How to Extend Your Laptop's Life
It wasn't too long ago that many users were still scared of the security, durability and performance of laptops. These concerns were only amplified by the difference in price between the portable computers and their desktop cousins. But as prices have fallen and durability risen, users continue to opt for more notebooks than desktops because of one thing: portability.
"The laptop revolution started about two years ago, and I'd say the war was won last Christmas," notes Derek Meister, a Best Buy Geek Squad Double Agent based in Cleveland. "But laptops absolutely decimated desktops this Christmas. It's actually rare for me to go out on a call and set up a desktop. Why? I think people who are looking for desktops either have a very particular reason for it or are only comfortable with it. Laptops are comparable in price and in functionality now, which wasn't always the case."
A survey completed in early February by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that desktop computers are most popular with adults ages 35-65, while millennials (defined as 18-34) are the only generation that is more likely to own a laptop computer or netbook than a desktop. That being said, laptop owners tend to really beat their computers up – taking it to work, to the coffee shop, perhaps to school or even to bed. It becomes imperative then that you take the proper steps to protect and extend the life of your investment.
"To me it's important to take a lot of steps while you're actually using the computer," says Todd Thibodeaux, President and CEO of the Chicago-based Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). "But even more importantly, it's what you do when you're not using the computer—where you leave it and how you handle it—that really makes the difference."
Yes, hundreds of stories have been written about extending laptop life (just do a simple Google search). But in this guide, we'll explain the biggest mistakes most users make, simple tips you can take to fix them and also help you to navigate the vast options available as accessories by determining what matters and what you could easily avoid, all with an eye towards business owners and entrepreneurs.
How to Extend Your Laptop's Life: Biggest Mistakes Laptop Owners Make and How to Fix Them
There are plenty of steps you can take to help extend the life of your laptop, but first it is important to recognize what you may be doing wrong. Among the most common mistakes are not adjusting factory settings, charging your battery too often, backing up and memory, overheating and cooling issues, cleanliness and normal wear and tear from all of the transporting of the machine.
Factory Settings: Much like your smartphone, factory settings (namely brightness) are often much higher than necessary for any normal user. By adjusting the settings on your computer to a level that you are comfortable with, you will drain less battery and help your eyes.
"With so many people using computers before they go to bed, brightness is a big issue," Thibodeaux says. "It's really bad for your eyes to stare at a bright computer screen and then go to sleep."
Charging Your Battery Too Often: Laptop batteries, perhaps the most often discussed item on the portable device, is built to function without being plugged into a power source. Batteries are built to have a certain number of "charge cycles" or fully used and then recharged cycles in their lifetime (for an Apple Macbook, anywhere between 350-400). You see plenty of people who use laptops as their main device in the office or at home who leave the computer plugged in constantly while they are working on it, but it's much better practice to drain the battery life before plugging it back in.
Backup and Memory: The more programs you are running, the more RAM (random-access memory) you are taking up. And the more files you have saved (videos, audio, photos), the less space you have on your computer. While it's great to keep everything in one place, what would you do if the computer crashed? That's why it's great to back everything up both on the cloud (programs like Dropbox are a good option) and with an external hard drive (whose prices have also dropped considerably). If your computer is stolen, stops working or is just slow, taking some files off of it and on an external device can speed up performance.
Overheating and Cooling: Again often caused by heavy usage or by leaving it plugged in too often, laptops can easily overheat. It's important to make sure the computer can breathe (laying it down on bed or couch allows no air to do so). Also, if you're a user that is often using it on the couch or on your lap, recent research from Stony Brook University shows that you should have a pillow or a laptop desk between you and the computer.
Cleanliness: As Thibodeaux says, it's what you do with your computer when you're not using it that can affect it most. You should make sure you leave it in a place that doesn't hit any temperature extremes, where it will not be stepped on or damaged, where crumbs can easily get stuck in the keyboard, and where it will not gather too much dust.
"I've seen people permanently damage their screens because the protective coatings on the LCD are very fragile," Thibodeaux says. "But you see people with nasty streaks on their monitor because they cleaned it with Windex or something. That's just not going to work."
Wear and Tear: Based on their portability, laptops can be thrown in bags, tossed on the ground, in the backseat of the car, or more. It's important if you're carrying your computer around through your life to invest in a good sleeve or case, in addition to a padded bag.
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How to Extend Your Laptop's Life: What Accessories Really Matter
Beyond those simple steps and mistakes, a big part of extending your laptop life is the accessories you decide to invest in. If you walk into Best Buy, it's rather overwhelming to look at the mass number available. But it really isn't that hard to navigate.
"There are so many accessories out there it's sometimes hard to figure out what you need and what is optional," Thibodeaux says. "So for many, you often buy things trying to replicate this desktop experience and never end up using them."
External Hard Drives: As mentioned above, backing up your files and information is a great measure to help speed up performance and extend the life of your computer. But it also works as a great secondary backup if something happens to your computer. Prices have dropped considerably here as well, and you can get a terabyte of memory for less than $100 at many stores.
Cases/Sleeves: "Most people end up getting too much case or sleeve for their use," Thibodeaux says. "Unless you are a road warrior toting your computer around all the time, you don't need a heavy-duty bag and cushioning." You can buy simple sleeves for less than $50 to protect your computer as you throw it in your backpack.
Wireless Mouse: Perhaps the most popular accessory purchased and asked about at Best Buy, it's really unnecessary for many users. "If you're one of those users that just can't imagine life without a mouse, it's a fine accessory to buy," Meister says. "But to me, it's a waste of money because the trackpads today just work so well." Having a mouse won't affect the life of your laptop, but it's money better spent elsewhere.
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