A laptop is one of the most fragile consumer electronics devices you will buy. It’s a complex system packed with fast hardware, yet it also finds itself in constant use, which often mean constant danger. Accidents happen. Hardware fails. According to third-party warranty provided Squaretrader, about one in three laptops will bite the dust within three years.
Luck is part of the equation, but there are also specific actions that can send your laptop to an early grave, or at least result in major repair. Let’s become the destroyer. Uh, of laptops.
Turn Your Laptop Into An Oven
Laptops generate heat. A lot of heat. Processors are more power efficient than ever before, and overall heat has gone down, but a laptop will still become warm to the touch if stressed.
This heat must be expelled by a fan, and that fan vent has to be kept clear. If it’s not, the heat has nowhere to go. So it instead hangs out with your laptop’s critical components, and your laptop overheats. Some laptops don’t like to overheat, and sometimes will shut down automatically. But others are real troopers and won’t complain one bit while they are slowly baked to death, and slowly extract money from your wallet.
Furniture, carpets and blankets are all surfaces that can cause havoc, but a pile of books kept way too close can cause problems as well. Pay attention to your laptop’s fan volume. If it’s going like a hair-dryer, and your computer is not involved in a demanding task (like gaming or video encoding), consider it a cry for help.
Shaken Laptop Syndrome
Solid state drives are becoming more common in laptops, but most still have a mechanical hard drive – and probably will for at least the next few years.
One problem with a mechanical hard drive is its use of moving parts. There’s a read/write head that must move to interact with the disk, which spins. The problem is that these moving parts have their own inertia, so if a laptop is moved while they are active, they’ll try to move along their original direction. This can cause contact between internal hard disk components. And that makes your data die.
You can reduce the risk by moving your laptop gently and not moving it when running a program that frequently accesses the hard drive. Treat your laptop like a baby. No quick movement. Instead use a gentle, soft touch.
Use Your Display As A Handle
If you hate your laptop, start picking it up and throwing it in a bag by its display, or by any corner, or by the optical drive. That’s a good way to make it crack like an a egg. Even premium laptops can sometimes succumb to this seemingly innocent abuse.
If a laptop is closed the best way to pick it up is by grabbing the front or rear of the laptop. If a laptop is open, it’s best to just pick it up with both hands, one on each side. Do not pick up a laptop by the display, or by the side of the chassis with the optical drive, or by one corner. You should also keep the laptop on a firm, level surface whenever possible. This will prevent it from getting all bent out of shape.
Some laptops will take abuse in stride, but others will run into issues. Picking up a laptop by the display, for example, puts a lot of stress on the hinges. This can damage the hinges or surrounding materials. I killed a ThinkPad in two years this way – the metal hinges held, but the plastic around one of the hinges did not.
Mangle The Cords
If you want to make your life harder, just start mangling your cords. Wrap them around weird things, twist them at weird angles, and wait for something to break. It’ll happen sooner than you think. You’d think power cords would be made to handle lots of twisting and bending, but they often aren’t. Laptops are meant to be mobile, after all, so there’s reason to make cords thin, light and easy to move.
The most common issue I’ve seen occurs when a person wraps the cord over some other object to keep it bundled. Sometimes that object has sharp edges which cut in to the cord. We’re not talking about a Bowie knives, here. A hard plastic edge is all it takes. Some power adapters will do the trick if you wrap the power cable around them.
Avoid this problem by bundling a cord over itself. Most cords come packaged this way when you receive them and some come with a little piece of Velcro you can use to keep the cord together. If your laptop did not come with Velcro, well, it’s cheap. Make a visit to your local craft store.
Give Your Laptop The Jitters
Laptops don’t like to be shaken. Or stirred. Or jarred in any way, really. Despite what movies might have you think, you can’t use them on the back of a motorcycle, or while running away from guys with machine guns, or in the back of a car while missiles are fired at you. Unlike Bruce Willis, laptops don’t die hard.
Most users buy a laptop bag to take the edge of sharp bumps. That’s a great first step, but you need to make sure the bag actually provides protection. Cheap laptop bags only include a compartment that is laptop sized but lack protection. Others will pad the sides of the bag but then completely neglect to pad the top or bottom. Guess what hits the floor if you drop a bag you’re holding or have strapped over your shoulder. The bottom!
An alternative is to place your laptop in a padded sleeve. This can protect your laptop from bumps and jolts while also keeping objects in your bag from scratching the laptop’s exterior. Just make sure the sleeve is padded. Cheap sleeves, like cheap bags, may be too thin to offer real protection.
In summary – sweat the small stuff.
I’ve read stories of people dropping their laptop in a pool, or spilling a soda on it, or knocking it off a fourth-story balcony. Such things do happen. But dramatic accidents are not how most damage occurs.
It’s often a combination of small actions, some of which may have no consequences at first. Over time, however, the damage caused by constant overheating and mishandling your laptop will surely send it to an early grave. If you’d like to kill your laptop, you can do it gently.