Seven Tips to Prolong the Life of Your Laptop

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Extend Your Laptop's Longevity

Follow these practices to stay far away from the repair folks.

I recently had dinner with a friend who lamented about how her laptop was sent for repairs five times in the last two years. She was very surprised when I told her that I've owned three laptops in six years that have never needed repairs, all of which remain perfectly serviceable today.


Personally, I was surprised that it is possible to encounter so many problems with a laptop in the first place. Things became clearer after I heard exactly what happened. I racked my brains, and came up with a list of what I hope will be useful tips to help prolong the life of your laptops.


Battery Conditioning Not Needed


A common mistake I've seen would be unplugging the laptop when using it, connecting it back to the AC only when the charge in the battery is running out. The logic behind this is to prevent overcharging, though this is a bad decision based on flawed information. The result is a shortened serviceable life span of the battery, since there are a finite number of charge-discharge cycles inherent to every rechargeable battery.


You see, computer makers are much more worried about overcharging than users, given the comparatively volatile nature of modern lithium-ion batteries. In fact, lithium-ion batteries have "undercharge" protection, too, and are designed to permanently refuse to charge if the power level falls too low. This is because they have a tendency to catch fire if charged under such circumstances. So this is a good reason to keep your batteries fully charged instead.


Hear a Buzzing Sound? Don't Wait for it to Go Away


If you hear a loud, buzzing or whining sound emanating from your laptop, send it for service at your earliest convenience. There are only two main moving components in your laptop capable of generating buzzing or whining noises - the built-in ventilation fan or the hard-disk drive. Generally speaking, any noise coming from them speaks of impending failure of those parts. Waiting for the sounds to go away is just asking for trouble. You'll probably either lose data through an untimely hard-disk crash or some component will burn out irreparably if the laptop fan stops working. So back up your data in both cases, and send the laptop in for service.


Get a Keyboard Protector or Use an External Keyboard


The keyboard gets the heaviest physical wear on the laptop. While designed for heavy use, the keyboard usually cannot be replaced if damaged and is a usability nightmare if not properly maintained. Because laptops are often used around food, crumbs and other bits and pieces such as staple bullets often accumulate under the keys.


A keyboard protector will help keep out all that stray matter. To reduce wear on the keys, I would advocate using a separate keyboard when at your desk. I personally have a keyboard protector for my laptop, and use an external wireless keyboard and mouse at my workstation at home.


Defragment Your Drives Regularly (or Not)


Due to the way the computer file system works, performance of hard-disk drives unavoidably will decrease over months or years of use. As such, it is often a good idea to perform a defragmentation of your data from time to time. Having said that, do note that defragmenting solid-state disks (SSDs) is detrimental and can shorten their usable life span. Newer operating systems such as Microsoft 7 recognize this and take away the option to defragment an SSD accordingly; this is not necessarily the case for all OSes, though.


Avoid Walking Around with the Laptop


Most laptops still come with hard-disk drives, which spin between 4,200 revolutions per minute (rpm) to 7,200 rpm for higher-end models. Most users are not aware, but the hard-disk head hovers at microscopic distances - less than the width of a hair, to be precise -- from the furiously spinning disk surface. So while technology has advanced significantly to eliminate the possibility of damage from casual handling, it is generally not a good habit to tuck your laptop under your arm while it is still switched on.


Your mileage might vary on this, as some laptops come with built-in software that will temporarily "park" the head away from the spinning surface when movement is detected. Regardless of that, gentle handling of your laptop is recommended.


Note: This advice does not apply to solid-state drives, which have no moving parts


Power Off Properly


One way to quickly shorten the life or even kill your laptop would be to stuff it into your bag when it is still switched on. While this is not something that most folks will do deliberately, accidents happen when users click on "Shut Down," then stuff the laptop into the bag without waiting.


Applications or the Windows operating system itself can hang during the power-down process, which in this instance will leave the laptop running for hours in an enclosed bag until the power drains completely. And yes, I've heard of at least one case in which the hard-disk drive burned out after being subjected to a few doses of this treatment. So do check to make sure your laptop's really powered off first.


Servicing Your Laptop? Let IT Have a Look at it


A visit to the service center typically entails a tedious process of backing up one's data, and then waiting for anything ranging to days or weeks for the repairs to be completed. Now, it's hardly a perfect world out there, and there's always the chance that repairs might not be done satisfactorily. Just as it's possible that repair personnel might opt to replace a part when they are not technically obligated to do so, the possibility exists that new problems could be introduced as a result of inexperience.


It's always a good idea to let your service help desk or someone who is tech savvy take a look at your laptop to make a preliminary diagnosis. This will allow new problems that are introduced as a result of the service call to be more easily isolated and identified should they surface after the repair.