Tips for Laptop Owners

July 2, 2010

Laptops are a special breed of computer. They have a lot in common with desktops, but they are quite a bit different too. There are quite a few things all laptop owners should know in order to keep their laptop safe and in good working condition. The usual recommendations that we make for desktops apply to laptops. This includes things like having good, unexpired, up-to-date security software, applying all of the latest Windows updates, and keeping other programs up to date that can cause a security risk. But in addition to those types of things, there are additional recommendations that apply only to laptops.

So, without further ado, here are some tips and recommendations that we hope will help make your laptop experience a better one and will also extend the life of your laptop.

  • First of all, don’t get a laptop unless you need one. Laptops cost more to purchase, their performance isn’t as good as comparably priced desktops, and laptops cost more to repair. They also don’t last as long primarily because they take more physical abuse than desktops.
    You should only purchase a laptop if you need portability.

  • Keep it cool!
    One of a laptop’s biggest enemies is heat. The cooler you can keep it the longer it will last. To keep it cool, don’t set the laptop on soft surfaces (beds, carpet, overstuffed furniture, or your legs). Putting the laptop on a soft surface blocks vents and fans and makes your laptop hot. I know it seems silly to tell you not to put your laptop in your lap. But if you want your laptop to last, this is a good rule to follow. Get yourself a lapdesk or some other hard surface to put your laptop on. Then you can have it on your bed or in your lap. A lapdesk will also keep the laptop from burning your legs.

  • Be careful how you pick it up and carry it.
    NEVER PICK YOUR LAPTOP UP BY THE SCREEN! The screens are the most fragile part of the laptop. They are easily broken. If the laptop is open, carry it with two hands, one on either side of the laptop, in front of you. If the laptop is closed, you can carry it under one arm for a short trip between rooms. For longer trips, put it in a laptop bag.

  • AC plug/power jack
    A common problem we see with laptop is that the power jack inside the laptop breaks off the motherboard. When this happens, you can’t charge your battery or run off AC current, so it’s not long before your laptop won’t work at all. Repairing this problem is expensive. To avoid this problem, avoid allowing any side pressure on the plug. When you unplug it, pull it straight out. Don’t wiggle it side to side. Don’t transport the laptop with the ac plug plugged into the laptop.

  • Clean the Screen
    If you want to clean the screen on your laptop, be careful. You can easily scratch it and ruin it. Don’t use a harsh cleaner like a glass cleaner. If it’s just dust on the screen, take a very soft cloth and fold it in a square. Then take one flat side and brush it back and forth across the screen gently to get the dust off. If you have more than just dust, we recommend purchasing a screen cleaning kit specifically designed for computer screens. They don’t cost very much.

  • Battery
    In the early days of rechargeable batteries, you were told to occasionally let the battery run totally down before charging it. With today’s Lithium-ion batteries, that’s no longer the case. In fact, the opposite is true. Don’t let your battery run totally down. Plug your laptop in and run off AC whenever possible. When running on battery, keep a close eye on it and don’t let it run all the way down. 

  • Beverages
    Keep beverages away from your laptop! Because of the design of laptops and because they are often used in places like kitchen tables, restaurants, coffee houses, and so forth, laptops are much more likely to have a beverage spilled on them. Spilling a beverage on a laptop can have devastating results and will most likely be an expensive repair. So keep your coffee as far away from your laptop as possible.

  • Maintenance.
    Your average desktop is on all of the time. At night, it does all of the maintenance like windows updates, security software updates, scan for infections, defrag, and other maintenance activities. These types of activities keep the computer safe and in good running condition. But your average laptop only gets turned on when they are being used and then shut down. The result is that the laptop never gets maintained or it tries to do the maintenance when you are using which will slow it way down.

    That’s why we recommend that you leave your laptop on overnight at least once a week. Or, if you don’t want to do that, turn it on and manually perform all of the maintenance. If you leave it on overnight, make sure it’s plugged in and make sure it’s not set to go to sleep or hibernate when plugged in.

    The day before you leave on a trip where you will be taking your laptop with you, boot it up. Update everything. Do a scan with your security software and make sure everything is up to date and working.

  • Power
    Many buildings, especially in certain countries, have crappy power. Best case would be to take a UPS with you and use that, but that’s not practical for air travel because of their size and weight. You could do that when you are travelling by car, but it’s still big and heavy. A small surge protector, however, isn’t too heavy and doesn’t take up too much space. Consider taking one with you and plugging your laptop into that instead of straight into the wall.

  • Laptop Bag
    Anytime you transport your laptop, we recommend that it be in a good carry case that was designed for laptops. There was a time when laptop bags were pretty standard (and boring). Nowadays, there are lots of options. Backpacks and designer bags are common now. A bag that doesn’t look like a laptop bag is a plus as it is less likely to be stolen. But don’t purchase a bag strictly on how it looks. Make sure the bag has good firm padding all around the laptop and there is some sort of restraint like Velcro that keeps the laptop in the bag so it doesn’t fall out.

  • Turn off peer-to-peer (ad-hoc) wireless connections.
    Normally when you make a wireless connection for internet access you are connecting to a wireless router or access point. But it is possible to connect two computers directly together using wireless. This is called a peer-to-peer or ad-hoc wireless connection. When in a public place, you don’t want others connecting directly to your laptop, so configure the wireless on your laptop so that it does not allow peer-to-peer or ad-hoc wireless connections.

  • Using public Wi-Fi.
    This is a large subject all on its own. In fact, we are going to devote an article to this subject in an upcoming article. Until then, you should know that since public wi-fi connections are not encrypted, they are not safe. Anyone with the right software can intercept your wireless signal and read the information flowing to and from your laptop. So be careful what you say and do when in this situation. Make sure you have a good firewall. Keep an eye on your surroundings and make sure someone isn’t trying to see what you are doing. Do not access financial or other sensitive or identifying information. Make sure file and printer sharing is turned off.

  • Password protecting your windows logon won’t stop someone who knows anything about computers from getting to your data if they get their hands on your laptop. If you really need to protect your data in case your laptop is stolen, encrypt your sensitive data using encryption software.

  • Etch your driver’s license number on the bottom of the laptop, and somewhere under an access door as well so your laptop can be identified and returned to you if recovered.

  • Consider laptop recovery software. Similar to LoJack for a car. If your laptop is stolen, it can help locate and recover your laptop. It’s not perfect, though. Professional experienced laptop thieves can get around it.

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