for laptops have padded protection inside to safeguard your laptop from bumps, hits and falls that occur while walking or travelling with it.  Also try not to overstuff your laptop bag with books and documents since this will put pressure on your laptop.

Laptops should also be turned off before placing them in their bag.  Although this may seem obvious, we’ve seen laptops overheat because they were left powered on while in their bag.  This may also occur if the user shuts down windows, but for some reason or the other the laptop does not power off automatically.

Added to this, some people place books and other items on their laptop when it is closed.   It may seem like a good resting place when you’re out of space on the desk; however excessive pressure causes damage to the fragile LCD screen over a period of time.  It could leave impressions of the keys on the screen, or may even cause it to crack.

Probably the most prevalent way we’ve seen laptops damaged is by liquid spills on the keyboard.  Not only does this affect the functioning of the keyboard, but also major components under the keyboard such as the mainboard/motherboard.  Of course a damaged mainboard is one of the most expensive and difficult parts to find a replacement for in Guyana.  Make it a rule therefore to keep your drinks away from the laptop.

Being of a compact design, the components inside a laptop are almost squeezed together in the chassis.  They are therefore capable of generating substantial heat.  To minimize the increase in heat, laptops should be kept on a solid and level surface.  Placing them on beds or other soft and uneven surfaces hinders air flow and disrupts air vents resulting in eventual failure of critical system components.

Also because of this compact design, most laptops are outfitted 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 up your laptop.  Hard drive damage can occur when software and games cause your memory (RAM) to be exceeded and your hard drive is then made to work harder to compensate.

It is therefore imperative that you choose a laptop suited to the uses you will put it to.  Windows 7 is scheduled for release in a few short weeks (22nd Oct.) and in the meantime most laptops will be offered with Windows Vista.  While Windows 7 seems to us a clear improvement over Vista so far, including that it loads much faster and uses fewer resources, the recommendation of a minimum of 2GB of RAM remains.  Of course, this is more than sufficient for Windows XP which remains a viable option today, but it is best to have at least should you opt to upgrade at some later point.

If your laptop’s power adapter is auto-sensing, as most are these days, then you won’t really need a voltage regulator.  Critically however, you will still need surge protection, and while there are small surge protectors available for laptops, we advise that you buy the larger ones (APC Performance or Network series) since these will offer you better protection.  As a rule here in Guyana because of the preponderance of faulty outlets you should avoid plugging in your laptop here, there and everywhere.  Instead, try to ensure that your battery is fully charged for when you are away.

If you must use utility power outside of your office use a surge protector, ensuring that the indicator lights 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.

Toward maintaining your laptop against dust and dirt use compressed air to clean your keyboard and inside your optical (CD/DVD) periodically.  Do not shake the can and keep it upright during use otherwise you will get liquid instead of air.  You should also use optical drive cleaners, as they are cheap and will help to extend the life of your drive.  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.

Simple software maintenance consists of disk cleanup and defragmentation.  Take care when you use disk cleanup not to delete cached installer files.  Ensure that your protective software (antivirus, antispyware, anti-spam, firewall, etc.) are always kept up to date and that you use the latest versions.

Periodic maintenance for your laptop battery is also required.  Particularly if your laptop is not in daily use, the power meter (found on your taskbar and which indicates the amount of charge), may be become out of sync with the battery, and you will need to drain and recharge your laptop battery while in safe mode to correct this.   Two or three times a year should be good enough.  In addition to power meter calibration, older nickel hydride type batteries need periodic draining so as to maximise their capacity.  This does not apply to the newer lithium ion batteries.

Modern laptops no longer make provision for floppy drives and you are expected to use USB flash drives instead.  While they are a lot more durable, 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.  Use your CD/DVD burner/writer or external hard drive to make additional data backups and store them in a safe place.  This is important since the shock from a fall or any other similar accident could damage your hard drive.  There is also the danger of having your laptop stolen or lost.  USB ports supply power also, and especially for laptops it is best to use powered USB hubs for your additional USB devices.

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