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Making Your Computer Last Longer

10-27-18



There are only a few things that you need to remember to do to keep your computer alive as long as possible. They are simple and easy. If you do do them, you may extend the life of your computer by years. Here they are, roughly in order of importance.


Avoid Static Electricity

The number one killer of computers is static electricity (otherwise known as Electro-Static Discharge (ESD)). Avoid it at all costs. Avoid running your desktop computer for months or years while it is sitting directly on a rug with synthetic fibers, because carpets can generate static electricity when you walk on them. If you feel a spark go from you to your laptop when you touch it, figure out why and stop this from happening. Maybe you are wearing clothing with a combination of natural and synthetic fibers that is causing you to build up a charge. I fried a laptop about a year ago by sitting on something that was causing me to build up a charge that discharged directly into the metal frame of my laptop every time I sat down and touched it. It died after about a month of this treatment. Whatever it takes, fix your ESD problem before it kills your computer.


Avoid Power Line Power Spikes

Along with ESD, you need to protect your computer from power line power spikes. Nothing will protect your computer if your house is struck by lightning, except unplugging it during thunder storms. For this reason, I recommend leaving your computer unplugged whenever you're not actually using it. A good surge protector will protect your computer from less intense power spikes. I recommend getting one with the highest joule rating you can find and always using it. My best surge protector is rated at 1800 joules, but many are only rated to 300 joules. If you are thinking of buying one, and it doesn't say what its joule rating is, don't buy it.


Keep Your Computer Cool

Next to ESD, the most important thing you can do to lengthen the life of your computer is to protect it from heat. With laptops, the CPU's normal operating temperature is pretty much determined in by the design. I remember maybe a year or two ago hearing Leo Laport telling everyone how happy he was with his beautiful new HP Spectre laptop, which was purportedly the thinnest laptop you could buy at the time. He really loved that machine--until it burned up six months later. I have seen well-designed laptops with CPU temperatures under heavy load as low as 60 degrees C. You should never allow your CPU to run above 100 degrees C! Generally, the thinner the laptop, the hotter it will run. So, your first line of defense is to refrain from buying a thin laptop. Then, I suggest installing a temperature monitoring program that continuously displays the CPU temperature on your monitor. If you are using Linux, Conky is a great program to use to monitor the state of your computer. You can set it up to not only display the temperature, but also things like RAM usage, available hard drive space, running programs, percent of CPU utilization, network activity, and more. And with Aurora themes, you not only get all that, but also beautiful backgrounds. And its free. When you first bring your computer home, notice the normal operating temperature of your CPU. If it goes up substantially over the years you may need to take active steps to lower it.

It's important to understand that computers heat up over the years mainly for two reasons. First, dust collects in them. So, every year or so, open your computer, and if necessary, blow out the dust with compressed air. Do not use a vacuum cleaner--remember ESD! Second, the heat-sink compound that manufacturers use has limited a life. After a few years, it gets hard and less heat-conductive. The only way to fix this is to open the computer, remove the heat sink covering the CPU, scrape off the crusty heat-sink compound, and replace it with new heat-sink compound. If you don't feel confident that you can do this without damaging your computer, you should get a professional to do it. If you don't want to pay someone to do this, there are a few things you can do to delay it. If your computer is a laptop, you can use a laptop cooler. Also, many laptops in my opinion are not designed with enough desk clearance for a sufficient amount of air to get into their bottom vents. So, if you don't want to buy a laptop cooler, another thing you can try is raising the laptop higher above your desk with something like a paper egg carton. A third thing is to use software to limit your CPU speed. A few months ago, I noticed, while doing especially CPU intensive things like transcribing videos, that my old Dell Latitude E6220's CPU temperature was as high as 93 degrees C. It's maximum CPU frequency is 2550 MHz. I found that by lowering this to 2400 MHz with a Linux program called cpupower, I could lower the maximum temperature to 74 degrees C. That's a maximum temperature reduction of 19 degrees C with only a 6% CPU speed reduction!


Avoid Liquids

Many people like to snack while they're using their laptops. That includes juice or soda. If you do this, it will only be a matter of time before you'll spill your drink on your laptop. You may make it for months, maybe even a year or two, but sooner or later you will have an accident. And then it's most likely, "goodbye," to that laptop that may have cost you over a thousand dollars. Don't risk it.


Avoid Extreme Temperature Changes

If your computer is out in the trunk of your car in the cold, and you bring it into a warm, humid house, water may condense on the circuit board inside it. If you can't avoid this, take out the battery first, and give your laptop an hour or two to warm up and dry off before you turn it on. Also, don't leave your computer out in the trunk of your car for too long on a hot summer day or during the dead of winter. Those temperature extremes are enough to kill it. LCD screens are especially easily damaged by high and low temperatures. If you can download a user's manual for your laptop, check to see it's maximum and minimum recommended storage temperatures and don't exceed them.


Avoid Vibration

If you still have a spinning hard drive in your laptop, you want to avoid vibration. That means not using it on your lap. Spinning hard drives are subject to what's called, "the gyroscopic effect". That means that changing the orientation of the spinning disk perpendicular to the axis of its rotation puts forces on the disk's axis of rotation. That force causes the hard drive bearings to wear out faster. Additionally, the read/write heads float on a cushion of air infinitesimally close (as little as 3 nanometers) to the rotating disk. When you move the disk suddenly, the spindle can bump against the spinning disk. This can cause wear on the disk and loose bits of metal inside the hard drive housing which can cause the drive to wear out even faster. So, if you want want your hard drive to last longer, always put your laptop on a stable surface before you use it.


Don't Put Your Laptop on the Roof of Your Car

I learned this the hard way with a pair of binoculars that I bought back in the 1970's and still use today. I put them on the roof of my car, intending to take them off before driving away. But I forgot. Fortunately, I heard a thunk on the trunk of my car and looked back just in time to see my binoculars in their case tumbling down the road behind my car. So, luckily, I did recover them, but the frame was slightly bent, and they never worked as well again. Don't make the same mistake with your laptop. Don't put it on the roof of your car for even a second!


The above are the ways most laptop owners kill their laptops. Here and here are some more.

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